Sunday, January 16, 2011

Epiphany 2A: Saints of light

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

I heard a story once about a 6-year old named Isabella, who, along with her mother, visited a church with beautiful, traditional stained-glass windows. The sun was streaming through the stained glass leaving brightly colored sunbeam footprints on the floor.

Standing in a sunbeam, Isabella pointed to the figure in the window above her and asked, Who is that? That’s St. Peter, her mother replied. Jumping to the next sunbeam, and pointing to the brightly lit window above her, she asked, 'Who is that?' 'That’s Moses,' her mother said. Running to the next sunbeam and pointing up at the window, Isabella asked excitedly, 'Who is that?' 'That’s St. Mary Magdalene,' her mother replied, smiling at her child’s obvious excitement.

Suddenly, Isabella got it. She understood what the stained-glass was teaching her. 'Well - now I know what a saint is…' Isabella exclaimed. 'A saint is somebody the light shines through.' (Adapted from, Preaching Well, Voicings Publications, Margate, NJ, 2005, 8.)

And according to St. Paul, she’s right. In fact, in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul says that the whole church, all the people of God are sanctified … called to be saints – people through whom the light of Christ shines, so that ALL the world might be brought to know God, to love God, and to do God's will.

This is a theme we’ve been hearing throughout the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. In our Collect on Christmas Eve we prayed, O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light… At the feast of the Epiphany, the light from the star of Bethlehem guided the magi to the child Jesus, confirming that God’s grace and salvation are for the whole world and fulfilled in this little one.

And in today’s Collect we prayed: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth… That WE may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that HE may be known, worshipped, and obeyed… to the ends of the earth.

We have moved theologically from a focus on God’s revelation in Jesus, to the meaning and purpose of that revelation for the world. You’ll notice that we’ve changed our liturgical color to green, the color of new life in creation.

We’ve moved from Advent preparation, through the excitement of the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus, and into a season of greening, allowing all that has happened to take root in us. For the next two months (the Season of Epiphany) we’ll reflect on what it means to be called by God to be saints, people through whom the light of Christ shines, and why.

Our reflection begins with what we heard in today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah. God says: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel I will give you as a light to the nations… There’s the ‘what.’ It isn’t enough, God says, to share the good news of my salvation only amongst yourselves, the Jewish people… I will give you as a light to the nations [God says, because] my salvation [is meant to] reach to the end of the earth… And there’s the ‘why.’ We are lights meant to shine with the brilliant good news of salvation in Jesus Christ until the world has heard it,received it, and been transformed by it.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of a remarkable person who truly radiated this light: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a prophet for our time who, like Isaiah, was deeply despised for preaching a gospel of peace and freedom for all people. And while he didn’t get to see the transforming effects of his efforts, Dr. King’s cause [was surely] with the Lord, and now he is certainly honored in the sight of God and of us.

His message of the value and dignity of every human being threatened those in power and upset the status quo – and for that, he was killed, as are most prophets. Sadly, it takes a while for our minds to even begin to comprehend so large a thing as the inclusiveness of God’s plan of salvation.

The thing is… we’re not called to understand it. We’re called to love God, to love each other, and to do God’s will. We’re called to be saints through whom the light of Christ shines in our world – and transforms it.

Next week we will gather for our Annual Meeting and plan our common life of faith and service for 2011. Our goal is to be lights that shine brightly… to be faithful disciples who respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Then we, like Andrew, will be compelled to tell others and bring them in to see for themselves.

Yes, Virginia, Episcopalians CAN invite friends to come to church with them! And who knows? The person we invite to come and worship with us, or the little one in our pews who seems not to be listening much, may be the next Peter or Martin of this age. It’s a good bet Andrew had no idea what God had in mind for his brother, Peter.

Great things are they that you have done, O LORD [our] God! how great [are] your wonders and your plans for us!

Honoring one whose light shone brightly and bravely, and did transform the world (is still transforming the world), I’ll close today with the conclusion of Dr. King’s famous, “I have a dream…’ speech:

“…I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Note: The full text of Dr. King’s speech can be found at:

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