Tag Archive | light

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 6/19/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

second reading:  Galatians 3:23-29

gospel reading:  Luke 8:26-39


This has been one hell of a week.  And when I say that, I mean it literally.

I know I’ve been preaching on Galatians the past few weeks, but where I feel led today is the gospel.  It’s not a nice, warm-fuzzy gospel which is surprising because it’s a healing story, and we should all rejoice in that.

gerasene demoniac, 2I mean, this man, tormented by demons, shackled and banished by his own people, is healed!  But there is very little rejoicing in this story.  Sure, the healed man is thrilled, BUT NO ONE ELSE IS.

Jesus demonstrated unequaled power here.  But Jesus shows us the Savior he is by using his divine power to heal. Jesus brings this man back to his true self.  Within a short period of time the man is clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet.

There should be rejoicing right?  Partying like the prodigal son who was gone and has now returned – right?  NO. Not at all.  What is the reaction of the people to this amazing healing?  FEAR.  “They were AFRAID.”

They saw the man they had known for years, the man they had been able to “control” by putting him in shackles and banishing him outside of the city – HEALED – CHANGED.

And they couldn’t cope.  Jesus had upset their “controlling the situation” apple cart.  They couldn’t deal with Jesus’ power, even IF it appeared that Jesus used his power for good.  The people couldn’t handle that power among them. They didn’t know what to do with themselves – or Jesus.

We read, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”  So he left.  Jesus will not force himself where he is not wanted.  Through their actions the people showed they preferred the darkness to the light of Christ.

We have a phrase, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”  Well, in this case, the people literally chose the devil over GOD.  They preferred the man wild with demons, and in shackles, over Jesus’ healing.  AMAZING.

And because they banished Jesus, because they chose the comfortable darkness they knew over the new light they didn’t know – they robbed themselves of any other healing Jesus could’ve brought them.  They robbed themselves of hearing the gospel.  They robbed themselves of learning how much Jesus LOVED them.  They robbed themselves of the power of the gospel to heal, love and save.

This has been one hell of a week.  All around us are examples of people accepting the comfortable darkness over the power of the light.  All around us are examples of evil forces, forces we usually “think” we can control, except we really can’t.

One week ago today 49 children of God were massacred in Orlando in an act of hatred because of WHO and WHAT they were.  A few days after that at Disney a family trip turned into a nightmare as a child was killed by an alligator.

This week, a young man at my daughter’s school was arrested for possessing pre-pubescent child pornography and for sexual contact with a 13 year old.  My daughter KNOWS this young man.  And he is now out on bail.

Friday was the first anniversary of the massacre in Charleston, when another young man opened fire and killed 9 people in a CHURCH who were having a Bible study, for being who they were.

One hell of a week.  Evil seems all around, and the WORLD seems very dark.

We’re understandably afraid.  WE are like the Gerasene people, going about our business, keeping the evil at bay. Except we can’t.  We can’t possibly shackle it the way they were able to with that poor man. We can’t shackle evil.

We have a choice, you and I.  What will we do with our fear?  Because in our lives there is a power which IS greater than evil, a power greater than our fear.  Will we choose the light, or will we choose to go on living in the darkness?

It seems like a ridiculous question, but it’s not really.  Because living in the darkness, though it’s painful, is easier. It’s easier because we know the script – back to the phrase, “the devil you know…”  Changing patterns, behaviors and thinking – going from darkness to light – choosing the light, is HARD work.

It’s hard to choose love and kindness instead of giving in to the instinct for revenge, or “tit for tat.” There are times when our fear of being hurt prevents us from loving one another.  Times when our instinct to protect ourselves keeps us from doing the thing that will bring ultimate healing instead of momentary relief.

The gospel is not easy.  In times like this, we ARE tempted to tell Jesus to let us handle it and LEAVE. Because calling us to love in the midst of hate is just wrong God!*  We want an eye for an eye!**  Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek is just stupid.**

But in the end it’s only love that will heal us.  Only love that will let us sleep.  Only love that keeps us from becoming the very thing we fear.  Only love that saves us.

Jesus did an amazing work of healing for that whole community and they rejected him.  EXCEPT for the healed man himself.

He begged to go with Jesus.  I’m sure he didn’t want to go back to the same community who rejected both him and the Savior.  But Jesus said no.  Jesus sent him back to the very community that banished and shackled him TO BE A WITNESS.  And he did.

I hope and pray WE choose to be that man.  “Proclaiming through the city how much Jesus [has] done for [us].” Going in peace and serving the Lord by showing THE light and BEING light amid the darkness of our world.

AMEN.


*Matthew 5:44, **Exodus 21:24, Matthew 5:38, ***Matthew 5:39

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taking down the tree

Epiphany has come and gone, and this morning I began the process of saying goodbye to Christmas for another year.  All the decorations have been packed up and are waiting to be put back in the attic.  The nativity scene from our front lawn is back in the garage.  The tree is still up because my kids begged me to wait till they got home from school so they could help take the ornaments off – so in the next few hours it will once again be bare and ready to be taken out.  (It will be saved, however, because we have a tradition in our family to take the trunk of the tree and make a cross of it on Good Friday.)

