March Sermon: Living in the Light

Ephesians 5:8 -14 8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Let us pray:

Gracious God, who created us in Your own image,

we are grateful for all that you have done for us,

for all that you are doing in us,

and for all that you will do through us.

Open our eyes to see your presence among us,

moving in powerful ways at all times

and in all places.

Open our ears to hear familiar words in new ways—

ways that will change us and challenge us

to become the people you created us to be.

Grant us the power and the courage

to come out of the darkness

and into the light of Jesus Christ,

that we may serve you by serving others.

We love you with all our heart, soul, mind,

and strength. Amen.

In December of 2015, I was on a service trip and on the night before our excursion day, we went caving. We drove out into the middle of nowhere on the island of Eleuthera, and we decided to go caving. When we first entered the cave someone had spray painted the wall “Welcome to the entrance to hell”. My first reaction was to turn around and wait on the bus for everyone…but when you’re the leader of the trip…well, you turn on your flashlight and you start descending into the cave.

On our way back through the cave, we stopped to spend some time in silence. We took a few moments to find a semi but not really comfortable place on the damp floor of the cave, and then we were instructed to turn our flashlights off. We all wearily obliged our guides instructions.

Suddenly it was quiet…and it was dark. I don’t mean the kind of dark when you go to bed and you turn the lights off. It was a darkness I had never felt or witnessed before. It was the blackest black I have ever experienced. I imagine it’s akin to what astronauts feel when they’re in space…but I am not an astronaut and I haven’t had the honor of meeting one yet.

There was a fear that sprung up inside of me during those moments of silence and darkness. I had all of these thoughts of what was going to happen to me…but I was surrounded by about 10 people, all who were sitting there in their own silence. The rational part of me knew that nothing was going to happen to me. The irrational, fight or flight part of me was ready to fly and get out of there.

According to a study from 2015, 15% of adults are scared of the dark, coming in just above clowns and ghosts. However, when you think about it…most people are scared of the dark in case there is a ghost..or a clown…or a monster under the bed. Many children, and adults, are scared of the dark.

In the dark, we do not know what waits in the shadows. In the dark, we cannot see properly, if it all. The darkness does not have to be a literal darkness, as I experienced in that cave. For some, darkness presents itself in their health.  A friend of mine shared this with me, and she said I could share this with you all. She lives with bipolar disorder, type 2, but is in a remission of sorts. She said that when she would have a mini-episode, she would feel like she was in darkness. She described it as a suffocating darkness. Another friend said when she feels like she isn’t doing what God would want her to do, that she feels a loneliness. That, for her is darkness. In my own personal life, I have found darkness to be the times where my plans were not the same as God’s plans. That my timeline was not God’s timeline. What is your darkness? Where have you found yourself in a place where the darkness overwhelms your senses? 

I wonder if Jesus felt like he was in darkness during those forty days of temptation? There were glimpses of God, but here was Jesus…fully God AND fully human…wandering alone. Hearing voices, seeing things. It was just him and his thoughts.

When you think of the word “sin”, what pops into your mind? Images from movies of people offering confession to a priest? Do you think of things that you’ve done? Do think of the ten commandments and the words etched onto tablets?

If sin is anything that separates you from God, then what do you think it looks like to be united with God?

It looks like wholeness. It looks like healing. It looks like a dazzling light so bright that you cannot describe it as “white”. It looks like my friend with bipolar disorder being told that even if she doesn’t feel or know her purpose in the moments of darkness, that she does indeed have a purpose in this world. The light for her is being as present as she can be and working towards and living into that purpose. For my friend who feels like darkness is when she is doing things that aren’t what God would want, she finds that relinquishing control and giving things to God in prayer is what brings the light back into her life. For me, I have found that intentionality in my discernment and conversations and relationships is what brings the light to me. When I stop focusing on what it is that I want, and turn to what God wants, the light returns.
As my favorite imaginary theologian Albus Dumbledore once said “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.  Happiness. That word to me seems so small when thinking about the scripture from Ephesians. When we are no longer in darkness, no longer held down by the things of this world, and we are living in the light – there has to be something greater than happiness to describe the light. If the light is God, how can you even begin to put words to it?  It’s bigger than joy. It’s the moment in which the light meets the darkness. It’s a moment where a peace beyond all peace occurs. It’s a moment that can be described as “divine”. It’s the moment where God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit boldly make themselves known and interact with us and our surroundings in a new fashion.

In 2009, The Avett Brothers released a song “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”. The song is an entanglement of all of the things that we wrestle with. Our political stances, doing what is wrong, doing what is right, fear, paranoia, burden and freedom. They say, in so few words, “there’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded with light…and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it”.

