Last week, we launched our new worship theme of “Following Jesus.” The theme comes from the book of Matthew, our focus Gospel this year. Matthew is pretty much a how-to manual for following Jesus. The guidebook within the guidebook is the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 – 7. We’ll start looking at that next week. (You might like to start reading up, hint, hint. J)
Last week, we considered the first step of following Jesus—being called….responding to a deep yearning to do something in the world. We talked about call in terms of using our original medicine to heal the world or, as Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner identifies it: We find our calling at the intersection of where “our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” From what I hear, our youth worked with Buechner’s quote at the Winter Youth Retreat last weekend. We look forward to hearing what you learned!
Calling is crucial to the life of faith. Determining what brings us joy and figuring out how to do that joyful thing to meet the world’s deep need…That’s the critical first step in following Jesus. What’s the second?
Last week, we heard John’s take on Jesus’ calling a couple of disciples. Matthew’s take is a little different.
Matthew is sometimes called “The Jewish Gospel.” It likely was written about 40 years after Jesus’ death to convince Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. As we journey through Matthew this year, we’ll see lots of things that would appeal to people raised in the Jewish faith. The book is divided into five sections, which some scholars say intentionally corresponds to the five books of Torah. There’s a verse in Leviticus about the need for two witnesses to confirm any event or ritual. At points, Matthew’s need for two witnesses gets pretty amusing. Stay tuned for Holy Week for that one. J Also in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a Moses figure. The Sermon on the Mount could well be a parallel to Moses going up Mt. Sinai to get the law…which makes the Sermon on the Mount the new law, right? We’ll look more at that next week. (Hint, hint. J)
As the “Jewish Gospel,” Matthew quotes a lot from the Hebrew Scriptures. That’s what happens in today’s passage. It begins with Jesus leaving Nazareth and moving to Capernaum on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew calls the area, “the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.” What are Zebulun and Naphtali? They’re how the prophet Isaiah referred to the location of Capernaum (several centuries before it was Capernaum), when he described the Messiah or savior. What will this savior do in “the land of Zebulun and 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 shadow of death, light has dawned.”
So when Matthew quoted these familiar words of the prophet Isaiah–that the Messiah would bring light to people sitting in darkness in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali–Jews hearing them in reference to Jesus would have gotten the point: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and his main job is bringing light to places of darkness.
So maybe that’s our second step in following Jesus—Perhaps we are to follow him by also taking light to dark places…which sounds like a terrific thing to do. But how do we do it? How did Jesus bring light to those sitting in darkness? Let’s see what happens next.
Matthew tells us that Jesus moves to Capernaum, then…goes for a walk by the lake. While walking along the shore, he sees brothers Andrew and Simon fishing. (See? Two witnesses. J) “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says. They do. Then he sees two more brothers—James and John; they’re on shore mending nets with their father. (Two more witnesses. So, now he’s got two sets of two witnesses…. just to be sure. J) Jesus calls James and John and, like Andrew and Peter, they immediately drop everything and follow Jesus.
Follow him where? Once he’s gathered his double set of double witnesses, Jesus goes “throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kindom and curing every disease and sickness among the people.” “Bringing light to those sitting in darkness,” is an inspiring big-picture idea, but it doesn’t really tell us how to do it. Hearing what Jesus did after collecting a few disciples makes things more concrete. He teaches, he preaches, he heals… It is in doing these things that he brings light to those sitting in darkness.
Timmy Williams was sitting in darkness—literally. Struggling with AIDS and unable to work, his lights had been cut off. Like many people who live on the margins and without support systems, Timmy also spent a lot of time at the ER.
In looking more closely at so-called “super utilizers” of ERs like Timmy, doctors and social workers discovered that many patients with complex medical issues “frequently turn to emergency rooms for problems better handled by primary care doctors and social workers.”
The news show I got this from noted that “super-utilizers make up just 5 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 50 percent of health care spending. As health care costs continue to rise, providers are trying to find these patients and get to the root of their problems.”
Timmy Williams was one of the people Houston social workers, Dayna Gurley and Bill Nice visited. “Timmy was dying when they found him. He was holed up at home and reeling from untreated HIV that had progressed to AIDS. He couldn’t take care of his young son, and cycled through Houston’s hospitals.” He was hard to engage, wasn’t taking any of his medicines, and had gotten very skinny.
“Gurley arranged for a home aide to care for Williams seven days a week, got his apartment cleaned, and the lights turned back on. Now Williams’ HIV is undetectable and his health– and life– have been steadied. He’s now healthy enough to make his way around the city on his own. He says Gurley did more than rescue him from his darkest days. At home now with his son, his illness no longer gets in the way of being the father he wants to be.” The clip from the news show ends with Timmy and his young son sitting at the kitchen table while Timmy listens to his son read. Because the social workers brought light to him in his time of darkness, he’s now able to share that light with his son.
The program has been extremely successful. Patients in the first study reduced their visits to the ER by 70%. Monthly costs to hospitals plummeted from $1.2 million/month to $500,000 per month….all because people—social workers, fire fighters, EMTs, doctors and nurses—took light to people who were sitting in darkness. (PBS NewsHour, 1/17/17)
It’s the season of epiphany, the season of light. We’ve heard about light in every worship service since Christmas Eve. John’s Gospel begins with talk of the “light coming into the world.” We heard that text both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you tuned into our snow day worship on January 8, you heard the sermon end with this line: “What if you are someone’s epiphany?” What if you are the one who reveals God to someone? What if you are the one who can en-lighten another person’s world and circumstances? “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” What if that light is you?
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this quote in recent weeks…I promise to stop reading it soon…sometime after today.
The quote comes from L. R. Knost and is about the best quote for Epiphany I’ve found. She writes: “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
(Sing) “I will hold the Christ light for you in the nighttime of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.”
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2017