3 Sunday A: Reign of God: Come, Follow Me

From r. Jude Botelho:

This passage from Isaiah was written to give hope to the Israelites in spite of the depressing situation that confronted them. The people were in bondage and Isaiah speaks of their release from bondage and the troubles that don’t seem to end. The surrounding kingdoms oppressed them but Isaiah assures them that deliverance is at hand.  They can rest assured of God’s help: the darkness in their lives will give way to light; pain to joy; and yokes and rods of slavery will be done away with.Lead Kindly Light
A young man who later became a Cardinal was returning by sea from Italy to his native England. While the boat was detained in Sicily, young Newman fell ill and nearly died. During his convalescence, he wrote these words: “Lead kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,” because he believed that the prophecy of Isaiah had come true: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light.” We too have our hours of darkness. The death of a lifelong spouse, an unexpected rejection by a loved one, a smashed dream of business success or the loss of good health can throw us into temporary darkness. But in these tragic moments true believers have in the past seen the light of Christ, a light that illumines the shadows of our hearts with the radiance of his splendour, guiding us to travel safely over the tempestuous sea of life.
Vima Dasan in ‘His Word Lives’

In today’s gospel Matthew begins the mission of Jesus Christ to show that Jesus took over the preaching of John the Baptist after he had been arrested and preached the call to repentance, because the Kingdom of God was close at hand.  Jesus showed by his preaching and by his deeds that he brought healing, pardon and freedom to those who were in bondage. The call to repentance is not so much about doing penance but turning towards God, so that we might see His goodness and experience his mercy. Normally light is something that we welcome, but sometimes we are afraid of what the light might reveal. The latter part of today’s gospel speaks of Jesus calling disciples to follow him. He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets and he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Later he saw another pair of brothers, James and John sons of Zebedee who were in their boat and he called them and leaving their boat they followed him. Jesus has not stopped calling people. Jesus went about preaching and healing people and we are called to do the same. We will accomplish this mission in the measure that we let the light of Christ shine brightly in our lives.

The Light in the Darkness
A woman invited a priest to bless her house. As he performed the blessing, she escorted him around the house. He noticed that everything was immaculate, banisters polished, beds neatly made, not a thing out of place, not a cobweb or speck of dust in sight. He sprinkled every room with holy water, and they prayed as they went along. Even the two fat cats asleep on the sofa were not spared. He splashed them with water, and one of them jumped up. So the blessing disturbed something in this neat and orderly house. They blessed the living room, the ‘den’, the kitchen, the laundry room, the bath room, the bedrooms. As it happened they finished up at the top of the stairs that led down into the basement. Seeing the priest hesitate there the woman said, “Oh you wouldn’t want to go down there.” So they left it at that. But afterwards he wondered why she had refused to take him to that part of the house that most needed a blessing. Was it that she didn’t want to embarrass him by taking him down there? Or was it that she didn’t want to embarrass herself by letting him see all the junk piled down there? -How typical this is. The parts of ourselves and of our society which most need to be redeemed are the parts we tend to hide. For this reason, we don’t want the light to shine into the dark areas of our lives and of our society. Instead we try to cover them up and hide them away. Yet the dark areas are the ones that have most need of the light.
Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies

“The Light she lit is still burning!”
Mother Teresa gives us a beautiful example of a man who was brought out of darkness into the light. One day in Melbourne, Australia, she visited a poor man whom nobody knew existed. The room in which he was living was in a terrible state of untidiness and neglect. There was no light in the room. The man hardly ever opened the blinds He hadn’t had a friend in the world. She started to clean and tidy the room. At first he protested, saying, “Leave it alone. It’s all right as it is.” But she went ahead anyway. Under a pile of rubbish, she found a beautiful oil lamp but it was covered with dirt. She cleaned and polished it. Then she asked him, “How come you never light the lamp?” “Why should I light it?” he replied. “No one ever comes to see me. I never see anybody.” “Will you promise to light it if one of my sisters comes to see you?” “Yes,” he replied. “If I hear a human voice I’ll light the lamp.” Two of Mother Teresa’s nuns began to visit him on a regular basis. Things gradually improved for him. Then one day he said to the nuns, “Sisters, I’ll be able to manage on my own from now on. But do me a favour. Tell that first sister, who came to see me, that the light she lit in my life is still burning.”
Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies

