5 Sunday of Epiphany February 4,2007
February 4, 2007
Epiphany 5, Ordinary 5, Year C
Old Testament Isaiah 6:1-8 (P. 1068)
Epistle: 1 Corinthian 15: 1-11 (P. 1789)
Gospel: Luke 5: 1 - 11 (Pp.1597-98)
Paul was compelled to pass on an important message: that Jesus died for our sins was buried and on the third day was raised from the dead. Like a game of “hot potato,” that message is passed on to us who in turn must pass it on to others. In the same way that Paul could take ownership of being an Apostle with a capital “A” by the grace of God, we are apostles with the same mission.
“Last and the Least”
A lot of children’s games are based upon the concept of “the last one standing,” or, as in musical chairs, “the last one sitting.” Whoever is still in the game when all the playing is done is the winner. The game of “hot potato” could be summarized in the biblical phrase, “THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST AND THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST.” In this particular game, which has been revised, technologized, computerized and commercialized, a potato or some other chosen object is passed around a circle while music is played or a timer is set. If you drop the object, you are immediately disqualified. The last one holding the hot potato when “time” is called is out of the game. The one to survive all the rounds without being ejected is the winner.
In a game like this, each player strives not to be last in one sense, in order to “outlast” all the other players. A game like hot potato gives a whole new meaning to the adage: “LAST BUT NOT LEAST.”
In this Corinthian letter Paul goes to great lengths to explain that he is last and least among the apostles. The resurrected Jesus had appeared to so many others before he appeared to Paul. And in Paul’s opinion of himself, he was unfit to even be recognized as an apostle because of his previous atrocities against God’s church. But Paul was able to look beyond his own shortcomings and declare that by God’s grace he was now able to hold this esteemed position. Besides, even if he was less qualified than some, it remained that he had worked harder than any of them.
Paul was last, but he was not wiling to consider himself least. He knew that God’s grace, the sins of his former life were forgiven and that he now stood among God’s chosen people as a leader. He was the one who ended up holding the hot potato and still came out a winner. His hot potato was the Gospel message: Jesus died for our sins, was buried and on the third day was raised from the dead. As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, it ws Paul’s job to pass this “hot potato” on to as many people as possible with the same urgency as a player trying to get rid of the hot potato in the children’s game.
God takes the last of us and the least of us and makes us more than we ever thought we could be. And like Paul, we are left holding a hot potato that we dare not drop. But we have to pass it off quickly and effectively in order to stay in the game.
The word “apostle” literally means “ONE SENT FORTH.” When we hear the word apostle, we think of those important disciples of Jesus who were officially appointed by God to be apostles of the church. We think of Paul who was sent forth to witness the message of salvation to the Gentiles. We don’t think of ourselves as apostles, though we do have this same sense of mission. Like Paul, we tend to question our qualifications and our own sinfulness. In our sad condition, how much can we really do for the Lord?
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
The famous 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody tells of a man at sea who was very seasick. If there is a time when a man feels that he cannot do any work for the Lord, it is when feeling the gut wrench of seasickness.
But he received word that someone had fallen overboard, and he wondered if he could do anything to help to save the victim. He got hold of a light, and he held it up on the porthole to get a look at the water.
The drowning man was saved. Later, when the seasick man had recovered, he went up on deck and ran into the man who was rescued. The saved man gave this testimony. He said, “I had gone down the second time, and was just going down again for the last time, when I put out my had. Just then,” he said, “someone held a light at the porthole, and the light fell on my hand. A sailor caught me by the hand and pulled me into the lifeboat.”
Likewise, we don’t always have to pull off major accomplishments to do the work of God’s kingdom. We can simply shine alight upon those who are perishing. We don’t have to be the heroes who jump into the floodwaters or the fiery building to save someone from impending danger, but we can at least hold a light in the darkness so that others can see their way to safety. We don’t have to be sinless like Jesus in order to tell the wonderful story of salvation. Even in our sickened condition of sin, we can share with others the medicine that is making us well.
A CURE FOR THE SICK
A thousand-mile dogsled race is run every year in Alaska with the victor receiving prize money and prestige. This race commemorates an original “race” run to save lives. In January of 1926, a 6-year-old boy died of diphtheria, signaling the possibility of an outbreak in the small town of Nome. The town doctor began immunizing children and adults with an experimental but effective anti-diphtheria serum. But it wasn’t long before the supply ran out, and the nearest serum was in Nenana, Alaska --- a thousand miles away across frozen wilderness. In an amazing demonstration of courage and compassion, a group of trappers and prospectors volunteered to cover the distance with their dog teams.
Operating in relays from trading posts and trapping stations, one team started out from Nome while another started from Nenana carrying the serum. Oblivious to frostbite, fatigue and exhaustion, these relay teams pushed on relentlessly for 144 hours in minus 50-degree winds until the serum was delivered to Nome. As a result of the willingness of these brave men to get involved, only one other life was lost to the potential epidemic. Their sacrifice had given an entire town the gift of life.
We might be the last person in a long chain of people who influence the turning point in another person’s life, or we could be just one of the many links along the way. We might be the last person to have contact with someone before he or she leaves this life or we might be the last person someone would ever expect to hold the light for him or her to see. We might be last, but we are never the least. A beacon – a light in the face of darkness – a glimmer of hope; the light we hold up each day can lead others out of darkness. It’s the light of Jesus Christ.
WE SPEAK WITH OUR LIVES
A story is told that Francis of Assisi once invited a young monk to join him on a trip to preach in a nearby town. The monk was honored to even be asked and readily accepted the invitation. All day the two monks walked through the streets and alleys of the town and even ventured into the suburbs. They rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people. At the end of the day the two headed back home. The young monk was puzzled that Francis had not even once addressed a crowd, nor had he talked to anyone about the gospel. Greatly disappointed, his young companion finally said to Francis, “I though we were going into town to preach.”
Francis responded, “My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. Many saw us and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”
Our light doesn’t shine only when we knowingly turn it on. It shines wherever darkness exists. We don’t always have to speak in words to convey a message of saving importance. Even unaware of what we say in the way we live our lives, others are watching us.
Some men were panning for gold in Montana when one of them made a discovery. Eagerly attacking the rocks around them, the men found the spot full of gold. They began shouting with delight, “
We’ve found it! We’ve found gold! We’re rich!”
Before going into a nearby town to stock up on supplies, they all agreed not to tell a soul about their find. Indeed, no one breathed a word about it to anyone while they were in town. But much to their dismay, when they were about to return, hundreds of men were prepared to follow them. In disbelief that one of their own had betrayed them, they asked the crowd to tell them who had talked.
The reply came back, “No one had to. Your faces showed it!”
When something wonderful happens, it’s hard to hide it. It shows in everything we do – the way we talk; the way we walk; the look on our face. Apostles of Jesus Christ, something wonderful has happened. Jesus died for our sins, was buried and on the third day was raised from the dead. He saved us!
Last but not least … does its how in your life?