Revelation

Mark 1:21-28

The Man with an Unclean Spirit

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Several years ago, it actually seems like ages ago now…my family moved to Pasadena, CA where I finished my masters in divinity degree at Fuller Seminary.  It was a great season of adventure and new experiences almost every week.  I went to seminary a bit later in life so I had a young family.  Yet, we all remember going to the beach most Sundays after church for picnics, hiking in the mountains surrounding Pasadena, weekend trips to Yosemite, Joshua Tree, San Luis Obispo, King’s Canyon, Mexico, and simply being in LA and experiencing the beauty of the diversity in thought and culture that is Fuller Seminary.  

I’m not sure if I’ve shared this story before, but it fits with our discussion on “revelation”, or something being revealed to us and being astonished or overwhelmed.  

I was in a seminary class one day.  I got to class late, which is probably not a surprise to some (although I am much better these days!),  so I had to sit in the back row of this class with a friend of mine Igors who was from Latvia.  The desks in the back where not comfortable and had the small pull out desk spaces…too small for my laptop (this was before the ipad!).  Igors was a good friend, we climbed Mt. Whitney together with some other friends.  He had lived through Soviet rule in Latvia.  This guy was not afraid.  

Our class had a visiting professor from the UK.  He was an accomplished scholar with a great wit about him.  He had some great stories to share, and, on that day, he experienced another event that would make a great story.

As we were sitting in class, the room began to move, the windows behind our back row desks began to wobble in ways that they were not created to do…the frames around the window looked like they were turning into jello.  Everyone in the class jumped underneath their desks, Igors and I jumped up, looked at each other, and realized that we had no cover…meanwhile our professor, with his British accent, yelled “earthquake” with a kind of question mark and ran out the door…

It was an earthquake, apparently a 5 or 6 point something, that lasted a few moments with it’s epicenter just a few miles away from Pasadena.

After it stopped, we joked a bit, looked around for damage, remarked about how LA really is prepared for this sort of thing, and we all left class as our professor decided to cancel it after he came back in the room.  As I was walking home a few blocks away, I looked up in the mountains around me, and was overwhelmed with a sense that I had just experienced something that was overwhelming, that could bring down buildings and these mountains.  I also thought about a revelation that overwhelmed me to the point of tears:  God’s power, this supernatural “other” that causes things to grow, to create, and in the words of the psalmist, can cause mountains to tremble.  When I got home, I found my family safe, but they too had some amazing stories to share…I’ll let you ask them about them!

Our gospel passage this am gives witness to a powerful God, to an experience that caused those witnessing it and experiencing it to tremble and marvel.  There is a man who has been demon possessed, he is out of his wits.  Some would say he had a mental illness and dismiss it as a possession, either way, he was not healthy and in need of healing.  

In the book of Mark, the author has a theme of painting Scribes and Pharisees, those who were scholars and priests, as folks concerned with power.  They had a system, a way of life, that they wanted to maintain.  Any threat to the status quo, their transactional way of living that kept them at the top of the social structure, they would try to squash through all sorts of power plays, arguments, bullying, social threats, and even physical threats.  They were afraid of Jesus.  His presence and stance on loving others, especially those on the margins that the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to keep on the margins, threatened them.  Jesus was bringing these “other” folks into the synagogues, inviting them to the parties that “they” all attended, including those who were hard to love.  He was inviting folks to question, and even change, the system that was in place that prevented folks from experiencing growth.

The “people” in this passage, as it says in verse 22 were astounded by Jesus’ teaching.  He had authority that the Scribes didn’t have.  He had relationship and was  practitioner of loving actions, where as the Scribes didn’t and were not.  They were amazed, but they still don’t necessarily believe.  Oftentimes we are amazed, but we still have disbelieve, we have to ask ourselves, are we looking to be amazed even today?  Or do we want to keep the status quo, stay comfortable and in some sense of control?

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it is that even when we think we are in control, things happen…and just like that earthquake, can shake us to our core.  Something may even be revealed to us in a deep way.  Do we have the courage to embrace this moment, or the revelation that God wants to give us?

