A Side of God We Really Don’t Want to See: Exodus 33:12-23

 a sermon preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK

In all human relationships-- with our spouses, our children, our friends—there are ebbs and flows, aren’t there?

There are days when we wonder why in the world we ever got married, had kids or keep in touch with so and so from high school . . .

But, there are days when we love beyond any words we can articulate for love.

Maybe it was your wedding day. . . .

Maybe it was the morning your child was born . . .

Maybe it was that girl’s weekend when you laughed and laughed till the sun came up. . . .

If you’ve ever been there . . . if you’ve ever experienced such bliss in your life where you feel safe enough to ask your loved one for anything—then you’ll understand what is come in our Old Testament reading for this morning.

For Moses and God have quite a good thing going on too. And Moses thought he reached such a level of devotion and trust in God that he feels he could ask for the ultimate expression of intimacy with the Divine: show me all of you!

And it was true: Moses and God were pretty close. But how did this happen?

Emotional bonds to dear ones, in my experience, often grow out of conflict.

Times when either you’ve made it through what feels like the unforgivable sin, only to realize the other person is a saint enough to forgive you. Or times when everything is swirling around you and it becomes a case of you and your partner against the world.

And for Moses and God, they’d experienced both!

If we go back one chapter earlier than we read in our text for this morning, what we’ll find is the great calf incident when the conflict came.This was the scene: for many months, Moses is up on Mount Sinai having holy time with the Lord—receiving the words of the law on the tablets, written by God very own hand. Can you imagine what an amazing experience that was?

But, in Moses’ absence the people gathered at the bottom of the mountain. They talk about how lost and left out they feel. They collect all the gold they can find in the camp and create an object to worship, in the shape of a calf, creating their own object to worship like the other religious traditions of the time. They ignore the 10 commandments (which they already had), and each man and woman does what is best in their own sight.

You can imagine how well this went over when God saw what was going on and Moses came down the mountain. . . .

The divide between Moses and the people was thick in the air.

In verse 9 of chapter 32, the Lord speaks of it saying, “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”

Since there is a chapter 33, we know that the Lord’s anger does not get the final word. The people are allowed to live. But like misbehaving teenagers, God grounded them (or in Biblical terms: God sent them a plague).

You can imagine how this changed the dynamic of the relationship between God and Moses—both in God’s disappointment with the people who Moses was seeking to lead and in “you and me” against the world sort of way. Moses was truly the one human being that God could trust.

In fact, earlier than we just heard read a few moments ago, we learn that God and Moses had taken their relationship a notch or two closer together.

Moses traveled a good distance outside the camp and pitches a tent where he could be with God alone. It was the ultimate man-cave if you will. A place where Moses could revel in his beautiful relationship with the Divine without the pesky less mature human-lings able to bother them . . .

In fact, verse 9 says of the splendor of this tent: “ As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses.”

Moses and God were BFFs and everybody knew it.

All was be swell, right? But let’s recap. These were not two schoolboys. It was God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth!

But, in this cloud of closeness, Moses wants even more.

“We’re so close, God” Moses says. “And I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me.”

“Very true.” God replies.

“So, can you promise me a thing or two?”

“What do you want Moses?”

“I want you to go with me. You—just like we are in this tent.”

And as the conversation continues, God says no. You can’t have out there what we have in this special place of meeting. But you can have my presence and peace wherever you go.

(Isn’t that something that we ought to go back to more often? God says we are never alone and can always have the Lord’s presence and peace wherever we go).

But it wasn’t enough for Moses. He asks the Lord to “Show me your glory, I pray.”

But the Lord says, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

And instead, the Lord offers up his backside. It’s not what Moses wants to see. It’s not what Moses asks for. And it is a reminder of the fact that God was not just another pal.

But, wow, as many commentators of this passage relate, what God offers is more than what most have seen of God throughout the scriptures: a visual encounter. And, Moses already had a visual encounter with the Holy at the burning bush a few years back!

Humorously, Professor John Holbert of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas asks this question about the passage: “Is it possible that God is mooning Moses?”

Maybe so.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not the sight of God I’m dreaming about seeing one day—a mooning.

And we get no indication as the story continues that Moses was thrilled about it either.

I think this is the case because we are a people who like certainty. We say to our co-workers and children, “Look me in the eyes when I am talking to you.” We say to a friend telling us a story, “Are you sure those facts are true?” We say to our partners: “Are you sure that you love me the most?”

In our closest relationships, we want to know that we know that we know!

And the same is true, I think in our relationship with the Divine. We want to know that we know that we are on good terms. We want to know that we are loved and cherished. The side of God we most want to see is what is found in the light of day where all is very CLEAR!

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her newest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark about our fascination in modern Christianity with certainty and what can be known in the light. In fact she gives it a label saying what you find in most churches in America is “full solar spirituality.”

She says you’ll know a full solar church when you find because: “Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.”

And while it works well for awhile—I mean who doesn’t like to go to one of the Disneyland of churches everyone is so happy and helpful? It can’t be sustained and remain authentic.

Things happen like: “you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says.”

And in cases like this, solar spirituality churches say just pray harder, just have more faith, or trust that everything happens for a reason!

Have you been told things like this from a church you attended? I know I have.

Taylor—most helpfully though, gives us another vocabulary for what our life in communion with God can be, though it is a side of God that we don’t often want to see.

She calls it “lunar spirituality”—or learning to walk with God in the dark.

And though most of us hear the word “dark” and think, oh, that must be bad. It’s not. Darkness can be a gift of clarity. Because if we think about it—even in the darkest night there’s always some light!

When is the last time you took a walk outside of the city limits at night? Do you remember what you saw?

I’m a city girl and don’t get out much into the country in the evenings. But the last time I visited my in-law at their farm in Georgia, I can remember being overcome with the light of the stars I had not seen in a very long time. It took my breath away in fact to stop and behold the glory of the night sky, of God’s creation—that I’m usually so in a hurry to get inside for that I miss.

Taylor affirms this when says, “The way most people talk about darkness, you would think that it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be a human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, failing down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.”

It’s as if our vocabulary of God has got to change if we really want to know the Lord! For the God of the dark nights, the God of the backside view, the God of the mysterious, who can feel so close to us in one moment and distant in the next: is who God is.

