Saturday, January 22, 2011

From gloom to glory: light and life in the joy of Christ

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.

From life on the bondage of sin to life in the freedom of the Spirit
From the darkness of chaos to the light of Christ
From gloom to glory
From judgment to redemption
From death, shame, sin and trouble, to life, glory, righteousness and joy

Lead us O Christ into your Kingdom.

When I worked in New York in the office of a venerable publisher we had a venerable slogan – from the venerable institution, Oxford University, of which we were a part.

In the office one day my boss’s secretary turned to me and whispered, “Do you know what this means?”

She pointed to the Latin motto on our seal, our corporate logo: Dominus illuminatio mea

Which I read as Dominus illumina tio mea ... thinking of what it could possibly mean, using my high-school Spanish.

And responded, “God illumines my aunt.”

Lydia laughed; she knew about my aunt.

Well of course it means more than that: Dominus illuminatio mea – the motto of Oxford University and of Oxford University Press – is the beginning of the 27th Psalm, and it means

God is my light

So in that light we go on in the sure and certain knowledge, that dispels all fear, quells all chaos, answers all anxiety:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

This is the light that enlightens the nations, the light that came to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the light that Christ brings with him into the world, the light that he asks us to share in rekindling, reflecting his glory in our lives and our life together.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to be united – to have the same mind and the same purpose. We are to proclaim the Gospel, and the cross of Christ; to tell the good news, the message about the Cross, which to those who believe is the power of God. Unity in Christ: in mind and purpose, thought and deed.

Our common life is to show God’s glory – to shine his light in a still-darkened, sin-gloomy, world.

In the gospel we have an extraordinary story – at an extraordinary time. Jesus has just learned that the baptizer, John, has been imprisoned. How does he react? Does he run away, go on the lam, seek shelter, and take the story underground?

No. From this time forward – this time, a time of darkness, chaos, gloom, despair, uncertainty and danger – from this time, Jesus begins to proclaim the coming of the glory of the Lord. The kingdom of heaven is at hand – is right here!

He embodies the good news Isaiah had so long ago proclaimed, and brings it forward into the present moment.

Jesus begins to call people individually and to gather them into his fellowship. He calls us from darkness and death to light dawning, the kingdom of heaven right here among us.

Freedom comes with the call to discipleship.

Jesus calls people into obedience and into life in the spirit, life together in Christ himself.

He calls us into common life, under a common Lord. He calls us into common prayer and common purpose.

Our Father – he teaches us to pray – ours, not just theirs or yours or his or mine: ours, together.

Thy kingdom come – in us, around us, with us. Make us your helping hands. Make us reflectors of your glory. Make us shine with your light. Make us instruments of your peace – your peace – that we may show the world your kingdom is here.

Jesus began to proclaim the good news. He began to walk among the people. Along the lakeshore he walked. And he came to the fishermen at their nets, in the midst of their daily occupation, and said to them, “Follow me. I will make you fishers of men – I will transform your good work into the transforming power of God in the world. Proclaim with me the good news.”

The fishermen left their nets, followed him, and became disciples of Jesus. So may we. So may we.

“Drop what you’re doing!” it sounds like something out of a Laurel and Hardy movie. But that is what they do.

They put aside all other tasks as secondary to the one true thing that matters: following Jesus where he leads, and going where he sends.

Together, Jesus and the newly called disciples went through the region of Galilee, the one they knew so well, and the began the work:

Teaching, in the places of prayer, where people went to perform their religion in pious gathering, where now they would encounter the living God.

Proclaiming, the good news of God.

Curing and healing the sick, showing and embodying the truth of the good news that they brought with them.

In word and deed, the disciples and Jesus showed the good news of the kingdom, showed forth the light and life of God.

What had come before was simply preparation, prologue. What was beginning now was a new order of the ages.

God has come to us and is revealed to us in his Son: Emmanuel, God is with us.

God is with us. How do we see it? How do we respond, to this good news?

Before it may have seemed that God and religion and grace were simply to be consumer goods, something passively to be received. Now with Jesus in their midst (and ours) the message of the coming Kingdom requires an active faith.

Immediately they dropped their nets and followed him – and began to fish for people.

Once, back in New York, I went shopping for some cheese and some bread – pumpernickel, at Zabar’s Deli. The place was full, and the cashiers had long lines ahead of them. So over the loudspeakers came an announcement and an invitation: there are more cash registers upstairs. Never been up there. It’s where the kitchenware and pots and pans were. Downstairs you could buy stuff you could simply take home and begin to consume. What was upstairs – the tools for cooking – required an action on your part. You had to begin to act, to cook –

Up I went. Halfway up the stairs, I saw someone (who loved the place) showing a guy around her favorite deli. I heard her say, as they gained the top landing, this is where the fun really begins.

This is where the fun really begins. Where we become not just passive recipients of the largesse of God, consumers of bread, but active participants in the preparation of the life-giving sustenance of God for his people, and for the world.

We become in Christ the bread the world needs. We become bread for the world. But only as we are broken with Christ, shared with Christ, given with Christ, to the world he has come to redeem. For that is the work he has called us to do – and that is the work we are doing, when we answer the call of discipleship: to become the good news of Christ to the people of the world among whom we find ourselves. How we do this – in Edmonds, in our lives, in our life together – is up to us, and the spirit in us.

“He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old by the lakeside He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word, ‘Follow thou me,’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands, and to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship; and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906)

He comes to us as of old by the lakeshore he came to the first disciples; and he calls to us: Follow me.

And we shall learn who he is – and who we are, as we follow him.

May we…


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