Monday, January 27, 2014

The Blessing and Burden of Discipleship (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 26, 2014)

Several years ago Robert Redford produced a film based on Norman Maclean's book, A River Runs through it. It's a wonderful, lyrical book about a Presbyterian pastor and his two sons, who live in a small Montana town near the turn of the century of the 20th century. The minister was a somewhat dour, old fashioned Presbyterian from Scotland who took a dim view of other denominations. Maclean says that his father believed that Methodists were Baptists who had learned to read. I would love to know what he thought of Episcopalians!


Maclean's father loved fly-fishing with a passion, a passion he handed down to his sons.  The scenery in the film is spectacular, and it opens with scenes of of Montana's wild rivers and mountains.  At the beginning of the movie, Redford, reads from the book on which the film is based, and explains that the minister's sons were led to believe that Jesus had chosen the best fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to be his disciples, and that the best disciples must have been fly fishermen.


By now you've probably figured out that I was a pretty bookish kid. However, my family loved to fish, although I suspect that Maclean's father would have taken a dim view of them. Not only were none of us fly fishermen, we were all Baptists, too!


My sermon today is rather old fashioned. It used to be said that every sermon should have three points. Well, this sermon has exactly three points: First, becoming a Christian is like acquiring a skill. Second, becoming a Christian requires us not only to invest ourselves, but to invest our financial resources. And third and last, becoming a Christian is not something we do just for our own amusement or well-being; it is something we do for the well-being of others.


Today's reading from Matthew's gospel tells us that as Jesus "walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen." Let's just stop there for a moment, and think about that statement: Jesus "saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen."


Jesus' disciples did not fish for sport but to make a living.  It was hard, back-breaking work.  It involved rising early, before the sun was up; mending nets; lots of luck; the risk of drowning on the unpredictable Sea of Galilee; excellent boat-handling skills.


Fishing is a skill. What skills do you have? What did it take to acquire them? It takes at least three things to acquire a skill: time, discipline, and a good teacher.


Most of you know that I am an amateur pianist. I'll never play as well as Horowitz or Rubenstein, but I'm probably a better than average amateur pianist. Someone estimated that it takes 10,000 hours to acquire competency in a skill such as playing the piano. I don't know if I've put 10,000 hours into it, but I've put a lot of hours into practicing the piano. It also takes discipline. To become a good musician on any instrument you have to practice. Practicing and playing are different things. I could sit at the piano for hours and hours playing hymns and popular songs, but I'd never advance beyond a certain level. If you want to become a better pianist, you have to learn to play more difficult music. You have to learn to play scales in all the major and minor keys, and so on. And finally you have to have a good teacher. I was fortunate in having several excellent teachers. You will have a chance to meet one of my piano teachers, Ophra Yerushalmi, when she comes to Christ Church on Feb. 14 to present her documentary film about the pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Here endeth the paid advertising!


Christianity is both a gift and a skill. It is a gift because none of us can become a Christian by ourselves. It is something God gives us, something God does for us, because it is not something we can do for ourselves.


But it is also a skill we must acquire. Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, "Follow me." Those are the words of a teacher. A teacher is one who invites us to follow her, to follow her into the adventure of learning.


I hope that you have had some great teachers. I treasure the experiences I have had with great teachers. But the best teachers are those who don't just impart information, but who show us by their lives a new way to live our lives. And that is what Jesus did for the disciples and does for us.


By his life, Jesus showed us how to live compassionately. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."


Jesus showed us what it is like to have a relationship with God: "When you pray say, 'Our Father...'"


Jesus showed us the meaning of justice and righteousness: "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.... blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."


Above all Jesus showed us that death can be the portal to life abundant and everlasting.


So, we have a great teacher, but do we have the other things that are necessary to acquire the skill of being a Christian? Do we have the time and discipline that it will take? Well, that is a question that each one of us will have to answer for ourselves.


But I promise you that if you commit yourself to learn from Jesus, if you commit the time and discipline that it will take, then you will indeed learn how to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus.


Another way to look at acquiring a skill (and especially acquiring the skill of being a Christian) is that it requires an investment, an investment of ourselves, our time and energy.


Today is the day of our annual meeting. Today you will hear about the budget for 2014. As you know, Christ Church has had deficit budgets for several years. Today we will present a budget that comes very close to being balanced. The vestry and staff have worked very hard to be responsible stewards of the money you give to this church.