And though it might not be the God want to see—as Moses experienced it, if we follow the path of God’s kingdom, it is what it is going to be.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Those of us who wish to draw near God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is the sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God.”

And while the theology of “solar spirituality” or “God is the light” are part of our journey—it’s just NOT what we’ll experience all the time.

Like in our relationships with our spouses, our children, and friends, we aren’t going to be in total harmony 100% of our journeys together, even more so with our relationship with God. There are going to be times when we are in the dark. There will be nothing we can do about it, except to sit, to walk and to learn from God there.

We learn that God is altogether not like us.

We take comfort in the fact that God is not like us—and we can’t see all of God’s glory—because the problems of our lives, of our world need a much bigger solution than any human can even wrap their brains around!

And most of all, we are transformed by a side of God that is not like us.

As we wait in the dark we are transformed by God’s grace.

We are transformed by God’s compassion.

We are transformed by God’s sovereignty.

So that as we go through the days of our lives, we aren’t so surprised when the worse possible things happen to us and when the dark nights of the soul come.

We have the capacity to believe when God says; I will send you forth with my presence and my peace. And so we go forth into the world differently, even when the darkest nights surround us.

Though this may not sound like good news to you today, church, I am going to boldly tell you that it is.

It’s good news for all of us who have found ourselves in seasons of life that we really didn’t want and bouts of sadness that just won’t go away.

It’s good news for all of us who have ever doubted our faith or wondered if we were really a Christian.

It’s good news for all of us who like to sit out at night and gaze at the night sky feeling overwhelmed by how vast this universe really is!

Sure, there’s a side of God that none of us might ever want to see, just as Moses experienced long ago, but there’s a lovingly mystery waiting to meet us in those moments when we feel farthest away!

Thanks be to God.

AMEN

[P.S. If you'd like to read the introduction to Barbara Brown Taylor's book, check it out here. Great stuff!)

It is so easy when life get stuck in rough patches to focus solely on what is going wrong. It is easy to allow the imperfection around you define who you are. It is easy to allow the darkness to over take you.

And this looks a lot like hiding. It looks like crawling in your bed and not wanting to come out for days. It looks like dissociating yourself from the community-- a few good friends-- that can really support you. It looks like believing that your life is over. Really over.

But then there is another way.

And Leonard Cohen lays it out for us.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”

Several years ago, I was talking with a friend who was going through a difficult time. She was struggling to "move on" from what everyone said she should have been over months before. But, as she made progress through here pain, step by step as I wrote about last week there came a moment when she began to transition toward the light. She began to see things around her differently.

One afternoon she told me over coffee: “I feel like over the course of this year my heart has been broken deeper than I’ve ever known, at a deep, deep level. But at the same time, I’ve felt more seen and loved by a few of you than I’ve ever imagined either.”

She then took a breath and then went on, “So I’m thinking that sometimes the only way that real love can deep down deep inside of us is for our heart to be cracked open. And through the pain, love now has room to seep into me and live where nothing used to dwell.”

All I could say was wow! Breakthrough.

My friend went on: “I hate this pain, you know, but I'm learning to let the light in because of this darkness.”

What truth!

We are all cracked in some way.

The question is: are we are going to keep ringing the bells, even the broken ones?

We are all hurting.

The question is: are we vulnerable enough to be able to say, "I am not well" so that our offering, though how imperfect it is might be used for something greater?

We all know darkness.

The question is: do we believe that love can even transform the parts of us most shattered?

We all have bells to ring. 

As we keep going and keep ringing our bells, the light can get in. Shining beam by beam. Illuminating stride by stride. Radiating moment by moment.

Hope is born and others just might start singing along with us too.

Wait Here: A Conversation with Exodus 24:12-18 & Matthew 17:1-9

Sermon Preached at Broadneck Baptist Church, Annapolis, MD

Today, we are waiting here. Waiting together. Waiting on a word. Waiting on some truth. Waiting on God to show up and help us be different people than we came into this room, right?

Its kind of the point of why we come to church any Sunday, isn’t it?

But this Sunday is different. We call it out by name. We call it as it is listed at the top of your bulletin for this morning, Transfiguration Sunday.

Just as I was talking to the children about this big word a few moments ago, transfiguration is not one of those common vocabularies words that we often if at all put in our sentences. When is the last time you saw something transfigured? For me, I think the last time I even uttered this word, even as a preacher type, happened when this passage came up in the lectionary this time last year. We always mark Transfiguration Sunday as the last Sunday of Epiphany and the first Sunday before we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday.  It’s one of those texts lectionary preachers have a hard time avoiding.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. This Sunday is Pastor Abby’s least favorite lectionary passage. So while she told you that she is at a training session for the Mennonite publishing company that she writes curriculum for in Indiana, the truth be told, I am really here this morning because Pastor Abby wanted to get out of preaching on the transfiguration. In fact such has been a running joke between us for years, how much she thinks this Sunday is overrated, so I guess such is how you treat your dearest friends. You send them in on weeks like this instead. . . .

But this morning, not only do we find our gospel reading drawing our attention to Jesus’ going up onto the high mountain with the three disciples in the inner circle with his appearance changing before their eyes, his face shining like the sun and his clothes dazzling like white—but we also find our Old Testament lesson taken from the book of Exodus also about a transfiguration of sorts. Exodus 24 tells us about the time that Moses and his assistant Joshua were to receive the law of God and go up onto Mount Sinai being filled with the presence of the Lord.

Both are stories that help us understand what the word “transfiguration” is all about—the word Webster’s says is “to change into something more beautiful or more elevated.” Or another way to say this is: the divine coming to earth to dwelling alongside and in humanity.

When Jesus was transfigured, he’d been teaching, preaching and healing for quite some time. Jesus and his disciples were well acquainted with one another. They thought things were going well. But then, recently, Jesus had predicted his death for the first time.  Peter couldn’t believe it and said, “Never Lord!” and Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan! . . . If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Following Jesus was not for the faint of heart. And six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on an unnamed mountain where not only was his physical appearance change but two guests appear—Moses and Elijah. What? Jesus was not only showing these disciples who he really was, but he was calling on the dream team to help him too—two great prophets. And suddenly a bright cloud enveloped them and the same words that were said over Jesus’ baptism were said again, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” No one was going to leave the mountain unclear about whom Jesus truly was and the validity of his divine nature moving forward.