The Arrival of the Light
Some Alpine valleys are so deep that the rays of the sun do not reach them at all for days or even weeks in the middle of winter. A priest who ministered in one of these valleys tells the following story. One day in the depths of winter he was in the classroom of the local school chatting with the children, who hadn’t seen the sun for nine days. Then all of a sudden a ray of sunshine shone into the classroom. On seeing it the children climbed and cheered and shouted for sheer joy. It showed that even though the sun may not touch the skin it can still warm the soul. This little incident shows how light is the source of great joy. For sick people the night is usually the hardest time of all. Matthew compares the arrival of Jesus on the scene to the coming of a great light to the people who had been living in deep darkness. Jesus described his mission in simple terms when he said: “I am the light of the world!” We still walk in the bright light Jesus brought into the world. By living in it, we become a source of light to others, a lamp for our steps and a light for their paths.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

The Heart of the Enlightened
The devotee knelt to be initiated into discipleship. The guru whispered the sacred mantra into his ear, warning him not to reveal it to anyone. “What will happen if I do?” asked the devotee. Said the guru, “Anyone you reveal the mantra to will be liberated from the bondage of ignorance and suffering, but you yourself will be excluded from discipleship and suffer damnation.”  No sooner had he heard those words, the devotee rushed to the market place, collected a large crowd around him, and whispered the sacred mantra for all to hear.  The disciples later reported this to the guru and demanded that the man be expelled from the monastery for his disobedience. The guru smiled and said, “He has no need of anything I can teach. His action has shown him to be a guru in his own right.”
Anthony De mellow in ‘The Heart of the Enlightened’

In one of the finest films ever made, The Old Man and the Sea, Spencer Tracy plays the lead role of an aging fisherman. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel the movie depicts man’s struggle against insurmountable odds. As the Old Man, Spencer Tracy battles for hours to catch a great fish, only to have it attacked by sharks as he tows it towards shore. He says: “Man is not made for defeat. Man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” Today’s gospel begins with the story of some other fishermen. The fishermen are Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and two other brothers, James and John. Walking along the shore, Jesus calls them to leave their fishing nets. They immediately abandon their nets and follow him. Why should Jesus choose fishermen as his disciples? It certainly wasn’t for their educational background or their training in Scripture. No, the disciples were probably chosen because they were like the Old Man in Hemingway’s story. Not pious, but good men deep down. Not easily discouraged, but patient and persevering. Not self-indulgent, but hard working.  And like the Old Man, they would come to know that through their experience with Jesus, that “man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” Although we may not be fishermen like the first disciples. We too are called by Jesus to live for him, not just earn a livelihood. We are invited to leave behind our old securities and launch out with him onto a larger sea in life. To be fishers of men and women is more than a metaphor. It is a mission from, through and in Christ.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

I am a collector of lists. I want to share with you this morning my favorite list of all time. It's a list of answers given by English school children on their religion exams.
Noah's wife was called Joan of the Ark.
A myth is a female moth.
Sometimes it is difficult to hear in church because the agnostics are so terrible.
The Pope lives in a vacuum.
The Fifth Commandment is "Humor your father and mother."

This is my favorite of all: 

Lot's wife was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire by night.

The point is: right answers are important, but have you thought about this - so are right questions! So the right question I want to raise with you today is this: How long has it been since you had a powerful moment that changed your life forever?

The New Testament was written originally in common Greek and the Greeks had several different words for our one word love.

Agape = unconditional love
 Eros = erotic... bargaining love (I'll do this for you if you do that for me, which, if you think about it, is not really love at all)
Phileo = philanthropic, brotherly, sisterly, or humanitarian love
Storge = family love.

New Testament Greek also had two words for time - chronos and kairos. Chronos, which give us our word chronology, is tick-tock time. Each second is exactly like the one that preceded and the one that follows it. It is boring time, humdrum time, drudgery time, meaningless time, empty time. Let me paint the picture of chronos time.

Imagine a convict in a prison cell; a lawyer with insomnia, who hears the unrelenting incessant ticking of a clock; an office worker who hates his job and can't wait for 5:00 to come so he can get out of there; a college student in a 3-hour biology lab (right after lunch) all experience chronos time. Chronos time is empty time; it is a void that must be filled. It is time we must "put in" or endure. It's what we are talking about when, of all things, we talk about "killing" time. So, chronos equals tick-tock time, humdrum time, boring time, and routine time. 

Thank God, there is another kind of time. It is called kairos.  Kairos time is full time, vital time, crucial time, decisive time, God’s time.  Kairos moments are those powerful, extra-special moments that are packed with meaning.  While chronos is tick-tock time, kairos is when time stands still. How long has it been since you a moment so powerful that time stood still?