I’m always a little sad to say goodbye to Christmas.  I know there are many people who can only stand the decor for so long before they want their house back, but not me or the rest of my family – perhaps it’s because we wait until Advent starts to begin decorating and don’t put a tree up until after the 15th so we’re not sick of it by the 26th.  I love Christmas.

The “powers that be” who decided when the Church should celebrate the Feast of the Nativity really knew what they were doing for us Americans.  It is a bright spot of life at the beginning of our cold dark winter.  Christmas lights help us find some joy in the early dark nights.  Festive decorations bring smiles to children’s faces and bring out the child in the rest of us.  We “oh and ah” over little ones being donkeys and sheep in church Christmas pageants, and I dare say that even the most spiritually jaded find some awe in a candlelight rendition of “Silent Night.”  Of course Christmas doesn’t come in the winter for everyone, for some it falls in the summer, so the symbolism of light and darkness don’t really apply – but where I live they certainly do.

So as I put the decorations away, as I pack away the ornaments my kids have made that mark their childhood,  I am very conscious of the passing of time.  I am also cognizant of the fact that our front lawn and living room will be darker places in the absence of those tiny lights on the trees.  The lights will NOT be shining in the darkness tonight.

But of course THE Light shines in the darkness, as it always has and always will.  The Feast of the Nativity and the Christmas season are a tiny part of our year, but the Light the season represents is “with us” each moment our whole lives through.  Without all the decor, I just might have to look harder to find it…

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

 

***addendum:  One of the reasons why worship is SO important, so VITAL to our lives as Christians, is that it gives us The Light.  The Word and Sacraments are present gifts of the Light given for us.  Jesus IS the Word, is IN the sacraments, and where two or three are gathered together.  So one place I KNOW I won’t have to look hard to find The Light is in worship.

2nd Sunday of Christmas, 2015

2nd Sunday of Christmas, year B, 2015 (preached 1/4/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

second reading:  Ephesians 1:3-14

gospel reading:  John 1:1-18


During the seasons of Advent and Christmas we experience growing darkness, but we also experience the boundaries of darkness being pushed back.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Darkness has always been a powerful metaphor for those things in life that oppress or engulf us, frighten or intimidate us, cause us worry and anxiety, and suck the joy out of our lives.

We know darkness in our physical lives when illness or violence strikes, or when we lack the basic necessities of life like food, shelter or clothing.  We know darkness in our emotional lives when we are burdened with worry, confusion, fear, grief, guilt or hopelessness, or when we live with addiction.

We know darkness in our social lives when relationships fail, when a loved one dies, when the blessing of solitude gives way to the burden of loneliness, or when we can’t make meaningful connections with other people.  We know darkness in our political lives when we can’t organize our communities or society in ways that are just and fair for everyone.

We know darkness as a global community when children are murdered at school, when there’s a natural disaster, or when planes go missing or crash into the sea.  And we know darkness in our spiritual lives too, when we feel separated from God, when prayer seems like an empty exercise, or worship only an obligation.

Darkness does indeed symbolize the evils and isolation with which we are entirely too familiar.

A pastor I knew years ago told our pastor’s Bible study group a story about an encounter he had with TRUE darkness.  While on vacation, he went with a group of people “caving,” exploring a cave.  While they were deep in the cave, the leader had the group stop, sit down, be as quiet as they could be, and turn off their headlamps.  One by one the lights clicked out until they were enveloped by utter darkness.

It was the most profound darkness this pastor had ever experienced.  He told us it made no difference whatsoever whether his eyes were opened or closed.  It was all the same.  He literally could not see his hand in front of his face.

After a little while, the leader turned on his headlamp, and what a huge difference that tiny light made!  It cast enough light to push back the dark and enabled the group to once again see each other, the space they were in, and the way out.

While the lights were still out, the leader asked the group how hard it would be to find their way out of the cave without their lights.  They all said it would be impossible.  Any attempt would be dangerous, since they couldn’t see the hazards, the slippery places, or tell the difference between a three foot or thirty foot drop.

The leader agreed and told them, “This particular cave is very popular.  People come here often.  Were you to get stuck here without a light, your best bet would be to sit and wait for someone to come in and find you.”

It takes no great imagination to make the connection between the darkness of that cave experience, and the darkness we know in our lives – between the light from the group leader’s headlamp and the light of Christ – the light of the world.

We are stuck in darkness, not knowing which way to go to free ourselves, and wait for the One who enters into our darkness, shines the light, and brings us out.

This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  A light shines in Bethlehem’s darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  It is a gentle glow, a thing of grace and tender beauty.

  • It is the first light of the Christ child, God’s own Son, sent to find us, lost in the night with no light to find our way and hazards all around.
  • It is the light of the Epiphany star, marking the way.
  • It is the candlelight of the last supper on Maundy Thursday and the soldier’s torchlight on Good Friday.
  • It is the glorious brightness of the sunrise on the empty tomb Easter morning.
  • It is the Spirit’s flame at Pentecost,
  • and the Son’s radiance that lights the whole city of God when He returns for us again.

