Sunday, January 14, 2018

Epiphany 2B, 2018: Saints of the true light

This is my first sermon as the Interim Rector at St. David's, Cullowhee, NC. So excited!

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I heard a story once about a little 6-year old named Isabella, who, along with her mother, was visiting one of those great cathedrals with stained-glass windows all around. The sun was shining through the stained glass casting beautiful colored beams onto the floor of the church. Standing in a sunbeam, Isabella pointed at the figure in the stained-glass window above her and asked, “Mama, who is that?” “That’s St. Peter,” her mother replied. Jumping to the next sunbeam, she pointed up again and asked, “Who is that?” “That’s Moses,” her mother said. Running to the next sunbeam and pointing up very excitedly she asked, “And who is that, Mama?” “That’s St. Mary Magdalene,” said her mother, obviously enjoying her child’s excitement.

Suddenly, Isabella stopped in her tracks, turned to her mother, and exclaimed: “I get it! A saint is somebody the light shines through.”

‘Light’ is a theme of 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 were for the whole world. And in today’s Collect we prayed for the grace to remember that we are, “illumined by Word and Sacrament” and we “shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory,” so that [Christ] “may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…”

In this season after Epiphany, we move from a focus on the revelation of God in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to the meaning and purpose of that revelation for the world. You’ll notice that we’ve changed our liturgical color from white to green. This is the only season that the liturgical color changes, and the reason is because of this shift in our focus. The color of white, which means purity and celebration changes to green which means new life in creation.

That’s because this season after Epiphany is a season of greening, as medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen called it. It’s a time we intentionally set aside our expectations about God, as well as the limitations we place on God, and we let God be God, in us remembering that God’s own spirit dwells in our very bodies as St. Paul tells us.

Greening isn’t an attempt to know more about God. Remember what the psalmist said: knowledge of God is “too wonderful” for us, we “cannot attain to it.” Instead, it’s a time to discover the meaning and purpose of God’s indwelling, that is, the true light of Christ that is in us, individually and as a faith community.

That is part of our journey together during our interim time – what we are begin today: discovering who God is calling St. David’s to be now - where, how, and to whom we are called to shine the true light of Christ.

The world is crying out for Good News. Look how intense was the response to Oprah’s words of hope, dignity, and equality for all at the recent Golden Globe awards. People were so inspired they began to call for her to run for president!

I watched her speech and she reminded me of another African American inspirational leader from our recent history whose birthday we remember and celebrate tomorrow: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a prophet for our time who radiated the true light; and who, like Isaiah and other biblical prophets, was deeply despised for preaching a gospel of peace and freedom for all people. 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.

It’s been 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and we still don’t seem ready to comprehend so large a thing as the inclusiveness of God’s plan of salvation. The thing is… we’re not expected to understand it. God knows we cannot attain to it.

What we can do – what we must do - is respond when God calls to us, knowing that we, like Samuel, can actually hear the voice of God once we learn to recognize it; and when we doubt God’s choice of us, or wonder if it’s really God speaking, we can take Philip’s advice to Nathanael: “Come and see.” Come and see.

It is in prayer that we come into the presence of God, both alone and as part of a faith community. In prayer, we allow God, whose spirit dwells in us, to look through our eyes, giving us the divine perspective on people, events, and all of creation. Hildegard says, “We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. [We must] take back our own listening… use our own voice… see with our own light…” And our own light is the light of Christ that dwells in us.

Given the content of the news lately, this is how we can find peace and learn how to be saints through whom the true light of Christ can shine in our world and transform it.

Honoring one whose light shone brightly, bravely, and did transform the world, in fact, is still transforming the world, I share part of the conclusion of Dr. King’s famous, “I have a dream…’ speech. His words are as relevant today as they ever were.

“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…

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… and white…, 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 HERE.

You see? Something good did come out of Nazareth, and out of the South, and it will again… right here in Cullowhee, NC and from places and nations that would probably surprise some of the powerful among us who can’t see the dignity and divine purpose of every one and every thing created of God.

God has a dream for us, all of us. We are already saints who shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. We are already one in spirit with God, one another, and all creation. When we accept that and surrender to it, which means giving God’s way priority over our way, we can begin to live the dream of God and we will become effective saints, people through whom the true light shines, and partners with God in making God’s dream a reality in our world.

I’m so grateful and excited that we are embarking on this journey together. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.


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