(A sermon based on Matthew 4:12-23 for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany)
Did you hear about Rosetta waking up last Monday (January 20, 2014) after being asleep for two and a half years? Well, it happened. Rosetta is a space probe that was launched by the European Space Agency in 2004. Its primary task is to study asteroids. Soon it will enter into orbit around an asteroid and train its instruments on the body in order to study it. Most interestingly, it will this fall attempt to land a probe on the surface of the asteroid that will be equipped to take and analyze samples from down to eight inches below the surface.
Last Monday at 5:00 a.m. EST a wake-up call was sent to Rosetta which was then about 418 million miles from the sun. It took a while for the sleeping spacecraft to turn on its heaters and warm up enough to become operational but finally, at 1:18 p.m. a signal was received from the ship. Rosetta was awake and ready to get back to work.
But why was Rosetta put to sleep in the first place? It was because it got to a place where it was so far from the sun—out around where Jupiter orbits the sun— that its solar panels could not sufficiently power the craft.
When you’re powered by light you need to stay close enough to the source of the light to keep your batteries charged or else you might have to shut down.
Jesus, the Gospel of John comes right out and says, is the Light of the world. The Gospel of Matthew says the same thing in a not-so-direct way. Matthew tells us that, following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus moved into the land that had once belonged to the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. At least two things were significant about that territory. First, the prophet Isaiah had spoken a word of hope to that land some eight hundred years before after it had been invaded and decimated by the armies of Assyria, a word that had to do with God’s light shining into their darkness in the person of a great king (Isaiah 9:1-7); Matthew presents Jesus’ entry into that territory as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Second, that area was known as “Galilee of the Gentiles” or “Galilee of the nations” because so many international people lived there. Matthew, then, is telling us that Jesus’ ministry was a fulfillment of God’s purposes and that those purposes included the sharing of his ministry and message with all people.
There is no such thing these days as a territory that is not in darkness and that thus needs the light of God to shine in it. And you would be hard-pressed to find a place that is not populated by many different races, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities. God sent Jesus to bring the light not only to Galilee and to the people that lived there but to bring that light to all places and to all people. How does God do that?
He does it through you and me; he does it through those who follow Jesus.
Jesus never planned to do it alone; one of the first things that Jesus did when he undertook his ministry was to call people to follow him. So in our text, we see Jesus move to Galilee, begin preaching the coming of the kingdom, and summon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. He called them to join with him in his mission of sharing God’s love and grace. He calls us to join with him in that same mission. And what Jesus calls us to do he empowers and equips us by God’s Spirit to do.
Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says that those who follow him are the light of the world (5:14); to us he says, “You are the light of the world.” We are to Jesus like the moon and planets are to our sun; like the light the moon and planets give is reflected from the sun, so is the light we give reflected from Jesus. The closer we stay to him, the more of his light we will reflect; the farther away from him we get, the less of his light we will reflect.
Yet I need to qualify that last statement. The time would come when Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have to go places that Jesus did not go; the most vital part of their ministry would come after Jesus had ascended back to his Father in heaven. Jesus also sends us to places that stretch and challenge us; he sends us into situations and to people that are far removed from and far different than the situations and people with which he dealt and that can be far removed from and far different than the situations and people with which and whom we are comfortable dealing.
Still, we need to find ways to stay close to him wherever we go. And the best ways remain such practices as prayer, Bible study, worship, and service. We may have wandered far away from the Light but we can always come back into range.
Like Rosetta, if we get too far away from the source of our power we might find ourselves being shut down or at least becoming less effective. But also like Rosetta, when our journey takes us back close enough to Jesus he will power us back up so that we can continue—and eventually complete—our mission.
Please note that Jesus did not call just one follower; he called four on the way to calling many. Jesus never intended to carry out his mission by himself and he never intended for any one of us to carry out our mission by ourselves. Our personal commitment can and should be “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” but think how much more effective our many little lights can be together.
Do you remember the story of Gideon? What if Gideon had tried to surround the enemy camp by himself? What if he alone had broken his jar containing his torch? No discernible effect would have been realized. But three hundred men broke their three hundred jars and their three hundred torches blazed forth which sent the enemy into a panic.
Just think of what God can do through us as we all stay close to Jesus so that we can reflect his light. Just think of how much darkness Jesus could dispel through us as we shine together …