Originally Preached at UPC of Amsterdam, NY on January 20th, 2013
Texts: Genesis 1:26-31 & John 1:1-9
When I was growing up, especially by the time I was in high school, I wanted to not be a morning person. I wanted to be one of those people who had to be dragged out of bed for school, who spent half of Saturday sleeping, who planned for stuff in the afternoon because it was too hard to wake up in the morning. That desire did not go away in college. There, it seemed, my roommate could sleep well into the afternoon if he so desired and, in part, I wanted that too. But that was, and is, not my lot in life. Early on, I figured out that I was often one of the first (if not the first) ones awake in my house. Before school I had time to watch SportsCenter with a bowl of cereal. In college, while all my friends tried to register for the latest classes they possibly could, I never had an issue getting up for 8:00 meetings. It was in graduate school that I finally learned that rather than writing well into the night, finishing a paper, and then going to sleep for 2 or 3 hours, I was much better off going to bed especially early, getting up before anyone else and writing the paper. I learned that if I did it the opposite way, I was just going to have to get up early anyway and spend that time editing and rewriting whatever it was anyway. Even now, in a house of folks that I sometimes have to scrape out of bed in the morning, my favorite times are the silence of the early morning, a good book, a cup of coffee, and a few minutes to breathe. I mention this because in my life I had seen a great number of sunrises pierce through even the darkest nights. A couple of years ago when I spent about a month in Africa, the distinction between darkness and light was made even more profound as once the sun went down, it was a dark, darkness like you have never seen but when the sun would come back up, it was brilliant and blinding, and it seem to shower the whole earth in the newness of the new day, cascading everything in the reawakening of a planet from its slumber. Watching the sun come up after a long night is one of the ways that we can be reassured that the problems that we struggle with, that we stress over, are always temporary, always momentary, in the daily rebirth of the planet.
This is a continuation of the sermon preached last week titled, “There’s a hole…”. In last week’s message I asked you to consider our sinfulness, our fallenness in terms of a deep hole into which all the things of life could be placed and yet the hole would seek to consume more . All the things that make up our life and our passions, our needs and our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations for a better tomorrow all are pulled inside this hole, like a swirling vortex at the center of the universe constantly pulling matter and light in. This hole represents a void in each of our lives that forces us to look for meaning throughout creation, to try and place ultimate importance, ultimate meaning on whatever we can in hopes of satisfying the craven nature of the hole, only to discover the transient nature of everything in life, the impermanence of all things. All things eventually fade away all things are eventually consumed by the hole until we come to a place in our lives in which we face the darkness head on, in which we jump headlong into our doubts and fears, into that nagging feeling in the depth of your soul that all this could be for naught. We jump into the hole hoping against hope that there will be something there to catch us. We search for God.
In the first creation story in Genesis, we are told that God hovered over the chaos of creation, surveying the great mass of energy and matter pulsating, perhaps breathing with the breath of the Spirit of God, in a static state waiting for direction and shape. Maybe it was like that time right before the sunrise, before there are even slits of light beginning to be seen in the east, a time so pregnant with chaotic expectation, a bundle of energy just waiting be released. And we see a meticulous God passing over the darkness, over the void, and saying, let there be light, and miraculously, there was light. Interestingly, God declares that there should be light one the first day of creation while the sun and the moon are created on the fourth day, in fact, the source of the light is unknown. Many scholars have sought to answer this question and it was Augustine who suggested that this light emerged from the “Glory of God” from what he called the “City of God” whose brightness could put out a thousand suns. Such that the first light that passed over the face of the void, that pass over creation was not from natural sources, but rather from God. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness was not able to overcome it.
Over the next five days, the author of the creation story recounts the mystery and the magic that went into the creation of creation. God bringing together the chaos and from the chaos emerges beauty and order and goodness and life. Even today, even in the dead of winter when everything is frozen and covered in snow and nothing can grow anew on its own, even now we know that the resurrection of the season is coming, at some point I’m assuming, and green grass will again poke through first the snow and then the snow will be melted away providing the nourishment for the ground and the lake that will make it possible for farmers to grow, for the earth to grow and teem once again with the life begun at the beginning of creation and we see plants yielding seed of every kind and trees of every kind bearing fruit. At the beginning, the world was filled with God’s splendor as life simply lived to be God’s good creation and was unable to do otherwise.
But something was missing. Something missing from creation. Something was missing from creation that yet had to emerge from the hand of God. So God came together with the holy council and said, “humankind!” “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” And so we are told, God created humankind in the holy image, in the image of God they were created, male and female. Then, looking over the whole of creation, God saw everything that was made and called it “very good.” God saw everything created, humankind included, and called it very good.
