July 10, 2016 various scriptures
Genesis 1:3 “God said, let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that it was good.” That’s how it all begins in Genesis - with light. The word light appears 272 times in our sacred scriptures. We use it all the time in our prayers and our hymns. (sing) We are marching in the light of God…” We invited the ‘light of Christ’ into the sanctuary this morning as we lit the candles on the altar. I begin my meditations with the words “The light of God surrounds me.”
When you think of the ‘light of Christ’ or ‘the light of God’ what does it symbolize? Give me some words.
(truth, vision, wisdom, love, peace, compassion, presence, guidance, clarity, goodness, knowledge)
I think of God as all of that — and more. I have high expectations of God.
In Exodus God has called Moses to lead his people to the promised land. He reluctantly accepts his calling - after lots of excuses about why he wasn’t qualified - Whose gonna believe me? - I’ve never been eloquent - I’m slow of speech and tongue. But God had a plan for Moses and wouldn’t take no for an answer. And we’re told, it wasn’t an easy journey. Would someone like to read Exodus 13: 21-22?
The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Here we have the image of God as light, leading them in that vast wilderness, through their many trials and tribulations - never abandoning them, even when they abandoned God - continually drawing them towards a new life in God, what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God.
By the time the psalms were written, we hear in Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation. It brings to mind that lovely Taize chant: The Lord is my light, my light and my salvation. In God I trust. In God I trust. All too often I have to remind myself of that - to trust.
Would someone read Isaiah 9:2 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”
And for those of us Christians, that light is who? - Christ, who shows us the way to the light that is God.
But in the gospels Jesus shines the light on us. Would someone read Matthew 5:14-16 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.
In her spiritual memoir, Called to Question, the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, begins a chapter entitled “The Call of God: an Echo in the Heart” with the words printed on the front of your bulletin. She begins with a quote by Lavon Bayler, then reflects on it. Let’s read them together.
Walk in the light and carry that light to chase away the shadows in which so many dwell.”
There is such a thing as “the light.” I have known it for years: It is the steady, steady awareness that what is going on in life is “right” for you — no matter how bad it may feel at the time. I have known darkness aplenty, yes, but the light that came out of it is brighter than ever. As a result, I must spend my own life trying to bring it.
When I read her words I could totally relate. How many of you have known darkness in your life? (show of hands) It’s part of life. We can’t escape it. Many of us feel that our country, our world, is going through a time of darkness. It certainly feels that way these past weeks.
But out of that darkness can come light. Even in the midst of intense sadness, grief, anger and fear right now I see sparks of light emerging. Like the pillar of light leading the Israelites through the desert, God is with us through it all. You need only look around at the images of people coming together - black and white and muslim - all ages - praying at interfaith vigils, walking in solidarity in peaceful protest marches - hugging police officers. The violence we have witnessed is not who we are as a people.
Traci Blackman, acting executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness ministries, wrote in her Still Speaking Devotional yesterday of the events of this past week. “We must mourn them all because we are all connected. And we must find our way back to love. Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love. Love is our only hope.”
Each of us travel many roads during our life times, each one going somewhere different. Some lead to dead ends. Some run us into walls. Some get us lost. Sometimes we come to a fork and don’t know which road to take. (That happens often in the Boston area.)
On each journey we are ultimately looking for a sense of purpose, of fulfillment - that place where we know deep down in the center of our being that this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing at this moment in time. It’s at that moment our light comes on, and shines for all to see. That road is the one that leads to God - to love - to that spark of light that is planted in each one of us by God at birth. Finding it is finding our purpose in life. For some it comes early. For others it takes a lifetime.
My youngest sister once said to me how lucky I was to have passions, and gifts to go along with them, which led to my various careers. She didn’t have that. Her career, although successful, does not fill her spirit. But being a grandmother does. It’s where her light shines. It’s where her love flows out into the world to make it a better place.
In the 19th and early 20th century, with the industrial revolution, work became what you did for a living, but not necessarily what you did to ‘make a life’. If you were lucky, they were one in the same, but for so many of us our work is not what fulfills us.
Thomas Merton once wrote:
“Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.”
Merton’s words spoke to me too. I could hear my parents voices at the dinner table, when I announced in third grade that I was going to be an actress. We were living in Canton Ohio at the time, not fertile ground for an acting career. They suggested I become a teacher. That was practical. I tried one teaching class in college, but that wasn’t who I was. I was an actress, and an artist, and those careers fulfilled me - for a time.
It took over half my lifetime to finally listen to that persistent call from God and go into ministry. I had a Moses Complex. “You want me to do what? You’ve got to be kidding! I can’t write a sermon every week. I haven’t written a paper in 30 years! I’m not an intellectual.” I had lots of excuses. They didn’t work.
Chittister writes: “I know too many people who have not tested the Spirit within them and died inside while they went on living.” I’ve known those people too. I thank God I was not one of them.
What holds us back from being that person we were born to be? (ask for responses) (social approval - fear of risks - neurotic self-doubt - security of the present?)
God has given us the gifts it takes to fulfill our purpose. We just need the will and courage.
Chittister writes: “When we find at the core of our being what God has planted there for our tilling and reaping, we will have found the God who is waiting for us. Then we will walk with God, singing all the way. …
Looking back I could see that that many seeds were planted in my early childhood. They had been watered for years in different ways.
She adds: “We must not, if we are to be spiritual people, fail to realize that life is meant to be nothing but a growing ground in God. If we fail to cultivate that part of us that is our truest self, how can the self come to life in us? The spiritual life is the discovery of the self God meant us to be so that who we are can be God’s gift to the rest of the world.”
What are your gifts? your passions? What fills your spirit, so you find yourself walking with God, co-creating the world? It might be something very simple. It might be a dream yet unfulfilled. It might be something you are doing right now. It might be something you need to do to move this country of ours closer to the kingdom that Jesus envisioned for us all.
I invite you to turn to a person next to you and share what that is with them. I will give you just a couple of minutes. It won’t be enough time, but it’s a start. Then I will ring the singing bowl. As we sing “This Little Light of Mine” I invite you to turn on the candle you were given when you came in and place it on the altar. If it’s difficult to walk up, turn it on and have someone near you bring it up for you. We each have a light to share.