But I'd like you to think about your contributions to Christ Church in light of today's gospel reading. Becoming a Christian requires us to invest ourselves in the process. Can we invest ourselves without also investing our money? I don't think so.


We live in a world that tells us that our self-worth, our very identity, is to a large extent determined by the amount of money that we make. We cannot say that we will commit our time and our energy to being a Christian without also making a serious investment of our financial resources.


At the beginning of this sermon, I quoted Jesus invitation to Peter and Andrew: "Follow me." But I deliberately omitted the famous words that follow that invitation: "And I will make you fishers of people." Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow him not only so that he could teach them, but so that they could become something: fishers of people.


We become Christians not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of others, indeed, for the benefit of the whole world.


Jesus invited us to follow him so that we could help him fish for people. We are meant to cast a great net out into the world so that we can bring others to Christ.


That is fairly un-Episcopalian language. When many of us hear language like that, it reminds of the churches in which we grew, churches that often told us that the only way to God was the Christian way, that only Christians could be "saved" or "go to heaven."


Frankly, I don't believe that. I believe that God has sons and daughters in all of the world's religions. I don't for a minute believe that heaven will include only Episcopalians. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there will be a lot of Baptists in heaven who will be quite surprised to find Episcopalians sitting next to them!


But I still believe that Jesus wants us to fish for people, that he wants us to cast a great net out into the world and bring people to him. I believe he wants us to do that because we live in a world full of people who are sick and need healing; we live in a world full of people who are broken and need mending; we live in a world full of people who are hungry and need to be nourished. And I firmly believe that Jesus can heal the sick and mend the broken and nourish the hungry.


So I invite you this morning to follow Jesus, to commit yourself to the great adventure of learning how to be a Christian; to commit your finances as well as your time and energy; and above all I invite you on behalf of Jesus to help us cast a great net out into the world and bring to Jesus all those fish, of every size and shape and color and language who are looking for the healing and mending and nourishing that Jesus promises those who follow him.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Tall Tale (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 12, 2014 at 7.45 am)

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ “ (Mark 1.9-11)

Several years ago Alabama novelist Winston Groom wrote a novel entitled Big Fish that was later turned into a movie by the same name. I want to give a personal two thumbs up to both the book and the movie. Big Fish is the story of a father and a son that begins and ends at a river.  The father, Edward Bloom, is larger than life.  On the day of his son William’s birth he catches the biggest catfish in Alabama’s Blue River.  The catfish is so big that… well, it’s so big that it furnishes the material for stories that Edward tells for the rest of his life, including the night of William’s engagement party when he makes himself the center of attention rather than his son and his son’s fiancée. 

            William comes to believe that his father’s life has just been one big fish story, and when Edward lies dying, William becomes determined to know what his father was “really like.”  But whenever William asks his father a question– about his childhood in tiny Ashland, Alabama; his college days; how he met his wife, William’s mother; how he got his start in business – his father responds with another tall tale. 

            In a sense, the gospels are also the story of a father and a son that begins at a river.  The gospels tell us that Jesus went down to the river along with the crowds drawn by the preaching of John the Baptist.  And at the river, something happened.  Something happened that sounds a bit like one of Edward Bloom’s tall tales.  Some say that the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove and descended upon Jesus and that a heavenly voice spoke, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

            The Bible might be regarded as a tall tale, and indeed some scholars look at it that way.  Water into wine?  A handful of loaves and fish multiplied to feed five thousand?  Sight restored to the blind?  The lame leaping and walking?  The dead raised?  Impossible, they say.  The products of naïve, unsophisticated and primitive people, or else willful distortions of the truth. 

            Perhaps they are right.  What would we have seen and heard if we had been present at the baptism of Jesus?  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that there was a dove that descended upon Jesus and a heavenly voice that announced that he was God’s Son, the beloved one. 

            What if we had been there and had seen and heard nothing?  What if years later someone told us this story of the Spirit taking the form of a dove and God’s voice resounding like thunder?  Would we be like the son in Big Fish?  Would we dismiss the impossible story and say, “No, tell me what REALLY happened?”  Or would we understand that sometimes a tall tale conveys the truth more effectively than the who, what, when, and where of a so-called factual account. 

