Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Days are Growing Brighter

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 5, 2017

Year A: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20

The Days are Growing Brighter
            So, last Sunday evening at around 5:00 I came into church to set up for the Last Chance Mass.
            This is a normal part of my Sunday routine but last week I realized that something had changed: there was enough natural light in here that I didn’t have to turn on the lights, at least not right away.
            Yes, it’s still cold and we have a long way to go, but the days are growing noticeably brighter – once again, the light is beginning to overcome the shadows.
            And, not a moment too soon, right?
            For some of us, the brighter days bring us physical relief.
            I know a couple of parishioners who suffer from what’s called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” a depression that’s caused by the reduction of sunlight during the winter.
            And, even if we’re not plunged all the way into depression, this time of year can still have real effects on our bodies and our minds, leaving us feeling the blues.
            For many of us, there’s not much light when we get up in the morning and there’s not much light when we get home in the evening.
            At the same time, for many of us lately the world has seemed spiritually dark, too.
            Many of us start each day with dread or fear.
            What will be the latest news out of Washington?
            What new horror will have occurred in some seemingly God-forsaken corner of the world?
            And, many of us start each day with dread or fear about matters closer to home, closer to our hearts – worries about our health or the health of someone we love – concern about how we’re going to pay the stack of bills on the kitchen table – hopelessness about our neighborhoods, with their ruined streets stained with the blood of our young people, poorly served by decades of leaders, places where, unfortunately, gangs have all too often replaced family and church.
            You know, I talk to a lot of people and what I’ve realized is that many of us have been suffering from what I’ll call “Spiritual Affective Disorder” – a spiritual depression, a despair caused by the shadowy time in which we find ourselves living.
            But, at the same time, maybe because so many of us are down and stressed out, I’ve noticed that we’re beginning to take care better care of one another.
            I’ve noticed that, in ways large and small, we are beginning to stand up for one another, increasingly willing to defend the weak and oppressed.
            I’ve noticed that we’re beginning to do what our bishop always calls us to do – risk something big for something good.
            No, we’re not there yet – we still have a long way to go - but I’ve noticed that, once again, as always, the light is beginning to overcome the shadows!
            The days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            As I’ve been preparing for today’s annual parish meeting I’ve been looking back at the year just past but I’ve also been reflecting on what is now my long association with St. Paul’s, first as a parishioner and now as your rector.
            If you were here a few weeks ago, you may remember that I told the story of how Sue and I ended up in this church, walking through those same doors back there, and finding a place that would transform our lives in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine.
            But, you know, good news is meant to be shared, so after a while we began to tell some of our friends and family about the light that we had discovered here.
            Although many of these people were very familiar with Jersey City, I’d tell them about St. Paul’s, and they’d assume it was one of the other St. Paul’s in town.            
            I’d patiently tell them, “No, it’s on Duncan, by St. Dom’s” and often they’d look at me blankly – or, sometimes they would think I was talking about First Baptist Church around the corner on the Boulevard.
            They’d say, “Oh, right, the church that looks like a castle!”
            And, I’d say, no, not that one. The church around the corner on Duncan.
            The truth is our beautiful church is kind of tucked away here, easy to miss. In fact, Sue went to St. Dom’s for four years and never knew this church was here!
            This situation wasn’t anybody’s fault – lots of people worked really hard to keep this place going especially during some hard years there for a while – but thinking about how so few people knew we were here, I’m reminded of Jesus’ description of the lamp covered by the bushel basket.
            I hope – and I think – that, with God’s help, over the past few years together we have taken the basket off of our lamp and let the Light of Christ – let our light - shine not only here in our beautiful old building but out into our neighborhood, and out into our city.
            Over the past few years, with God’s help, we have shined the Light of Christ when we have worked with people all across our city in Jersey City Together to “loose the bonds of injustice” – to fight for decent schools, safe streets, and affordable housing.
            Over the past few years, with God’s help, we have shared our bread with the hungry when we’ve invited anybody and everybody to our community suppers, and the Thanksgiving feast, and as we’ve done a little better with our food pantry donations, and now as we bring a hot delicious lunch to guests at the homeless drop-in center.
            But, you know, not all bread is baked, so we’ve also fed people by offering them so much art and beauty in this place – the reverence of our worship, of course, but also concerts and exhibits and plays and readings.
            And, just yesterday a bunch of us from St. Paul’s along with friends from Grace were over at Incarnation helping to create the Lighthouse, which will provide light – and safe harbor – for people who were forced to flee their homelands and have been granted asylum here in the U.S.
            It was beautiful to see.
            My beloved friends, the days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            If you listened to today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah, you may have noticed that he essentially says that if we feed the hungry, if we let our light shine, then, you know what, our light will grow even brighter and stronger!
            It’s true: the more we give, the stronger we become.
            And, that’s exactly what’s happened here at St. Paul’s.
            We’ve let our light shine and our light has grown even brighter and stronger, as longtime parishioners have taken on new ministries and responsibilities and as new people have been drawn to the light, bringing different experiences, skills, and hopes, enriching our community.
            We’ve grown stronger by giving more to support to our church – almost everybody has made a financial pledge for this year – and it’s not too late for the rest of you to get onboard.
            We’ve grown stronger by taking care of many physical plant issues, both things we’ve known about for a long time like the crumbling front stairs, and also the occasional unpleasant surprise, like an infestation of raccoons in the tower!
            The days are growing brighter.
            And that light that we see is the Light of Christ shining in and through us.
            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I may have mentioned to you once or twice that one of my absolute favorite things to do as a priest is to baptize people.
            And if you’ve been here for a baptism (and, I’m overjoyed to say, we had 17 of them last year!) you know that each time when I present the newly baptized with a candle, I say Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel lesson:
            “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
            Many of us, and a lot of people all around us, for lots of different reasons, are sad and frightened, suffering from “Spiritual Affective Disorder.”
            We still have a long way to go, but the days really are growing brighter – the days are growing brighter as winter gives way to spring - and the days are growing brighter as we allow the Light of Christ to shine in and through us.
            My prayer for the year ahead is that we’ll remember that we are the light of the world – and that we are meant to uncover the beautiful Light of Christ and shine it out there, out into the world.