Kairos is when God breaks into the routine and speaks loud and clear and you are touched so powerfully deep in your soul that you can never be the same again.  A cartoonist depicts an idea with a light bulb flashing.  It is a Voila! moment, an “ah ha” experience.  Theologians call it the moment of revelation.

 Kairos is a key word in the New Testament.  When Jesus started his ministry he came into Galilee preaching and saying, “The time is fulfilled.  The Kingdom is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.  And the word for time there in Mark was not chronos, it was kairos.  This was crucial time, decisive time, God’s time.

Jesus’ life was packed with kairos moments: 

Zacchaeus as he saw him in that sycamore tree.  They connected and that was a kairos moment. Blind Bartimaeus nobody else was paying attention to him but Jesus heard
his cries, connected with him, and it was a kairos moment.

The hemorrhaging woman came up behind Jesus, touched his robe, and he connected with her, and it was a kairos moment.

Jesus had so many of those moments. We read one this morning: The kairos is fulfilled. And what did Jesus do right at that kairos moment? He called his disciples. It was a meaningful moment for them. It wasn’t just another tick

of the clock. How long has it been since you had a powerful moment like that, that changed your life forever?  How long has it been since you had a kairos moment in a chronos world?  Kairos moments are all around us if we have the eyes to see them, the ears to hear them, and the hearts to feel them. Now, this morning I want to share with you three kairos moments that I have experienced that changed my life.  I am going to be very personal because kairos moments are very personal. 

I. The Kairos Moment of Encouragement
II. The Kairos Moment of Love
III. The Kairos Moment of Inspiration
The Lifesaver App - 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 

 As children we all had to study for and take "vocabulary tests" - learning a new list of words, their spelling and definitions, every week. As we continued on in school, read more books and studied more subjects, our vocabulary naturally expanded. Then to get into college, we took SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), some of the most important of which are called "Vocab Tests."

Building up our word bank is a never completed project. Best-selling author Bill O'Reilly even has a vocab test every night on his #1 Cable News show, "The O'Reilly Factor." The great thing about a truly "living language", like English, is that it is always changing, adopting, adapting, and adding new words, new concepts, new elements.   

How many words do you use in everyday discussions in 2014 that a few years ago would have had no meaning whatsoever? When did you first learn to speak "coffee," so that you could communicate your beverage choice with the barista. Phrases such as "Venti, black-eye, half-cap, mocha frappuchino" that would have been complete gibberish a couple decades ago now come tripping off the tongue without need for an interpreter.  

In 1998 a new Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie made a big deal of an emerging concept. "You've Got Mail" highlighted the strange new world of "e-mail" created by the expansion of the Internet. In 2006 another snazzy word was reconfigured when "Twitter" was born. By 2012 there were over 34 million "tweets" sent per day. Technospeak is a language that continues to expand exponentially. We used to increase our vocabulary by reading "the classics." Now we can only increase our new and necessary vocabulary for living in the twenty-first century by reading our "emails" "tweets," and "blogs." It seems we will all need to pass weekly vocab tests throughout our lives.  

Yet for all the words we add, we always lose a few to the historical dustbin. There are now thousands of "apps" we can download onto our smartphones and tablets. But try asking anyone under the age of 25 what "app" stands for and you will probably get a blank look. After all, an "app" is . . . an "app."  

But an "app" is really shorthand for "application" - that is, "a use to which something is put." An "app" isn't a "thing." An "app" is an activity. An "app" is not a noun. An "app" is a verb. As we struggle to keep up with a language and lifestyle that is ever changing, we should keep in mind this original definition of "app" - because application makes a world of difference between the "real" and the "hypothetical."

Disciples of Jesus are called to give application to, that is, to actually "apply," our faith to our life and our lifestyles...
 Trying Something New  

After falling twice in the 1988 Olympic speed-skating races Dan Jansen sought out sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr, who helped him find a new balance between his sport and his life. He also helped Jansen learn to focus on the mental aspects of skating Peter Mueller became his coach, putting him through workouts that Dan has since described as the "toughest I have ever known." By the time the 1994 Olympics arrived, Jansen had more confidence than ever. He had set a five-hundred-meter world record just two months earlier. The Olympic title in that event seemed to belong to him.

Unfortunately, Jansen fell during the five-hundred-meter race. He was disappointed and shaken. But, Dr. Loeher immediately advised him to start preparing for the one-thousand-meter race. He said, the five-hundred-meter race is gone. Put it behind you." However the thousand-meter race was Jansen's weakest event. But, there was no other chance for him to receive a medal. Jansen won the one-thousand-meter race and did it in record time. Since Jansen had followed the wisdom of his coach, he had put his failure behind him and tried something new.