Jesus also had power, power that can penetrate even the darkest places in our lives and in our world…power that even the demons recognized.  Jesus calls out what this man is experiencing.  The demon possessed man can’t hide, and neither can the demons.  Jesus demonstrated a deep sense of who he was and is, rebukes the demons, silences them, and then banishes them from this man.  Jesus has power over even the supernatural, things we don’t see or understand.  Jesus is in effect making a statement, that he embodies the very power of God.

In those days, and we can relate to it today, folks who had diseases, were possessed with demons, had illness or some kind of physical issue were often labeled and stigmatized by others.  They were to blame for their ailment somehow, or God was judging them.  Folks on the margins were “unclean” and any proper, believing person would not come near them or it would make them unclean as well.  

Yet, as it says elsewhere in Scripture, that was not the case, that Jesus was indignant towards systems that oppress and limit folks.  Jesus came along and healed folks, and as demonstrated throughout scripture, restored folks into community, into relationship with others.  Jesus does come near, does enter into the uncleanliness of our lives, and the opposite happens, through our relationship with God, we are made clean.  Jesus says to us that God is more powerful than our circumstances, God wants to bring healing, restoration, and growth…oftentimes in ways that we can never truly understand.  

Jesus heard this man’s cries, this man’s prayers.  God also hears our cries and prayers and enters into our lives, is present, and wants to reveal to us a deeper power, more powerful than earthquakes even.  

That power of God’s Presence that called me into being, that rescued/saved me through Jesus, and that sustains, carries, forgives me as I live this life God’s given me and that I have the privilege of sharing with you.  Let us live in this revelation, as best as we can, during a pandemic and whatever else comes our way, knowing that God is with us, all of us!  

Fulfilled.

Mark 1:14-20

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

In a little over 3 years, most of you have gotten to know me better.  And, I have gotten to know you better.  The good and the bad, and we still genuinely like each other!  That’s good news…we’re are not only surviving a pandemic, social and political unrest, but also the shifting culture all around us.  And, in the midst, we are trying to figure out who we are as a church in this changing world, and who are as people.

PTS Doctoral Cohort meeting via Zoom!

As you know, I’m pursuing my doctorate in missional leadership to continue to understand church and how it’s shifting and growing.  You also know that I’m constantly working on myself.  I’m big on trying to figure out how I operate.  I think that’s part of my understanding of myself as being in God’s image and growing in my understanding of my gifts and talents and how God animates and even redeems them.  

I think it’s also part of being present, faithfully present, with myself, others, and seeing how God flows in and through all things.  Presence is a big deal.  As we’ve said so many times, when Jesus talks about Kingdom of God, or Heaven, or God’s reign as he does in this morning’s passage, he’s not talking about a nation or another place, he’s talking about  God’s Presence that is with us now, everywhere.  That God’s kingdom has been fulfilled and it’s our task to seek it, to live into it, and to try to be present with God as God is present with us.  

One of the tools that I’ve used in counseling and in spiritual direction is the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a model of human personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.  It has been around for hundreds of years, and has evolved over the years.  My personality type on the Enneagram is a “3”.  That’s often called the “achiever” of the “effective person”.  I value getting things done essentially.  I’ll work towards whatever measure of success that I have for whatever I’m doing.  There is a lot of good to that, but there’s also some darkness with that.  The good is that I feel pretty confident in who I am, it’s not arrogance, I genuinely like being me.  The bad is that I can base my value on what I achieve rather than who I am.  I can also be a workaholic, just ask Debbie!

It’s important for me to be able to take time off.  That’s why it’s really hard to get a hold of me on Fridays, my day off, especially in the morning.  It’s also why I periodically go to the Springs retreat center in IN or the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY.  I need Sabbath rest.  I need quiet.  It helps me to cultivate this sense of presence, of seeing God’s Kingdom presence in me and around me.  

Friends, I get it, it’s scary slowing down and simply “being” present.  Oftentimes, when left on our own, we begin the hard stuff of questioning ourselves, we see the dark places in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and we don’t want to go there.

WB Yeats wrote this:  “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

I also think that it’s important for us to ask these questions collectively as a church.  We have to slow down, listen to each other, our communities, and to God.  That’s why I’m really curious and hopeful for what we are learning during this pandemic and political and social unrest.  How are we growing? 

