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2nd Sunday After Epiphany
Matthew 4:12-13 and Isaiah 9:1-4
Sunday January 23, 2005
Rev’d Dr. Mike Michielin

In today’s consumer orient world, God has become one of many consumer items to choose from. Kathy English, an editor for the Globe and Mail comment section, once describes in an article called “Shopping for God” her family’s search for a church. She admits in her article, that she along with most of us, “have become consumers of religion, shopping for God in churches, chapels, cathedrals and community halls.” In her search for a church she comes to an interesting conclusion: “We’re a society of consumers grown accustomed to a world of myriad of choice, but in this case I wonder if we can ever find what we are seeking.” I think she has hit the nail on its head.

When we search the Bible it never talks about us finding God, but rather, God finding us. Notice what happens in today’s Gospel. Jesus while walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee sees a few poor fishermen – minding their own business – and tells them, “Come follow me.” It doesn’t say that Peter, Andrew, James or John where even looking for God. They were minding their own business and catching their food for the day and making a living. In fact, if Jesus didn’t say anything, Peter, Andrew, James and John would not even have noticed Him.

Why can we not find God? The words of Isaiah that Jesus recalls in vv. 15-16 are insightful. He tells us that we live in darkness and in the land of the shadow of death. These are strange words to our modern sensibilities. Influenced by enlightenment ideals, we are much more positive about ourselves. We believe that we are reasonable and enlightened, especially in the western world. We pride ourselves as being civilized and when we put our minds to something we can work anything out. Just over the last 50 years, we have made great strides in science, medicine, psychology, and history. We have advanced so far and so fast that we believe we can find answers to almost anything, including questions about God. Books such as the ‘Life of Pi’, the “Davinci Code’ or programs on the history channel are a few examples.

Yet, this is not what Jesus is teaching us about ourselves. When Isaiah spoke these words to Israel, they too thought pretty highly of themselves. But instead of finding the true God, they began to make their own gods. They adapted the gods of surrounding cultures. Isaiah had been warning them that they were misguided and that if they insisted on following their own ways, there would be consequences for their misguided actions. And sure enough the powerful Assyria sacked Jerusalem.

Like Israel of old, we take ourselves too seriously and forget that we live in darkness. We forget that we need to be enlightened by the Spirit of God to find God, that we can’t find God, but He finds us. In Romans, Paul reminds us that when we claim to be wise, we are in fact fools, exchanging the glory of God for our own images of God. Our image of God may be money, social status, or just plain pride. When we exchange the glory of Christ for our own image of God Paul reminds us that God gives us over to the sinful desires of our hearts so that our sinful desires end up shaping the god we find. For instance, this is what, I believe, has happened in the United States … We develop a Jesus that suits our needs. If we believe in a certain work ethic, Jesus does to. If we don’t or do believe in gay unions, Jesus does or does not. If we believe that its OK not to go to Church, so does Jesus. If we believe that it’s OK to be rich and not help the poor, so does Jesus. We can justify anything we do this way.

Why do we want to shape God into our own image? Think about what happens when Jesus finds us. When Jesus finds Peter, Andrew, James and John, he completely disrupts their lives. When Jesus shows up on the scene it is an encounter of transforming and life changing significance. On the spot, these four, poor fishermen dropped everything. James and John even left their father behind to follow Jesus. Their lives were changed forever.

Let us face it this kind of life changing experience is not something that excites us. For many of us – me included – I like my life just the way it is. Most of us live a comfortable life. We have warm homes to go to, generally our health is good, we have enough food and can have and buy anything we want. So why would we want Jesus to disturb us? Dorothy Sayers wrote a series of radio plays for the BBC based on the life of Jesus entitled “The Man Born to be King”. Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus first disciples, thought she knew what life was all about before she met Jesus. She knew how to have a good time. She thought she was experiencing life to the fullest, just as you and I do. In the play, Mary reminisces with Jesus about the first time they met, and she says this about Jesus and life:

Did you know my companions and I came there that day to mock you? We thought you would be sour and grim, hating all beauty and treating life as an enemy. But when I saw you, I was amazed. You were the only person there that was really alive. The rest of us were going about half dead – making the gestures of life, pretending to be real people. The life was not with us but with you – intense and shining, like the strong sun when it rises and turns flames of our candles to pale smoke. And I wept and was ashamed, seeing myself as such a thing of trash and tawdy. But when you spoke to me, I felt a flame of the sun in my heart. I came alive for the first time. I love life all the more since I have learnt its meaning.

Like Mary Magdalene before she met Jesus, we think we are living life to the full. We think we are enlightened and have it all together. But what we think and what is reality may not be the same thing. Before I became a follower of Jesus, I was very much like Mary Magdalene. I though I had it all together and knew what life was all about. I had an active party life. I thought it was natural that if I was to have fun, I must drink plenty of alcohol. I believed that to party was the way to meet friends and meet girls. But when I became a Christian, I met people who knew how to have fun without needing to get drunk. I found out that the friendships I made with men and woman at the bars were superficial. My new Christian friends were much deeper and exciting. Just like Mary Magdalene, I found that Jesus was the one who was really alive and that life without him was quite dark and empty.

Jesus is here searching for you this day, this hour, this moment. You need not look for some other god or to shape Jesus into your own image for he won’t have you do it anyway. He is here, calling you to follow Him just as he called Peter, James, John and Andrew to follow him. I assure you, a life with Jesus is much more life giving than a life without Him.