And then, in the Exodus reading things get quite personal for Moses’ relationship with the Lord, much like the disciples experienced. It wasn’t that Moses did not have a “in your face” kind of relationship with God going on leading up to the events of Chapter 24. Remember the burning bush. The 10 plagues. The parting of the Red Sea. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to lead them. The thunder and the lightening when Moses had been asked to go up the mountain the first time. But here, we read that Moses is asked to go up the mountain AGAIN and wait on the Lord. Something even more amazing was about to happen.

In verse 14 of our text for this morning we read that, “To the elders [Moses] had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again” and then, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days.”

Moses, you see gets asked to come up and wait. To wait in a particular place at a particular time, to do nothing else but to be with the Lord, to be enveloped in God’s glory. And scripture tells us that this occurs for 6 days before the Lord even said a word.

Let me repeat that again. Scripture tells us that Moses sat for 6 days before the Lord uttered a word.

There is a term from the Celts that has grown into a popular theological concept called “thin places.” Mary DeMuth in her memoir by such a title defines a thin place “as a place where heaven and the physical world collide, one of those serendipitous territories where eternity and the mundane meet. Thin describes the membrane between the two worlds.” She goes on to say that: “Thin places are snatches of holy ground, tucked into corners of our world, where if we pay close attention, we might just catch a glimpse of eternity.”

As Moses was ushered into the presence of God on the mountain, I believe he was entering a thin place. And I believe such was also true for the disciples as they stood beside Jesus on the mountain that day too. They saw beyond this broken world into the world where things are made right. They saw into God’s great mystery. They saw the glory of God that we so often miss or can’t see when our minds are so caught up in the here and now.

Do you have a thin place in your life? Have you ever experienced such a place?

I was talking with a friend this week about the concept and she told me the story of the morning right before her daughter died. Her child, only 8, suffered from medical complications from cerebral palsy among other things. And while my friend’s focus that morning was on doing everything she could to try to save her daughter’s life—to make her better. Her husband, she said was sensing something deeper. Their daughter was slipping from this world to the beyond. The glory of God was resting on her. And he knew it. Through prodding, he helped his wife slow down and be in the moment too.

Thin place.

I have several Presbyterian colleagues who are obsessed with this retreat center in the mountains of Western North Carolina called Montreat. I am not a Presbyterian so I’ve never been there, but the way my colleagues describe the experience of being there in the wonder of God’s creation among the trees, lodging nestled between rolling hills and chapel experiences that are full of the best kind of spiritual formation out there, I would love to go sometime. In fact when they come home from Montreat it seems that such friends are glowing for weeks. They’ve encountered the presence of God in profound way. They have bright and shinny new plans for their lives.

Thin Place.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel in an interfaith delegation of peace to Israel alongside a Rabbi, an Inman and an evangelical pastor. We visited the sites of the region important to one another’s faiths with respect and honor. We walked the holy steps in Jerusalem that had been traveled by countless pilgrims before. We talked nightly over delicious dinners and bottles of wine about our faith and how the Divine was made manifest in each of our journeys.

Thin Place.

Thin places are moments that begin when we recognize the leading of the Spirit to be wait here.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Moses during those six days of doing nothing but sitting and beholding the glory of the Lord. Six whole night and days. 144 hours. 8,640 minutes. 518,400 seconds.

Waiting here. Waiting with God. Waiting in God’s glory.

I don’t know the last time you said yes to some complete stillness in your life. I am embarrassed to say when last I had some in mine. We aren’t really a culture, nor do we live in the part of this country for that matter that has much taste for slowing down. If you are anything like me, there isn’t a lot of room in your life for 144 hours of being in the presence of God and God alone. And how much of our mental and emotional and even spiritual energy do you and I use trying to avoid stillness? And then when we actually get to such a point, we try to control it.

Though I do take a Sabbath now and then—the kind where I (gasp) turn my phone off—I wouldn’t say that those hours are spent sitting in stillness. I get so restless to do something or watch sometime or to solve some problem with all those thoughts rolling around in my head.

I make lists in our head of what I will do when it over. I count the minutes that have passed. I wonder when I can move on to something next. Out of boredom I shorten the time and then shorten it some more. Isn’t that soon?

But will we ever experience a glimpse of the mystery and glory of God this way?

Henri Nouwen in the book Inner Voice of Love writes this about how most of us live: “We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, "But what if ..." It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen.”

Entering a thin place, you see is embracing the unexpected actually happening to us!

But Nowuen goes on to write about what happens when we give up, when we sit in our emptiness and offer it back to God. He says, we realize this: “God wants to dwell in our emptiness.”

And this morning, I want to offer you the good news that this is what transfiguration is all about.

It’s about letting go of fear—the fear of all of the what ifs?

It’s about letting go of shame—oh what will so and so think of they saw how I was spending my time!

It’s about letting go of what we’ve constructed around us to make us feel safe: comfort foods, familiar surroundings and plans for our life that make lots of sense to everyone we know.

We wait in such a place with our emptiness because we believe in a God who can make all things new.

We believe in a God that can shine light into the darkest places.

We believe in a God who will take our deepest restlessness and channel it into what is heaven come to earth.

We believe in a God who is lover and giver of grace—we become receivers of what we don’t deserve.

We enter into the Divine life when we wait like this and God’s glory stops being a churchy word good for a choir song, but something that we’ve seen, experienced and felt with our own flesh.

If there is anything I am sure of when it comes to God it is that God is a mystery. There is so much about our Lord that I do not and will never understand. I doubt in our lifetime we’ll see another transfiguration of Jesus or even we’ll be asked to go with God up on Mount Sinai. But I do believe that “thin places” on this earth are real. They find us when we might least expect. And they begin in waiting. They begin in setting our life on a different path than the norm so that we have space to receive. They begin in allowing silence to fill our space, even when we think we are going to go crazy and can’t take any silence anymore.

So, as we look ahead to a week that will ask us to gather and repent and remember that we are dust and will return to dust one day—how good it is to start with the invitation—if only we have room for it in this worship hour—to wait here.