As a church, we’ve done a lot of stuff, a lot of it is pretty amazing actually.  But, we also realized before the pandemic, that we needed to change, we realized that what we’ve done, doesn’t work.  The pandemic has been a struggle, a lot of suffering, but it’s also forced me, and all of us, to ask some great questions.  

As we ask these questions, Jesus invites us, just as he invited his disciples, to be fishers of others, to invite others to live differently in this world, to be present with one another, to a ask deeper questions.  

I found this statement from the PCUSA Book of Order that I think resonates well with this morning’s message.

In Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all creation, the Church seeks a new openness to

God’s mission in the world. In Christ, the triune God tends the least among us, suffers the

curse of human sinfulness, raises up a new humanity, and promises a new future for all

creation. 

…a new openness to the sovereign activity of God in the Church and in the world,

to a more radical obedience to Christ, and to a more joyous celebration in worship

and work; a new openness in its own membership, becoming in fact as well as in faith a

community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions,

made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit, as a visible sign of the new

humanity; a new openness to see both the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms

in order to ensure the faithfulness and usefulness of these forms to God’s activity

in the world; and a new openness to God’s continuing reformation of the Church ecumenical, that it might be more effective in its mission.

Our scripture passages this morning give testimony to God’s Kingdom being made known and lived.  In our gospel passage, it says we need to repent.  We do.  Again, I’ve said this before, the greek word for repent is “metanoia”.  

It means to change one’s mind.  We need to change as persons, we need ask hard questions.  We also need to do that as a church.  If we do repent, if we do change, together we can bear witness to God’s Kingdom around us and in us, God’s Presence rising up all around us. 

My bet is that if we do that, then others will join us.  Others will see the beauty within us and around us and contribute to that beauty.  It happened in the early church, just look at the passage we just read, others jumped in…

Come and See.

John 1:43-51

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Come and See.  Invitation.  It’s always good to be invited to something isn’t it?  We want to feel included.  It can also be a bit scary to accept an invitation or to come and see?  Yet, when we do, even thought we may not know what to expect, new things can bring growth.  

I know many of you can relate to trying new things.  Probably some of you even this morning are sitting here thinking, “what is this year going to be like?  Will it get better than 2020?”or “what is this sermon going to be like?  And how long will it be?  What is going to emerge at Fleming Road UCC this year?  What things can we depend on?  Where are we going as a community?  As a church?  What am I being asked to be a part of?”  

Well, trying something new or “experiencing” something different can be scary…it cal also be the best thing to ever happen.

When I was in high school, there was this older guy that kept on coming on our campus.  Which, looking back on it, in these times, would be kind of weird.  But, his name was Ken Goss.  He met me one day and we talked about a lot of things.  He seemed genuinely interested in me.  But, in the back of my mind, I was wondering “what’s the catch?”  He told me that he was a part of a thing called Campus Life and they were starting it at my school.  He invited me to come to it.  It sounded great.  Sure enough, a few weeks later they had their first Campus Life club at our school.  It was at my best friend’s house, Jeff Hume.  When I went, I thought it was crazy and there was no way that this could be a “Christian” deal!  It was too much fun, it was off the wall…plus, there were people there who I thought would never even show up at a Christian deal, but here they were, having a great time.

Ken also invited me to go on a ski trip that year with Campus Life, so I signed up.  At first I was a bit scared as I was the only kid from my school going.  Yet, I went.  From the very beginning, it was fun and my Campus Life leaders were simply great.  I went skiing for the first time (and, while trying to look cool and impress the ladies, I did fall off of the ski lift…and couldn’t get on it….they actually had to stop it for me!).  I went snowmobiling on this huge frozen lake, and stayed up really late talking to new friends.  They also had these crazy meetings with great music, games, and this guy who was about 70 years old at the time spoke.  Honestly, at first I thought he would be really boring (just like some of you may be thinking about me!)…but, as he spoke, I began to think he was talking directly at me.

In short, I didn’t know what I was getting into…but I really enjoyed it and kept going to Campus Life every week.  I had many more adventures and by the end of my senior year, I knew that my life was somehow dramatically changing!  It actually changed the trajectory of my life…I went into youth ministry the very next year while at UK and went on to seminary eventually and becoming a pastor.

I don’t know if you can relate to this story, my hunch is that as you sit wherever you are today, that you can relate to it.  Being invited to something, being curious, starting a friendship, and seeing, over time, your world change and grow.

