Sunday, January 27, 2008

God illumines my aunt

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One day in the office my cubicle neighbor turned to me and whispered, "Do you know what it means?" She pointed to the corporate logo: an open book with seven seals, and the motto written on the pages. I looked at it. I wasn't sure. I don't read Latin. So I ventured a guess: "God illumines my aunt?"

Lydia laughed.

The motto of our company, Oxford University Press, was very old, dating back before Columbus, back before Richard II (who signed off on it), back before Christ. It was:

Dominus illuminatio mea: The LORD is my light.

The beginning of the 27th Psalm, our psalm today.

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?

The light that illuminates me - and you - is the Lord.

In the 10th Century before Christ, the prophet Isaiah gave good news to the people of northern Israel, people who were being over-run by the Assyrian empire.

Even they, distant from Jerusalem, far in the north, on the shores and on the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee, would experience a vindication, a salvation. For along the road to the sea, where they lived, the light of the Lord would shine:

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.

This is the land where Jesus walked, at the beginning of his ministry. Herod Antipas had arrested John the Baptist, and Jesus left that territory and moved north toward Nazareth, the place where he was raised. He made his home in a larger town, new and busy, down by the lakeshore: Capernaum, where fishing was the industry. It was along that ancient trade route, the road to the sea; Via Maris, it was called now. Traffic passed along, goods were transported, from Damascus to the west, and to Egypt.

And there, after the voice of the 'one crying in the wilderness' had been silenced, Jesus began to spread the good news himself, and to call to the people to turn away from the reign of the rulers of this world, Herod and such, and leave aside their own follies and past sins.

Something new is beginning, a light is dawning, & the reign of God is at hand.

Jesus begins to call his disciples. And his call to them has two parts:

Follow me.


And I will make you fish for people.

There is a call, an initial response of faith, and an action. They do something, right away. Later Jesus will call Matthew from the tax tables, and put him to work, at something much greater: gathering in, no longer, tax monies for the overlords, but gathering in the people of God to bring the kingdom of God.

Now, it is follow me, and.

Later, one of these fishermen, Peter, will answer a question, "What must I do to be saved?" and his answer, again, will begin with an initial response of faith: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved."

But that is, generally speaking, not the end of the answer: beyond this initial act, there is an action. "Believe, and be baptized." Believe, and ---. Believe, and act to make it real. Make the salvation not a thing of head only but of heart, not of words only, but of deeds. Act it out with your body. Go and be baptized. Go and sell all you have, and distribute the proceeds to the poor: then you are really following me.

And Jesus reveals to the fisher folk what it means to follow him. First he said, "Follow me," but he continued, "and I will make you fish for people." I will make you fishers of men. Together.

And they dropped what they were doing, right then and there, said good-bye to their families, and went. That is when they found out what it meant to 'fish for people.'

Jesus led them up into the hill country and throughout the region. He proclaimed the good news. And he enacted the kingdom of heaven, embodied the reign of God - by curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Here he gives a clear sign, an early warning, quite distinct, that something new is happening. The Messiah, the light of the Lord shining forth from one person, is the dawning of the new day for Israel, the day of the Lord. The Lord's anointed, the Messiah, the Christ, leads the way.

He calls to Simon Peter and Andrew his brother, and to James and John the sons of Zebedee, to follow his way. And -

He calls us.

The apostle Paul, in speaking to those exemplary Christians at Corinth - examples of so much that we recognize as behavior of the church - makes an appeal to them as his own brothers and sisters in the Lord, and he makes it in the name of Jesus: be in agreement, let there be no divisions. Don't fall apart into factions or parties, as if your identity lay in anything less than in the Lord.

He gets a little caustic: "Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" What he is doing is reminding them of their true allegiance, the only one that really matters in the end: they are the people of God, the people redeemed by the Lord and baptized in the name of the Savior.

His primary task is not the initial plunge: it is to proclaim the gospel, to preach the good news, so that the power of the cross of Christ - that paradoxical sign of the power of God - the cross might be revealed as the sign of glory.

And that the people of God - you and I, and they - the Corinthians - might know that in Christ alone is our salvation and our hope and our identity - and our mission.

They are not to divide themselves up into little camps, or tribes.
They are to stay together, focus on mission, and move forward in the name of Christ.

Follow me and.

Believe and.

What is left for us? Two things:

A great commandment.
A great commission.

The first is about staying together. The second is about focusing on mission. And they both are about moving forward in the name of Christ.

We will encounter these again later in Matthew's gospel, as the year goes by.


The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great
commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments
hang all the Law and the Prophets.

And second,

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20):

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Together, these two directives, great commandment and great commission, form us into the people of God, shape us as a church, and remind us of what we are doing. So we pray,

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


References (accessed 5:12 AM Sunday, January 27, 2008)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 27, 2008
Year A, Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-12
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Psalm 27:1 (Page 617, BCP)
Dominus illuminatio mea

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?

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