Any guesses as to today’s theme? Yes! Light. From the brightness of the star that led the wise men to Jesus… to the brilliance of the heavenly host celebrating Jesus’ birth… to John’s fixation on it … light shines through the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany…which is kind of nice during the darkness of winter here in the northern hemisphere.
Here are a few other biblical references to light… “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Gen. 1) Ps. 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Ps. 119: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Is. 9: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Is. 60: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.”
In the New Testament, Jesus says: “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others.” Then, of course, there’s Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus. He describes it this way: “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions.” (Acts 26) Then he falls on the ground, Jesus talks to him, it changes his life… one of those big fat hairy deal conversion stories.
Light. The Bible is full of it! Our faith is full of it. Jesus claims to be the light of the world. John says that “God is light.” Light. What is the big fat hairy deal about light?
In preparation for today, I sent an email to Geoff Heilhecker and Ric Reitz asking for a list of lighting changes made to our facility in the last five years. Geoff wrote back asking if I was starting the new year off with a joke. I never heard from Ric. He’s probably still laughing, basking in the brightness of summer in the southern hemisphere.
So, okay. We have made a few changes to lighting in the last five years. (After he stopped laughing, Geoff gave a good catalog of everything that has been and will be done. The list was long!) I’d like us to take a minute to think about the effects of those lighting changes. In the silence, I invite you to reflect on how you experience light in this place. What does light do in this space? (Silence.) What came “to light” for you in your reflections? (Responses.)
(Possible responses: color; spotlights; lights behind new artwork; reflections; the road to Damascus section; dimmers—light has many degrees; getting rid of fluorescent bulbs; energy-efficiency bulbs; lights on the Chrismon tree)
I have a confession. Writing this sermon has been a challenge. From the moment we turned the lights on in the new baptism artwork in November and you all gasped, I knew light would be the theme of today’s service….so I’ve been thinking about this sermon for a long time. But actually getting those thoughts on paper? Very hard.
Part of the difficulty, I think, is the fact that light does so many things, as the “testimonies of light” we just shared reveal. Yes, light illumines, but it does so in an infinite number of ways. With the rheostats wide open, things shine more, they’re more distinct. With the dimmers on, things become subdued. Part of the reason we got rid of the fluorescent lights in the back of the sanctuary is because that light was too bright for solemn services like Maundy Thursday and Blue Christmas. There are times when we need to feel the darkness around us and see the light before us, no matter how faint.
The placement of the spotlights in the far end of the room highlight the figure being baptized in the artwork. Without those spotlights, it’s more difficult to see that figure. The placement of the spotlights in front of me highlights me. J Candlelight warms up the space, no matter how many other lights are on. And who doesn’t love the lights on the Chrismon tree! (And who doesn’t love that the tree is PRE-lit!) And sunlight! Ah! Sunlight brings this place to life!…mostly in the way it bathes the room in color and carries those colors across the room.
Light does so many things! …so many things, in fact, that talking about light is difficult even for scientists—is it a wave or a particle? Um…yes, they’ve decided.
Writing this sermon has been hard, I think, because light is too broad a subject. It means so many different things! And because it means so many things, it’s just about impossible to identify precisely what John meant when he said that God is light or when Jesus called himself “the light of the world.”
After many days of unsuccessful sermon-wrangling, I began to wonder if—maybe– light is one of those things that really can’t be defined or even described. Maybe it’s enough to say that you know it when you see it. I mean, if even scientists can’t define it precisely, what hope do we people of faith have trying?
But based on all the references to light in the Bible, it certainly isn’t something we can dismiss all together. Regardless of our ability to define, describe, or preach about it, light is still a big fat hairy deal when it comes to understanding our faith.
So….let’s try this. Take a minute to reflect on one aspect of light that has been shared today, one aspect that “came to light” in our reflections on the lighting in this space. Maybe it’s the spotlights. Maybe it’s the dimmers. Maybe it’s the lights incorporated into the new artwork. Maybe it’s the sunlight. Whatever. Just think about light.
As you focus on that aspect of light, ask: How does that light source illumine? What does it reveal? How does that particular aspect of light help you to see things differently? Take a minute to think about that. (1 minute of silence)
Now, apply your observations of that light source to Jesus. If Jesus is light in the same way the source you’ve been reflecting on is light, what might that mean? How does Jesus illumine? What does Jesus reveal? How does Jesus help you to see things differently? (1 minute)
Now, think about any aspect of your life—your work, your relationships, your habits, your hopes….What light might your understanding of who Jesus is shed on that aspect? (Pause)
Now, think about some situation in the world—poverty, earth care, human trafficking, homelessness….What light might your understanding of Jesus shed on that aspect? (Pause)
Now, think about the Pilgrimage community—as we nurture the children in our midst, as we care for each other, as we prepare for sabbatical, as we begin actively envisioning our future together…what light might your understandings of Jesus shed on our life together as a community? (Pause)
At physical torture, I mean, physical therapy this week, the therapist told me about a patient with Parkinson’s Disease. Apparently, in the later stages of Parkinson’s, it becomes difficult to go through doorways—not because of mobility or balance issues, but because the brain can’t see a way through the doorway. The person can come up to a doorway, but some neurological quirk makes it difficult to pass through.
A man my therapist was working with found a way to solve the problem. He attached a small flashlight to the front of his walker and simply followed the light. Focusing on the light—rather than the doorway—made it possible for him to pass through with ease.
Perhaps that’s what we should do as well. As we bask in the Christmas after-glow, eager to re-start our faithful living in the new year, committed to doing what we can to act both earth and its inhabitants into well-being, maybe we, too, can find a way through the difficulties, the challenges, the mental blocks by following the light. It worked for one wise person. It just might work for us, too.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014