Bringing Down the Light

Preached February 22, 2009 at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Columbia, SC

Readings: Mark 9:2-10 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

This morning’s song comes from one of my heroes, Melissa Etheridge. Born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1961, Melissa hit the big time in 1988 with her first album. This was three years after she was turned down by the lesbian owned Olivia Records – which I’m sure they regret now! In 2004, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but is now cancer free. She said of the experience, “After having chemotherapy and finally getting healthy, I read everything: quantum physics to string theory to cosmology and Plato. And I really found spirituality in myself and in my soul … I think we’re all meant to go through a spiritual awakening. That’s where I’m at right now.” This morning’s song is about that kind of spiritual awakening. The song is called “Light a Light” and appeared on her Christmas album she released last year.

‘Tis the season of change

The seasons are the contrast, The key to life and how it’s done

It’s time to let go of all our past, And let go of what’s to come

Write down your excuses And turn them into dust

Plant the seeds of change Water it with trust

And light a light – tonight we light a light

We light a light – tonight we light a light

Now that this time is ending and everyone is here

We light a light, a light this year. ‘Tis the season of change

When I was a kid, probably around 10 or 11 years old, I had a ritual I performed every Saturday afternoon. My mother would drop me off at the local movie theater for the regular double feature. It was always a double feature of the best spaghetti westerns ever made. I would spend the next four hours or so enthralled with the world of the wild, wild, west as cowboys battled Indians or thieves, robbers, or other bad guys. I was so captured by the vision of white hats versus black hats that I never wanted to leave. If I could have lived in the movie theatre and fully entered that world I would have. My mom probably wouldn’t have objected – getting a four hour break from me.

But, when I left the movie theater, I took that world with me. I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be a member of the cavalry. I wanted to wear the cowboy hat with the tassels on the front – the bibbed shirt – and those blue uniform pants with the bright yellow stripe running down the side. My mother – proficient at sewing – did make me up a uniform of sorts. She used iron-on yellow ribbon to transform a pair of my blue pants into cavalry pants and even sewed me up one of those bibbed shirts. I actually wore one of those shirts into my teen years, I loved it so much. I was transfixed by this world on the big screen and wanted to stay in that moment as long as possible.

In today’s gospel reading, Peter would understand my urge. He, too, wanted to stay on top of the mountain as Jesus’ clothes glistened white and the light-radiant cloud enveloped Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. He wanted to build booths on the mountain and stay. Peter probably wanted to build a church – a place to capture this holy moment and turn it into an institution – a place to where we can come and touch the holy. He didn’t understand what this transformation meant – that catching a glimpse of the divine doesn’t have to happen in a special building. It’s all around us, in the mundane, in the sublime, in the boring, in the beautiful, and yes, even in the ugly. God’s light shines bright around us constantly, whether we see it or not. Instead we want to capture that spiritual high and stay there. But, we can’t. Instead, Jesus transfiguration heralds a season of change for us. It’s a season that beckons us to let go of our past – to even let go of our future and water the seeds of change with trust in God’s direction for our lives. In this transfiguration we have seen Jesus in a new light.

When Jesus and his inner circle of three disciples come down from the mountain – they heal a boy possessed by a demon. They don’t stay in that moment of divine encounter – keeping the light to themselves. They bring the light down from the mountain and get to work – and so must we.

What do we have What do we have not

What do we need that isn’t here This mindless numb consuming Is driven by a subtle fear

It’s time we stop believing That there will not be enough I know they said it on the TV So turn it off Break the chains

Step outside and feel the love

And light a light – tonight we light a light

We light a light – tonight we light a light

Now that this time is ending and everyone is here

We light a light, a light this year. ‘Tis the season of change

It’s interesting to look a little bit closer at who Jesus appears with on that mountaintop. The two who show up are significant, but not in the way that the world might expect. Catholic writer Joan Chittister notes that:

“Jesus does not appear with Aaron the priest, who was the interpreter of the law. Jesus doesn’t appear there with David the King, the defender of the state. No, Jesus does not appear with symbols of royalty or ritualism. Jesus appears to those apostles with Moses, Elijah, the prophets. Moses, who led the people out of oppression; Elijah, whom King Ahab had called, ‘that trouble of Israel,’ because he condemned the people’s compromise between true and false gods as the underlying cause of their problems.”

The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is a clear indication that while Jesus will lead a revolution against the powers of this world, it won’t be on the world’s terms. Instead of building a mighty army or enforcing the law, Jesus will use the power of love and nonviolence to free people from oppression and lead them a true understanding of God’s grace and radical love.

Every single day it seems that the news about our economy gets worse. I hear so many stories on the news about people who are being laid off or are taking pay cuts. I hear about people who can’t find work and are desperate to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. I know many in this room are dealing with their own economic miseries. It’s easy to fall into despair as we hear the bad news day after day. It’s easy to lose God’s light in this moment and turn inward – seeking to build booths for ourselves away from the world. But, it is in these dark times that God’s light is needed even more in the world. Even from our place of need and despair, we still have a lot to give in the world – and we must be about bringing down the light for everyone – even ourselves.

