Following the Light

Sunday, January 21, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Mark 1:14-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

I recently started reading the book called, “All the Light We Cannot See”. It’s about a blind teenage girl named Marie, who flees Paris with her father to a seaside town after the Nazis invade Paris. In one of the early scenes, she is tracing her fingers through a detailed scale model of the French town she and her father are staying. Her father built the model for her and carefully describes each building and its significance as she traces her fingers through the streets. She’s needs to learn every detail, so she’ll be able to navigate the city on her own. It’s wartime. Her father is well aware that there will likely come a time when she’ll need to navigate life without him. He does all he can to give her what she needs to thrive while he is still with her. He doesn’t hold back the dangers that exist in the world. He doesn’t sugar coat the truth. He simply prepares her for the world as it is and invites her to develop skills and hope for the world to be better.

Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to, as well? To “see” the world as it is, to acknowledge its challenges and dangers, and trust that Jesus leads us into this reality with hope for a world that God has designed to be better? When Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near” we can’t help but see that God’s plan for restoration and redemption starts here and now – in this world, with Jesus. That the presence of Christ and the Spirit in our lives changes us, even as there are challenges and dangers that sometimes overwhelm us. We can trust that God’s vision for the world will be fully realized in heaven, but it begins here in this life – in this world because God’s light in Christ has come into the world now.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John seemed to understand this from the very get go. Jesus comes along the lakeshore and all he says is “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And they drop everything immediately and go with Jesus. They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t ask questions and didn’t consider the impact their leaving would have on anyone else. That’s often what happens when something is so new and different that it grabs hold of us and compels us to act. If you’ve ever felt the initial grasp of love, you know what this is like. You’re willing to do just about anything to get closer to it, to hold on to it. On the one hand, these first disciples’ response goes to show how compelling Jesus’ initial invitation must have been. On the other, it seems almost crazy.

I can look back at the people and events in my life where I’ve seen God at work calling me into more serious faith and more honest trust in Christ. I’m sure you can too. Some of those events still have a hold on us as part, they have shaped who we are. But that call to follow Jesus has unfolded over years or decades, rather than an instant conversion.

I have a hard time imagining responding in the same way as those first disciples. And maybe you wonder the same thing too? Can you imagine dropping everything and leaving family, community, and career behind to follow Jesus?

I would venture to say that our response to Jesus’ call to follow him in our own lives has been a bit less dramatic than the first disciples. They were starting a Jesus movement. It takes a fresh and radical energy to start something new. We are called to continue it. We have thousands of examples of what following Jesus has looked like (and not looked like) over the centuries. So rather than seeing this story as the exact model for how we follow Jesus, this story serves as a reminder that Jesus still calls us to keep following him. We are called to learn from those who have gone before us what it means to follow in our time. It’s not always easy, especially when the world feels like it is being consumed by overwhelming challenges, and so much division. We’ve learned from others too, that in the midst of these realities, Jesus calls us to follow the light, “to hold fast to what is good”, to trust that though the light is sometimes hard, if not impossible to see, it is still worth pursuing the ways Jesus calls us into new life.

Father Richard Rohr wrote, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” In other words, we follow Jesus by living everyday with our eyes toward the light wherever we happen to be. It’s not a matter of having the right ideas, or leaving everything we already know, but living with the faith that God is already working in us where we are. The ways you follow Jesus may be dramatic and intentional. Or sometimes they are such a part of you they are imperceptible to you, but are evident to others.

You may follow Jesus by helping at the food shelf or serving veterans. You may follow Jesus as a teacher who teaches an academic subject and shows your students that they are loved and understood, no matter what’s going on in their lives. You may follow Jesus by knitting prayer shawls or making wooden Christmas ornaments or praying for those in the Connection card each week. You may follow Jesus by creating art that reflects the holy and invites others to encounter God’s presence. You may follow Jesus by sticking up for a friend who’s being bullied or giving generously from your wealth of resources.

I once heard about a kid who every time his parents went to parent-teacher conferences they were told the teacher could trust that this child would watch out for others in the class who needed extra help. When the parents mentioned to the child how proud they were of them, the kid responded, “I didn’t know I did that!” Sometimes following Jesus feels so natural you don’t even know you do it, and other times you know Jesus is inviting you to stretch your faith and what you believe you are able to do for others, for God, and for yourself.

What Jesus is looking for when he invites us each to follow him is our willingness to mold our lives to his and to change direction when we go stumbling alone in the dark. That’s repentance, changing the way we think or act because we know Christ’s light is there. When we follow Jesus, we may feel a little like Marie. Sometimes blind to what God’s plan looks like. But then we remember, Christ holds the light we need to find hope and strength.  And we follow the light, trusting that even if it is a light we cannot fully see, God will lead us to new life. Amen.

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