To sit in stillness. To bring our brokenness. To open our hearts to whatever awaits us. It’s scary stuff but there’s a reason we’re asked to wrestle with these same stories year after year—because we all need more of God in our lives. But the only way we’re going to find more of God that all of us are looking for, no matter if we know it or not is to wait. To wait here and to trust God to do what is beyond all our imagination.

AMEN

This Sunday, I began a month-long series in what congregation members have identified as their favorite scriptures. Anything was a possibility, really anything. Of course I was a little afraid as to what I might get as suggestions! But the responses I got were actually pretty tame (thank God!). First up, Matthew 5:13-16. Thanks for reading:

I don't know about you, but if someone asked me to proclaim that I am the light of the world, my spirit might cringe a little.

"Who me? A light? Me, the light of the world? No way. Can it be so?"

We might say that we are good at this or nice in this way or even pretty or handsome in this way or that way, but a light almost sounds extreme doesn't it?

And I don't think it is about a sense of false humility. Being called out as a light--  a presence of being whose essence is to do nothing but shine-- can be overwhelming to our sensibilities. For everything about most of our upbringings and the messages we've all received about ourselves since birth has NOT been about bright illumination or drawing attention to ourselves.

We're told over and over again: be normal. Fit in. Don't stand out of the crowd. Do what you are told. Pick out  your clothes based on trends of what is in.  And when in doubt, always color inside the lines whenever you are given a sheet in which to color.

Furthermore, we are prone as human beings to think (and be encouraged to think) the worse about ourselves, especially when it comes to what religion tells us to think about God. Professor David Lose in fact says this: Psychologists suggest that for every negative message elementary-aged children hear about themselves, they need to hear ten positive ones to restore their sense of self-esteem to where it had been previously. (Frankly, I don't know if anyone has studied this in groups other than young children, but I suspect that number doubles during adolescence and then recedes to about 10-1 again by adulthood!)[i] We are a people who live in the negative.

But such sentiment stands in contradiction to the words of our gospel text for this morning, words of Jesus that were chosen among some of you as your favorite scripture passages you all submitted last month. 

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid."

What was Jesus up to as he laid these very direct words on the crowds gathered? What was he trying to say to this gathered community of disciples-- those in his context and those communities he knew would gather together in the future in his name?

In most interpretations I've heard of this beloved passage-- dear to the hearts of many Christians and part of popular cultural rhetoric in productions such as Godspell, for example-- have usually directed my attention to the potential negative aspects of Jesus' words here.  When Jesus says, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house." And the interpretation goes in this direction: "Yeah, you are a light, but it is your job to keep it going. You could mess up your job of being a light. So, God is warning you-- don't mess up. Don't put your light under a bushel basket. So it will go out and you'll lose it forever. And you wouldn't want that would you?"

But, such harsh, self-condemning words are not what I think Jesus is up to here. This is not another time in scripture when we are reminded by Jesus to feel bad about ourselves. Notice with me the direct nature of this declaration. Jesus says, "You are the light of the world."  

It not something, we are told, that we have to work up to. It is not something that we have to learn to create. It's not even something that only the select chosen ones get to claim. No, rather, it is simply what we are. We are told by Jesus that we are the light of the world, not just some of us. All of us.

We all have the light of God within us. It was the ultimate Jesus pep talk to his disciples. Remember who you are my friends. You are light and there is not a thing you can do about it. These are words of sheer blessing from the Divine to us.

Sure, a case could be made that there are times in life that each of us could hide our light (hide it under a bushel if you will), but it doesn't change the fact that the light in us-- given to us by God and shown to us by Jesus-- is there.  All we have to do is just stand and let it shine!

Look at someone sitting close to you this morning and say to them, "You are the light of the world" and then have them say it back to you.

How did that feel? Strange? Comforting? Calming?

If this is where you are today-- in need of some self-confidence after coming out of a life damaging situation or relationship, then I say stop with me here and receive this bountiful blessing from our Lord. You are called a light, just as your neighbor has shared with you. And Jesus calls you very good. Can I get an amen out there about this?

But, if you are able to hang with me for more-- hear this, all you light bearing friends of mine. Being light comes with a responsibility (not burden) but joyous responsibility.  When Jesus says to us, we are the light of the world, we are asked not to just keep it to ourselves. We are asked to share it. Again, not something that my raise flags in our heads from our more conservative traditions of door to door bang people over the head evangelism.  And, not something that we have to work at or achieve, but simply and courageously being willing bear in vulnerability our light to others.  

Light that comes in speaking aloud the name of Jesus as our Lord.

Light that comes in sharing kindness, even when we are tired, because we feel God has asked of us to go the extra mile of compassion.

Light that comes not in just "being a good person" for the sake of being good or avoiding punishment, but for the sake of the name of Jesus who is our teacher of all things that are good.

This week, I graciously had the opportunity to spend some time learning about the practice of spiritual direction in interfaith setting-- from those who very much cared about being attentive to the light of God within them, but not explicitly from an Christo-centric tradition. Though interfaith work is nothing new for me, when I showed up in Berkeley on Monday ready to learn, the experience I received was not exactly what I expected.

My first shock came when we were asked to break up into partners and share in two minutes to our partner what the practice of spiritual direction meant to us.

I went first sharing something to the effect of "I feel spiritual direction is in my experience the practice of sitting with another person who serves as the deep listener to my stories, who helps me pay attention to the presence of God in my life, sensing movements, patterns, feelings of God's working all around me."

Then, my partner shared. Moments later when the teacher call us back together as a group in attention to what we noticed in the exercise, my partner was the first to speak. She mentioned how strange it was that I wanted to used the word "God" -- not a word that she uses anymore. Saying that she much prefers the word "divine" alone for all things God.

I went home the first night and sounded off to a friend or two on the phone, "I am in a program to learn about God and I can't even say the word God?"

As an act of resistance the next morning, I was careful to use the word God and Jesus when I came to describe my own faith. (Who knew saying God's name could make you such a rebel?) Though I could have easily done otherwise. I didn't have to say I was a Christian pastor. I didn't have to say that I actually believed in Jesus.  I am a Baptist after all where we believe in the priesthood of all believers, nothing in my dress (or your dress either) says anything about the nature of faith. It would have been much easier to become what was most acceptable to the group.

