Preached March 25, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC
Readings: Jeremiah 31:27-34: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” John 12:20-36: “believe in the light, so that you may become children of light”
Our first song comes from Irish band U2. They formed back in 1978 when drummer Larry Mullen posted a ‘musicians wanted’ ad to the notice board at Dublin’s Temple Mount School. Their first album, Boy, came out in 1980. Since then, they’ve won 22 Grammy Awards and sold more than 150 million records worldwide. Today’s song comes from their 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It’s called, “All Because of You.”
I was born a child of grace Nothing else about the place
Everything was ugly but your beautiful face And it left me no illusion I saw you in the curve of the moon
In the shadow cast across my room You heard me in my tune When I just heard confusion
Chorus: All because of you, All because of you All because of you I am… I am
What are some of the things you know by heart? Your phone number? Social security number? You address? The Pledge of Allegiance? The Star Spangled Banner? Lyrics to songs you’d probably rather forget? Birthdays? Anniversaries? Favorite poems? Favorite stories? All the things your significant other or closest friend loves or hates? When things are important to us – we tend to memorize them, rehearse them, retell them and cherish them. The things we know by heart define our lives – it makes us who we are, what we believe and how we live. Our ancient Hebrew ancestors knew a lot of things by heart. They knew their history of slavery, their history of exile, their history of wandering in the wilderness. They also knew their history of glorious times as God’s chosen people. They knew both darkness and light by heart. In this morning’s Hebrew scripture we find Jeremiah assuring the people that light is coming into their darkness – but that both are necessary – both darkness and light are glorious to God – and necessary for we humans as we seek to grow our relationship with the Holy. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” This is music to the ears of the Hebrews. For that previous 30 chapters, Jeremiah has been berating the Israelites for their sins, for their transgressions, for the darkness they had been living in – a darkness they didn’t seem all that interested in moving out of very quickly. There’s good news here – darkness doesn’t last forever, and we can choose to move out of darkness into light – from one glory to another. That only happens though, when we open our hearts to the Holy and allow God to write Her law there – so we know God’s directions for our lives by heart. No books to consult, no churches to teach us, no creeds to memorize, no dogma to observe. No, with the Holy’s directives written on our hearts – we turn only to the Holy. All because of you – Holy One – I am.
I like the sound of my own voice
I didn’t give anyone else a choice
An intellectual tortoise
Racing with your bullet train Some people get squashed
crossing the tracks Some people got high rises
on their backs
I’m not broke but
you can see the cracks
You can make me perfect again
Chorus: All because of you, All because of you All because of you I am… I am
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Remember, a few weeks back, I told you how many laws the Israelites had to follow. Anyone remember that number? 613 that seems like a lot to write on a very small human heart. All those laws served a purpose, however. It made the Israelites realize that they cannot bring about their own glory – they cannot go from glory to glory simply by following all of those laws – because it’s impossible to follow them all. It’s impossible to work our way into glory – we only get there because we’re already in glory – originally blessed as children of the light – as offspring of the Holy. All those laws served as a reminder that blessing isn’t earned – it simply is a way of life. That being said, however, doesn’t mean that life is easy, because we often forget just how blessed we are. When the darkness comes – when the road gets rocky – when we can’t seem find our way through the muck and mire of life, we don’t feel especially blessed. Instead, we often feel cursed – like God has left us to our sin and inequity. This is where our Hebrew cousins have given us great wisdom. The Jews believed in only one God – not the Christian idea of three in one or the idea that evil comes from some personified devil or Satan. No, the Jews believed that everything that happens, from feast to famine, comes directly from God. The secret to surviving that kind of view of the Holy is quite simple – it’s all blessing. There’s a blessing in the feast, certainly, but there are blessings in the famine as well. In good times, we tend to take God for granted. Oh, we say thank you and all, but it is in those dark times – when God seems absent – that we tend to pray the most. We tend to seek God the most when it all goes to crap. That, Jubilants, is a blessing. The dry times remind us ever so sharply that it is all because of God that we even exist. It is in these moments that we realize that we’re intellectual tortoises compared to the bullet train of thoughts that comprise the Holy. It is in the dark times that we grow – that we learn to see the world differently – that we learn that even dark times bring amazing blessings and even more amazing grace. These are the times we must live by heart. hese are the times we must remember that God’s law of love is written deep within us – often buried by the cares and concerns of the world around us. But, when we finally commit the Holy’s ways to our heart – we understand the way out of our darkness and into the light is to acknowledge the Holy – it’s all because of you – we are because the Holy is. Everything we are is because of the Holy – both the darkness and the light that resides in all of us. We all have that darkness – it does us no good to deny it – we’re all a mixture of light and dark. We must embrace it – the yin and the yang, the good and evil. When we acknowledge the Holy’s power in, through and around us we become beacons of Holy light – it can’t help but shine from us. If we can stop complaining enough to realize it.
