“Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We say those words every week, but we rarely stop to ask: “So, where ARE you on life’s journey?” So, here goes. Where are you on life’s journey, your spiritual journey, in particular?
It’s a good question to ask during Epiphany, the season of light. We’ve had some fun thinking about light the past couple of weeks…. especially the light in this space—the lights in the wall art, the sunlight that pours through the stained glass windows and paints the room in color, the need for Ray-Bans in the Road to Damascus section, the new spotlights that [shine on me] J. The changes to this space in the last five years have turned our sanctuary into one long meditation on light.
Today’s Scripture lesson invites us to reflect on light in a less literal, more spiritual way. It invites us to think about the journey of light….not the journey that travels at 186,000 miles per second, but the journey that begins in darkness and ends in…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today’s Scripture (Is. 49:6) comes from Second Isaiah, a book written to the people of Judah after they had lost their Temple, their leaders, and their land to the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. The prophet writes to people who are devastated, people without hope. People in darkness. (Allen sings: For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.)
Have you ever experienced “gross darkness”—the oppressive darkness of depression, hopelessness, confusion, grief? Is that where you are on your spiritual journey today? Spiritual darkness can be terrifying. It can leave us feeling listless, emotionally dead, utterly alone. In the midst of deep darkness, when you can muster the courage to pray, for what do you ask? Help? A companion? Light? [Shine on Us]
For many of us, the spiritual journey begins in darkness. Then, something happens… we hear a song on the radio, someone pokes us on Facebook, the sun hits the clouds just right, a newborn smiles at us… something happens and our prayer is answered– the darkness lightens, the weight of the depression lifts, the door of our closed heart opens a crack…a bit wider…wider…then in a burst of hopefulness, we fling the door wide and let the light flood in! [“I Saw the Light…”]
Little can compare to the experience of emerging from spiritual darkness into the light of day, the light of God, the light of love. Many in our community have shared stories of struggling with the darkness of depression or grief or unbelief. What joy when the darkness breaks! When the light dawns! When life feels like living again! Those moments when we come to believe—at last!—in a loving God, a God who loves us! In those pivotal moments all we want to do is let our lights shine! [“This Little Light of Mine.”]
So many people have been wounded so deeply by faith communities. That’s true for some of us in this room. Getting to a place where we can sing with full conviction and joy about letting our light shine is no small feat. We who have been told that God is not pleased with us because we’re too gay or too female or too scientific or too transgendered or too conservative or because we ask too many questions… For some of us, singing “This Little Light of Mine” with all of who we are in a faith community that isn’t trying to snuff out our lights is a new experience. What a gift finally to believe, really believe, that you are a beloved child of God and that God is well-pleased with you! If that’s where you are on your life’s journey today—at last celebrating God’s love for you—Great! Know this community celebrates with you.
Know, too, though, that there is another leg of the spiritual journey. Personal healing and fulfillment are important—so important–but that’s not the end of the story. If we want to grow spiritually, if we want to experience true fulfillment, there is another step.
When the prophet says, “It is too light a thing that you should … raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel,” he’s addressing the tribes of Jacob and the survivors of Israel. So, when he says, “It is too light a thing to raise up Jacob and Israel,” he’s challenging the people to look past their own healing. It’s too light a thing, it’s not enough to raise up yourself, the prophet says. God’s got bigger plans.
What are those plans? “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Yes, take the time you need to heal and mend, God says through the prophet. If your inner light has gone out, do whatever you can to rekindle it…but in the midst of tending to your own healing, don’t forget the next leg of the spiritual journey—the one where you share that light with others. Because the God-thing isn’t only about healing ourselves. The God-thing, ultimately, is about healing the world.
So, where are you on your spiritual journey today? Are you sitting in “gross darkness?” Or is the light beginning to dawn? Have you healed enough that you now can pray: Holy One, Shine on me? Shine on us? Or maybe, after years of hearing the good news that God loves YOU, you’ve finally come to believe it, deep down believe it. The words to “This Little Light of Mine” finally mean something to you.
If you’re in any of those places in your journey with light this morning, great! Celebrate where you are. “Wherever you are on life’s journey…” and all that.
