At the end of Advent, and on Christmas Eve, I asked the question: What great light are we longing to see? Here are the same words of Isaiah, no longer Advent words but Epiphany words: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. What great light have we seen? What great light do we see? During this Epiphany season, the great light is Jesus, walking around proclaiming the kingdom and asking people to drop everything and follow him.
I know someone who likes to say, sometimes a little bit too dismissively: “I’m not a believer, I’m a follower.” What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Today’s gospel spells out exactly what it means to be a follower. Listen to today’s verbs to describe the work of Jesus: he goes, proclaims, teaches, calls, and cures. All in a day’s work, right? These are Epiphany verbs, words that reveal to us who Jesus is, and who we are to be as followers.
Jesus goes. He went. He went throughout Galilee. He didn’t set up shop somewhere, using lovely period architecture, to wait for need people or volunteers to come to him. He went.
Jesus teaches. He teaches in the synagogues and lots of other places. He raised a few eyebrows (especially when he taught in the synagogues), because he had no rabbinical training, which tells me that you don’t have to have a seminary degree to talk about scripture and tradition.
Jesus proclaims. He’s got good news to share—the kingdom of God has come near! He’s got good news to share and he shares it indiscriminately. He doesn’t only share it with people who look like him or people who have money or people whom he knows will get it on the first proclamation. The good news that the kingdom is near is for everyone.
Jesus calls. While following Jesus is clearly not for the faint of heart, Peter and Andrew and James and John seem to do so with no effort at all. Immediately they leave their nets and follow him. Two of the brothers even leave their father. Immediately. How do they leave their family and their livelihood so easily? And why? What would make you drop everything to follow Jesus?
Perhaps they just have no idea what they’re getting into. Sort of like someone who visits a church for the first time looking for a spiritual home, and then immediately finds that they are not only expected to host coffee hours and teach Sunday school and give to the work of the church, but they are also expected to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in the world.
Or perhaps they see something in Jesus that makes it easy for them to drop everything and follow him. Peter and James and John and Andrew may have been able to tell that he was no ordinary guy. He was indeed a great light, living, breathing, and walking along the Sea of Galilee. To see someone like that in their everyday world would have transformed their perspective and make it easy for them to hold their attachments lightly. At any rate, Jesus calls. He walks up to total strangers and says “follow me.” Can we do that? Can we ask others to follow? And will they follow?
Jesus cures. He cures every disease and every sickness. No exclusions for pre-existing conditions or foreigners. In ancient Israel, sickness and disease were all about separation and exclusion. People who were thought to be diseased were cast out of community life. The experience of being healed may have simply taken the form of being invited in. To be a follower of Jesus means to heal individuals and perhaps whole segments of the population by removing barriers to community life. Healing means inclusion, restoring communities to right relationship with those who had been separated for any reason at all.
Followers of Jesus go, teach, proclaim, call, and cure. All in a day’s work, right? How do we do this?
I like to think of church as a gathering place and as a training ground for followers of Jesus. Here’s a place where we can come and share meals—including the holy meal we celebrate each Sunday—and support one another in these practices that Jesus not only engages in himself but also commends to his followers, of being on the move, of teaching and proclaiming, of calling disciples, and healing.
I believe that Jesus always wants us to go out, to go to strange places and engage with people we don’t know. But I also believe the purpose of the church is to practice this discipleship work. Let’s just say we practice around here. What does that look like?
Sometimes, walking across the aisle during the exchange of the Peace to welcome a stranger can be as life-changing as going out walking around the Sea of Galilee proclaiming the kingdom. Taking time to read scripture and sharing your understanding with friends here in this place, claiming your own voice, is an important teaching for our community. Talking about how you have experienced God’s blessing and God’s promise: that is proclamation.
In a small community where it sometimes seems that a handful of people do all the work and don’t need any help, saying to a stranger come, follow me, and inviting them into the kitchen or the sacristy may be a life-changing call.
Healing, curing dis-ease can be as simple and as profound as removing barriers, making room for someone where there hasn’t been room, inviting someone in who is usually on the outside.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. As we respond to God’s call to follow, what great light does God long for us to be?