Sunday, January 16, 2011

"There Is Light In This Situation"

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
January 16, 2011

Year A: The Second Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

“There Is Light in This Situation”

In a previous sermon I mentioned that each morning I cringe a little when I open the newspaper and look at the front page. I know I’m not alone in wondering what new horrors we’ll have to face each new day.

And there’s certainly been no shortage of horrors lately.

In the natural world, this week marked the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that pulverized much of Haiti. If you’re like me, you had almost forgotten about Haiti and the plight of its desperately poor people who are still trying to reassemble the pieces of their broken lives. Despite the aid given by many, a year has gone by and apparently not much progress has been made.

More recently, there have been terrible floods in Albania, Australia, and Brazil, causing widespread devastation.

Closer to home, this has been a rough winter for much of the country. Even places like New York, well experienced with blizzards, have struggled to dig out from under massive snowfalls. Here in Florida the second cold winter in a row is leading to expensive heating bills for families, businesses and institutions and putting agriculture in danger.

And then there are the disasters created by human beings. As college seniors are discovering in a particularly painful way, at best the economy has just begun to recover from a very deep recession. At every service down at the chapel students pray for their job searches. And some of us who had worked for a long time are also praying very hard for employment.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to grind on, although we try to push them out of our minds. And most of us know that in both countries there’s little hope of results that would justify the sacrifice of our precious blood.

There was the attack on Egyptian Christians as they left church after Christmas services.

And, a little more than a week ago, in Tucson our country was shaken by the latest incident of an absurdly well-armed and deranged person coldly executing people in an extremely ordinary setting – this time a supermarket parking lot.

The difference this time was that a federal judge and a member of the House of Representatives had been all too effectively targeted. Immediately the TV talking heads began to cast blame, pointing to the increasingly angry and violent language that passes these days for political discourse.

I think Jon Stewart was one of the first to recognize the saving grace of this terribly frightening tragedy. He said on the Daily Show:

"There is light in this situation," he insisted. "I urge everyone: Read up about those who were injured or killed; you will be comforted about [how] much anonymous goodness there is in the world... you realize people that you don't even know and have never even met are leading lives of real dignity and goodness. And you hear about crazy, but it is rarer than you think."

“There is light in this situation.”

That little phrase should carry enormous power especially for Jews and Christians. Throughout the history of our faiths, so many have faced - and continue to experience - enormous tragedies, unspeakable suffering, and yet have hung on to that core belief, to that little phrase, that powerful truth:

“There is light in this situation.”

In today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we heard the second of what’s called the Servant Songs. The servant is sometimes taken to represent Israel itself or the prophet himself or maybe some other historical character. From very early on, Christians have seen the servant as prophecy of Jesus, the suffering messiah.

In any event, in this song the servant recognizes a call from God that began even before he was born. But the servant also admits to many obstacles and much suffering. The servant’s faith even seems to waiver for a moment. He says,

“I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

And haven’t we all waivered more often than we’d like to admit? In the face of so much suffering and tragedy in the world and in our own loives, haven’t we all thought something like, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

But then the Prophet Isaiah declares that “there is light in this situation.”

God says to the servant, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.”

We Christians recognize that Jesus is that light given to the nations. And you and I are invited, given the responsibility, given the privilege, of shining the light of Christ into the world.

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott explains why she makes her young son go to church on Sunday.

First, she writes, “I make him because I can. I outweigh him by nearly seventy-five pounds.”

Then she turns serious, writing, “But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want – which to say purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy – are people with a deep sense of spirituality.”

She continues, “They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.”

You and I experience the light of Christ when we gather here together in church, when we “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.”

Here we are, part of an unlikely group of people who in most cases would probably never have met one another – and maybe even wouldn’t have wanted to meet one another - except that we’re all drawn to the light of Christ.

Here we are, part of something beautiful.

Here we are, part of something beautiful, because in our own way we’ve asked Jesus the same question the two disciples asked so long ago.

We’ve asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?”

And in his usual enigmatic way Jesus has answered, “Come and see.”

And so, here we are, to be illumined by light of Christ as we hear God’s Word, as we reach out our hands and hugs in peace with one another.

Here we are, to receive the light of Christ in the simple gifts of bread and wine. Here we are, about to receive Christ into our bodies, giving us the grace and strength we need.

Here we are, to receive the grace and strength we need to shine the light of Christ in a world darkened by the shadows of suffering and tragedy.

And so, after the service, we go out through those doors to share Christ with the world - in our lives and in our words– revealing to a suffering and tragic world, “There is light in this situation.”

We shine the light of Christ when we “proclaim by word and example the Good News.”

We shine the light of Christ when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”

We shine the light of Christ when we “strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.”

There’s no denying it’s a pretty bleak world out there.

We may sometimes get discouraged and feel overwhelmed. We may sometimes think, in the words of Isaiah, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

Yet, we are part of something beautiful.

At the heart of our Judeo-Christian tradition, there is the core belief, the firm foundation, that can be summed up in a little phrase,

“There is light in this situation.”

And we are invited, given the responsibility, given the privilege, of shining that light, shining the light of Christ, into the world.

Thanks be to God.