It reminds me of a story in the Bible about Jesus and some folks that he called out and invited to come along with him that we read earlier.  

In this story, Jesus goes out and personally invites Phillip to hang out with him, to follow him.  That’s the only time that happens in the New Testament where Jesus personally invites someone.  Pretty wild.  This guy Phillip was kind of a reluctant guy, maybe kind of slow, always trying to figure things out (I can relate).  Yet Jesus sought him out.  He was from an area called Bethsaida, not a local boy to Jesus, yet Jesus crossed over this boundary.  

Well, Phillip starts following this Jesus guy and starts to get his friends to come along.  Kind of like what many of you do, when you see something good…you may not completely understand it, yet you know you want your friends involved.  One friend in particular was Nathaniel.  Phillip goes after Nathaniel and brings him to meet Jesus.  At first Nathaniel wonders if anything good can come out of Nazareth where Jesus was from.  Now this isn’t a put down on Nazareth, it’s probably more like a community rivalry thing.  Kind of like Finneytown, or Springfield Township…or name a neighborhood in Cincy…sometimes there is a bit of division, but we can all come together when there is something curious that we know that we need to check out.  Yet Phillip persists and simply says “come and see”.  In this story, these words are what we call “imperatives” in the Greek translation, a command or invitation.  In this case, it is simply an invitation.  You see, Jesus never forces himself on anyone, he simply invites people to check out what he’s saying, what he’s about.

So, Nathaniel does.  Nathaniel was a good guy and Jesus comments on that…but, here’s the kicker, Jesus and Nathaniel had never met.  When Nathaniel asks Jesus how he knows him, Jesus responds that he saw Nathaniel under a fig tree.  Now, Jesus is not some kind of stalker, Jesus wasn’t at that tree.  Yet, he simply noticed Nathaniel from a distance and knew things about him.

This was a BIG indication to Nathaniel that there was something more about this Jesus guy.  It drew Nathaniel in…he didn’t understand it all, but he knew that Jesus was something special.  After Nathaniel’s statement of belief, Jesus says something else, in effect, you haven’t seen anything yet!

Friends, we are a lot like Nathaniel this am.  We may not know a lot about this Jesus guy, but we know that there is something more to him that makes us curious and draws us towards him.  You may be asking this morning, “what good can come out of Cincy?  Or, our country at this moment?  Or Fleming Road UCC?  Or even my own life?”  Well, the best “good” you could ever imagine.  And, to know that Jesus notices us!  Jesus sees us…not just some sense of seeing us from a distance, like when we see a neighbor walking our way…but, really notices us, sees the deeper parts of us…and is drawn to us just as we are drawn to something deeper in Christ.  

You see, what Jesus was inviting Nathaniel, and all of us throughout history, is to follow him into a deeper understanding of how the world could be…an alternative community in the middle of the world’s systems.  To be in friendship with God and extend that friendship to one’s self and to others.  To know that we are all connected, all made in God’s image, all loved by God and called to live in God’s presence, God’s reign or Kingdom if you will, even as we live within a world dominated by narratives that are more about power, control, or even violence.  My hope is that we will “come and see” this year together what Jesus is doing in our lives and in our community, with our neighbors.  He has already noticed you.  And, guess what, he wants be with you in the struggle of life…and to “abide” with you in more experiences than you could ever imagine, no matter what age we are…  Friends, I know that this church has taken lots of risks over the past years.  Well, I’m asking us to take some more risks, to be curious, and to “come and see” what Jesus has in store for us.  Even in our weariness of this past year, and the current events that we find ourselves, let’s take a risk of deepening our relationships with one another, and with a God who is with us and won’t give up on us and is inviting us into journeying together.  

Baptized.

Mark 1:9-11

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I’ve shared this story before, but so appropriate for this week’s gospel lesson…when I was 8 years old, my best friend, Rob Waddles was baptized.  When I saw him get baptized, I thought that was pretty cool.  So, I asked my parents if I could be baptized.  We set-up a meeting with our Baptist pastor, we talked about it, I got real excited…and the next Sunday, I was immersed in this huge tank that was in our Sanctuary behind our choir. 