There is, depending on how you approach life, an unfortunate or fortunate darkness that is all around us. We are indeed surrounded by forces and things that can be perceived as darkness. Some people struggle with alcohol or substance abuse. Some people overeat…some people undereat. Some of us really enjoy drinking gallons of coffee a day, while others of us can’t get enough Dr Pepper. There are also some of us in this room who wake up daily full of anxiety, or full of depression. Or full of emptiness. There are some who feel like they live in a permanent darkness with no sense of hope, or no sense of God, the light, being close to them.

There is no one way that a relationship with the Spirit works for everyone. The Holy Spirit can manifest to us in different ways. During Lent, we talk about the things that we give up. I’ve done what my mother calls the “extreme diet” and I’ve stopped consuming any animal product. I’m vegan. I’ve found that I sleep better, that I am more focused. That I feel better overall and it gives me time to focus on taking better care of myself. If my cup is empty, if my body is tired and sluggish, I can’t possibly be the best that I need to be to serve God, let alone our congregation and community.

During Lent, we give up things so that we can make room for God in our lives in new ways. I’ve spent more time journaling. Others have found new ways to embrace their freedom of time. It may mean finding new ways to experience God. I’m not sure how many of you utilize them, but Lynchburg has so many trails and nature walks that there are multiple places you can go to interact with God in creation. For some of you, it could be getting up a half hour earlier to enjoy a cup of coffee in silence and watch the world awaken from your window or your porch.

How do we embrace a relationship with God when the darkness may not only be all around us, but in fact, be battling within us? I think we have to be intentional in seeking out the light. Be intentional in the way that we pray. Pray for the light to not only fill us and flow from us, but to surround us. We have to be intentional in interacting in Bible Studies and small groups. We have to embrace our neighbors and be in relationship with them that is more than saying hello as we pass each other. It requires work and patience.

We often talk about and think about faith in abstract ways. We struggle to make sense of it because it’s a holy mystery. We cannot fit God into nice neat lines. A relationship with God is messy. Like every other relationship we experienced. There are times where we may feel alone, there may be times when we’re angry, there are moments we want to cry and give up. But we don’t. We don’t because a relationship with God is beautiful.  A relationship with God is what keeps the light of the Spirit aflame. Our relationship with God requires work. It requires silence, it requires that we listen intently. It requires that we be willing to have conversations with God that we don’t have with anyone else. It requires us to surrender. It forces us to step back, look at the big picture and see the thread of the Holy Spirit woven throughout the tapestry of our life.

When we enter into relationship with God, we expose the darkness. We take the darkness, put it out there for all to see and guess what?  The God, the light, overcomes it. We do not let our darkness, both personal and corporate consume is. We let God see the darkness. God says that darkness does not have the final word. The darkness has no sting. The light is the final word. The light, the Spirit, is what enables us, empowers us and moves us towards reconciliation and healing. The light overcomes the darkness. It awakens us. It removes the sting of death. It emboldens us to be light-bearers to the rest of the world. It gives us space to be free. It makes room for the Spirit to move in ways that we could not have imagined before. Friends, we are called to live in such a way that people see the light in and through us.

I want to close by offering these words from a famous contemporary Christian song:

Come! live in the light!

Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!

We are called to be light for the kingdom,

to live in the freedom of the city of God!

We are called to act with justice.

We are called to love tenderly.

We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

 

Identity Politics

Well, it’s taken me a whole three months to post a new blog. I apologize for that. Here we go, second sermon of 2017, first blog of the year.

Acts 4: 32 – 35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Continue reading “Identity Politics”

Loving Our Neighbor

Today, September 18th, I had the honor of preaching at Peakland UMC for the first of many times. I want to share with you all the message that I shared with them. Enjoy!

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;  and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. – Mark 12:28-34 Continue reading “Loving Our Neighbor”

I Appreciate Your Voice

In High School, no-one would have said this about me. I was quiet, mousey, and tried to avoid talking. When I first started High School, my voice was different, I had a Scottish accent, with hints of my British roots mixed in. I was scared of my voice. I was scared for people to hear it. Today, however, I do not shy from my voice. My accent may have changed, its tone, its inflection, but it is my voice. Continue reading “I Appreciate Your Voice”

Offering Our All

Tonight at Peakland UMC, we had Peakland AfterHours; an opportunity to gather for informal worship, communion and my favorite part…Disney/Pixar movies. The movie tonight was “Finding Nemo”, y’all, I forgot how much I enjoyed this movie.  We only watched selected clips (but truth be told, I’m going to watch it one night this week).  Our Scripture that we read and discussed was Genesis 22:1 – 18, which is about Abraham offering Isaac to God as an offering. Continue reading “Offering Our All”

This one’s for the girls…

If you feel like you are too overweight, if you feel like you are too skinny, this is for you. If you look in the mirror and see dark circles around your eyes, this is for you. If you stand on the scale and the numbers make you openly weep, this is for you. If you check your outfit and change six different times before going to class or work, this is for you. This is for all of us whom society has told we’re not pretty enough, too short, too tall, too thin, too fat, too young looking, too old looking and everything in between.  Continue reading “This one’s for the girls…”