Date: December 6, 2015
Title: “Light of the World”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; John 8:12-16
Here we are, in this beautiful sacred space. Here we are, in the midst of Advent – a beautiful sacred time. Here we are, surrounded by blessings and filled with God’s grace. So why is it so hard to dispel the darkness and to see the light?
It has been another difficult week in a long line of difficult weeks for those of us who seek to light candles rather than curse the dark. Once again we have been shocked by violence and threatened by hate. And it seems so much easier to give up – to just sit and curse the darkness rather than to light even one small candle. Yet here we are – in sacred space and sacred time and surrounded by grace-filled people.
We hear Jesus saying I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. And we want to follow. We desperately want to see Jesus bringing to light what is hidden in the darkness. But where should we look to find the light? When will we see it? And how will we even recognize it?
We feel like the battleship captain taking his ship out on maneuvers one dark and foggy night. The lookout on board notices a light, barely discernible through the fog. Noting the light’s coordinates, the captain realizes his ship is on a collision course with another vessel. So he instructs, “Signal the ship and tell them We are on a collision course. Advise you change course 20 degrees.” The return signal comes back saying, Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees. Now this seemed rather impertinent, so the captain signaled back, I’m a captain: change course 20 degrees. And the response was, I’m a seaman second class; still advisable for you to change course 20 degrees. By this time the captain is furious, unaccustomed as he is to being second-guessed and not obeyed. He curtly orders, I’m a battleship! Change course 20 degrees! And then he receives one final reply, I’m a lighthouse. You make the call.
My friends, there are times in each of our lives when we are lost in a fog of circumstance of personal choice. We all experience moments when even the light in the darkness is not readily understood, and we are in danger of rushing headlong into disaster. And beyond all we think we want, what we really need is that light of life God promises and Jesus delivers. Maybe the trick is to figure out where to look for it.
When he was seven years old, Jacques Lusseyran had an accident which robbed him of his eyesight. Ten days later, still sitting in a hospital room, Lusseyran made a discovery that captivated him for the rest of his life. He later wrote this:
The only way I can describe that experience is in clear and direct words.
I had completely lost the sight of my eyes; I could not see the light outside
myself any more. Yet the light was still there.
This was a new understanding, one which flew in the face of everything we who are sighted normally believe. In that moment, Lusseyran was like the battleship commander, coming face to face with his own delusions of supremacy, isolation and individualism. At the age of seven, Lusseyran understood the light of life, and he began to glimpse Jesus unveiling secrets of the dark. As he put it:
The source of light is not in the outer world. That is only a common delusion.
The light dwells where life also dwells – within ourselves.
When we recognize the light dwelling where life also dwells – right inside of us – we understand that we are the candles meant to be shining in the darkest of nights. We are the ones who can speak peace to a world shattered by violence. We are the ones who can offer hospitality to the refugees, reconciliation to the estranged, justice to the oppressed, hope to the despairing, and healing to the bereft. We are the ones – we are the small candles of light which God lights in the darkness today.
And Jacques Lusseyran can teach us how to be just that. He grew up in an unstable time; some would say in one of the darkest times. He became an active participant in the French Resistance during World War II. Captured by the Nazis in 1944, Lusseyran was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. It was there he learned how hate was his nemesis, that it would only dim his inner light, and make his world much smaller. When he became consumed with anger, Lusseyran began running into things, slamming into walls and tripping over furniture. There was no room for the light in the midst of the hate. But, when he called himself back and made himself pay attention to the present moment and all the possibilities it held for gratitude, space opened up and he found his way to move with ease again. The most important thing Lusseyran learned from this is that no one could turn out the light inside him without his consent. Even if he lost track of it for awhile, he could always find it again if he chose to find it.
Jacques Lusseyran survived the concentration camp because of the light within him, which was always at its brightest when he had the ability to give thanks, and even to love. French philosopher Albert Camus put it this way:
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me,
There lay an invincible summer.
Within each of us there is that invincible summer, which is fed and nourished nad kept alive by the gratitude and attention we pay. Jesus – the light of the world – give us all the light of life. In this community, ours is the sacred and life-saving work of nurturing this light in ourselves and in each other. We nurture it when we help each other. We nurture the light when we manage to find our way back to living with a sense of gratitude, regardless of whatever new terror or grief, confusion or chaos the news might bring to us in the current news cycle. We nurture the light when we refuse to give into despair and when we speak or act on behalf of justice and love. We nurture the light when we decide to be the ordinary people we are, responding in extraordinary ways to God’s love, and when we are grateful, paying attention to the moments of blessing in each of our days.
As the poet Hafiz reminds us:
The sun never says “You owe me!” to the earth…
And look what happens with a love like that…
It lights the whole sky.
So may we, together, light the whole sky with gratitude and with love. Amen.