I don’t remember much about my conversation with our Baptist preacher.  I just remember that it was something that my best friend did and he was glad…and it sure did make my parents happy.

Jesus comes to the river Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John.  As we’ve said in the past, John came preaching a message of repentance, of a change of heart and mind to a new way of living.  Baptism symbolized a dying of the old and living into a new life.

As followers of Christ, we need to recognize this need in our lives daily.  It is tempting to be in a church setting, and in our lives outside of this church building to live as we always have, which oftentimes looks much like how everyone else in this world lives.  We settle into old patterns that bring only death and decay over time, rather than living into a new life of being present with God’s imagination and creative spirit.  And, we forget that there is only one Lord as the early church subversively proclaimed, not Caesar, not kings, dukes, or even presidents.  Our allegiance is to God alone and living in God’s reign. 

God doesn’t promise life will be without suffering, but God does promise to be with us in it and as we cultivate a sense of God’s Presence in our lives, a life filled with live giving and growing relationship with God and with others.

Yet, it is so hard to break free of those old patterns isn’t.  Often, in church world, those patterns are reinforced in the way that we do church.  Too often we let how the world operates in a negative way determine how we operate in our lives together in the church.  We fall into patterns of negative thinking, of gossiping, scapegoating others, control, etc.  Whereas God calls us towards freedom, positive engagement with others, honoring others when they are around us and when they are not (which, by the way, political correctness or “saying it like it is” are not excuses for being mean spirited in front of others or behind their back), and of self-awareness to where we ask ourselves how can we serve others rather than blame others.  

We cannot live in the way of Jesus without help.  We cannot love others, God, or even ourselves until we’ve learned to receive love.  That’s why we have to live in recognition of Christ’s baptism for us.  

This is Jesus’ example to us in his baptism.  When he came to John, John didn’t think he should baptize Jesus, that Jesus should baptize him.  Yet, Jesus says no, that in order for righteousness to be demonstrated, that Jesus should be baptized by John.  Jesus knew who he was, that he was representing all of humanity and that he was God’s son, God’s human representation on earth.  He was connected to the flow of God that created, saved, and sustains all of life.  Yet, he also knew that to be righteous, or right in relationship, means to submit to someone else, to live in humility.  So, he submits to John’s baptism.  

His dying to self on our behalf cuts to the core of who we are, tells us that we too are a part of the flow of God that changes everything.  The question for us this morning, is our we willing to let go of those old ways of thinking and being and live into the new reality that Christ’s baptism represents?

When Jesus is baptized, we read that the Spirit of God descends on Jesus life a dove.  God’s Spirit is always with Jesus, even before this, and also with us.  In the story of Noah, when the floods recede, there is a dove flying over the chaos, reminding us of the hope of new life.  

Friends,  the same spirit of God is descending upon us even now, are we willing to receive God’s Presence in our lives and live fully in this new reality?  If we are, then we will see evidence of changed behavior on our part, we will see our lives change and this church become all that God intends.  

As Jesus comes up from the water, there is a voice from heaven, God’s voice that has these amazing lines.  “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased”.

Jesus represents all of us, God is telling us that God is well pleased with all of us!  God does believe in us, now let’s get on with being the people God’s called us to be…to not be arguing over minor things, not to be focused on things that defeat us, but to live into the dynamic presence of God, to be live into our baptized new life in Christ, and to say “YES” to the opportunities for growth in our lives and “YES” to the opportunities before us to become the church together in a new way, a way that isn’t about one group or persons over another, but a way of living filled with humility and love as we model what it means to be the body of Christ.  

Hear these words from author Jim Kast-Keats wrote in 2016, but are so true for the year that we just had!

“These are turbulent times. 2016 was a turbulent year. But the waters of baptism invite us to hope. We hold our breath, the water splashing against our skin. We hold our breath, anticipating what is to come. We hold our breath, we remember our baptism, and we have hope.

Jesus, raised from the waters of the Jordan River became the hope for those who followed him, inviting them to discover a new way to live in the world, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, realizing that the reign of God is already among us, with us, and within us.

Hope must be as tangible as despair. The greater the chaos, the greater our hope. Whatever waters wage around us, we remember a story of God hovering over the surface of the deep, the people of God walking through the parted sea, and the son of God rising from the river to hear the words that echo at every baptism to follow: “You are my Beloved.”

