Epiphany 3 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
Amos 3:1–11, Psalm 139, I Corinthians 1:10-17, Matthew 4:12-22
The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. (Mt 4:16)
Think for a moment of your favorite place to watch a sunrise: maybe at the beach, or up in the mountains, or even out your back door. I am thinking of the rolling hills I see as I look toward Rockford and up toward the mountains. At first, the whole landscape is dark. Shapes merge into one another. Then the first pinprick of light appears at the crest of the mountains. This tiny speck of light casts a honeyed glow across the mountaintops. It is as though the sun has kissed the world and this warmth of this love awakens creation. Forms come alive as trees, houses, fields, and even cows come into view. As I look out into the sunbathed landscape, I think, “This is good.”
In our Gospel reading today, the Great Light is dawning. This is not the sunshine, it is Jesus. The Light of the World is walking along the shores of the Galilee. Once again, the Son has kissed the world and this warmth of this love calls forth a new creation. Just as Adam worked in the garden, Andrew and Peter, James and John are working in the Sea. The light of Christ reveals a quiet beauty in these fishermen, these craftsmen following the rhythm of casting their nets into the waters and gathering them. We can almost hear to gentle splashes of water, the rocking of the boats, the voices of the men.
These men are participating in a trade handed down from father to son. They are following and sometimes adapting ancient rhythms. Jesus calls them to come and they come. They follow him. Speaking into the beauty of their craft, he promises to make them fishers of men.
Have they renounced fishing forever? Not necessarily. We see them fishing again later in the Gospel. Fishing is a part of who they are, and yet, over time this vocation will be reshaped into a life of fishing for humans, rescuing them from the sea of darkness. These disciples will eventually play a specific role of leading the newborn church, and their responsibility will change from fishing to praying and the ministry of the Word.
We should not assume that the pattern of the twelve disciples leaving behind their earthly vocations to serve the newborn church is the pattern for the life of faith. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, over five hundred people beheld the resurrected Jesus. Twelve would go on to lead the church, but the vast majority of witnesses continued to serve Jesus within their trades. Instead of reading the fishermen story as a story of leaving behind trades, we might think of it as a story of Jesus the Light of the World shining into human vocations and raising them up to glorify the Father in Heaven.
“The scene by the Sea of Galilee is reminiscent of the Lord walking about the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve after our first parents had sinned,” writes Erasmo Leivi-Merikakis. He continues, “As he begins his redemptive mission, Jesus appears to be on a search to undo the rebellion that had been perpetrated in Eden.”
In the creation story, we see the Lord speaking a world of glory into being and affirming, “It is good.” Later the Lord says that it is not good that Adam should be alone, so He creates a helpmeet for Adam. In the Gospels, Jesus walks through His creation. He beholds His world of people and places created good and for God’s glory, but He sees that it is not good, and the Great Light shines upon those who dwell in darkness.
Think of this Great Light in relation to Matthew 4:23 – 25,
23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
As we think of these people and places, we know that they didn’t dwell in literal darkness. The sun rose and set upon all these communities just as it does in all communities of our world. Each day, the people took up their vocations that were most likely handed down through families. Scripture names a wide range of vocations from farming to pottery, from fishing to dying fabrics and many more. Some people are common laborers and others have specialized crafts and a few are wealthy landowners.
People live from day to day. They marry, have children, grow old. They follow religious rituals and rhythms either as devout Jews or as pagans. And yet, the Gospels says that they are dwelling in darkness. What kind of darkness?
In one sense, we might say that is a darkness of understanding. They do not understand or behold the glory of God all around them. They are subject to the confusions of folk religion. Many are being directly oppressed by evil spirits. All are bound to sin. As the Lord beholds his creation, He says it is not good. There is no one to intervene. So He intervenes. He comes to us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. As Jesus Christ walks through the world, He is Light of the World, revealing the truth of the human condition and the truth of God’s loving and redeeming character. In Christ, God delivers us out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)
He does not come to take people away from their lives. The rhythms of waking and sleeping, of loving and marrying, of working and playing. He comes to restore these rhythms into the glory of creation day, of the heavenly light shining into all things, upon all things, and filling all things with His glory. He comes to walk with His people in the cool of the day. In His resurrection, Jesus comes to lead His people into a new day, the eighth day, the new creation, the joy of all things made new.