But if you’ve moved from darkness to light; if you’ve worked hard to believe—or have known all along—that God’s light shines in you; if you’re feeling spiritually stagnant and want to delve more deeply into the spiritual life; then I invite you to hear the word of the prophet this morning. It is too light a thing simply to shine within our own community. God also is calling us to be a light to others….
We have an opportunity to share God’s light with others this very day. At 2:00 this afternoon, we begin preparing to receive guests from Family Promise. Those guests will arrive around 5:30. Family Promise is a program that gives families who are homeless the opportunity to get back on their feet again. The families are housed and fed by local congregations. During the day, the adults in the family are given help in employment, budgeting—all the things that will move them closer to permanent housing. Helping with Family Promise is one way of sharing God’s light with others outside ourselves and our community.
Last November, ten people from Pilgrimage participated in a Family Promise fund-raiser called “See Box City.” Some of you slept in boxes, some in a tent, some in your cars. In addition to raising funds for Family Promise Cobb County, the event was meant to draw attention to the experience of homelessness.
Attached to the box in which she slept that cold November night, was a poem written by Keira Dandridge, a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Marietta. I read it in a sermon last November. I invite us to hear it again today in this season of light. As we prepare to welcome Family Promise guests, it reminds us of our call to be light to others. Hear the poem: “We are Not Art.”
1: We are not art; yet, often enough, people view us as spectacles on exhibit. However, we are humans, children of the Creator, temporarily displaced and searching for a beacon of hope and light during a dark and destitute time.
2: We are not art; yet, often enough, people view us as lazy, unusual, and entertainment. However, we are humans, children of the Creator temporarily living in boxes and tents that are dressed in our few possessions…our livelihood.
3: We are not art; yet, often enough, people view us as darkened souls, foreign, otherworldly, non-citizens. However, we are humans, children of the Creator, citizens of God who glow in the darkness. We produce and emit a different type of light manifested through our lives and testimonies.
4: Our light is fluorescent (bright); it calls attention to our state of being. It calls for our humanity to be considered. It cautions you to be aware that we are still your brothers and sisters in Christ seeking your light during our time of darkness.
All: WE ARE NOT ART.
1: WILL YOU GLOW FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE DARK?
“It is too light a thing that you should … raise up [only] the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel. I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the living word of God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014
This past Wednesday would have been Martin Luther King, Jr’s 85th birthday. He only lived 39 years…but he accomplished a lot for justice in that short life-span.
Often we look at Dr. King and think he’s different, one of a kind, a true prophet, someone unlike us. We’re not called to be prophetic like he was, we think.
That’s what Nichelle Nichols—aka Lt Uhuru on the original “Star Trek” series—thought when she attended an NAACP fund-raiser in Beverly Hills in the 1960s. As she was being seated, Nichols was told that a big fan wished to speak to her. That fan was Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King thanked the actress for her portrayal of Lt. Uhuru. “The manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity.”
When Nichols told Dr. King that she was planning to leave the show, he begged her to reconsider.
Nichols was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what (Gene Rodenberry) has achieved? For the first time on television African Americans will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing and dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now. Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.” http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/455438-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-loved-star-trek-heres-why/
The encounter transformed Nichols. Dr. King helped her to see that she too was a prophet. By filling her role—literally—as Lt. Uhuru, Nichols was helping millions of people to see the world in a new light.
What role are you playing? Might you also be helping people to see the world in a new light? In silence, let us confess.
Prayers of the People (1/19/14)
Holy One, our brother Martin was a gifted wordsmith. Today, we remember some of his words and ask your helping in living them.
Martin said: “An individual has not started living until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of her or his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Help us to live these words. God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Martin said: “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. Help us to live these words. God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Martin said: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Help us to live these words. God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Martin said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Help us to ask that question in our own lives persistently and urgently. God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Martin said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Give us the courage to speak with clarity and strength about things that matter. God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Even as we ask for the courage to speak truth about things that matter, there are some things about which we are not yet ready to speak. In the quiet of this moment, we lift up those things that are not yet ready for public speech. [Silence]