This season, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  A light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

A ray of hope – but more than that, an assurance that while we still know dark corners and fearsome shadows in our lives, GOD IS WITH US.  EMMANUEL.

Christmas is proof of that.  God stoops so low as to become one of us.  The Creator of heaven and earth comes to us, not in a blaze of glory, but as a baby.

On New Year’s Eve we spent the evening with friends who have a dog and two cats.  My children were SO excited to spend time with the animals, especially since we don’t have pets at home.  I had to remind them to be gentle – that chasing after the pets and being loud and holding them down would only make them run away.

That’s the way God is with us.  Coming to us as a baby without worldly fanfare – gently and quietly – in a stable, as a carpenter’s son.

This baby, this Jesus, shows us the character of God – the depth of God’s love for you and me, the lengths to which God will go to make sure we are never lost in the dark.  Our rescuer, our Savior, HAS found us, and will remain with us until ALL darkness is banished from the earth.

Today, and every day through Christ, the boundaries of darkness are pushed back.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

AMEN.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany, A, 2014

5th Sunday after the Epiphany, year A, 2014 (preached Feb. 9, 2014)

first reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 112:1-9

second reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

gospel reading: Matthew 5:13-20

This past Tuesday, after a snowstorm in the wee hours of Monday morning caused school to be canceled everywhere, we were bracing for yet another one.  In the newspaper that day, there was a big article warning everyone that there was a serious situation facing those of us in the area.

Apparently towns all over were scrambling to prepare for Tuesday night’s and Wednesday’s storm, because there was a SALT SHORTAGE.

Curious, and convenient for me as a preacher that the news would announce a salt shortage during the same week that Jesus would speak about salt.

Also curious and convenient that during the same week that Jesus talked about salt AND LIGHT, that thousands and thousands of people in the northeast corridor would be thrust into darkness as a result of the same storm.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”

When Jesus called us salt and light, he was calling us NECESSARY THINGS.

Salt is more than just tasty, and light is more than just bright.

When Jesus walked the earth, salt had taste, but salt was also used as a preservative, to keep food from spoiling.  Salt not only made the food taste better, it also protected the people from getting sick from rotten food.

Salt was necessary.

The same is true for light.  We, who can flick a switch and light up a room, can take light for granted, except when the power goes out.  Then the darkness seems frightening.

We have also learned that light plays an important part in our mental and physical health.

People can get depressed during the winter months when there is a lack of proper sunlight.  It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s a real thing.  They make special lamps that emit a more natural kind of light than regular lightbulbs, and it really does help people.

We’ve known for years to put babies suffering from jaundice in the sun and when that doesn’t work they’re put under special lights in the hospital.

Light is necessary.

Salt and light are necessary things.  Jesus tells us that WE are necessary for the world.

That we have something to offer the world, that we have something to show the world.

Jesus tells us, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Does that sound familiar?  The last time we heard these words was when Calvin was baptized in November.  This passage is said at the conclusion of our sacrament of Holy Baptism, as a candle, symbolizing Christ as light of the world, and his light now shining in us, is presented to the person baptized.

THE light of the world, calls US lights to the world.  But we are not just any old lights.

We are lights that are BEACONS.  Our light doesn’t shine a spotlight on US, our light is meant to point to Christ.  Our lights shine, not to show off how wonderful, talented or beautiful we are, but to point the way to God.

And Jesus doesn’t say, “You SHOULD be salt and light.”  He says, “You ARE.”

We don’t have to worry about BECOMING these necessary things, or what qualities we need to possess.  The only requirement is baptism, and the qualities?  The qualities are our very selves.  What makes me “me” and what makes you “you.”

Your lightness and saltiness shines through you.  It’s WHO you are.

Those of us who are musicians are salt and light through our music.  Those of us who can cook are salt and light through the meals we prepare for others.  Those who are good with numbers are salt and light through being fair and honest in how we use those numbers.  Those who are good at organization are salt and light through helping things run smoothly.

These necessary things impact the world all around us, and within our congregation.  We are salt and light out in the world, but we are also salt and light within these walls.

Today we have our annual meeting, when we take a look at our congregation’s ministry for the past year, and look at the year ahead.  As we approach this meeting in a few minutes I ask you to think, “How am I being salt and light here?”

Have I lost my flavor?  Am I hiding my light under a bushel?  How are my good works giving glory to God in heaven?”

There is much for us to do as light and salt in the world.  There are so many places of darkness, so many lives trapped in darkness.  But there is much to be done as a congregation as well.  What can each of us little lights DO TOGETHER to make sure that our congregation is a light?

I can’t answer that for you.  That’s a question that each one of us has to answer individually.

It’s wonderful to be a necessary thing.  Think about that for a minute.

It speaks to the value that God has for each and every one of us.  That no matter how little we might think of ourselves sometimes, GOD sees us as indispensable.

Wow.  Little old me.  Little old you.  Light and salt for the whole world.

Let’s not hide it, let’s shine out for everyone to see.

photo(10)I want to end today with what most think is a children’s song.  It IS, if you consider that even the oldest of us is a CHILD of God.

Sing it with me:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

AMEN.