With that picture in mind, I return to the glory of vocation, of work and play. “Paul Minear once wrote that the Bible is “an album of casual photographs of laborers.… A book by workers, about workers, for workers-that is the Bible”
The Bible gives us a rich and varied picture of craft, of trade, of vocation. Even God Himself is pictured as a worker who invites His people to work co-labor with Him. “Robert Banks explores some of the specific images of God, including composer and performer, metalworker and potter, garment maker, gardener, farmer, shepherd, tentmaker and builder.” I would challenge us all to pay attention to the varied forms of work and craft and vocation present in Scripture. Many people engaged in multiple forms of work as part of daily and yearly living.
In His book, The Craftsman, Richard Sennett celebrates craft across the ages. He tells the story of the Chinese chef who has learned to use a cleaver for all aspects of cooking. The cleaver becomes an extension of his forearm and hand. The sign of a master is not brute force, but the ability to restrain power so that the chef always cuts appropriate to the item and with precision. The Master can supposedly cut a grain of rice in two with his cleaver.
In the Gospels, Jesus in walking into the vocations of the people from soldier to farmer, from tax collector to teacher. He is shining His life and truth into their world. John says that sinful man recoils from this light. But as Jesus frees us from the grip of darkness and death, we enter into to the True Light of His Presence, into the Light of His Creation made for His glory. We bring our skills and crafts and hopes and dreams with us. We don’t leave them behind. These gifts are transformed into glory.
As a child, C.S. Lewis loved Norse mythology, and as a teenager, he was trained in the use of logic. When he eventually did come into the light of faith, his interests and skills were brought into service of the King. His love of mythology took shape in story. His philosophical training took shape in apologetics.
James Houston, a colleague of Lewis, once asked him, “How do we make more CS Lewises?” Lewis replied that goal shouldn’t be to create more CS Lewises but to teach Christians of all vocations to think and live their faith in their varied vocations. Houston would eventually start Regent College in Vancouver with the goal of furthering that vision.
As hear about Lewis and look further back to the ancient vocations in Scripture, we might wonder where does that leave us today? As children, we are told, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” That sounds good but it is also a confusing burden. Most young people have no idea what to be or do. Most of us do not learn a vocation handed down across generations. Rather, we hold a variety of jobs across our lifetimes. These jobs may be fun or may be tedious, but they pay the bills. What does this vision of Jesus shining in and through our jobs today even mean? Many people spend their days typing on a computer while navigating all through struggles and complaints of the workplace.
This morning, I am trying to envision Jesus Christ the Light of the World walking into all our varied vocations at work and home. He is shining His glory upon us and through us. In the midst of all the challenges faced each day, He is present. It might also be helpful to rediscover our call to create by cultivating a hobby. By learning to work with the hands, we might reacquaint ourselves with ancient rhythms of prayer that involve the body as much as the mind.
I believe that Jesus does shine His light in and through us into our daily labors at home or at work at labor and at play. The varied actions of our day can all be offered to Him as prayer. Some days we may even sense His pleasure as Eric Liddell once said of running. Other days, it will feel as though we labor in vain. We rise each day in the light of the sun but also in the light of His grace, of His eighth day, His new creation. We bring the kiss of God with us into the places where we live and work. We offer His blessing to those around us. We are always seeking to learn the simple art of faithfulness without complaint.
The other night Kelly and I watched, “Something the Lord Made,” a film about Vivian Thomas. He was a young black carpenter who had dreams of going to college and becoming a doctor. He got a job as a lab assistant with a doctor. This job gave him opportunity to learn but also prevented him from attending college. He was often treated with disrespect and struggled to survive. At times, he juggled other jobs to keep working in the lab.
Most of his life was lived in the shadow of the doctor he served, and few people knew of his brilliance and skill. He even played a key role in with a team of doctors in completing the first heart surgery in the world. Because of his color and lack of training, he was not credited at the time for his work. Though he never went to college, he trained an entire generation of surgeons at Johns Hopkins through his service in the lab. Late in life, he was recognized for his role in heart surgery and in the life of surgeons and even awarded an honorary doctorate.
Something in his story helped me to visualize this idea of God’s grace shining in and through our daily actions. Though often small and usually unnoticed, we continue to serve as an act of worship. Christ Himself is shaping us and revealing His kiss through us to a world in need of His loving redemption.
The people dwelling in darkness have seen
a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on
them a light has dawned. (Mt 4:16)
 Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996–2012), 159.
 Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 965.
 Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 965–966.