Salvation.

John 1:10-18 (NRSV)

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.

Have you ever been in a dark place?  When I was a kid, we would go to Mammoth Cave National Park in KY a lot. 

I remember the cave tours when the park ranger would turn off the lights in the “great room” of a large cave.  You could not see anything, even your hand in front of your face!

Later in life, I did some spelunking, cave exploring.  If your batteries on your headlamp would go out, it was always important to have a backup flashlight and extra batteries!  

Darkness is disorienting.  

The very definition of the “darkness” means to be in a state of dark, it is an abstract noun.  Yet, it does not mean that one is “dark”, just living in a state of darkness.  That “state” or existence can be changed.  

Try an experiment this week.  Go into a dark room.  Pause for a moment, take in the darkness, look into it.  Then turn on a light and notice the difference.  Notice the change. 

In our lives this past year, we may have experienced things that have been bleak, dark, and we may have felt like we are in an “in-between place” as well.  We have remarked on it a lot, the pandemic, social unrest, political nonsense that is traumatic, and a disconnected world yearning for connection.  We may have been sensing even before this year that a change is necessary, but this year has forced us into a season of change.  We have longed for the warmth of hope, just as we may have longed for the hope of warm sunshine in the spring after a long winter.  Our days get shorter, we experience darkness as we move through the changing seasons.

The changing of seasons is a good metaphor for our worshipping community called Fleming Road.  As a collective group of persons, it seems like we have been in an “in-between” place.  We may fill like we are on our way towards something, but we are still incomplete, not fully there.  All of this can be good eventually, we are moving towards something, people inside the church and outside have remarked that there’s something different at Fleming Road UCC, and even different in our own lives, but we are still in between and not yet fully where we are called to be.  

Our identity as Jesus followers gives us hope for in the midst of darkness and change, Jesus says this in Matthew 4:16 quoting from Isaiah.  

the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

    light has dawned.”

In darkness, we cannot see others around us as we should.   We stumble around often in relationships and because we are not able to see, we experience a break in relationship from folks because of something we’ve done or said, or something that was done or said to us.   We often sit in darkness and darkness often leads to brokenness which can feel like living in the shadow of death.   

A past spiritual director gave me a great book a while ago by Parker Palmer called  Let Your Life Speak, In it Parker talks about depression and darkness.  He states that we need to embrace our wholeness as persons in those dark moments, look into them, and use them as times of understanding who we are, our true selves as Thomas Merton, the great catholic philosopher and mystic might say.  

Parker says this in his book:  

embracing one’s wholeness makes life more demanding–because once you do that, you must live your whole life. One of the most painful discoveries I made in the midst of the dark woods of depression was that a part of me wanted to stay depressed. As long as I clung to this living death, life became easier; little was expected of me, certainly not serving others.” 

Our passage from John gives us a glimpse of where real life comes from, or who it comes through.  Jesus is described as the light that shines into our lives, exposing everything through love, and enabling us to move through the darkness in our lives to find out true selves.  Jesus not only sheds light, but gives us an example to follow, an example of service and generosity.  Listen to these words from Eugene Peterson’s translation of our gospel text that we read earlier:  

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

Friends, like a thief in the night, we can let darkness overwhelm us, but that is not our identity, that is not our true selves, we were not created to live in darkness, this great light has entered the world and our lives.  As we stumble around in the darkness, we seek out light…and darkness flees when light is introduced.  Darkness does not win.  Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our neighborhood, became flesh and bone just like us.  Jesus came to reveal to us what it means to live in the fullness of who we are called to be in our truest selves.  We have received grace upon grace, we are given new opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to experience rebirth even in the midst of the in-between times.  The light of Jesus is here, we may not always like what we see, it may cause us to ask deep questions, but the light does transform us and can bring us into places of beauty in our lives in our neighborhood, work, and even in our church!  

This light was the word made flesh, Jesus, who invites us into this sacred moment where we can catch glimpses of his glory and experience salvation…and salvation is deeper than just being rescued from something…salvation means a deeper awareness that we are in this life connected…to ourselves, not afraid to go to dark places in our lives, with others, not afraid of being vulnerable and authentic…and all through God, where we find true salvation waiting for us, shedding light, in the darkness.