I heard a story on NPR this week that gave me a bit of perspective about the situation in our country. In the tiny nation of Myanmar – formerly Burma – the population is ruled by a cruel military dictatorship. This once thriving country has been reduced to desperate poverty. To make matters worse, last year Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy Delta, leaving some 140,000 people dead and many more homeless and hungry.

The reporter – who had to sneak into the country to bring out a report – tells the tale of a 19-year-old mother living in a makeshift hut after the cyclone.

She “rocks a 3-month-old baby in the temporary shelter that’s been home since Nargis destroyed hers eight months ago. There are 40 more families like hers in the village. And these aren’t FEMA trailers, either – just blue plastic sheeting wrapped around four poles, topped with a crude thatch roof. The woman says her husband is a day laborer and doesn’t make enough money to allow them to build something better. When asked how much it would cost to build a new house, she responds, about $500. And how long will it take to come up with that amount? About 10 years, maybe more, she says. We stuff a handful of cash in her hand and leave. On the way out, my driver from Yangon just shakes his head. The rainy season is coming, he says. That hut will never last. How, he asks, will that baby stay dry?” Earlier in the day, I had heard a talk show about how many people who are without jobs are moving in with their relatives until they can get back on their feet. Otherwise, those people would be homeless. The juxtaposition of the two stories made me realize that even with the economic disaster in full swing here in our country – we still live like kings. It would not take me ten years to raise $500 – even if I didn’t have a job. I have other resources – family, friends, my church. These people have nothing – their families and friends are in the same condition they are. In such a dark world, where is the light? In such a world of suffering and pain, where is the light? In this country we’re told constantly that there isn’t enough to go around so we’d better get all we can right now. TV shows, advertisements, they all entice us to spend – buy more – get more. The one with the most toys wins, so we mindlessly consume – afraid that we won’t have enough stuff. The truth is there is enough for everyone in this world. The truth is this is a world of abundance. But, our need for greed so often overcomes our want to help others. Perhaps if we got by with less stuff, those in other areas who have absolutely nothing can get their fair share. We have to see not just Jesus anew on this day of transfiguration, but ourselves. We must become like those white hated cowboys in those old Westerns – bringing justice where there is only suffering. We must shine the light of love onto harsh dictatorships and expose them for the tyrants they are so their empires will fall and the people will be restored to justice. It’s so tempting to stay on the mountaintop and bask in the light of God and ignore the pain around us. But, Jesus appeared with two symbols of liberation – Moses and Elijah. His clear command is for us to bring down the light to a hurting and suffering world.

And light a light – tonight we light a light

We light a light – tonight we light a light

Now that this time is ending and everyone is here

We light a light, a light this year. ‘Tis the season of change

Even though we may accept our role to bring down God’s light into the world, there will be people who will not recognize the light. Remember, there were three disciples who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration – and nine who didn’t. As Paul tells the Corinthians, not everyone is ready to see God’s light in the world. Instead, they follow the gods of this world, the gods of money, power, or possessions. We are so busy with the gods of this world that we miss the one, true God that calls us to see and be the light of love and justice in the world.

While some may be busy with the gods of this world, we must be busy with God’s world – because even those who cannot yet see the light are still God’s beloved children. There is no “us and them” – there’s only “some us for all of us.” We, the some of us, must be persistent in bringing down the light.

We have to remember though – that while we may bear God’s light, we are still not God. Even Jesus’ inner circle of James, John, and Peter stumbled many times in their effort to shine God’s light in the world. Jesus once called Peter Satan because he failed to see the light. Peter stumbled around in his own darkness, afraid of the gods of the world after Jesus was crucified – denying him not once, but three times. James and John too were blinded by the lure of worldly power, asking for special places of power with Jesus. So, don’t let your call as God’s light bearer make you conceited. We’re humble humans telling a divine story – and sometimes we fail in our mission. But, Paul promises that with God’s grace we’re forgiven and given yet many more chances to shine:

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

How can you bring down the light of God’s love and justice to the world today? Live with less stuff? Give more money and time to you favorite charity? Grow a garden? Deliver meals to those who cannot leave their homes? Any simple kindness you show to another person in this world brings down that light into their lives – and it shines brightly in your own as well.

In the end, I suppose I got my childhood wish. I am part of the cavalry – and so are all of you. We may not get tasseled hats or bib shirts or pants with a bright yellow stripe. But, we’re the ones who are charged with coming to the rescue of the hurting and dying in our world.

Tis the season of change. We cannot stay on the mountaintop with Jesus. Instead …

We light a light – tonight we light a light

We light a light – tonight we light a light

Now that this time is ending and everyone is here We light a light, a light this year. ‘Tis the season of change

We will change, We shall change, We must change

Heaven is inside it’s all around

Not just above, Choose only love Heaven is inside it’s all around

Not just above, Choose only love Choose only love, Choose only love Choose only love, Choose only love And light a light – tonight we light a light

Light a light tonight we light a light

We light a light

We light a light – tonight we light a light ‘Tis the season of change