First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Light Overcoming Darkness...

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Thursday, January 23, 2014
Readings Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27: 1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18, Matthew 4 :
12- 23 Thanks to Feasting on The Word for its insights.

Because it is St. Philip's  Annual meeting on Sunday and St. John's next
week , I will be looking at the readings from this angle which means I may
look at 1 Corinthians because it is a letter to a church and sort of a pep
talk to a congregation ( pep talk might be too kind a description as Paul
was addressing some  serious issues in the church ).Or perhaps it would be a
natural link to look at the Gospel reading and to  think about Jesus calling
the first disciples and musing about how we are following in their footsteps
as followers  of Christ at St. Philip's and St. John's. in other words I
will be wanting to encourage us we go forward into another year. But first
some other  thoughts on the readings.

An obvious theme for this coming Sunday  is Light overcoming darkness. This
Epiphany metaphor is used in all of the readings except for 1 Corinthians;
The prophet Isaiah writes "The people who walked in  darkness have seen a
great light" and St. Matthew speaking of Jesus quotes Isaiah's words. The
Psalmist declares , " The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I
fear?

The theme of light overcoming darkness has been highlighted almost every
Sunday  since Advent.  I have tried to be positive focusing on God's power
to overcome darkness  and indeed this Epiphany metaphor is a powerful image
of hope and comfort. But I am wondering if it would not be a good idea to
speak at more length about the darkness the world faces and the darkness
that  all of us as individuals face from time to time. This is not to be
dreary but to be empathetic to people who are struggling. It also
demonstrates how powerful the light is if it can overcome this darkness.

For instance the reports out of Syria are very tragic indeed. The oppressive
conditions faced by the ordinary Syrian today is probably very similar to
the context of Isaiah chapter 9. It is from an earlier time than our recent
readings from Isaiah and the geopolitical reality may have been even worse.
Basically Israel and Judah were allies with Assyria but Assyria was falling
apart and so Judah and Israel were sitting ducks for invading armies. On top
of that there was internal political struggles that escalated the suffering.
Isaiah describes their situation with words like gloom, anguish , bar across
their shoulder, under the rod of their oppressors, and darkness.

On a personal level if we have 30 or 40 people in church you have to know
that at least one of them is facing a very real hardship in their life.
People may be in grief,  suffering an illness, under financial pressures  or
just run ragged trying to make ends meet. The recent ads on T.V. depicting
people suffering from depression capture darkness very well. I have been in
that place and I expect that many others have too.

When I read our Psalm for Sunday I sense real fear. It is true that the
Psalmist declares that God is his light and salvation but over and over
again the psalmist cries out things such as , do not hide your face from me.
I like Psalm 27 because to me it is being very honest. It seems to capture
the reality that life is dangerous and that  most of us worry at least some
of the time and if we are in a dark place fear is very real. As Andrew
Nagy-Benson comments, "We know what the author of Psalm 27  knows: troubles
and trials abound. That things go badly is  well established. That things
might go badly is the well spring of worry." So a sermon might muse about
what the psalmist's danger was and how we find strength in God when we are
in dark places. It is remarkable that in the face of such fear the psalmist
still praises God and makes a declaration of faith.

When we look at 1 Corinthians we see that Paul has begun to address the
problem of divisions and quarrels  in the church at Corinth. An extreme over
simplification but Paul seems to be saying that everyone should focus on
Christ and His cross not on each other. Jesus ought to be the focus. It is
always great advice to keep our eyes upon Jesus and His calling for us. This
is the high road for Christian communities and always worth a sermon.

In our gospel reading Matthew depicts our Lord's geographical transition to
Zebulun and Naphtali as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that these places
who are in darkness will see a great light. Jesus is the light that
overcomes darkness. By extension by Jesus moving to the outer reaches of
Israel it symbolizes that the light of Jesus is going to shine out to more
and more places. Jesus then immediately begins to preach about the Kingdom
and calls people to repentance. I think that it is the Kingdom of God ( or
heaven as Matthew refers to it) that is the light. An annual vestry meeting
when we are considering the work of the church is an excellent opportunity
to mention that really what we do at St. Philip's is working for the
Kingdom. We are reminded of this every time we say the Lord's Prayer, "thy
Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Everything we do
as a parish; worship, pastoral care, study, fellowship, service and outreach
to the world ought to be our way of living into this prayer.

The calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John is very stark in its details
but in a way this says a lot, quoting Douglas Hare Troy Miller notes that ,
" the call  story is here reduced to its barest essentials: Jesus summons
with irresistible authority and the men respond with  radical obedience" It
really is impressive that they left their jobs and  their families no
questions asked. In a very real way they were doing what St. Paul was
instructing the Corinthians. They were focusing on nothing but following
Jesus and serving His Kingdom. It was the start of the church , that is
people serving God's purposes for the world.

I could write so much more but this is probably too long as it is already.
Hope it helps you think about the readings. What are your thoughts? What
would you say if you were the preacher? Has the light overcoming darkness
imagery spoken to you and your faith? Are you sometimes fearful and if so
how does your faith help you? How can we be more like those first disciples
who first followed Jesus?

God bless

David


Tags: disciples  light over darkness  fear  corinthians  isaiah  matthew  epiphany  hope and comfort  syria  fear  zebulun  naphtali