Looking for Light in All the Wrong Places

Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, January 22, 2017
Taken from 
Matthew 4:12-17 (Isaiah 9:1-7)

“I spent a lifetime lookin’ for you
Single bars and good time lovers were
never true
Playin’ a fool’s game, hopin’ to win
Tellin’ those sweet lies and losin’ again

I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong
places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searchin’ their eyes
Lookin’ for traces of what I’m dreaming of
Hoping to find a friend and lover
I’ll bless the day I discover
Another heart lookin’ for love
[‘cause I was lookin’ for love all the
the wrong places]”

Thus sayeth the prophet, Johnny Lee, in his 1980 hit, Looking for Love.

According to the much, much earlier prophet, Isaiah, there is indeed “another heart lookin’ for love”.  It’s the heart of God.  It’s God, lookin’ through the bars and pickup spots where hook-ups are many but hoped-for love is a lie…all the wrong places where God’s people go lookin’ for love, lookin’ for love, yet they go wanting.

But, then, here comes God through the doors, the Eternal Heart lookin’ for those upon whom God may pour out Divine Love and have it returned to God by Gods own people.

Interestingly, when those two hearts meet, the Divine Lover encountering the beloved, that Love which searches and that love which is found, is not at first the love of romance; it is the love of a desperate rescue operation.

The brilliance of God’s love like the beam of a search-light pierces the pitch-black night through which God’s beloved children stumble and fall.  The brilliance of God’s love is an early morning sun, unimpeded by storm-cloud or rain, the new sun rising, breaking and lifting that deep darkness lain too long over the landscape of our lives.

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this,” says Isaiah.  “The zeal of the Lord will do it.”  The passion of God never yields; the passion of God never dims nor weakens.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts does not surrender in defeat.  The passion of God burns ever-brilliantly, it’s fuel never lags, and it’s light never weakens.

For so long, though, God’s people have laid down and accepted as their fate the shadows which overtook them.  It is their energies that have lagged, not God’s.  It is they who have accepted defeat and a slow death under the cover of darkness, and not God who has resigned the field of combat.

We like to call ourselves “people of the Book, people of the Bible.  Well, these were the people in the Book!  These are the people in the Bible!  They had misdirected their search for what only God could offer them.  Like burned-out bums in a bar and the wasted wanna-be’s sitting at their sides, God’s people had caroused their way down across the generations, vesting their hopes and dreams in what never could satisfy what needs only God could meet.

As Isaiah references in chapter nine, verse 1, they had been “brought into contempt”.  They themselves had become a byword and a cruel euphemism for all that it meant to be lost, wandering, floundering:  “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali”.

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali”:  that phrase means nothing to us today.  But it meant a lot to Isaiah and the folks in his day.  Obviously, it meant a lot to the folks in Jesus’ day.  This is the prophecy Matthew chose to frame for his generation the starting-point of Jesus’ ministry.

Matthew put his first readers right there on the spot on the map from which Jesus began his preaching.  It was not only a spot to which our GPS’s might take us; it was a blemished location in the religious travails between God and God’s people:  the land of infamy, the time of disrepute and despair:  “the land of Zebulun…the land of Naphtali”!  What could it have meant to Matthew and to that first generation of Christians to know this place was the land of Jesus’ origin?

Well, there were stereotypes rooted in centuries of assorted events, famous and infamous. Folks in that day were no different from us, when it came to stereotypes.  Stereotypes generally are rooted in some fact of a people and place’s history, facts that then get exaggerated and generally used a pejorative way.

For example, I’m a Hokie, here in the midst of the Wahoo camp.  I’ve learned I’ve got to accept a little grief from you fine folks here among the hallowed colonnades of Mr. Jefferson’s University.

“How can you tell when somebody’s died at Virginia Tech?  All the students ride around with their tractor lights on.”

You know, things like that.  It goes on and on.  Yes, Virginia Tech was founded as a college of agriculture an mechanical arts, but I’d like to remind us that there can be no culture without agriculture.

Working with those sorts of stereotypes, picture, if you will, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s map.  Basically, Virginia’s a great big triangle.  The short side of the triangle is what’s known as The Golden Crescent.  To quote the Richmond Times-Dispatch, from an article in 2012:

“The ancient world boasted a Fertile Crescent where civilization flourished. Virginia boasts a Golden Crescent that promotes the commonwealth’s prosperity. The crescent follows the Interstate 95 and Interstate 64 corridors. It stretches from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads. Richmond lies pretty much at its center.” 1

I don’t think anything’s really changed since that description in 2012.  So, the short side of Virginia’s triangle is this Golden Crescent, with Richmond lying at its center.

Then, you got that side of the triangle called “southside”, running along contiguous with the border of North Carolina:  Martinsville, Danville, South Boston, Emporia.