            A scene in the novel Big Fish but not in the movie tells of the day that people heard that Edward Bloom was dying and began to gather in front of his house.  First just a few and then more and more until dozens of people were in the front yard – treading on the shrubbery, trampling on the monkey grass.  Finally, William’s mother tells him to ask them all to leave.  As they leave, one man says to William, “We all have stories, just as you do.  Ways in which he touched us, helped us, gave us jobs, lent us money, sold it to us wholesale.  Lots of stories, big and small.  They all add up.  Over a lifetime it all adds up.  That’s why we’re here, William.  We’re a part of him, of who he is, just as he is a part of us.” 

            Like the friends of Edward who gathered on the lawn when he was dying, we, too, have stories to tell about One who helped us.  “Ways in which he touched us… Over a lifetime it all adds up… We’re a part of him, of who he is, just as he is a part of us.”  We have been incorporated into a story that sounds an awful lot like a tall tale.  A father blessed his son and sent him out on a great quest.  He had adventure after adventure along the way:  the angels sang at his birth; mighty kings brought rich gifts to him; a wicked ruler tried to slay him; at his word plain water became rich wine; his touch brought sight to the blind and raised the dead to life again; although he was a simple man the wise and learned marveled at his words.  He undertook great trials and surpassed all expectations.  Finally, a close friend betrayed him; he was given a mock trial and executed.  But then the greatest marvel of all happened.  He outwitted even death itself.  And he returned to the father, having completed the quest, and his father and all his household rejoiced once again over the beloved Son with whom he was well pleased.

            In a sense, our stories, too, are about a Father and a Son and they begin at a river, or at least they begin with water.  As children or as adults we were brought to the water, and just as the Spirit descended upon Jesus, so the Spirit descended upon us.  And just as the Father announced that Jesus was his beloved Son with whom he was well pleased, so the Father announced that we were his beloved daughter or son and that he was well-pleased with us, too.  Does that sound like a tall tale to you?  Is it easier to believe that your parents dressed you in a christening gown that had been handed down from great, great, great, great Aunt So-and-so and brought you to church where a doddery old man held you over a stone basin, mumbled a few words, and splashed water on your head?  So be it, but personally, I prefer the Bible’s tall tale and believe that there’s more truth in it than in a “just the facts, ma’am” account of what happened. 

            The Bible’s tall tale is our story.  You are the Father’s beloved daughter or son; he loves you and is well-pleased with you.  And he has sent you out to have marvelous adventures and accomplish great tasks:  to love your enemies, to return good for evil, to bring wholeness to the sick, to stand up and speak out for those ignored and despised by others – the poor, hungry, and homeless.  And at the end of the quest you will have such stories to tell.  “You’re not going to believe this, but let me tell you about the time…”


What Harry Potter can teach us about baptism? (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 12, 2014 at 10.45 am)

Anthony, I hope you like the Harry Potter books and movies, because I want to talk to you about how Harry Potter can help us understand baptism.


There are several connections between Harry Potter and baptism.


First, Harry was raised by people who had no idea what a powerful wizard he was. Now, you are better off than Harry because your family and friends know just how special you are. But baptism is when we – your friends and family – let the whole world know what a rare, wonderful, unique, and strong individual you are.


Baptism reveals both your past and your future. Baptism says that God loved and knew you before you were even born and will continue to love you for century after century until there are no more centuries to count.


Now the second similarity between the HP books and your baptism is a little scary but you’re a brave young man I know that you can handle it. When HP discovers who he really is, then he comes into conflict with He Who Must Not Be Named – Lord Voldemort.


At the very beginning of the baptism service you promise to turn away from evil and put your faith and trust in Jesus.  In other words, there is darkness in the world and you will have to choose between the light and the darkness.


There are people who will hurt others and there are even people who may hurt you for no reason. Today you become part of God’s great struggle to overcome evil with good, darkness with light.


Third, do you remember the last book and movie in the Harry Potter series? When Harry sees his parents' graves, he reads this verse from First Corinthians 15.26: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." .  In baptism you are freed from death, the death of brokenness and alienation to which all human beings are subject.  You are freed from death and given the opportunity to participate in God's own life.  Your powers of imagination and creativity are freed from limits and given boundless scope.  You are born again to the possibility of bearing God's light too all around you.


Fourth, when HP discovered what a great wizard he was, he went off to attend Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and he began to have the most marvelous adventures. In baptism you have set out on a life long adventure, a quest. You will meet strange beasts and make life long friends. The prayer that ends the baptism service asks God to give you the gift of joy and wonder. There will be defeats along the way but if you keep on to the very end, you will find joy unspeakable and full of wonder.


