Fishing with a flashlight!
Sermon by The Rev. Tracy Dugger, Epiphany 3 A* Isaiah 9:1–4*Psalm 27:1, 5–13*1 Cor 1:10–18*Matthew 4:12–23
Today is Fishers of Men Sunday! And I must admit. The idea of fishing for people is a little strange to me. I imagine running after people in the street with a net, scooping them up and dragging them off to church…But I don’t think kidnapping is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he encouraged the disciples to become fishers of men You See Jesus took what these men already knew how to do, and he asked them to do it in a new way for God…But sorry to all you sporting fishermen out there I’m not sending you out to the lake today. You see there is another theme for today…the message of light in the darkness flows throughout our lessons…and I wonder if the best way we could fish for people today is with a flashlight…Hear me out…
Many of us are afraid of the dark. As adults we pretend that we are not afraid. We rationalize that nothing is going to hurt us, there are no monsters under the bed…and yet still there is an instinctive fear. We avoid walking down dark streets at night, when the lights or power goes out we try the switch, we get a flashlight, we check the circuit breaker. We do everything we can to bring the light back. And yet few of us when we find ourselves in darkness cry out for help. We try all we know how to do to bring the light back, and then we wait for the power to come back on…I think it’s because as adults we think we are supposed to be in control of our fears. We tell ourselves nothing is going to get us…we talk ourselves into feeling calmer, even if we never do calm down we pretend like its fine. We pretend that we are fine, because of our pride and our shame over our fears we don’t let other people into our darkness, even if they could help us.
Children are nothing like that. It does not happen often, but when my daughter feels alone or scared in the night the first thing she does is cry out for help. She probably could get up and fight through her fear and turn on the light and see that nothing is there, but she doesn’t…and I’m glad she doesn’t…
She cries out for Mom or Dad because she has no shame over her fear, and she has complete trust that we will hear her when she calls and cries out for us. She knows we will come and rush to turn on the light. We will take care of it.
I think this is part of why the Bible tells us that we must have faith like a child. Throughout our bible lessons today the theme of light in the darkness can be found. In our Psalm today we hear about a time of trouble. The Psalmist describes evildoers who have come to harm him. To calm himself the Psalmist writes in verse 1 1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? * the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
And yet read the Psalmist’s cry in verse 10: Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *have mercy on me and answer me..” The Psalmist is pleading with the Lord to hear him, to have mercy and to answer. You see it is possible to know in our minds that the Lord is our light and our salvation…and yet in times of darkness and in times of fear we are afraid.
We like the Psalmist, fear that we are alone, we fear that no one is listening. Maybe God isn’t there, or maybe God just doesn’t care about us. Maybe you like the Psalmist are pleading with God in your prayers, please hear me. But God doesn’t turn away from us. He is the still small voice calling out to us. The Psalmist describes this in the very next verse: You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *Your face, Lord, will I seek.
And yet even with this reassurance, this whisper from God, the Psalmist still prays: 12 Hide not your face from me, * nor turn away your servant in displeasure.” When we are afraid, when we are in darkness we worry that God has turned away from us. We fear we are too awful, we are too bad, we alone are too unworthy of God. Sometimes we are right to worry...In Isaiah today we heard how there will be no more gloom for people who were in anguish. In the past the land and the people of God were humbled because they did not follow God and his will….but in the future the land and it’s people and people who have never known God, pagans, they will see a great light. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to something that was happening both now and not yet.
Saint Matthew quotes Isaiah when Jesus gives his first sermon, but he takes the words of Isaiah and amplifies them. “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
Jesus knew that it is not just like Isaiah said. that people were walking in darkness…they were walking in death. You see isn’t that really why we fear the dark. We fear that in the darkness evil will come upon us. In times of physical darkness, we fear robbers, bandits, and murderers. In times of spiritual darkness, we fear ourselves: we fear our behaviors that are leading us on a path of destruction. We fear that our temptations to have one more drink. Our desires to escape into things that give us moments of pleasure will ultimately lead us to death, and a death with no redemption.
We are right to fear the dark, but we don’t have to stay in the dark. We don’t even have to find our own way out of the darkness. Our pride and our fear encourages us to pretend we have it figured out. To fake it until we get it right. We fumble around in the darkness of our lives and the darkness of this fallen world because we are convinced we can find our own way to the light. The search for self-improvement by our own bootstraps is the great lie of the devil. Because we don’t have to find the light, or figure it out for ourselves. Because the light has already dawned. Jesus is the light of the world. The light of Christ came thousands of years ago to a people walking in darkness. The light of Christ enlarged the nation and brought the good news of God’s love to all the nations. The kingdom of God knows no limits because light can and does dawn anywhere!
Jesus Christ son of God and true God came to live and die as one of us! His innocent sacrifice for the whole world took on the burdens of people walking in death. Christ shattered their burdens. Removed the yoke of their oppression. Christ set free his followers, but the language, and indeed his actions are both now and not yet. Christ’s death and resurrection mean that forgiveness and light has dawned for all humanity for all time. Any yet, they are not yet, in the sense that the power of the cross might not have taken effect in your life. Maybe you know about Christ, but you’ve never let him take your burdens.
Maybe you like the Psalmist are afraid that God has turned away from you, Maybe you are pridefully trying to find your own way out of the darkness. But my Friends I hope you hear the whisper of God saying in your heart “Seek my face.” God wants us to see him and to know him.
After Jesus quoted Isaiah he began his preaching with this simple message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repent is a fancy way of saying to return…Return to the Lord, my friends. We do not need to be afraid! Even in times of darkness and fear of what is happening in the world, or in our lives, when we fear we are alone, and unloved, all we have to do is… Return to the Lord and Seek his face! Instead of stumbling in the darkness, come to God like a little child…Cry out in the night for God, and trust that God loves you. God will hear you when you call, and Jesus will run to your aid.
God is our helper, God goes behind, before and around us in the darkness shedding light wherever we will allow God in. Following Jesus is as easy as crying out for Abba, our heavenly Daddy, in the night. He will come into our hearts and lives and shine light in the darkness. All we have to do is cry out, repent and turn away from the darkness and allow the light and the love of God in. Only when we do this, when we allow God into our lives, when we allow God to meet us where we are at, instead of trying to fix it ourselves. Then we can follow Jesus. And when we follow Jesus he will make us fishers of men! He’ll help us bring others along, out of the darkness and into the light…
Not because we trapped them or tricked them, but because the warmth and the light we show in our lives, in the way we love our families, the way we love our neighbors, the way we love our church, will bring people in. We cannot invite people in, if we have not first turned on the light! Going back to that Fishers of Men thing…There are two ways to fish, one is to drag them in with a net…Another is to set out the right bait, the right lure, that will draw in the fish. For us a people in Christ our lure is the light that shines in us when we know the love of God. And we fish when we let that light shine, and invite others to allow God’s light into their lives. Let’s Shine the Light of God bright in 2020