The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – Scout Sunday
Sunday, February 5
Light of the World
The summer after my sophomore year at UT, I worked as a canoe river guide at a Boy Scout camp in northern Maine. My job was to take nine Boy Scouts, two adults, and me for two weeks through the middle of the Maine wilderness on canoes. It was my job to be the navigator, to make sure we made it safely from beginning to end. It was my job to the be the weatherman, to make sure we didn’t get caught in a storm out on a lake. When somebody got hurt, I was the paramedic. When there was a fight among crew members, as there would always be, I was the referee.. When some kid would wrap a canoe around a rock in the middle of the rapids, it was my job to pry it off. I had to keep an eye on that kid who was looking a little green around the gills, I had to keep an eye on that other kid who really had no business being in a canoe, I had to keep an eye on that kid, making sure he didn’t sneak any candy into his tent and get attacked by a bear. Being a canoe river guide was great training to be a priest.
So there I was, a nineteen year old college kid from Texas, charged with the wellbeing and safety of these strangers in the middle of nowhere Maine. It felt like someone had made a terrible, terrible mistake. Shouldn’t the Boy Scouts have hired someone more responsible, more mature, more knowledgeable than me? I told you that being a river guide was great training to be a priest. Couldn’t God have called someone more faithful, more devout, more dignified than me?
When Jesus tells those first disciples that they are the light of the world, I wonder; shouldn’t Jesus have called some people who were a little bit more well respected? People who were wealthier? People who had some influence? When Jesus is calling his disciples to be the light of the world, shouldn’t he have chosen people who could at least read and write?
Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes for a second. They are not the rich and famous. They smell like fish. They are weather beaten, burned by the sun. They are not the clergy of their day. And yet Jesus climbs a mountain and tells them, them of all people, that they are the light of the world. Those who are least in this world are called to be lights to the world.
See, God doesn’t care much for our system of rankings and status. In fact, God seems to prefer the people who are the least in the eyes of the world. Jesus could have gone to the rulers of his day, the kings, the wealthy. Jesus could have told them that they were the light of the world. But Jesus willfully ignores the status that we care about so much. God could have chosen a nice, married woman to give birth to Jesus. But he chose an unmarried teenager. When Jesus rose from the dead, he could have gone first to the priests in Jerusalem. But Jesus didn’t – the first person to see the risen Jesus was Mary Magdalene, a woman; and remember, women were not trusted in that day. This is simply how God works – God disregards the human structures of power and influence, choosing instead to use people that no one, no human would ever choose. Jesus’ parents had to flee from mass murder. The first Christian in Europe was a woman. Christianity was, for centuries, illegal. God is not concerned with power and prestige. Jesus looks at his ragtag group of smelly, weather beaten, fishermen and says, “you are the light of the world.”
If there is a day that we need to hear this message, it’s on Super Bowl Sunday. This is the high holy day for America. This is day on which we worship the stars of the world: the celebrities, the football players, the entertainers, the political leaders. We have been tricked into believing that they are lights in this world. This is part of our cultural sickness. We care far too much about the rich and famous. We care for too little for the poor and the exploited. Super Bowl Sunday shows us just how far we are from the Kingdom of God. While we look up toward the big screen, God is looking downward. If Jesus walked into NRG Stadium this afternoon, I don’t think he would pay much attention to the big shots in the high money seats. I don’t think Jesus would even look for Tom Brady. Jesus would look for the men and women selling nachos and scrubbing toilets and say to them, “you are the light of the world.”
So, I must ask you, are you looking upwards or downwards? Are you concerned with what Lady Gaga will or will not say at halftime; or are you concerned about the kid who is behind bars? Are you stocking up on hot wings, queso, and chili for the big game while ignoring your elderly neighbor who sits alone in her house? Will you be laughing along at all those great beer commercials; or will you be sensitive to your family and friends that are addicts? I’m not saying that the Super Bowl is a bad thing: but this day does put into stark contrast the vision God has for the world with the reality of the world as it is.
Of course, it’s not just at the Super Bowl that we are drawn upward while God looks downward. If Jesus showed up at your school, he probably wouldn’t go to the kids who have hundreds of followers on Instagram. He would go to the kids sitting by themselves at lunch and say to them, “you are the light of the world.” If Jesus came to where you work, he would probably walk right past the big corner office, he would find the janitor’s closet and say to them, “you are the light of the world.”
This is good news, but it’s also hard news. It’s hard news because it means that we have to stop the hustle, myself included. For those of us on top and trying to climb higher, we have to stop. We have to stop trying to earn God’s favor. You have to really believe that rank does not matter in the Kingdom of God. I know, this might sound a little odd on Scout Sunday. Because I know that many parents out there want their boys to become Eagle Scouts. So, I’m telling you as an Eagle Scout myself – rank does not matter. There are no checklists, no requirements to pass, no merit badges to earn in God’s Kingdom. Jesus did not call the Eagle Scouts of his day to be his disciples; Jesus called the ones who were probably never going to make it very far.
And if all you care about is rank and status, you are going to live a sorry, jealousy filled, empty, sad little life. You’ll never know the grace that was right in front of you. This is hard news for some of us.
But it’s also good news. God is calling you, especially you, to be the light of the world. Do not think to yourself, “I’m just a fishermen.” You are not just anything. You are the light of the world. You. You are the one who loves your neighbor as yourself. You are the one who turns the other cheek. You are the one who cares for your sick neighbor. You are the one who carries the cross. You are the one who lives with faith instead of fear. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Eagle Scout or if you dropped out. It doesn’t matter if you make six figures or if you’ve lost your job. It doesn’t matter where you were born, or who you love, or what you’re worth. Jesus looks beyond all that stuff that we care about. You, yes even you, you are the light of the world.