I know that Christ Church doesn't look much like Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For one thing, you don't have to board a magical train at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station to get here. But in a sense, this church is a lot like Hogwarts. Harry went to Hogwarts to learn to work magic. In this church, it is our job to teach you how to work miracles. In baptism, you are entering a world of signs and wonders.  You are becoming an  inhersitor of the Christian faith that celebrates a God for whom therse are no limits, a God who works miracles, a God who asks us to work miracles, too:  miracles such as overcoming hatred with love, defeating anger with forgiveness, and rising from death to life abundant and everlasting.


When HP went to Hogwarts for the first time, Hagrid the giant took him to buy three things: a robe, a broom, and a magic wand.


Today I have four things to give you. Now, understand: none of these things is magic. The HP stories are just stories. There is no magic of the kind that we read about in the HP books. But there is grace and mercy and love in the world and in you and these things are powerful. The things that I am going to give you point you in the direction of God’s power and the power that God has given you.


First, here is a certificate of baptism. In the Episcopal Church we like to talk a lot about lay ministry, that is, the kind of ministry that God calls all of us to do, whether we are ordained or not. But we make a big mistake. When someone is ordained to the priesthood, we give them a great big certificate that they usually frame and hang on their wall. But when someone is baptized, we usually just give them a little postcard that they stick in their prayer book and never look at again.


So today I'm giving you a big certificate that says "We receive you into the household of faith. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with his in his eternal priesthood." The most important ordination that anyone receives is the ordination that we all receive in baptism. In baptism you are ordained into Christ's eternal priesthood.


Second, here is some of the water with which you were baptized. Water is very important.  Without it we would die. All of us get thirsty, but we also become spiritually thirsty. One day soon you will know what that means. You will have moments when you long for meaning and purpose, when life seems dry and pointless. When that happens this water is to help you remember that you were baptized. You are a part of Christ who promised those who follow him that they would have a spring of living water in their hearts forever.


Third, we are giving you a t shirt. You've probably seen t shirts that say things like, "My dad went to Las Vegas and al I got was this lousy t shirt." Well, this is not that kind of t shirt. It's not a souvenir.


In the early church, people who were baptized were clothed in a white garment that they wore for the 50 days following their baptism. It signified the new life that they had received in baptism. This t shirt represents that white garment.


In baptism, you receive a new name, or more accurately several new names. You are still Anthony Michael Perna, but now you are also a child of God, an inheritor of God’s kingdom, a member of the Body of Christ and above all you are a Christian. Some of your new names are on this t-shirt. Wearing it will help you remember who you are.


The back of it also includes the name, address, and phone number of Christ Church. Never pass up an opportunity for free advertising.


Fourthly, we are giving you a candle to remind you of the light of Christ burning brightly in your heart.


And fifthly, we are giving you a cross. The cross is one of the most powerful symbols of the Christian faith. It reminds us of God's power to bring life and light out of darkness and death. Most Christian churches have crosses inside and outside. The cross shows us the way to our home, the church.  Wherever God’s people are gathered is your home and we are your family.

There’s a story about a little boy who became lost in a big city. He was very frightened but a policeman found him and drove him around until he spotted his family’s house. Suddenly, the boy said, “Let me out here.” The policeman said, “Is this your home?” the boy said, “No, but it’s my church and I can find my way home from here.”

 Anthony, whenever you feel lost and alone, look for the cross. It will help you find your way to the church, and we will help you find your way back home.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Stars We Follow (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 5, 2014)

In Matthew's gospel we are told that the magi visited the infant Jesus, bringing with them gifts for the wondrous child - gold and frankincense and myrrh.


Scarcely any figures in scripture are more mysterious than the magi. Matthew says that they were from the East but does not say what country. Were they from Persia, Arabia, or India or somewhere else? We don't know.


Furthermore, scripture does not even tell us how many magi visited the infant Jesus. There were three gifts, so we assume that there were three magi, but really we do not know.


Sometimes we say that they were kings, but there is absolutely no support for that. To be sure the gifts were valuable, the kinds of things that only kings could afford, but apart from the value of the gifts, we have no reason to believe that they were kings.


Finally, we do not even know that they were men. We call them "magi," the plural of magus. A magus was a member of the priestly caste of ancient Persia. We assume that they were men, and of course, women rarely traveled in the ancient world. But the fact is that we cannot know with certainty that the magi who traveled to see the infant Jesus did not include women.