Yet, Jesus says, "You are the light of the world."

As an aside, I am happy to say that I continued to be in dialogue with this colleague and our understanding of one another got better. We were not as far from one another as I first might have thought-- just with different baggage around language.

But this one encounter reminded me that showing the light that God has asked us requires courage to speak up from time to time-- to show with our words and our deeds that our light comes from Christ. And, yes, calling God by God's name is a non-negotiable for us. We worship the God who says, "I AM who I AM."

But what does this look like in our daily lives-- when we aren't at Interfaith training or spiritually focused dialogue groups? I believe we must be ready to stand out.

Not blending in-- showing what we believe.

Not going with the flow of acceptance of everyone and everything-- saying what we believe.

Not being politically correct all the time-- when truth needs to be spoken.

Not just doing the same old things the same old ways-- open to the new.

Instead, remembering that because we are the light of the world, we've got FIRE within us. Fire from God that is constantly molding us, reshaping us, growing us and asking us to give voice to the fact that the light of God comes from within.

One my Baptist colleagues and I were having a conversation about this passage this week-- my colleague a former pastor of a church much like ours-- of the liberal Baptist flavor. And, we were talking about how most churches like ours aren't so comfortable in our practice of being light. For after all we've come from places in our journeys as individuals who make up this larger body which that are often of abuse, frustration with the institutional church and it is just now that many of us have wandered back into a faith community. We've got enough of our own stuff to deal with than to CHOOSE to stand out.

But, when we consciously or unconsciously make this decision to leave the "being the light of the world" business to someone else, we my friends-- are robbing God of the process of using some of the only hands God has (ours) to be the people God created us to be.

For after all, wasn't the mission statement of this congregation, when it was visioned out several years ago to be "The Light of the World." Weren't there leaders and faithful members including some of you still around today who took seriously Jesus' words here and said, "Yes, we have purpose to be a different kind of church. To welcome the un-welcomed. To not judge the stranger. To always make room for one more to feel the love of God in this place."

So where are we today? I fear sometimes that we are somewhere between the great fervor of the congregation of the past, "We want to be a light in our community" and those who have forgotten that the light of God is within us as individuals and as a body at all.

It has been said that the greatest sin against God of all is forgetfulness.

So today as we soon will approach the table. I invite you to remember again your light and dream with me for a moment what it might mean to have this light brilliantly shinning in our midst. I invite you to remember.

If we were Christ's light here in the Northern VA area, in our Lake Anne home, what would be the fruits?

Might there be more AA classes offered during the week? A place for unconditional acceptance and love for those working through their own recovery journeys.

Might there be more hours when our sanctuary was open for prayer and meditation? So that our building was truly God's house-- not just for us Sunday worshippers, but for everyone who needed a place of peace.

Might there be more of us writing about our experience of God in this congregation-- spreading the world of the good news of a welcoming and loving church-- to ALL those, in every nook and cranny of Reston, Herndon, Manassas, Sterling, and the list could keep going on and on-- that there is a church for them, a Baptist church where that can worship Christ and grow in their faith in him?

I hope that as I've been sharing with you my "might" list, in your head you are making a list of your own-- of your own dreams for where our light will shine, how it growing brightness will touch exactly the folks that God wants to use us to reach.

And that as we together come to the table, we remember the source of our light-- our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This little light of mine. I'm going let shine. This little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

AMEN


[i]  "Dear Working Preacher" http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=451

Promise in the Night Lenten Series: I am the Lord

Isaiah 43:1-7 with Mark 14:43-46, 53-62

This morning as we begin our conversation together about this week's promise in the night-- Jesus saying to us, "I am Lord." I think it might be good if you are willing to work with me here for us to take a time out and talk to each other before I get into the main ideas of what I would like to share with you. So this is what I need you to do. Make sure you are sitting next to somebody. No one is allowed to sit in a pew by themselves. If you are a guest visiting with us, know that our church is quite informal and friendly (like I hope you've experienced already today), so we welcome you to participate in this discussion with us too.

And this is what I want you to share as you feel comfortable with one another: "Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?" Share your answer to this question in a small group of 2 or 3 sitting close beside you. If there is anything I know about Washington Plaza, it is that you don't have trouble being honest with one another, especially when it comes to matters of faith. So, in this spirit of "there is no wrong answer" I invite you to share with one another right now, "Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?" (SHARING)

I hope that as you shared with your neighbors, you learned something about them that maybe you didn't know before. . .  The question of "Who is Jesus?" is central to the gospel passage we find ourselves in this morning. For, just as we have been preparing for the past two Sundays as we read of the plot Judas set into motion to turn Jesus over to the chief priests, at this juncture of Mark 14 starting with verse 53, it is all happening.

 The elders of the religious councils have come to Jesus with swords and cubs and have taken Jesus into custody. And though there seems to be little credible evidence against him, with everything said against him appearing to be hearsay, Jesus is put on trial. In this trial, he is accused of the most serious of religious crimes at the time. He says he's the Son of God.

Look with me at Jesus' exact response in verse 62 of Mark 14. After Jesus was asked, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?" He responds by saying, "I am . .. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

If Jesus wanted to beat around the bush and speak in politically correct language of the time, this was not the way to go. In a culture that held so much respect for the name of God--- not even writing out all the letters when putting God's name on paper-- saying that you were "the Christ" was heresy.

Let me be clear here when I say, that it is this very confession: "I am the Christ" that led to his death.

Though centuries of strained Christian/ Jewish relations and a lot of Judas haters out there who want to place the blame on a the Jewish people as a whole or on the one bad apple disciple-- these players in the drama played minor, very minor roles in the larger drama of what God was doing in the life of Jesus.

Because in the end, Jesus came to this dreadful juncture of his life for one simple reason. He said he was Lord. This dark night was ALL about Jesus' Lordship. The chief priests, the whole Sanhedrin council and Judas for that matter were simply players in the story (and the players could have been anybody) who helped to illuminate this truth: Jesus was Lord.

Can you imagine how dark this night of betrayal, arrest, and interrogation must have been for Jesus?

Can you imagine how lonely he must have been?

