Isaiah 9: 1-4
I Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-23
The Good News is this: On a land pitched in darkness God has shined a magnificent light. People who were far away from God have been made beneficiaries of God?s abundant grace! That is in part the message that Jesus takes to the people of the Galilee region. It?s an affirming, positive message to a people who feel like they are the very dregs of society. Because that is how Galileans felt. They felt like the poor step-children of God. Have you ever seen the plaque Mark Scott has in his office that says, “God loves everybody, but I?m his favorite?” In those days, Galileans felt like “everybody.” The people who lived in Jerusalem and out into Judea were definitely God?s favorites.
As it happens, God?s light shone on those who were literally poor and weak when it shone on the Galileans. But one thing we Christians believe is that all people, rich or poor, good or bad, of any race, creed, color, or nation, are the poor and the weak in God?s eyes. All of us are in desperate, desperate need of God. And Jesus Christ died and rose again for all of us, rich or poor, good or bad, of any race, creed, color, or nation, because God loves us. We all have walked in a land of great darkness—we all have suffered, we all have grieved, we all have been desperate and despondent and hopeless and alone–and in that land of great darkness on us God?s light has shined.
For each of us as Christians, there?s a huge grace in knowing that when we are least deserving, God still loves us with an unquenchable love. When we are least able to take care of ourselves, God takes care of us. When we are most in need of forgiveness, God forgives us. This is what we mean by Grace—God?s unconditional love bestowed on us even though we have done nothing to earn it. In our times of greatest need, we can remember Jesus? comforting words:
“Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”
That is grace. And if that was all that Jesus? message was, it?d be “feel good” grace. And there?s nothing wrong with feeling good.
Apparently this is how Jesus starts his pitch. Jesus goes out to the Sea of Galilee and tells poor fishermen “Don?t be down and despondent because of the darkness in your life. God?s light shines on you!” They smile. Maybe it makes them feel good. Maybe they think this guy is nuts, telling them that God?s light shines on them when they stink of fish and sea brine and sweat and frustration; when they live day-to-day under the heel of Rome and Herod; when they can never catch enough fish to make a good living for their families. But maybe it makes them feel good. Maybe for a minute it helps them to see the miracle of God?s love in their lives, the wonder of God in the world around them.
But then Jesus says, “Come with me and I will make you fish for people.”
It?s not enough to know God loves us. We have to do something about it. Christian life is not just about being comforted and assured and gratified and forgiven. It isn?t just about feeling good. It?s about taking that same good news out into the world. It?s no longer “ask and ye shall receive.” We have received. Now?s the time for the ask.
If you?ve ever been in sales or politics, you know about “the ask.” That?s when you?ve cultivated a relationship to a client and tailored things for them a certain way, and now it?s time for you to say, “Okay, here?s what I?d like to challenge you to do.” Jesus has an “ask” that He puts to those who believe his good news: Fish for people.
One of the growing edges of Twenty-first Century faith is how we understand and respond to the two-edged sword of the Gospel. There is a perspective that says the single most important message of Christian faith is God?s unconditional love for all people. It?s a perspective most of us have sympathy with, even if we don?t entirely agree with it. We look around the world, we look at people we know, struggling with depression, family troubles, economic troubles, low self-esteem—real issues—and we want to say to them, God loves you. God forgives you. God accepts you.
But God doesn?t leave it at that. God has an “ask”: God calls us to be disciples. We are called to be fishers of people. We have to pull others into the net of God?s love. It?s not enough to have our own darkness lifted. We are called to lift the darkness of others.
I heard an interview recently with investment banker and author Gordon Murray, co-author of the book “The Investment Answer.” Mr. Murray died just last week, and he wrote the book knowing that he was dying of a terrible brain cancer. He joked that people have responded very positively to the book, in part, he suspects, because these days people respond positively to the concept of “dying banker.” The book?s purpose is to help normal people like you and me know how to make good investments. In his last year of life, he wanted to help other people. He said, “I was surprised how meaningful it was helping other people, and that I really got great joy from that. I, in fact, I tell my kids now, if you start to feel sorry for yourself, just do something for someone else.”
I have wrestled with Murray?s observation all week. Here was a man slogging through the ultimate land of darkness—he was dying. And yet he still was able to be a light for others. Here was an amazing illustration of Paul?s adage that “God?s strength is made perfect in our weakness.” Murray could easily have justified hiding away in a shell. He could have become self-involved, defeatist. He could have believed he was useless and helpless. Instead he found joy and purpose in being a light for others.
This calling to do something for others is essential to the Good News of the Gospel. “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.” The Good news is, believe it or not, that we have been made good enough to do God’s work on earth. God has trusted us with that responsibility because God thinks we?re up to it. It?s a challenge to emerge from our self-protective shell and have confidence that we aren’t just anybody, but we are agents of God?s love, grace and kingdom on earth. And God’s agents go out and show compassion and kindness. God’s agents give freely to others. God’s agents forgive their enemies. God’s agents seek to love the people of the world as unconditionally as they have been loved. God’s agents aren’t out for themselves—they are out to serve God and to serve others.
The good news is that if you say „yes? to God?s ask, the world receives. The world receives God’s grace and love through you.
And the further good news is that if you say yes to God?s ask, you receive. Gordon Murray was able to find God?s light in his darkness by helping others, by generosity. That?s the way of the Gospel. It is circular. We learn that God loves us. God then calls us to serve. In our service to God, we are reassured that God loves us and values us.
We ask. We receive. We are asked. We give. And we receive. And we are asked again.