Many of you have heard me say this, but it bears repeating. I am convinced from the text of Matthew's gospel that at least some of the magi were women. Listen again to the very first thing that the magi say when they arrive in Jerusalem: "Where is he who is born King of the Jews?" IN other words, they asked for directions! Now I ask you, do men EVER ask for directions?


I like the fact that we know very little about the magi. It allows me to exercise my imagination. In my mind's eye I see them poring over the ancient texts of Persia, India, and Israel. Night by night, I see them studying the movements of the stars.


The magi lived in a time when religion, science, and magic were much the same thing. They did not make the distinctions between these things that they do.


One of the things that impresses me about the magi is that they sought truth not only from their own religion and culture but also from others. It is plain that they had studied not only their own religious texts but also those of Israel. They knew that Jerusalem was the site of the temple and also the political capital. They knew that the Hebrew scriptures identified Jerusalem as both a holy and a royal city.


But they also sought truth in nature, in what today we would call science. They studied the movements of the stars. Today we would call this astrology, but the fact is that the people of ancient cultures such as Persia and India had remarkably detailed and accurate star charts.


There is are several  important lessons in this for us today:


First, we too often listen only to the texts and voices of our own culture and assume that wisdom can be found only there. Christians listen only to their Bible, Jews to theirs, Muslims to theirs, and so on. Now make no mistake: We are right to listen first and primarily to our own texts. God promises to speak to us from the pages of the Bible. We can be sure that when we study the Bible faithfully, with open minds and hearts, we will find guidance. But there is no reason to think that there is no wisdom in the traditions of other faiths.


The most important thing that I learned from my interfaith clergy group in Birmingham is that wisdom can be found just about everywhere. I believe that I have become a better Christian by becoming well acquainted with Judaism. I spent a year working with a piano teacher who was a Buddhist and we began every lesson by meditating together. I don't think that made me any less of a Christian. On the contrary, I believe that it deepened my faith.


The second thing I want to point out is that the magi studied not only written texts, they also studied the stars. Another way to say that is to say that they not only studied the written word of God, they also studied God's book of nature. Too often in our day and time science and religion are enemies. That impoverishes both of them, and the fault is on both sides. Religious leaders are educated almost exclusively in the humanities. Scientists are probably more likely to be well read in the humanities, as well as science, but there is little conversation between the two disciplines.


That was not the case in the ancient world, because the ancients did not make the distinctions that we do today.


I read a troubling article yesterday that said that more and more religious people, especially if they are also political conservatives, are coming to reject the idea of evolution. And more and more scientists are becoming skeptical of and hostile toward religion.


This is very dangerous. I believe that God speaks with one voice, but speaks in different languages. God speaks to us through the Bible but God also speaks in the book of nature. And if we would really understand God, we need to listen to what God is saying both through the Bible and through nature.


I have one more point to make: God also spoke to the magi through a dream. Listen again to the last sentence of the gospel reading: "...having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road."


"...having been warned in a dream..." Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? God has spoken to me in a dream. I believe that God has spoken to most of us, maybe all of us, in dreams, but how many of us listened and paid attention? We live in a world that does not encourage us to hear the voice of God in dreams. That is the stuff of people who set themselves up as psychic readers and visionaries, people we look down upon as fakers and charlatans. And most of the time, we are right to do that. But that does not mean that God does not have something to say to us in dreams.


But the magi were indeed wise men (and maybe wise women, too). They listened for and heard the voice of God in sacred texts, in the book of nature, and in dreams. We need to be just as wise and just as attentive.


Today is the first Sunday of a new year. It is a time for new year's goals and resolutions. Today we are asking you to participate in a long range planning process for this church. I want to encourage you to be as wise as the magi: to dream great dreams, dreams as high as the stars. I want to encourage you to find that tiny but intensely bright point of light that will guide us through the darkness that is all around us until we come, like the magi, to the place to which God is leading us. Will you join me in this great adventure?



Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Light of the World (The Rev. Richard O'Brien, Dec. 29, 2013)

If you were in church on Christmas morning, you are likely feeling a bit of déjà vu.  You are probably asking yourself; didn’t we just hear this gospel passage from John?  No, you are not wrong.  We DID just have this passage from John on Christmas morning.  So why are we hearing it again?  Because one service was simply not enough time to devote to such an important gospel passage as this one.  Indeed, a month of sermons could be based upon this passage and still barely scratch the surface. 