We can play it safe and remain secure in what we know. Like the fishermen, our lives will remain in the darkness until we are willing to follow and move in a new direction. Jesus called the disciples to something that would not only give purpose and meaning to their lives, he called them to a vocation that would change the world. They followed, and from then on their lives would never be the same.

Keith Wagner, Ice Fishing, Anyone?
 Working for Christ 

Christianity began as a working man's religion. No, that is not the gospel according to Marx; it is the Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew tells us that immediately after Jesus began a public preaching ministry, he took four fishermen as his apprentices. He was walking by the Sea of Galilee and spied Andrew and Peter casting their nets. He called them to follow him, promising to make them fishers of men. In Matthew's Gospel, then, linked tightly together are Jesus' ringing pronouncement, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and his invitation to the fishermen, "Follow me."

You and I, who believe in Jesus Christ and count ourselves his disciples, are not to follow a trade or profession as though it were the Holy Grail. We are to follow Jesus. Work is to take a secondary role in our lives. If Christ is truly our Master, then work cannot be equally important. We may be engaged in work, but never married to it. And whenever we are pressed or tempted to make work supreme, we are to recall the story of the four fishermen. We are to remember how they left their nets and their boats to go and be with Jesus, to do what he would have them do. 

John C. Purdy, The Call to Adventure
Follow Me... 

"Follow me, and I will make you fishers," said Jesus. Fishing takes practice, preparation, discipline. One must learn how to best throw the net, how to make the mouth of the net come open too. I can throw the actual cast net a long way, but I can't always make the net come open so that it will actually form a circle around the fish. One must learn how to cast the line on a rod. Again, some folks can cast a long way, but their accuracy is awful. There may be fish on the right, but they know only how to cast the line to the left. There may be fish on the left, but they keep casting to the right. Casting, like discipleship, is an acquired habit. It rewards practice.

Fishing is noticing the weather, watching the wind and the clouds. Fishing, like the gospel, dear friends, like the gospel, fishing is always practiced in context. It does no good to sit at one lake and wish I was on some other lake. It does no good to stand at the ocean and wish the weather were different. On that day, in that place, I fish in context according to what the conditions are.

So it is with the proclamation and the living out of the Christian gospel. It does little good wishing that we were somewhere else, in a different time or in a different country perhaps. Our context is this time and this place. Know where the wind blows. Watch the clouds. 

Samuel G. Candler, Follow Me and I Will Make You Go Fishing
A Job vs. A Ministry

Someone has said there is a huge difference between having a job at church and having a ministry at church. 

... If you are doing it because no one else will, it's a job. If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it's a ministry.
... If you're doing it just well enough to get by, it's a job. If you're doing it to the best of your ability, it's a ministry.
... If you'll do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other
activities, it's a job. If you're committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it's a ministry.
... It's hard to get excited about a job. It's almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.

An average church is filled with people doing jobs. A great church is filled with people involved in ministry. 

Mickey Anders, The Beginning of Ministry
The Angle of Grace 

Being a Christian is about taking a particular angle towards life. It is the angle of grace. Each of us-every one of us-perceives reality and the world in a different way; yes, but Jesus teaches us to see the world from the angle of grace. Wouldn't our Christianity be richer if we accepted angles more easily? Wouldn't our Christianity be more beautiful if we bent toward the angle of grace?  

Samuel G. Candler, Follow Me, and I Will Make You Go Fishing
A Problem of Presentation

Jesus came preaching that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." What was there about that kingdom that got these fishermen so excited? And why are we not just as excited? Maybe we don't understand what the kingdom is. Or maybe it just hasn't been presented very well.  

It reminds me of a woman who read somewhere that dogs were healthier if fed a tablespoon of cod liver oil each day. So each day she followed the same routine. She chased her dog until she caught it, wrestled it down, and managed to force the fishy remedy down the dog's throat.  

Until one day when, in the middle of this grueling medical effort, the bottle was kicked over. With a sigh, she loosed her grip on the dog so she could wipe up the mess. To her surprise the dog trotted over to the puddle and begin lapping up what had been spilled. THE DOG LOVED COD LIVER OIL. It was just the owner's method of application the dog objected to.  

Sometimes I think something like that has happened to the good news of the Kingdom of God. It has been so poorly presented to us that we have never been captured by its attractiveness and its power.  

