Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seeing a Great Light -- A Sermon

My dad used to tell us the story about when he was a poor college student who had gone out with his friends one night in a beat up old Studebaker that had only one headlight.  This is out in the country roads of Indiana in the 1950’s.

While they were out, the other headlight blew, and there they were in the pitch dark, absolutely no way to see the gravel road.  They pulled over to the side of the road and waited until another car drove by, then they followed it until it turned off their road.  They pulled over again and waited for another car -- and another and another all the way home.  Dad said it was much more scary at the time than it sounds now.

Matthew’s Gospel says, “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.”

But Matthew also talks about fishing for people today.  Certainly, there are enough people in the world who don’t believe in Christ.  As Jesus said later on:  “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”

But the question for us isn’t so much whether or not there are people who need Christ.  The question is why?

Because if we don’t understand the reason for bringing the Gospel to people, we could do incredible harm.  

During the crusades and the later missionary periods of our church’s history, people wanted to “fishers of men.”  They thought the best way was to go out with a net and haul them in by force -- exactly as the fishermen of the day did.  (But -- and you may not know this -- most fish don’t actually want to be caught).  

The missionaries thought they were bringing people to Christ -- and they certainly did teach about who Christ was even as many of them(but by all means not all) ripped children from their parents to take them to their own schools and in extreme cases killed those who refused to convert.

So, rather than running off with our nets and poles, let’s ask what it is about people that makes this entire fishing business necessary?

The reason we take the good news of Jesus Christ out in to the world is the same reason Jesus came -- to bring light to those who sit in darkness.

What kind of darkness?  Anguish, Isaiah says.  “The region and shadow of death.”     

Darkness is the state of not knowing God’s love.   

God’s love is that which gives us hope that our lives have meaning -- that we have a place in this world -- that we matter both in this life and the next.

Darkness is looking around the world and saying, “What’s the use?  Nothing matters.  Even if there is a God, he’s got no use for me.”

Jesus came to bring light.  Not the kind of light that discovers all our flaws we’ve been trying to hide from everyone including ourselves, the kind that says, “Ha!  I knew you were up to no good.”

Jesus came to be the light that shines in the darkness in order to guide the lost home.  Like a bunch of college kids in a beat up old Studebaker.

There are many in this world who are looking for a light to follow out of their fear or despair.  That light is called hope.  And hope in God’s love for us all is what we have to offer.

Be the light that shines in the darkness -- and the fish will take care of themselves.