And, then, you’ve got that long side of Virginia’s triangle, pretty much following the Appalachian mountain-chain, starting up north in the Winchester area, then following on down in that southwesterly flow of I-81, down through Harrisonburg and Staunton and Lexington, and thence to Roanoke and then on down by exit 118 to that Mecca of Educational Excellence of which I just spoke.  But, staying on I-81, going and going, further down, down, down skirting the mountains as a you go through Pulaski and Wytheville and Marion.

And, somewhere along there, you realize:  you’re a long way from the so-called Golden Crescent of Virginia.  Before you get to Bristol, find a state highway going west.  Those little two lanes will wind you up and down and over and through the mountains and down into the Clinch Valley region where you’ll find yourself in places like Norton and Wise, Grundy and Big Stone Gap.

You’re in the extreme southwest tip of Virginia.  Never mind how the map borders are laid out, folks here seem to have much more in common with their neighbors in the contiguous states of West Virginia, and Kentucky, and Tennessee and North Carolina.  The Golden Crescent is whole other world from this extreme south western corner of the Commonwealth.

Now, imagine taking that great triangle of the Commonwealth of Virginia and tipping that extreme southwest corner up until its now the extreme northwest corner, with Virginia’s Golden Crescent sitting now as Virginia’s Southside.

Same wealth, same prosperity, same governmental centers of power, both for the state and for the nation, stay down south.  Same decimated coal towns, same addiction and poverty, same everything stereotypes that go with deep southwestern Clinch Valley region now in the northwest tip of the triangle.

Now, rename that southside Golden Crescent, Jerusalem and its environs, wherein sits the capital Jerusalem with all its glorious history as the seat of King David’s reign and most especially as location of the Temple.

Back up there in that now northwest corner of the Clinch Valley, that’s Isaiah’s and Matthew’s “land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali”, or as it’s better known to us, that’s Jesus’ Galilee.

Zebulun and Naphtali, shoehorned in up there between the Mediterranean Sea, and ancient Assyria and Syria and a little further over, Persia.  It’s borders were ill-defined and porous, with Gentiles and Jews coexisting in living and commerce and marriage.  The headwaters of the Jordon River get lost there among the various streams that feed into it before becoming an identifiable river you could name.  So far removed from that golden, refined, urbane place called Jerusalem.

The “land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali”, was not someplace any sane Israelite would go looking for God’s love.  Yet, there lived a native-born Galilean, who had begun to understand his unique emerging ministry.  Following his baptism by John the Baptist and his wilderness sojourn, Matthew tells us that Jesus removed himself even further back up into that seemingly God-forsaken territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.  From there, Jesus gathered his followers and launched his public ministry.

From there, as Matthew notes for us, as “…was spoken by the prophet Isaiah…‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people [there] who sat in darkness have seen a great light…for those who sat in…the shadow of death light has dawned.’”

Perhaps something of Zebulun and Naphtali resonates with you, today.  What resonates with you is not the incredulous wonder of this prophecy Isaiah recorded some 700 years before our Gospel accounts.  What resonates with you is not that latter-day proclamation of Good News by Matthew.

What resonates with you is that enshrouding darkness, this foreboding sense that God has abandoned me; somehow, I missed it and God has forgotten and passed me by.  Evidently, God’s moved on to shower this Divine Love on someone else.

Perhaps you think this about us:  poor University Baptist Church, here we sit lost in the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.  Well, if we’re going to let that part of Scripture resonate with us, then we’d better be ready for this other part of Scripture that speaks Gospel to us.

We better be prepared to identify with this whole story of Zebulun and Naphtali’s fate, no longer a fate of lost opportunity and lost hope; you must as well believe and live into, this incredulous wonder Isaiah proclaimed of what God’s love would do in that region of Zebulun and Naphtali, in that place called Galilee.

“The zeal of the Lord” has done it!  For there, in Galilee, God’s light was born.  There God’s light grew strong until it pierced the darkness and shone brightly for all to see:  God, in the flesh, dwelling among all, Jesus of Nazareth.

“Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searchin’ their eyes
Lookin’ for traces of what I’m dreaming of…”?

Well, as the song finishes,

“Now that I found a friend and lover
God bless the day I discover[ed]
You, oh you, lookin’ for love”
God bless the day that it may come soon, that it may be today, when you discover, it is God looking for you, man or woman, whoever you are.  God bless the day soon to come, when you discover, friends of this church, it is God who seeks you.  God’s light alighting and shining brightly in you, God’s joy for your own souls and God’s joy a witness for you to offer, to those around us, yet lookin’ for light.


 

1  Interstate Corridors:  Golden Crescent – June 11, 2012, The Richmond Times-Dispatch/archive/ article