Can you imagine how abandoned Jesus must have felt by those he trusted the most?

Can you imagine how Jesus' human nature desperately wanted to call upon the bands and bands of angels and archangels and strike down all who sought to speak wrongly of him?   But at the same time,  his heart burst in compassion for those misguided in truth?  What a conflicted, hurt and deserted place Jesus was in!

Where was the hope? Where was the promise for the night? Where was the light?

If we turn over to our Old Testament lection for today, what we find are words of comfort for a group of people, who like Jesus, found themselves in an unfortunate situation.  All was not right with their world either.

The children of Israel lived in Babylon in exile, and had lived there for a very long time. The prophet exhorts them: soon they'd be asked to go back to their homeland, even as they'd grown quite comfortable in this foreign country. They'd be asked to deal with the ways in which they'd fallen short of God's best for them. They'd have to face up to their own darkness, the blindness of their own hearts. And, they'd be forced to make changes for the journey that awaited them. 

And while the word of the Lord could have been harsh and accusatory, it's not the promise we hear as chapter 43 of Isaiah opens. For the promise begins in the shift of how the Israelites were addressed: "BUT NOW, thus says the Lord, he  created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."

And what follows are some of the most beautiful words of comfort in scripture-- words that I wrote down and put on the wall of my bedroom as a teenager to get me through some difficult times-- words that I often read now at every funeral I preach in an effort to speak words of comfort to mourners-- words that speak of God's promise to walk with us even in the darkness of dark nights.

Look with me at verse two: the Lord says, "When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."  WHY? Because we are told, "For I am the Lord your God."

Such is a promise full of dramatic metaphors which illustrate God's promise to walk with us no matter what situations we find ourselves in.

What is most interesting to me about this passage is what it doesn't say about the journey of faith.

It doesn't say that we won't pass through rivers. It doesn't say that we won't walk through fires. It doesn't say that flames won't get anywhere near us. Though most of us would like to assume that if we just try hard and love well and live the best life we can that life's darkness nights won't find us, Isaiah's promise of prophecy does not guarantee us this at all. In fact, if we have found ourselves deep in rivers or in the middle of fires, or feeling as though our lives are going to crumble at any moment, then we are in good company. We are well acquainted with what it means to be a human being-- just as Jesus experienced on his dark night too.

But even though our lives are full of troubles and there will be moments when the nights of winter seem long and unending-- we receive a hopeful promise. Jesus is Lord.

And not just any Lord-- a word that might be scary to our independent sentiments of a society. But a Lord who loves us unconditionally, a Lord who pledges to be in our lives no matter what, a Lord who holds out joy for us when it seems to be the emotion we fear we'll never experience again.

Look with me at verse four, "Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you , I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life."

It's a love letter for a particular people, a love letter from a God who wants to show forth the light of the good news. I am the Lord.

I don't know where you are in your journey of faith this day-- believer growing, eager to go deeper in your faith, skeptic standing on the sidelines not ready to say you believe in this Jesus story yet, or somewhere in between, but I dare say wherever we find ourselves this morning, we've ALL had experiences where we've experienced God's presence with us, especially in difficult times.  (For it seems our awareness of God seems to be softened to receive most memorably when we hit a place of helplessness, lostness, or even feeling as though our lives are so bad "that there's no place to go but up.")

For me, one such time when I felt God's presence with me came when I was on my first trip out of the country to Africa as a freshman in college. Alone, I traveled to spend three weeks with some missionary friends of our family. Eager to experience the culture of some new nations and to be with folks I thought at the time were some of "God's best people on earth" (i.e. the American missionaries) I boarded the plane and set out for what I thought would be a life-changing adventure.

However, the trip turned out completely not as I expected. These missionaries, I admired from afar, turned out not to be the welcoming bunch I hoped they'd be-- to me a young adult hoping to follow in their footsteps one day. None of them really seemed to care to get to know me at all. The missionaries were among some of the most rude, selfish-centered and arrogant people I'd ever met. You could imagine how crushed I was. All my dreams for a career in international service felt ruined. There was no way I'd want to work in a community like this! What in the world, was I then going to do with my life? And did I even want to follow this God?

But, in spite of the unfortunate turn of events, grace found me. This grace came from two women, whom I don't even remember their names anymore who I worked alongside as I taught at Bible camp during one of the weeks I spent with the American missionaries. These two women, from the US like me, but in particular, came with the purpose solely of teaching some of the missionary's kids while their parents sat in meetings. And, I have to say, if I ever met an angel on earth, I know it was these two women, who said they were from Alabama. They nurtured me, welcomed me to teach with them and showed me through their actions that I was not as alone as I felt at the time. God spoke through me and my broken spirit at the time to say, "I am the Lord; and it is going to be ok." I don't know if I would have made it back home in one piece if it weren't for these two women.

In the same way, one of the things I hear most often from you, even those of you who still have great doubts about your faith and wonder if you are a Christian at all, is that you've experienced God's presence in dark times of your life. You've had experiences where you've encountered this promise in the night of "Fear not, for I am with you." You've received comfort from something you can't explain in rational terms. You've experienced what you can only call the divine. And these are moments that we remember.

But the thing is that though many of these experiences are impactful in the moment, our memory as a human race is short. How quick we are to forget! How quick we are to doubt! How quick we are to throw up our hands in disgust, wondering why we find ourselves drowning in rivers again, feeling as though we have no life-preserver to help get ourselves to shore!

Such is why today's promise in the night is so important. Jesus is Lord. For in fact it is the promise, if we remember nothing, I mean absolutely nothing else about the Christian life, it is the promise we need. Because knowing and believing that Jesus is Lord changes EVERYTHING about our personal lives, about our life together as a church and about our outlook for the future.

And because Jesus is Lord as we walk this journey in community, everything begins to look different. We get out of our pettiness, our focus completely on ourselves, and we look up to the one who is the Lord.

When we are figuring out who is bringing what for coffee teams on Sunday morning and how to clean the tables, we remember: "Jesus is Lord."

When we are choosing what color to paint our walls in our bedroom with our spouse and really want to strangle him or her for their tacky taste, we remember: "Jesus is Lord."

