Living in the Light
Psalm 27 Matthew 4:12-24
Ecumenical Sunday January 23, 2011
Matthew says that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he went to live by the sea of Galilee in a town called Capernaum. Matthew then describes Jesus’ ministry in that area - walking along the sea, calling Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing livelihoods and into a life working with him, healing people of all kinds of diseases, preaching in the out-of-doors about the kingdom of God, and teaching in synagogues when invited. I wonder what it must have been like for Jesus, to hear that his friend and cousin had been arrested? Did this make him see his own life in starker relief, perhaps recognizing that he, too was not safe from the authorities for long? Did it push him into action quicker than he might have moved of his own accord?
The land to which Jesus goes is a desolate place where wars had been fought for centuries. The warring tribes, including Syria and Northern Israel, took their battles to this place because it was considered to be dead land, a place where no one of any consequence lived. It had been subject to several ethnic cleansing campaigns by various rulers over the years, as one group and then another went out of favor. Galilee was known as the “land of deep darkness” by Isaiah the prophet and most others. If Jesus’ mission was to bring light into the darkness, then this place, that many considered to be the “heart of darkness,” was a good place to start. The work Jesus did was difficult, especially given the fact that he was doing it in Galilee. Trying to bring good news alive in a place that has been given up for dead was an enormous challenge, and yet in other ways, the people there were perhaps the most open recipients he could hope for. They desperately needed to hear some good news.. The fact that Jesus’ good news was accompanied by healing, drew ever larger crowds. Some of the people around him, even his most faithful followers, commented that the people probably didn’t care about his teaching or preaching, all they cared about was being healed. This may have been a reality. It is often a reality to this day. People come to God, to Christ, for the healing they need; but having received healing, many of them stay around to hear more. Such powerful healing has to come from somewhere, right? So, their interest is peaked and they stay around to hear more about the kingdom of God, about healing that touches deep down in the soul, about the love of God of whom Jesus speaks as being more like a daddy than a distant, angry, vengeful being.
Why do you stay? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Why do you stay in relationship with God? You may have received healing at some point in your life. You may have been intrigued by the thought of a loving God, but why do you keep coming back? - not just to church, but to God, to Jesus? What is it you are looking for from this relationship you have? What is it that you receive? One of the most powerful lessons I received in answer to this happened several years ago now, at a retreat for women. We were sitting in a circle, in an attitude of prayer, and the facilitator came to each person in the circle, placed her hands on their shoulders, looked them directly in the eyes and whispered something in her ear. I was curious what she was saying as I watched her go around the circle. Women responded in different ways to her touch. Some sighed deeply and closed their eyes, going deeper into prayer, others cried softly while she stayed with them for as long as it took. When she got to me, I was curious about what she would say. She put her hands on my shoulders and stood there looking at me for what felt like a long while, and I felt like it was Jesus looking at me so that when she said, “Your faith has made you well,” it felt as though Jesus himself was saying those words directly to me, looking into my eyes and gently holding my shoulders. The words washed over me as if I was being anointed with a warm oil. I felt them soak in. I felt the healing soak in too, even though I was not really sure what it was that was being healed.
There is something we receive from Jesus that goes beyond understanding. It is not just the physical healing, although many times it is this. Isaiah said that the people who sat in darkness had seen a great light. Isn’t it this light that we experience when we are close to Jesus? Jesus lived in the land of darkness and brought to it a powerful light - a light that healed people of all kinds of diseases. He taught them how to be in a new relationship with God, a relationship based on love and on breaking free of all that had held them back - ever. But even when he wasn’t actively doing something, Jesus was being the light right there in their midst. He embodied all that he spoke of, in his physical presence with the people who had been beaten down by unimaginable darkness for so very long. I wonder if we can be the light too? Can we hold this space of healing and teaching and new relationship with God, by simply being present in a conscious way? The woman who ran the women’s retreat I attended was clearly aware that we can do this for one another. She brought the presence of Christ right into that circle, and touched each one of us with it.
One thing we all do, something we cannot escape, is living with other people. We may share a house or we may not, but we all have many, many relationships. What are our interactions with others based on? Do we think about how we present ourselves in the world and to the world? What difference do we make by being a part of a community, of a family, of a nation? Is it possible for us to bring the light of God with us into these relationships? I am not talking about doing this in a way that needs to be spoken aloud, but rather holding the knowledge that we are doing so with intention deep inside of ourselves. If we know that we are bringing the light with us and allowing it to shine through us whenever possible, then I believe this will change our interactions with people one-to-one, and that it will also shift things in a larger way as well.. The world needs the light of God, because there is plenty of darkness challenging us at every turn. We need to bring Jesus’ healing into our own hearts, asking ourselves “where is it that I need Jesus’ healing touch today?” And then we need to bring this healing into our relationships as well, recognizing that we are channels of God’s love, and that by living in the light of God’s love and of Jesus’ healing and teachings, we are able to influence the world in positive ways. It isn’t just about what God can do for us, but what we can do for God and for others. As when I received my healing in the circle of women that day a long time ago, I still don’t know exactly how this works, but I know that it does. I know that God uses us to make a difference in the world around us, and that Jesus can heal others through our touch. We just have to show up and be willing to let his light shine through us.
God of love and light, may we be the healers this world needs. May our presence be the light that shines in darkness, helping all people see your ways of peace and love. May we somehow convey the healing of Christ Jesus wherever there is brokenness. May your love and light surround us all, always. Amen