The beginning of John sets up a number of themes that will run throughout his gospel, themes that are important to understanding Jesus Christ, his ministry on earth, and the beginnings of the early church. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.  God, in all three persons was present at the creation of the world.  The book of Genesis tells us that the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.  Here we have God the Father, the Word Jesus who was with God and who was God, and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.  John helps us to understand the three aspects of the Trinity, the triune nature of God as all present and acting to create the world and bring about life. 

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”  Life and light are major focuses of John’s teaching.  So too is the concept of witness.  “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  John the Baptist was sent by God to be a witness to the light.”  The gospel is quite clear, “He came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” 

There had been no prophet in Israel for 400 years.  And then John appeared, preaching a message of repentance and return to the Lord.  Even though he was very odd, dressing funny, eating strange food and spending a lot of time in the desert, his message resonated with the people.  And the people responded.  They came from far and wide to be baptized by John.  John was seen by some as a prophet and by others as potentially the Messiah himself. 

John the Baptist would not allow this idea to gain any traction.  He was extremely clear that he was NOT the long awaited Messiah.  He told all that he had been sent simply to prepare the way of the one who would come after him, the one who would be so far above him that John would not be fit to even untie the thong of his sandal.  “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”  How could he come after him and yet be before him?  John the Baptist is echoing the idea that John is expounding in the gospel that Jesus is the Word; the Word who was with God at the creation of the world and was therefore long before John the Baptist.

Saint Andrew, one of the twelve apostles, was also a witness to Jesus.  He traveled with him, ate with him, heard him teaching in the synagogue and saw the miracles that Jesus performed.  While he was a witness to all of this, he is not one of the better known disciples.  Unlike Peter or James, Andrew merits only occasional mention in the gospels.  But these mentions are very telling.  Each time Andrew appears, he is introducing someone to Jesus.  Andrew is the one who introduces his brother Peter to Jesus, and at the feeding of the 5,000, do you remember where the loaves and fishes come from?  They are brought by a small boy, a boy who is introduced to Jesus by Andrew.  Andrew has a special role in bringing people to Christ and he is a witness to the light, but he is clearly not the light.  And the same is true of John the Baptist.  He is aware of the light, but is also quite clear that he is Not the light.  The light of the world, the light that broke the darkness is Jesus.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  The life was the light of all people.  In both of these statements, John is saying something quite revolutionary.  For unlike much of the Old Testament, unlike themes from other religious traditions, John is telling us that Jesus came into the world not simply for the Jews, but for everyone.  All people, Jew and gentile, roman and Greek, slave and free; Jesus came for them all. 

The ancient world was full of hatreds and distrusts.  The Jews hated the Gentiles.  The Romans hated the Jews.  The rich hated the poor and the feeling was very much reciprocated.  All felt that God was for them, and only them.  Some Priests made a living by feeding into this idea and reinforcing the idea that each of them was God’s elect, that God had a special relationship with them and only them.  And into this realm comes Jesus Christ, God himself, preaching a message of grace, compassion, and love.  Not just for some, not just for those who looked like them, or talked like them, or thought like them, but for everyone.

This Jesus who ate with sinners, healed lepers, conversed with women, tax collectors, and Samaritans; this man came to bring light to all people, not just some people.  This was unheard of in the ancient world and was further proof that God himself had come into the world.  But many did not understand it, and, as often happens when something is misunderstood, they feared it. 

We see this in today’s world as well.  Many religions seem to speak and act as though God is there for them and only them.  Even among the Christian churches it can be difficult to find agreement on who is and is not saved by Jesus Christ.  It is this sad tendency to exclude some while including others that has been with us since the beginning of time.  But that is not why Jesus came.  This is what Paul is saying to the Galatians.  The early church in Galatia was deeply concerned about the presence of Gentiles in the church and there was great conflict about whether these people must become Jews in order to be followers of Christ.  Paul’s answer to this is the same as in John’s gospel; that the light of the world came for all people, not just for some.

We face similar issues in our churches today.  There are those who would have the church be only for people who agree with them, or people who look like them, or people who think like them.  But that is inconsistent with the message of God, the incarnate light to the world. He didn’t come to save just the Episcopalians, or the Jews or the Muslims.  He came to save us all.  John is very clear that Jesus is the light of ALL people, not just some.  Let us always keep that in mind, let that light shine in your hearts, and never let the darkness overcome it.