The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.
There is an old story of a farmer whose wife went into labor in the middle of the night. The doctor was called and delivered a child while the farmer held a lantern to help the doctor see. But then the doctor said, “Hold on-there’s another one. We’ve got twins here!!” And the doctor delivered a second child. The farmer was shaken by this unexpected development, but then the doctor called out again, “Hold on! We’ve got triplets—another one is coming.” At this the farmer began to back out of the room. The doctor shouted, “Come back here with that lantern!” To which the farmer replied, “No, no—it’s the light that attracts ‘em!”
Light attracts babies and children and young people and adults. Light—the offer of welcome, the showing of kindness, the extending of true compassion and care, the openness to listen and see someone for who they truly are—beloved, made in God’s image. It’s the light that attracts ‘em!
Jesus has learned that John has been arrested and he knows that that is not promising news. So we are told that Jesus goes to Capernaum “in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali”. These names indicate land that God had given to Abraham and Isaac. These names remind their hearers of the covenant between God and God’s people. Yet in this time it is occupied by imperial powers.
Matthew calls on the words of Isaiah to describe the current empire of Rome as “darkness” and “death.” And it places Jesus at the beginning of his ministry as the one who will bring the light that will proclaim God’s coming kingdom and invite those who listen to turn around, to change their way of thinking and to receive this promise of liberation. Isaiah’s words originate as a song of hope and promise for exiles waiting in Babylon. Matthew uses them to introduce Jesus in the act of bringing the good news to an entirely new territory.
Jesus begins by calling two sets of brothers–Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his companions in ministry. They are fisherman. We are told that when Jesus invites them to join him with the words, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” they immediately drop everything and follow. No questions are offered, no hesitation is recorded. Is this because these men are of superhuman courage or prophetic knowledge? Of course not! These are the same men who will betray, deny, and abandon Jesus. They are just ordinary human beings. No, it is Jesus who makes this possible. It is Jesus who shows them God’s light and they have no choice but to go. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “this is story about God and about God’s ability to create us a people who are able to follow—able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us.”
God’s good news is transformational. Jesus message of healing and hope and mercy transforms whole persons and communities. God brings light and life into our world, cutting across all divisions searching for places of common ground. The call of Jesus is “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus’ words are calls to meaning. If you follow my way, you will make a difference in this world. Following me will bring wholeness to your life and you will be able to share that wholeness with others.
Fishing for people is not about “hooking” or “catching” people for God. We don’t. We are not called to convince, or cajole or even persuade others to accept Jesus or join our religion. It is God alone who captures hearts and minds. God alone makes the vision of his kingdom real and alive in a human soul. What we can do is live a life that embodies God’s love and reflects the profound beauty of who Christ is. The rest is up to God. Jesus’ invitation to the fishermen and women who followed him was the good news. And this good news was particularly aimed at those who seemed to have no hope, no future, no possibility of redemption. Jesus offered good news for all.
I know that if you only look at the TV or your computer or your phone or your watch, you may feel that darkness is total. That there is nothing but violence and hatred and deceit at loose in our world. We are bombarded by leaders who exploit our divisions and our suspicion of institutions to advance their own political power. We read of states and communities refusing to allow the entrance of refuges into their areas. We hear reports of parents sending their young children alone across the border to seek asylum because the conditions in the camps on the Mexican side are horrifically unsafe and their children are becoming dangerously ill.
But even in this darkness there is light. God’s light will shine. The darkness will not defeat it. The Episcopal church has written in protest to the states that have banned refugees from resettling. In response to Texas’ Governor Abbot’s decision to reject refugee resettlements, our Episcopal Church wrote in protest, “Refugee resettlement embodies the Texan spirit and our faithful commitment to assisting the least among us. We encourage all people to stand in the breach for our refugee brothers and sisters who seek a haven of peace and renewal in the United States.” In those horrible camps on the border, there are teams of people from churches and other organizations offering food, health care, education, and basic supplies. It is not a permanent solution to the problem. But the light is shining in the darkness.
In our own Berkshire community, there has been a strong support for those who have suffered from racism, anti-Semitism, homophobic actions, and all the other behaviors that betray the truth that we are all God’s precious children. Letters have been written to the newspaper. People have taken to street corners to stand for our neighbors and stand against any form of hatred. A group of faith leaders have continued to meet with our school faculty and administrators to learn how to best support them in teaching and guiding our children so that they understand the importance of their words and become advocates for each other when cruelty strikes one of their peers.
Last Sunday we were privileged to be a part of a wonderful morning of worship, service, and fellowship. It was a day I believe whose significance will ripple forward and have many opportunities for building on these relationships. Our church along with Christ Trinity Episcopal Church in Sheffield, joined together with our brothers and sisters at Hevreh. The worship together was simple, mixing prayers from the Christian and the Jewish faith. The songs we sang blended words of justice, peace, and healing in Hebrew and English. The message shared was in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “that we are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. That none of us can be fully who we were created to be until all of us are fully who we were created to be. And that days like last Sunday contribute drop by drop until God’s justice becomes an everflowing stream, a justice that truly infuses and reshapes all creation.
Following worship, projects to welcome the immigrant, offer support for women returning from incarceration, prepare a hot healthy meal for our brothers and sisters who do not have a safe place to live were completed by loving, enthusiastic, and generous members of the three faith communities and probably people who just joined us for the day. It was a time of overflowing love. It was a time of welcoming and celebrating the gift of caring for each other.
And on Friday, Jen and I took food to a gathering of middle school students, school faculty, faith and community leaders. In this gathering, the students told us that they understand that they may not be able to completely do away with racism, anti-Semitism, genderism, homophobism and all the many “isms” that poison our world. But they believe that by listening and watching and learning and being supportive of their classmates, they can begin to be more aware and learn how to be ones who stand up for their peers and stand against what causes them harm.
Jen has plans for more of these “breaking bread” opportunities so we can learn about each other and become neighbors for each other. Ask her about it.
Where are you seeing light today? In what ways are you called to be light-bearers or light- bringers? The light of Christ that guides our way streams through us and gives light to others. Where is our church being called to bring life and light to the world; to reach out so that others might experience God’s love?
God’s light will shine. The darkness will be lifted. Jesus and his followers will preach and teach and heal. The rule of God cannot be stopped. But each of us are called by the light of the world, Jesus Christ, to be fishers of people. To live our lives so that the light of Christ can be seen in us. To live lives so that the ones we encounter may experience their blessedness; may know that they are seen and heard and valued. By responding to Jesus in our midst right now, the kingdom of God can feel closer for those most in need of God’s immediate and sustaining presence. We have been given light, may we let it shine.
 Barbara Brown Taylor. Home by another way. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999, 40.