Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4, Matthew 4:12-23
Let us pray: God of all time and all peoples, be with your people here today as we ponder the words of scripture. Help us to have open hearts and minds to your word for us and to offer ourselves to your vision and your purpose, in the name of Jesus. Amen
This is the time in the church year between Christmas and Lent we know as the season of Epiphany – but it can also be called ‘ordinary time’, the same terminology as can be used for the period that stretches from Pentecost to Advent- ‘ordinary time’ – the part of the church year when we are neither aiming at or celebrating Christmas or Easter, when we are not concentrating explicitly on the birth, death or resurrection of Jesus. And in the end around 33 or 34 weeks of our 52 week church year can be called ‘ordinary time.’ If you can imagine the year as a pie chart with the liturgical colours put in, this time would be a small wedge of green – a small wedge about 2 o’clock (apologies to the digital among us) - and then there would be almost half of the circle on the opposite side – say 6-12 also green – it really is the dominant colour of our time as a church year. Much of it, in this hemisphere, is winter time – can we say this year all of it!
And we have this bit of green (ordinary time) now – isolated, stranded from the other, on both sides, by the Christmas and Easter purple and white. What might we read from that? Well that there is a sense that we are being reminded in these weeks that we also need to be grounded in the ordinary, that the ‘high celebrations’ are not by themselves enough to sustain us in the hard work of following Jesus in our daily, often very ordinary, lives.
This viewpoint is encouraged when we look at the focus of the Gospel readings over this time – from the Sermon on the Mount: where Jesus teaches us the very basics of what it means to be a Christ follower – practical foundation stuff for us to follow everyday.
Jesus is preparing us for understanding in a new way the meaning of the incarnation: the intricate relationship of God and Jesus, human and divine, into which we are invited. This ordinary time is our time to know God through the man Jesus, or as Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe says: “We do not simply examine Jesus historically to see what he was like; we listen to him, he established communication and friendship with us, and it is in this rapport with Jesus that we explore a different dimension of his existence…. It is in the contact with the person who is Jesus, in this personal communication between who he is and who we are, that his divinity is revealed in his humanity.”
And so Jesus begins: to proclaim, to teach, to heal and to disrupt. And what is it that he says to the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, to us today: ‘Follow me!
Follow me not in the hype of Christmas, not in the pain and passion of Easter but follow me today, just follow.
The question then for today? How are we to walk in the light of Christ in the midst of the everyday, of the ordinary.
Maybe the first thing to say is that no day, walking with Jesus, is boringly ordinary. Every day brings blessings, insights, acts of love and challenges. Every day through prayer and stillness and the beauty that surrounds us we encounter God and know anew the power of love to heal and to minister. So no never just ordinary – I may have shared this with you before but I realised after my dad died that the best way I could describe him was as an extraordinary ordinary man – no big spectacular epiphanies or moments of great celebration but it was in his everyday constancy of living well and faithfully that I found this sense of greatness, of inspiration that encouraged and grew me.
I think too of the people that came here on Friday and spent a good part of the day preparing placards for the march championing women on Saturday morning – a small voice against the powerful roar of a political bully but believing in the ability of that voice to speak out.
I heard some beautiful words this week, from someone asked for their sense of purpose to their call: they said that it was about ‘converting Christians to the wonder of their own faith, the bigness of what faith can be.’
I think that this was where Isaiah was at – in the midst of the turmoil of the time oppression, exploitation of the poor, the rule of fear) in the midst of that, he held out and on to the vision of a world at peace, the wonder of a world where God was made known through the day to day actions and ways of living of the ordinary people. The ‘bigness’ of faith will overcome the pain of the world. The light of Christ will shine in the darkest corners and make a difference.
Perhaps one of the foundation concepts that helps us here is best told by a story, and I am sure many of you will have heard this in some form or other: An American minister remembers his childhood and the fact that the family was never allowed to have the television on during dinner – except that is on Sunday when there was this show ‘Wild Kingdom’ that explored the wonders of nature. His father said that every episode reminded him of the wonders of God’s creativity and imagination in the natural world (I’ll come back to those words later). But there was one particular episode showing the elephant seals of Argentina – and a mum and her newly born seal pup. Mum took off to feed and ended up coming back to a different beach. The young boy that was watching didn’t see how they could find one another, ever, but the mother called and searched and listened until she was reunited with her pup – and the host of the programme told of how, at birth, the sound and scent of the mother are imprinted in the pup’s memory and the sound and the scent of the put are imprinted on the mother’s memory. The boy’s father kind of nailed it when he said: ‘You know, that’s how it is with God, we are imprinted with a memory of God and God, even before we are born, is imprinted with a memory of us –we will always find each other.
That realisation that there is a presence in our lives that refuses to let go, is always filling our lives with longing and hope is a corner stone of our faith.
So too is the understanding that the light of Christ permeates all places, all dark corners and brings peace and vision where our own is struggling. That by living in the teachings of Jesus we are spreading that light in our everyday living – generosity, compassion, justice while going about our ordinary lives.
So too is the knowledge that we are a people of repentance – aware of our failures, able to bring them before God, able to try again, always seeking to be more like Jesus for it is there we are coming close the fulfilling of love, God’s purpose for the world, Isaiah’s ‘great light’ that would bring joy to the nations and freedom from their oppressors.
Therefore, the scripture passage from Matthew today of the invitation to follow, does, I believe, require of us a wholehearted response. It is an invitation to a new way of living not just at the high festivals but this week, all those green weeks of the year, and we are asked to have not just the faith, the capacity to see beyond things as they are but also the imagination and work towards things as they might be. To hold to the vision of the good news within our relatively ordinary lives and to live it out with energy and enthusiasm because we truly believe that it will make a difference.
We might not understand just what that light might look like always, we just know that it is needed and we are the vessel. We will not always have the imagination to see just where our path might take us but we trust in the vision of God. We might find it hard to lift our sights to the good and the peaceful and the just when we are surrounded by oppression, political lunacy and greedy systems but do it anyway – for there we will encounter the kingdom of God, again and again and again.
The call to follow Jesus invites us to be the light that no darkness can ever put out. Amen. So be it.