I’m alive, I’m being born I just arrived, I’m at the door Of the place I started out from And I want back inside
Chorus: All because of you, All because of you All because of you I am.
In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are special rooms devoted to the spinning of the world’s finest lace, all with the most delicate patterns. The rooms are kept completely dark, except for the light that falls directly on the developing pattern, from one very small window. Only one person sits in each small room, where the narrow rays of light fall upon the threads he is weaving, for lace is always more beautifully and delicately woven when the weaver himself is in the dark, with only his work in the light.
We do some of our best work in the dark, Jubilants. Some of our most beautiful creations come when we can’t see exactly what the web we’re weaving looks like or in those times when we’re not completely sure what we’re doing. We can’t fathom that anything good might come from those times of darkness in our lives – but we are assured that we are moving “from glory to glory” – so wherever we are now, whether we’re stumbling in the darkness or frolicking in the light – we are still in a time of glory. We always remain in a place of unmatched blessing – no matter what the outward signs of our lives may seem like. It’s all glory, Jubilants – it’s all blessing – and it’s always transforming us from one form of divinity to another. Breathe deeply. Our second song this morning comes from contemporary Christian musician Chris Rice. Originally from Clinton, Maryland, Rice led music for his church youth group and started writing songs in the 1980s. His first album came out in 1996. Today’s song “Go Light Your World” come from his 2004 album “Short Term Memories.”
There is a candle in every soul Some brightly burning, some dark and cold There is a Spirit who brings a fire Ignites a candle and makes His home
Carry your candle, run to the darkness Seek out the helpless, confused and torn Hold out your candle for all to see it Take your candle, and go light your world Take your candle, and go light your world
In our Jesus story, we find our guy in Jerusalem being visited by a group of Greeks. These are outsiders in Jesus’ world – not the kind of guys Jesus and his Jewish friends tend to hang out and break bread with. Like everyone who comes to see Jesus, they’ve got an agenda. They want to check out this guy all the neighborhood Jews are chattering about – something about a Messiah – something about a chosen one. The Greeks have specific ideas about the kind of person who should be revered in this way. They admired gods that they considered divine, but they often took beautiful human form – like Athena or Hercules. They were also fond of their philosophers who divided the world in divine and human, good and evil, sacred and profane, and dark and light. They wanted to see if this Jesus guy would measure up to their standards. I’m sure they were disappointed to find a traveling peasant from Galilee spouting off about seeds and death and being glorified. This wasn’t their idea of how the divine reveals itself in the world – but Jesus was telling them the secret of life – to live by heart where darkness and light become one, where the sacred and the profane dance with each other, and where divine and human meet and kiss. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Holy will honor.” Jesus tells his Greek visitors that unless we are ready to live by heart and be transformed by both the darkness and the light in our lives, then we will be as useless as an unplanted seed. It is only in the dying – in going through the pains and trials of life – that we bear fruit. It is only in seeing the darkness as just as much of a blessing as the light can bring life into ourselves and this world. A seed is buried in darkness – and it is the light that brings growth. Without the darkness – there would be no growth. Within death, there is always life. Jesus invited these Greeks, and continue to invite us, to become children of the light. To do that, we have to come through the darkness so we can realize just how much light we have deep within us. To find that light, we must live by heart – with the laws and guidance of the Holy writ large upon our hearts. Those laws of love, mercy, generosity and grace break through not just our own darkness, but through the darkness of those who meet us. Jesus is telling us – carry your candle, run to the darkness – don’t avoid it – run to it so that you may provide light for everyone who is tired, torn, helpless and confused. That includes you. Breathe deeply.
Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister,
she’s been robbed and lied to Still holds a candle without a flame
Chorus: So carry your candle, run to the darkness Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn Hold out your candle for all to see it Take your candle, and go light your world Take your candle, and go light your world
Since Jubilee! Circle began a couple of years ago, I have been transformed by my experience in this community. This community has taught me, in this short time, the value of light, as well as darkness – and the utter futility of living any other way except by heart. A few Sundays ago, heading home after our celebration, I stopped by a convenience store for a drink. There, I met a man at the coolers who asked for help finding the beer he wanted. I knew instantly that this man, who was not much taller than me, was probably homeless. We arrived at the counter together and he was a penny short for his beer – and the give-a-penny-take-a-penny dish was empty, and it was clear, by the way the cashier was eyeing the disheveled man that she wasn’t going to spot him the penny. I reached in my pocket and handed her a penny. She didn’t smile. She was ready for both of us to get out of her store. When we got outside, he thanked me and began to tell me a little bit about himself. He was a Native American who was trying to get back to his reservation. “They don’t treat me so good off the reservation,” he told me, revealing his neglected teeth. “It’s hard to get work and most nights I can’t even get into the shelter.” My heart broke for this man who faced so much darkness in his life. But, Jubilants, despite the hard life this man was leading, he radiated light. The world had handed him nothing but darkness upon darkness, hardship upon hardship, and still, he shined. When he flashed that smile of crowded teeth, his face would light up. We chatted a few more minutes and he asked me for a hug. He had given me such a gift of his light and presence that I gladly gave him a good, tight hug. Then, it happened. Just as I was about to walk away, he asked me for money. And this is where Jubilee has transformed me. A few years ago, I would have waved him off when I realized he was homeless. I would have never engaged in a conversation and I certainly wouldn’t have hugged him, much less even thought of giving him some of my money. But, in that moment, surrounded by the light of this serene homeless man, I dug around in my pocket and gave him a few bucks. I didn’t even look at what I was giving him, I just gave – because I knew he had given me a gift – a gift of light shining in the darkness. “What’s your name?” I asked him. “Crazy Horse,” he replied with a smile and twinkle in his eye. I pity the world that rejects men like Crazy Horse – because it is in the lives of those who spend their so much time walking in darkness that we can receive the most light. Crazy Horse is carrying his candle, running to the darkness, to light up the world for everyone else. He is a beacon to a world enveloped in its own darkness. I tell this story not to brag on myself. Instead, I tell it to show that when we take even one little tentative step toward living by heart, the Holy opens us in new ways to this world. It’s only been in this short time here at Jubilee that I have learned this lesson. It has only been here – learning the lesson that we are all originally blessed and that all we can do is move from one blessing to the next, from glory to glory – that I have begun to live by heart. I once only projected darkness, cynicism and doubt into the world – now I carry a candle into this world.
So, I don’t brag about me, but I do brag about Jubilee! Circle because this is where I have learned how to embody that light of the Holy. Each Sunday, I am taught as much – perhaps more – than I teach. We are in community to learn how to live by heart, how to be compassionate and generous people, a family that knows when we combine our light – we become a beacon, lighting the way for ourselves and the world.
Cause We are a family whose hearts are blazing
So let’s raise our candles
and light up the sky
Helping one another,
in the name of the Holy Make us a beacon in darkest times
Chorus: Carry your candle, run to the darkness Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn Hold out your candle for all to see it Take your candle, and go light your world
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.