When we are deciding if we will buy just one more thing at the mall or make our pledge to the church- we remember: “Jesus is Lord."

When we find ourselves bickering and then not speaking to a dear friend for weeks-- we remember: "Jesus is Lord."

When quick fire backs of anger seem more enticing than going the extra mile in life-- we remember: "Jesus is Lord"

When folks slander us, speak ill of us for reasons we know are untrue - we remember: “Jesus is Lord"

And, most of all when we find ourselves in bleak situations when we wonder how in the world we are going to get out of bed and face another day, we remember what? "Jesus is Lord."

For this promise in the night or in the day or in the in between can make all the difference in our lives my friends. For when we get out of the framework of this life is about me, me, and more just me, we realize that though the road of following the Lord may be rocky and though the journey may be long, we have this larger truth in which to cling. And what is it? Jesus is Lord.

AMEN

I don't know when is the last time you sat in complete darkness? How did you feel? What did you sense? What did you notice about your body, your fears or even your surroundings?

These are all questions that I want you to consider-- as we sit together in as dark of this room this evening. I invite you to clear your mind, relax and simply be in the dark as we turn all the lights off now. (Pause for 5 minutes)

----------------------

Church: in these moments of dark, what did you notice about yourself? What did you notice about this room that you did not play attention to previously?

Over the course of the next forty days, a season in the church we call Lent, our worship theme will ask us to consider again the darkness. Not only the darkness of our own souls-- the ways that we each fall short of God's best for us-- but simply to pay attention to the darkness in our world. Where are there places without hope? Where are there places without God's light? Where are there people hurting because they feel God has abandoned them?

The funny thing is about darkness, is that the more you sit it in, the more sensitive you become to any spark of light, even if just a crack through a window.  But, only if you sit with it.

One of the first times our power went out in our current home, right after we first moved in, with boxes still strung everywhere-- piled in the hallways, blocking doors and by the staircase-- I felt immediately paralyzed.

Being new to our home and not being able to "feel" my way around and furthermore not knowing where the candles or matches or even flash lights were, I quickly began to stumble around hoping not to injury myself too badly (You know, I'm not too good at sitting still).

But, I had never been in this kind of darkness before. Everything in my surroundings felt out-of-place without any memories to guide me. So, hoping not to break a leg, I stayed put on the couch and tried to enjoy the quiet. Luckily, the power came back on within an hour.

By the next time that we experienced a power outage at night, Kevin and I were well settled into our current address. We knew the drill. All of the important boxes were unpacked. The journey upstairs to find the flash light didn't feel like so much of a risk of life because we'd journeyed through the darkness to the space before-- we knew how high to raise our feet in climbing the stairs, we knew where the walls divided rooms and we could feel our way around the bed and find the candles and lighter on the nightstand.  Darkness didn't seem as scary because we'd previously experienced this space as safe.

Darkness, with practice wasn't as bad as we thought.

In our gospel reading for tonight taken from Matthew 6:1-6, we are asked to commit ourselves tonight to a different way of life than the norm. We are asked to prepare our hearts through waiting. We are asked to fast. We are asked to pray. We are asked to consider serving God in ways that might feel new to us.  But, we are asked to all of these things without drawing attention to ourselves or making a big fuzz about how wonderful we are to be taking care of our spiritual lives.

In fact, Matthew's gospel tells us in verse 5 that "when we pray, we must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. . . . but when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father in heaven who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Which is another way of reminding us of the benefits of sitting in darkness. While it may be more fun or more pleasurable to our egos to say our prayers or do our good deeds this Lent for all the world to see, we are asked to sit in darkness. We are asked to do in the shadows, not the limelight.

For some of us, this season of sitting in the darkness may taste like one of those disgusting flavored cough syrups our mother forced in our mouth as child. In fact, we've never been one to sit in the darkness at all. We run from it. And, what I'm asking you to do "this whole sitting in the darkness bit" could seem as scary as the day I was alone in our home in the dark for the first time.  Without resources for light-- you are simply afraid.

If this is where you find yourself this Lent-- unfamiliar with this spiritual darkness-- then I say, just sit. Sit and know as you do, you might just recognize more light around you that you could not have noticed any other way. And, what a gift this Lent can be for you as you wait. 

But, if you are a person who knows the shadows of the dark night of the soul-- who has been in dark season before because of some personal circumstances of your own choosing or even just because life's cruelties-- I invite you too to this season of Lent too.

This is your promise tonight: just as a space called a home can become more familiar over time, the same is true for darkness as you continue to experience it. For, as we sit in darkness, as we cleave to our prayer closets of grounding our hearts and souls in Christ's light for our life, darkness can become a friend. We know that it won't kill us to sit in darkness-- eventually the light will come. We've seen it all before and lived to tell of the surprising joys of the darkest times.

So, as we receive these ashes tonight and commit as a church to the 40 days of darkness, cling to the hope of the promise. Return to your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love.

AMEN

Let the Light Come: Christmas Eve 2011

Isaiah 9: 2-7

What are we celebrating tonight? (Christmas? Anyone excited about Santa? And still some of you might say it is Jesus' Birthday?)

Jesus' birthday is the answer I learned as a child growing up in Sunday School. Christmas was all about Jesus' birthday.

Tonight is not Jesus' real birthday (hate to burst your bubble on that one) because no one really knows for sure. However, tonight was chosen as the occasion for the Eve of celebration because of its correspondence on the calendar year with the season of darkness, at least in Northern hemisphere. In the year 350,  December 25th became the official Christmas day by a decree from Pope Julius on to correspond with Winter Solstice-- the longest and thus darkest night of the year.

And though the words "presents" "joy" "mistletoe" or even "baby" sit as the centerpiece of what we think about this time of year, especially tonight-- we'd be completely off track on this holy night, if we didn't start our conversation together about scripture with the word: darkness.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."

I don't know the last time that you found yourself in complete darkness-- where you literally could not see what was right in front of your face, where you were putting one step in front of the other hoping that you would not fall or run into a wall. It's a rarity in our days of electric everything in the city in which we dwell and emergency readiness kits and flashlights at our bedside. City lights and guiding light posts are nearly everywhere, even in the most remote parts of our land.