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Essential Personnel 

Even if we live where it rarely snows, the phrase is a familiar one. When budget talks collapse and the government shuts down, this is the phrase that is trotted out. When the earth suddenly moves under the people of California, often a certain group of people are called out while the rest are told to stay at home. When tornadoes blow through the Southwest and disrupt everything in their course, only certain people should risk the dangers involved. These are maintenance people, road crews, ambulance drivers, fire fighters, electric and gas company workers, truck drivers, and a whole host of service people who are taken for granted when things are running smoothly. We call them "essential personnel." 

Think about that phrase. Think about what it means to be essential personnel. Then, if you want to be humbled, think about what it is like to be non-essential personnel. Consider the fact that the world can go on without some of us. The good news is that in the church we are all, or at least all can be, essential personnel. We are called to be a special group of people and to do some important things. 

William B. Kincaid, III, And Then Came The Angel, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
Turning Toward the Light 

A little boy named Bobby entered his first science fair in second grade. Because his Mom has a green thumb, they decided to experiment with the growth of plants. He took two small green plants and placed one on a sunny windowsill and the other in a cardboard box. After a couple of weeks, Bobby checked on the two plants. The one on the windowsill had grown a couple of inches and had vibrant green leaves. The one in the box had actually grown a bit, but it had lost all of its green color, becoming almost white and its leaves drooping. Thinking that the plant might die, Bobby cut a hole in one side of the box, like this, and set the box, with the plant inside, by the windowsill ... with the hole facing toward the incoming light. Well you know what happened ... but Bobby was so excited by this discovery...
From Father Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: Light and darkness:
Terry Anderson, a journalist for the Associated Press, was seized and held hostage in Lebanon for seven years; blindfolded almost all of that time, Anderson described his experience in this way, “Deepest darkness, fumblings, uncertainties are frightening. More frightening is the darkness of the mind, when outside light makes no impression and inner lights go dim. . .” [Den of Lions, Crown Publishers, Inc. (New York: 1993).] In November of 1965, a power failure plunged seven northeastern U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, into a darkness which lasted for more than thirteen hours. About thirty million people living in eighty thousand square miles of territory were affected. In 1977, another, less severe, power failure darkened New York City for fifty-two minutes. Losses due to accidents and looting were in excess of one billion dollars. In the Holy Scriptures, light and darkness serve as symbols for good and evil. In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, Jesus is presented as the One sent to remove the darkness of sin from the world. Through Isaiah, God promises that His people will see an end to the darkness of oppression and separation. Today’s Gospel shows us how the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus. 

2: Remain in politics and exert a Christian influence there:  
Those of you who saw the remarkable film Amazing Grace remember the story of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician who, after his conversion to Christianity, became England’s greatest anti-slavery advocate. It was through his tireless efforts that England eventually outlawed slavery, paving the way for the end of the slave-trade in the Western world. But William Wilberforce almost missed his calling. After his conversion, Wilberforce considered leaving politics for the ministry. He wasn’t sure how a Christian could live out his faith in “the world.” Fortunately, Wilberforce turned to a man named John Newton for guidance. Newton, of course, was the author of the much-loved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was a former slave trader who had renounced the trade after his conversion. Newton convinced Wilberforce that God had called him to remain in politics to exert a Christian influence there. It was John Newton who gave William Wilberforce the wake-up call that kept him championing the cause of freedom for Britain’s slaves. Four men, fishermen by trade, were toiling at the nets beside the Sea of Galilee when they received a wake-up call from Jesus. And their whole world was turned upside down.

3:  Labor room suspense:
Three men were pacing nervously outside the delivery room at a hospital when the head nurse came out beaming.  To the first she said, "Congratulations, sir, you are the father of twins." "Terrific!" said the man, "I just signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins and this'll be great press." To the second man the nurse said, "Congratulations to you too.  You are the father of healthy triplets!" "Fantastic!" he said.  "I'm the vice-president of 3-M Company. This'll be great P.R.!" At that point the third man turned ashen and ran for the door. "What's wrong, sir?  Where are you going?" called the nurse. As he jumped into his car, the man shouted, "I'm dashing to my office to resign.  I'm the president of 7-UP!"  (Msgr. Dennis Clarke). John the Baptist and Jesus surprised the self-righteous Jews by their call to repentance. Today’s Gospel, from the fourth chapter of Matthew, offers us Christians an equally surprising and shocking announcement by Jesus: “Repent; the kingdom of God is near.”