Sermon for Third Sunday of Epiphany – Year A

Isaiah 9.1-4
Matthew 4.12-23

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness –
on them light has shined”

Words of the prophet Isaiah first spoken many centuries ago.

And here are words written by singer/song writer Paul Simon, who some of us would describe as a prophet in our generation:

“The thought that life could be better
is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.”

The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into the hearts and minds of people who walk in darkness, longing for light and hope and freedom from burdens that are crushing them.

And this season of Epiphany is surely about a great light shining in the darkness of our world; about the revelation that there is a better way to be; about the assurance that God’s kingdom is near – within our reach if only we would listen and turn our lives around so that they are more like the lives God wants us to live.

And doesn’t our world need that light to shine in today’s dark places?

Newspapers and news programmes on radio and television carry reports of truly terrible situations and events:
• Conflict in Syria where it’s believed that thousands have been tortured and killed.
• Hostility between North and South Korea; between Arab and Jew; in Afghanistan and in many parts of Africa.
• Poverty both abroad and at home.
• The abuse and even killing of children, all to often by their own parents.

And so on …

And yet the thought remains, indelibly woven into our hearts and minds, that life could be better.

Certainly the people of Galilee 2,000 years ago believed life could be better. They believed it would be better once the Kingdom of God was established on earth.

Their understanding of this was that God himself would rule the whole world, establishing justice and peace. And the way this would happen, they thought, would be through revolution against the current pagan rulers of their land. They thought that the rule of justice and peace could only be won by fighting and killing and isn’t that still so often the case?

So it is among people with that mind set that Jesus begins his public ministry following the arrest of John the Baptist.

And when Jesus takes up John’s proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” he is surely talking not only about personal repentance by individuals for the way they live their lives but also about the need for a nation’s repentance and a turning away from thoughts of a violent revolution to gain freedom from oppression.

And what about us? Are we aware of that thought, indelibly woven into our hearts and minds that life in today’s world could be better?

I hope so, I hope we do hold on to that hope.

• Hope motivates men and women to work for peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict;
• Hope prompts people who have plenty to give to those who are without;
• Hope encourages us to pray and to go on praying that God’s kingdom will come on this earth even when we seem to be a long long way from fulfilling God’s purposes for us.
• And Hope continually reaches out to the great light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness can never overcome.

The season of Epiphany is about revelation and realisations.

What does Christ, the true light of the world, reveal to us today about God. And I wonder what new realisations about God we need to come to so that our lives and the lives of the people around us can be better?

Robin, Jeremy, Tricia, Ruth and I have been reading this book together over the last few months. It’s called “Meeting Jesus: human responses to a yearning god” by Jeremy Duff and Joanna Collicutt McGrath and we all rate it as one of the best Christian books we’ve read – ever. If you’re looking for a book to read during Lent we thoroughly recommend this to you and I for one would be happy to lend you my copy!

The book talks about the strength of God’s yearning for us, his longing to be in close fellowship with us and the lengths to which he will go in order to enfold us again in his loving arms.

We read about a shepherd who will search high and low for his one lost sheep and a father who watches and waits for his prodigal son to return and then rushes out to meet him not with anger or judgment but with forgiveness, love and great joy.

I wonder if we need a fresh revelation of that deep love that God has for each one of us and his burning desire that we should live in harmony with him and with each other, united as brothers and sisters in Christ.

And I wonder if we need a fresh realisation that God in Christ calls us to follow Jesus just as he called Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow Jesus around the towns and villages of Galilee and on into Jerusalem all those years ago.

The Church of God is surely called to be a great light shining in the darkness of today’s world. But just as the people of Israel needed to hear Jesus teaching them ways of revolution through peaceful and loving means rather than through violence
perhaps we need to hear Jesus teaching us new ways of being his church here in this part of Taunton.

We know that Jesus went to the synagogue regularly on Sabbath days but he spent most of his time out there visiting all the towns and villages in what was a very densely populated area. He went out looking for people who needed God’s healing and love so that their lives could be better.

I think maybe we too need to be out there in the community with him offering God’s love to the people who most need it.

“The thought that life could be better
is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.”

Let us be the light shining in the darkness, revealing God’s love and giving people hope that life can indeed be better. Amen.