Friday Focus: The People Who Walk in Darkness
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Land of Zebulun, land of 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 region and shadow of death light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. - Matthew 4: 12-23
John is in jail and Jesus is on the run. This week’s gospel opens up like a western movie. Back then, preaching peace and living love could be a very dangerous business. In fact, it still can be. Jesus knows his ministry will take him to the cross. But he’s not ready for that yet. He’s just begun and there is so much work to do. Herod has John locked up, but that doesn’t shut him up. From the depths of the dungeon, John cries out: “Repent,” echoing Christ’s call to: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
They are both on-message together. But all in all, it doesn’t look like an ideal time to start a ministry… and certainly not the ideal place for it. Northern Galilee is definitely not where “the beautiful people” are… nothing but fishermen, and poor ones at that. But Jesus is preaching out in the boondocks for a reason… the very same reason that he was born in Bethlehem. In proclaiming the New Covenant, he is faithful to every prophecy of the Old Covenant, right to the letter. And as Isaiah had predicted, this backwater is where the light would come to: the people who walked in darkness.
The darkness in Northern Galilee was largely a function of isolation. They were way out of the mainstream, eking out a subsistence living. Jerusalem was where the action was, where the priests held sway, where theology was the constant topic of the day. In Northern Galilee their focus was on empty nets and trying to fill them with fish. They lived in the darkness of bare, solitary subsistence. The darkness we walk in today is the mirror opposite.
Our darkness is a function of poorly distributed prosperity and the envy and self-indulgence it breeds. It is compounded by constant media intrusion and message overload. Our dark isolation is a defense mechanism developed by a people drowning in a non-stop information dump. In the familiar code of texting, we are suffering from TMI: “too much information.” But more than that, we are swamped with TMDI: “too much dysfunctional information.” The first objective of this media onslaught is to capture eyeballs, to get attention. Predictably that has resulted in a race to the bottom across the whole spectrum. Shock value is what makes messages go viral. Sex and violence get ratings, while trashing the envelope of decency. Popular music features a non-stop deluge of obscenity and misogyny pouring out of headphones right into young brains. Even a G-rating is no protection against smarmy scripts riddled with corrupt values and double-entendres. While the insidious poison of porn awaits both young and old, only a few key-strokes away.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The message is two-thousand years old; but it’s as if Jesus had composed it this morning just for us. The kingdom certainly is at hand. But you won’t find it on MapQuest. The kingdom of heaven exists where the bondage of sin has been broken; where God is praised; where neighbor is loved. For the faithful, the kingdom of heaven exists wherever God’s will reigns: in a single soul, in a family, a congregation, a community. But that great blessing comes with a great obligation. We are the light of the world. We must take that light to the people who walk in darkness. We must live an evangelical life; letting family, friends, co-workers, everyone we touch today know from our example…our faith, our hope, our love… that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is here for the asking. There is no reason to walk in darkness when we can dance in the light.
Here is the link to a wonderful website that can be a personal resource, or used by your parish, book club, discussion group or social organization.
ChurchNext is website that offers online classes on a galaxy of topics from a Christian perspective. Their plans are quite affordable; the teachers are renowned, including: Rev. Anne Kitch, Rev. Marek Zabriskie, Rt. Rev. Michael Curry and (our very own) Rev. Barbara C. Crafton!
Take a look at their course catalog. Go to: http://www.churchnext.tv/p/churchnext.
p.s. The course led by Bishop Curry is FREE and may be a good way to get your toes wet!
Festival Focus: Martin's Greatest Gift
January is a very dreary month and we can all use a break.
Over a decade and a half have passed and "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day" has slipped into the rotation of routine events that shape our lives -- smack in the middle of the NFL playoffs and right before Groundhog's Day. But Martin's greatest gift to us is not just a day off or another three-day holiday weekend of promotional sales to kick-start the economy.
Neither is his greatest gift a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter for a minority of us. It's not even his wake-up call to a majority that was comfortable living in atrophied isolation, actively oblivious to the catastrophic rot around us. Behind it all, his greatest gift was to vividly lay bare the Body of Christ and challenge us to live in it.
"For just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body …" 1 Cor. 12:12-13.
Paul wrote it. Martin lived it. And he died for it.
The message is simple. It has been in scripture for millennia. But we are "a stiff-necked people" and obviously need regular reinforcement: There was no ghetto in the Garden of Eden. No separate, but equal. We are of common stock. Children of Eve -- or Lucy, as the anthropologists prefer. There were no reruns of Calvary with separate white, black, Asian and Hispanic casts. Christ died once and for all. And in him we are all risen -- together.
We are the Body of Christ, not the distant cousins of Christ with a polite nodding acquaintance of each other to be endured in quiet reserve at rare gatherings. Christ never commanded that we tolerate each other, much less mollify each other with mid-winter holidays. Jesus said it simply, "Love one another."
Not the racist degradation of a Birmingham jail, nor his bloody martyrdom on a Memphis motel balcony could shake Martin's fidelity to Christ's message of love. Martin's immortal words inscribed on his memorial put a gentle message powerfully: "Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it…" What a legacy to take home to glory -- a life laid down in Christ as a witness to his enduring love. What a gift of brilliant insight and articulation on bonds closer than brotherhood. We are one -- the beloved of God, our Father, united in the Body of Christ.
Martin's gift is the kind that keeps giving. For 50 years it has guided our sense of civic justice. When, and if, that necessity ever fades, there is a more enduring lesson he left us that transcends perceptions of pigmentation and DNA. In valedictory, he summarized the power of truth, love and our human condition: "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
Thank you, Martin. We honor you. We rejoice in you. Happy birthday.