As we continue to reflect on the call of the disciples to follow Jesus (Third Sunday after Epiphany. Matthew 4:12-25; Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1-10; and 1 Corinthians 1:10-18.) and the call of God more broadly, our Scripture reminds us that the call is always to be Kingdom people where ever we are.
The language and imagery of Isaiah is of a people walking in darkness who are almost overcome by doom and gloom. The predicament of a people led by those who have lost their faith, lost their sense of direction and moral compass resonates with many of us. And to such a people in such a time God promises to make God’s self known and for the darkness to give way to light. This is a completely audacious hope our forebears and we ourselves are reminded is ours.
No wonder Matthew references this memory and promise when telling the story of John the Baptist having been arrested and Jesus and his family having to relocate (again). There were grounds for concern and the ministry of Jesus must have felt very dangerous (as it turned out to be for him and for many of his followers). But rather than softening his message Jesus picked up where John left off and proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God in the other gospels) had come near and that a whole of life response was required. Repentance - as we have often been told - is to have one’s mind changed, to change direction, to turn toward home. The call to repentance was never only about a private decision to confess sins and become more moral and holy (although this is often part of the outworking of such a call). The call has always been to become part of a community, a whole way of life, that is informed by the kingdom values of loving God, self and neighbour.
In a week when many will be reflecting on the life and ministry of Dr Martin Luther King Jrn it is good to remember his words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” The wisdom and challenge of these words is closely related to what we are called to participate in as people of the kingdom of heaven. We are called to be light where there is darkness and love where there is hate. We are called to notice those who bear light and are love and to affirm, encourage, support and join. We are called to identify where there is darkness and hate and to challenge, offer alternatives and to seek to heal.
Jesus, having announced his purpose then spoke to the individuals he met and called them to leave their normal everyday lives and to follow him, to become part of something bigger, more powerful and yet more vulnerable. And for those who were not yet ready to follow Jesus offered healing and teaching, encouraging and provoking all to enter into life deeper and broader, life more fulfilling and connected to others, life filled with light and love that would stir up the dark and the hate as well.
The call was not then and is not now, I believe, out of the world but more deeply into the world, into the kingdom of heaven come near. Especially into those parts where there is the darkness of fear, loss, suffering, bitterness and hate. The call is not particularly for the nice but the needy. The call is not necessarily for those at the centre of importance but is especially for those in the badlands, on the edge of society. The call is not even specifically for the religiously trained but the spiritually hungry and curious.
Even for those of us who have been on the journey a while now, who belong deeply to communities of faith, let us take courage and be open to what next, who around me, what in my community, is calling me with the resonance of Christ? What is being offered me in out of the way places and moments? What is being asked of me that I am resisting because I’m tired or dispirited or have done my share already? For we are called not only to notice the light and love of God in our world but to be light, to be love in the broken world that we belong in.
Rumi, the Sufi poet and wisdom teacher said it this way: “Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” I am very challenged by this reminder that whenever we step into our life, our community, the world around us, we need to do this with an awareness that we carry light and love, hope and the experience of mercy, that may be needed by those we encounter. What a waste of opportunity and life to not remember that we are conduits of what others may need, that we are called to be bearers of light and grace. Just as we at times are in need of light and healing so are many of those who walk the streets we walk, who stand beside us in shopping queues, who sit drinking coffee at the table near us, that answer the phone in the business we need to deal with, who are behind the wheel of the vehicle wishing to overtake us.
The call of Jesus is to live in the awe inspiring overwhelming knowledge that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us and we are to live as citizens of a way of living that is filled with God now, not waiting until everyone else is ready, or it is convenient, or the final destination fully revealed to our dull eyes. We are called to live with our hearts outside our bodies (as every lover and parent knows) invested in a world where all are valued and included, where wonder is more important than success, where joy is as welcome as respect, where light overcomes darkness, and love quenches hate.
If we can remember to leave our homes as shepherds we may just reflect a little light and be love right where it is needed. Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, call our true name over the despair and cynicism of our world that we may follow you.