But I do think that humanity finds itself battling against itself. And its a struggle. Its a struggle because too often our better angels are shouted down by the demons of our brokenness, by the lure of the Siren of the old order of the world that dwells in sin, that has not been redeemed, that still cannot exist in the light of day. We were all created good. And we remain good, just as we have fallen away and left behind some of the goodness. We do, all of us, make idols of all sorts of things in the hope that we can have a lasting faith in something that is tangible, something that is visible and yet we do hope for things which we do not see, and for justice not yet achieved and for love, not yet received. We all dream about a time in which we will not do violence to one another, nor covet one another’s goods. We look for a future in which no man, no woman, no child will starve in a world with so many resources and so the light continues to shine, dim though it may appear. And we work towards all these things, ever inspired by the vision of a better tomorrow, seeking to take into our protection all those who are unable to protect themselves and “For all those whose care has been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” said senator Kennedy. In the words of the Bible, We believe that they light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.
It is with this in mind that we turn to the beginning of the Gospel of John and hear the words the author wrote. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light but he came to testify to the light. The true light which enlivens everyone was coming into the world.” In the one we call the Christ is found the light from which the whole of creation was brought into being, and we like those first believers are called to live into that light in a new and different way. In Christ we see a life lived into the light and a life that testifies to the presence of the light in all people in all times. In the life of Jesus we are brought face to face with the light shining within him and indeed with our own light. No longer are we given over to the chaos of our fallenness to the darkness of our hole, now we walk on a new path, now we seek a new goal, now the people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it! But the question remains, how do we do it? How do we begin to break away from the allure of the old order of the world in which temporary security for those with means is always found on the backs of those who simply want to live. How do we begin to break away from the allure of the old order of the world in which temporary national security is almost always found through violent means that destroy the foundations of weaker societies, that kill those who have nothing to do with conflict and simply want to live. How do we break away when to try and break away means that we must have eyes to see and ears to hear those suffering around us and then we must have the courage to do something about it. As the writer, MK Asante notes, “If you make an observation, you have an obligation.”
I love this time of year, this weekend of the year, this time when we as a nation take a moment to honor and remember the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a pastor, It’s great to be on any type of social media during this weekend because a great many of my pastor friends, off all political and theological stripes, will post pictures, quotes, soundbites, and videos of King. Should my stuff ever get here, in my office you will see one of my most prized possessions, a framed picture given to me by my pastoral mentor, of King sitting in the front pew at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, his fingers interlocked in a prayer, his face being illumined by the large stain-glass of Jesus kneeling in the garden that is found in the front of Ebenezer. Both of their faces displaying a mixture of struggle and peace. King displaying the weight of years spent standing against the old order of the world, the sleepless nights that often accompanied death threats toward himself and his family or nights in prison or marches into the death of the Ku Klux Klan and corrupt police forces. Recent years have brought and will continue to bring I suppose, books that take an in-depth look at the personal failings and struggles of Dr. King. Books that investigate his struggles academically and at the level of his family. For a great many in the African American community, King’s nonviolence is now viewed as ineffective. Such critical voices have small pieces of a more holistic understanding of persons who lead movements. It is important to look at the fallenness of those who have come before us, of those who stood up and volunteered to be counted on the side of those challenging the old order of the world. All that is important. Because it demonstrates that just as each of those who have come before us to challenge the sitting order of the day were not perfect in every time and place, so too can we who are called today to stand up for what is right no matter what the consequences are also have the space to be imperfect, broken, sinful. What matters isn’t the last moment, it this one, and this one, and this one. What matters isn’t what came before you, what brought you to this place, what secrets sit in your past that continue to haunt you, freeze you in time, silence your voice. None of that matters in the light of the new day, in the hope of the next moment, in the limitless opportunities that sit in your future, a future of your own making.
We are told that after 5 days of bringing about creation, it was still incomplete and it was God with God’s holy council that said humankind. We shall make humankind in our image, beautiful and powerful, Divine and loving that I might love them and they might love me and each other and we shall enter into a dance of hope and peace and love with one another, all intwined within the magic and mystery of the power of love. Humanity fell, and we continue to fall, but we too are redeemed and continue to be redeemed every moment of every day as life continues, and love continues, and the dance continues. Friends, we may never achieve perfect love on this side of the Jordan, but when you can, choose love over hate, peace over violence, concern over apathy, and dance. With God, and one another, just dance. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.