Professor Karoline Lewis tells a story of being with her family in the Black Hills of South Dakota on a tour of Jewel Cave-- a place where she experienced darkness in a dramatic fashion. 

After travelling down roughly forty flights of steps deep into the cave, the lights guiding the tour are extinguished, plunging those walking into total darkness.  “Of course,” Lewis writes, “this is not just to show you how dark it is. We all know that. Rather, it is a reminder of that oft-forgotten fact that without light, even the smallest speck of light, our eyes will never adjust to the darkness. We could be down in that cave five minutes, five hours, five years and still never see our hands in front of our faces. This is what darkness does to you.” (Thanks Abby Thornton for sharing this great story with me!).

And, such was the situation described in our Isaiah text before us this evening. Though not literally in physical darkness, everything metaphorically around the original hearers of the text was dark.

Corrupt leadership was in power. Terrorist driven enemies were at the nation's doorstep. Spiritual leaders were no longer valued for insight they could provide. Mothers worried about their children's futures. Fathers worried about seeing their children grow up in a free and fair land. And, the rich were getting rich and the poor were getting poorer.

Virtues like hope, peace, joy and love that we've been talking about all Advent season-- were not on the main stage of community life and interactions with one another as the prophet Isaiah spoke these words of the Lord.

Sound familiar at all to life in 2012?

For as much as we gather this evening in the cheer of our holiday colors and sweaters, for as much as we gather with the warm fuzzies that we get from singing the Christmas carols in community that we've known since childhood, for as much as our stomachs are full of Christmas cookies, special pies and holiday bread-- we also understand Isaiah's words of what it means to be a people who are living in a land of darkness.  For just as we've experienced the drudgery of short days for the last several weeks-- going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark-- which psychologists say is their busiest time of the year (the darkness seems to depress all of us more than normal it seems), many of us have also approached Christmas season this year, very well aware of the emotional and spiritual darkness that surrounds our lives.

Beloved ones will no longer be around our dinner table this year and we miss them more than words can say.

We've found our jobs cut our hours, pay us less and expect us to be happy about it anyway.

We've faced new realities about our own lives that have left us confused, disappointed and lonely.

Beloved friends and family members have endured suffering after suffering, seemingly unable to catch a break and in journeying alongside them, our hearts have broken too.

Darkness looms over us, often no matter if we want it or not, no matter if we know it or not and hides from us, all of us, the life that we were born to live, the life that we were created for by God.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."

And it to this state of darkness, that all of us know something about, Isaiah speaks a word of prophecy saying: "Listen up, all of you who know you are in the dark, all of you who can't see even a shimmer in front of your faces-- a GREAT brightness is about to shine, a light is coming."

Yet, as the passage goes on, what is indeed strange about this gift of a light is that it was foretold to come in the most vulnerable, most innocent, and most unassuming of package: a baby.

For Israel, the light was not going to come through a triumphant new king who would just appear on the scene and slain all those who ever said a word of harm against them as they hoped. It wasn't going to come by anything they'd seen before and could predict logically on a spreadsheet. And, it most certainly wasn't going to come on their timetable.

The gift was to be called as verse six tells us: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (anyone hear Handel's Messiah playing in the background as I read these words?)

Biblical scholars go on to burst Handel's and our bubbles again here saying that Isaiah in fact, was not envisioning Jesus when the words were penned-- many think they were prescribed about the prophet were about Azaz (the corrupt king ruling Israel at the time)'s son, Hezekiah-- that he would be the spiritual leader that Israel needed next to be saved from their enemies.

But, regardless, this is what we know as we continue reading in the second testament, in the gospel narratives, that hundreds of years later, another child is born. And, this would not just be any child, not just a child who grew up to be a just leader, or a skillful teacher, or even a boy who grew into a man who would make his momma proud-- though this child would be all of these things.

This child would be the one who took on the yoke of the burden of his people, who would take the bar across his people's shoulders, who would take away the rod of their oppressors-- and not just for the nation of Israel, but for the whole world. And, such would be because this child would be not just any light, but THE light.

 This child would be the GREAT light that forever broke the bonds of life-crippling darkness, whose life would say to future generations: "No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground: I come to make God's blessings flow far as the curse of darkness is found."

And the world would forever be different, why? Because the light came. The light shone. The light brought hope that there was more to this life than the darkness all around. 

And, this would be the hope: for all of us, past present and future who have found our lives walking in darkness, that in Jesus, we can be in the light too.

As many of you know that in January, Kevin and I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with several leaders of other faiths from the Reston area. And, one of the highlights for me of the trip was to spent a couple of hours one day in Bethlehem, the city we are told in gospel reading for tonight is the place where Jesus was born.  While visiting the Church of the Nativity, I was awestruck there unlike any other place of among the Christian sites we visited of the holiness of the location said to be the birthplace of Christ. Though again, no one could prove without a doubt that this was the exact place of this historical event, but I didn't quite care. 

After descending the stairs into a small chapel named for Mary and placing my hand on a spot designated as the spot of the birth-- I felt the light. Maybe it just was by sheer connection to the thousands of Christ seekers and skeptics alike who had placed their hand on the same spot too. Maybe it had something to the do with the spiritually charged trip I was already having. Maybe it was because I had already visited countless Jewish and Muslim sites already and I was thrilled to final be in a place that was important to my faith. Yet, regardless, I tell you the light was there. It was a powerful moment of faith for me.  Call me a CathoBaptist, but I was ready to walk the aisle of faith all over again in the middle of this Catholic church. For there just is something powerful in thinking about the light... the very face of God come to earth.

He's the light that can make the most sarcastic of us this Christmas open our heart to believe again.

He's the light that can break through the coldest of hearts, the most horrid of circumstances-- stuck right in the middle of what the carol calls the bleak mid-winter.

He's the light that can give us all hope that what we see or can't see right in front of us is not all there is.

He's the light that says to our overwhelming and oppressing of circumstances-- rejoice for a new joy is here.

Calling all dreamers . . . calling all wonderers . . . calling all grieving friends . . . calling all those who want a life different from you see right in front of you right now. Come, to the table this night. Come and receive the very life and blood of our Savior and Lord. Come, and receive what you are most longing for this Christmas: a light has come. Darkness will be over soon. And, hope is born anew!

AMEN