“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”  Words from our first reading today from the 8th chapter of the prophet Isaiah – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.

Baptism has been a theme for us for the past few weeks and it comes up in our readings today, so I thought this would be a good one for us: a 4-year-old named Ruth was conducting the baptismal service that Sunday morning.  She held her poor cat over a barrel of water.  Trying to be as reverent as the pastor as she dunked her cat into the water, she repeated the phrase she had heard many times: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and into the Holy You Go-est!” 

Often enough, people who think the same way join together and claim the namesake of a well-known person.  This occurs today with religious or political leaders, with sports figures, or entertainers, and we know how passionate such supporters can become – think of how great our support is for the Buffalo Bills as opposed to say Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.  This was the case as well in the Corinthian Community back then from our second reading today.  The early Christians there had deteriorated into rivalry and factions, and they began appealing to various authorities like Apollos, Cephas, and Paul who represented their own viewpoints.  In pledging their loyalty to various groups and certain leaders, however, the Corinthians neglected the larger picture of working together to build God’s Kingdom, and they forgot that they were all brothers and sisters in Christ.  Looking to bring them together, Paul had to ask rhetorically: “Is Christ divided?  No, Christ cannot be divided…  Was Paul crucified for you?  No, Jesus alone died for our salvation…  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  No, we were not baptized in Paul’s name, nor were we baptized in the name of Apollos or Cephas, or Pope Francis, or Pope Benedict, Fr. Bryan or Fr. Luke, or St. Mary’s, or St. Teresa’s or Our Lady of Peace or Nativity, or Terry Pegula, Sean McDermott, Donald Trump, or Joe Biden – you get the idea… look, we were baptized in God’s name.  The innocent little girl pretty much had it right; we were baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so our allegiance and our loyalty and our belonging, all of us, ultimately is to God. There are always bound to be differences between us, but if we forget the common denominator that binds us together, namely that we are all God’s holy people, then as St. Paul warns us, like the Corinthian community we will remain suspicious of each other, fractioned and in the dark, even today.

Our readings this weekend have a lot to do with coming back into the light.  Just as the Corinthians knew the darkness of division, the people of Israel from our first reading had just been conquered by the Assyrians.  The darkness that came over the people in the first reading would have included social disintegration, political collapse, and religious devastation.  The use of the word darkness could be a reference almost to extinction, as war ravaged the land, destroying their lives and livelihoods.  In the midst of their gloom, however, Isaiah knew, that God could shine through their present darkness and that if God’s people could place their hope and trust in the Lord, then one day they would be free, would have an abundant harvest, and their joy would return to them.

Indeed, we know that God’s light has shone in the world – that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Peace is possible; unity is possible; joy is possible in Jesus who is our light and our salvation.  That is what brings us to this Eucharist, to share in this communion, this unity with God together once again.  The only thing Jesus asks of us is to repent, to turn around, to open ourselves up to something new that we can move beyond our own limited world and worldview and so come into his Kingdom, and so come into the light.  It’s a scary thing to do.  If we want to live in the light we have to let go of the darkness; we have to make the conscious decision to let go of our factions, of our griefs, of our unfortunate histories, of our prejudices, our ideologies…  And yet we resist our own happiness all the time.  More often than not, people would rather hold onto a certain hardship rather than reach out to an uncertain good (2x).  Change is not easy.  We all have our own securities we fall back onto.  I know that there are parts of my lifestyle where I prefer the certainty of managing my own schedule and whom I get meet with, or having various possessions that keep my comfortable, or even deciding what I take to God in prayer and what I yet reserve in a corner of my heart giving into the illusion of control and security and immortality, instead of letting God truly take direction of my life, wherever that may lead.  In some ways, I still prefer the certainty of my own darkness to the uncertainty of light.  It’s not easy to be like Peter, Andrew, James and John of our Gospel today… fishing was the only life that they knew, and it was a hard life.  But who of us could simply and immediately leave behind our nets, our livelihoods, and our families?  Who of us has given up everything, not just something, but absolutely everything to follow Jesus into the light?  We have a long way to go. 

The good news is God’s light is accessible to us still, even in a broken, divided world and Church.  And the more we say yes, the more we open ourselves, the more we come into Christ’s light, the more the darkness will recede, the more joy we will find, the more familiar we will become with God’s peace.  We’ve experienced this for ourselves.  There has been a great renewal here at St. Mary’s these last couple of years amid the uncertainties that our parish was facing.  We’ve all felt it.  This is the same spirit that is meant to be fostered in this Road to Renewal that is upon us and that Fr. Bryan is working towards for our Diocese, not just structurally in the collaboration that needs to be fostered between various parishes and groups, but also towards openness, towards a renewal of trust, of deepening relationships with God, towards a more vibrant liturgical life, of finding new ways of passing on the faith and spreading the Good News to others outside our community, of becoming better stewards of God’s gifts to us – these are the pillars of Renewal.  And we’re working on it.  And we need your help – I need your help.  As Jesus left Nazareth and went into a new locale to continue his ministry, he gathered people together to help him, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, to help him carry on his mission.  Jesus has a role for all of us still and he continues to call on each of us to build up his Kingdom today.  Maybe you will serve the Church one day as a priest or a deacon or in the religious life – it’s a great life.  I love the priesthood.  Maybe that is through your financial acumen or your talent for teaching or your marketing skills or your leadership.  Maybe that is through your heart for service or your generosity or your participation and presence.  We want to keep going forward.  Jesus needs your help.  Paul acknowledges to the Corinthians and to us that the pieces are in place; Jesus announces that the Kingdom is at hand; Isaiah reminds us we have the light.  Step into it. 

Click here to read Sunday January 22, 2023 readings