This is a season of light. As the days get longer and the sun rises almost imperceptibly earlier in our daily routines, we celebrate the Great Light seen by the people who walked in darkness, the Light that lightens the nations.
Our Sunday morning Gospel lessons reflect that theme, and all the new beginnings that accompany it—John crying out in the wilderness, baptism, temptations in the wilderness, and ultimately calling the disciples.
Martin Luther, as he wrote on the first chapter of John’s Gospel, has an interesting comment about Andrew – how he was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and then became a follower of Jesus. Luther says the theme here is not calling the apostles into apostolic office—not here, not yet. Rather, the theme is the disciples’ congenial associations with Christ—and their call to follow Jesus.
So, the familiar question arises, “What does this mean?” What does it mean to follow the Lamb of God, to be a disciple? How then shall we live?
I suppose there are almost as many good answers to that question as there are human beings on earth; but we can make a few generalizations.
In part, to follow Jesus means being conformed with Christ in his sufferings, his life, and his resurrection. Our tradition clearly states that we are saved by Grace, by unearned, redemptive love; and that we are thereby freed to serve and love the neighbor, whoever that might be.
In 1519, when he was writing a treatise on Holy Communion, Luther said, “Christ, by His love, takes upon Himself our form, strives with us against sin, death, and all evil: This enkindles in us such love that we take His form, rely on His righteous life and blessedness, and through the interchange of His blessings and our misfortunes, we are one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common.”
Then, Luther continues with what, to me, is one of the more moving passages that he left to us, and he says, “Again, through this same love, we are to be changed and to make the infirmities of all other Christians our own, take upon ourselves their form and their necessity, and all the good that is within our power, we are to make theirs, that they may enjoy it. In this way, we are changed into one another and brought into fellowship with one another by love, without which there can be no such change.”
Luther says, we are changed into one another by love.
Back in the early years of the last century, Pastor William Dahl, one of the founders of Mosaic, would frequently visit people at the “poor farm” in his area, where he saw people with mental health issues, epilepsy, intellectual disability, and a variety of other conditions for which they were essentially confined and excluded. He saw people being mistreated and beaten, lying naked in filth, and he said, “We just must, as a church, do something for these people!” Later, he wrote, “I am doing what I am doing, because the love of Christ constrains us.”
More than one hundred years later, Mosaic’s Mission Statement begins with, “Embracing God’s call to serve in the world…”
More than one hundred years later, Rejoicing Spirits continues to embrace the vision of the Church as one bread, one body.
More than one hundred years later, as individuals and a church, we are called to service—to follow Christ, to be conformed to Him, and to be changed into one another, by love.
No one has ever said that this conformation and transformation would be quick or painless. In the interchange of our blessings with others’ misfortune, we rely on the righteousness of Christ to become our own. In and through the Holy Spirit, we proclaim the Good News of God in Christ to all people, following the example of Jesus; and we promise to strive for peace and justice in all the earth.
A couple years ago, I heard Cornell West speak, and he said, “Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love looks like in private.”
To follow Jesus is to be conformed to Him, and transformed in our own hearts, in our congregations and in our very societal structures. We can’t delude ourselves; justice requires societal as well as personal transformation.
“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love, correcting everything that stands against love.”
Those are not my words—they are words from Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is the season when we celebrate the Great Light seen by the people who walked in darkness. May we come and see this Great Light, may we follow that light for the illumination of our hearts and the transformation of all the earth, until the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
Blessings to you!
The Rev. Dr. Jim Fruehling
The Rev. Dr. Jim Fruehling