Reaching Others with Light

1 Corinthians 1: 10-18              Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Matthew 4: 12-22              January 22, 2017

...the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

Prayer:  Holy God, praises to you for the joy of believing that your light is the light for all people.  Please call us together through your Spirit of unity.  Amen.

This weekend begins of a new chapter in the history of the United States of America with Donald Trump as our new President and Commander-in-Chief!  I think we’ve heard politicians and commentators say the phrase “peaceful transfer of power” about as much as we’ve heard the call to help unify and heal our nation.  Because we’ve come through perhaps the most turbulent election season of our time which caused a deepening of the already existing political divide in our country.  And, calls for our new leaders to help unify, to heal, to bring together people of opposing sides, to be bi-partisan are persistent, if not hopeful.

In light of our nation’s political divisions, it’s not difficult to connect Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians to our situation because they had divisions of their own. Let me explain that.  In the first century, it was common for spiritual leaders to have their own disciples.  John the Baptist had his. Of course, Jesus had his, too, and as we heard last Sunday, two of John’s disciples, when they heard that Jesus was the Messiah, left John and started following Jesus.  There was a sense that a disciple ‘belonged’ to their spiritual leader—that’s who they identified with. That’s who was teaching them.

In the years immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ disciples turned into apostles, which means they shared the good news about Christ and some baptized new believers, too.  Those new believers now had a sense that they ‘belonged’ to that apostle who brought them to Christ, or maybe even baptized them.  That’s what Paul means when he quotes them saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” to Cephas (Peter), to Christ, etc.

But these new believers in Corinth started arguing among themselves—one person might have said “Look, I belong to Peter who was with Jesus when he was alive—that gives Peter’s word more authority…”  Or another would say, “Well, I belong to Paul; he told me the good news of Christ, and he met the Risen Christ on the road!  He has more authority. His word is more right than anyone’s!”  And so the arguments went on...and the divisions were created.

We know what it means to want to be right, right?  I mean I like to have my facts correct.  Don’t you?  I try to know what’s what, to be confident in my understanding.  True for you, too?  I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try to be accurate when I think I’ve figured things out.  Just ask Barb—she’s knows that part of me!  Hah!  But, she’s always telling me that she’s always right, and I’m forever saying, “Yes dear.  You’re right.”  “I’m always right!” she’d say.

However, the problems come if we start to assume that there is something wrong with the other person who disagrees with us!  Who challenges our facts, our rightness. If another perspective is offered, and that perspective is viewed as incorrect, then the person becomes an adversary!  Fellow human beings are viewed not as human beings first, but as opponents first.  I wonder if that’s one reason why we’re dead-locked in division in our nation.  I wonder if our prevailing culture emphasizes seeing the person who’s different, different party, different faith, different religion, different sexual orientation, different ideas, different perspectives as an opponent first and people who threaten our “rightness.”

So, my guess is, these kinds of arguments and developing divisions concerned Paul because the new believers in Christ were becoming opponents to each other first, and declare something’s wrong with the otherperson first, instead of being human beings with each other first.  They felt the need to defend against the opponent and resist their ideas, instead of reaching out to them and seeing them as unique human beings, as fellow followers of God in Christ first,  who might, by God’s design, offer a new perspective for consideration.  It seems to me that all Paul wanted was for them to be united in this same mind and purpose: not homogeneity in beliefs or practice, but , per se, but unity in being human with one another, fellow followers of Christ in all our diversity, and that in diversity be able toreach others with the light of Christ.

Matthew is clear that Jesus himself is the “light.”  He is the light

Isaiah predicted.  He is the light to be followed.  The people once in darkness have seen God’s light in Jesus. And so do we.

Now, of course, light waves in nature are invisible, right?  The primary way we know that light waves exist is because they illumine objects so that we can see them.  We see a beam of light because dust particles in that beam are illumined.  We see objects primarily when light shines on them.

Like I described yesterday at Joe Cook’s memorial service, if you were standing in a solitary confinement cell block at Alcatraz Prison, and the door to that cell was closed, it would be so totally black in there that you wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face let alone the person standing next to you.  But crack that door open even a little, and lightpenetrates the darkness, and you can see your hand again because light illuminates it.

In the same way, God is invisible, but when the reality of God touches our hearts and lives like it touched Jesus’s heart and his life, it’s like we get illumined with God’s light and others can see the light of Christ in us.  They see goodness in us.  I often walk away from a conversation saying to myself or others with me, “What a neat lady!’  Or, “He’s a really cool guy!”  Or, “What a wonderful couple.”  That’s my way of saying “I see the light of Christ in that person!”  We may have different ideas and/or beliefs, but I don’t think those will divide us if we see the human being first and the light of Christ in that human being first.

I believe we can reach others with this light of Christ, especially if we are willing to keep our eyes and ears open to the light God provides through the diversity we experience in others.  Then maybe, if we do it right, through the ways God is calling us to be attentive to our humanity, someone will come to follow Christ because of the light that shines from us.

And, maybe, just maybe we, like Andrew, Peter, James and John who heard and responded to Jesus’ call at the lakeshore to fish for people, will hear and respond like they did, by continuing to reach others with the light of Christ, and continue knowing that we all belong in Christ, that we are all human beings first in Christ.

Just after we stand and sing our hymn, we have an opportunity in our time of worship to receive any person who wants to join us in reaching others with the light of Christ.  Let us all respond to that call of God, sharing the light of Christ with other human beings.  Amen.