Posted by: dacalu | 20 January 2019

Light from Light

This morning I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Redeemer Episcopal Church, Kenmore. I shared this reflection on reality, the wedding at Cana, and unintended consequences.

 

Prayer for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Isaiah 62:1-5 (For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent”)

Psalm 36:5-10 (in your light we see light.”)

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit”)

John 2:1-11 (The wedding in Cana)

 

Sermon

How many of you are familiar with the law of unintended consequences?

Thomas Austin was hunter. 
A resident of Australia, he lamented the lack of game.
In 1859, he imported 24 rabbits from England,
	and released them on his estate.
They began taking over.
	Within 10 years, hunters were killing millions – with little effect.
	1926 estimates suggest 10 billion rabbits, living across 70% of the continent.
	Concerted efforts by the Australian government
have dropped that number to around 600 million.
	But rabbits still destroy crops and local plants,
		Costing upwards of $200 million dollars per year.
	All from a few imported rabbits.

The full story is more complicated, 
but it shows the tremendous impact our actions can have.
Small actions can have big consequences,
	and sometimes we can’t even imagine them ahead of time.

This puts us in a bind.
How do we choose,
	when we know the world is so much bigger than we are?
Even Jesus found himself in this position, in Cana.
	He went to a wedding with his mother.
	They ran out of wine, so Mary turns to Jesus and says,
		“Do something.”
Have you been in this position?
	It may have been a mother or a son, a husband or a friend.
	You just showed up, and someone said, “do something.”
	What did you do?
Jesus looked at Mary and said something along these lines.
	“What do you expect me to do?”
Mary forged ahead. “Just do what he tells you.”
And Jesus turned the water into wine.	
	It was not something he planned, but it was something needed.
The law of unintended consequences
	warns us that we will never fully understand our actions.
And yet, life forces us to act.

One school of thought advises that we do as little as possible.
	There is something to be said for that.
	When I teach martial arts, I talk about compassion, moderation, and clarity.
	We can be succinct.

Economy and efficiency can be virtues.
And yet, I also teach science.
	And so, I tell people to experiment.
We need curiosity.
	We need to try.
	We need to do, and see what happens, and then do again.
	We need to try different things.
We need to show up, never knowing what may be asked of us.

Madeline L’Engle, 
an Episcopalian and author of A Wrinkle in Time,
	put it like this.
“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, 
but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified 
to do his work, to bear his glory.
If we are qualified, 
we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. 
If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, 
then there's no danger 
that we will confuse God's work with our own, 
or God's glory with our own.”
And this is the key to God’s action.
It hides itself, while revealing others.
One of my favorite quotes comes from C.S. Lewis,
	another Anglican, and another author of children’s stories:s
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: 
not only because I see it, 
but because by it I see everything else.”
John calls Jesus “the light that enlightens the world.”
The Psalmist says, “in your light we see light.”
And you may recall the hymn “Immortal, Invisible.”
“Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.”


I find myself quoting a ridiculous number of sources this week,
	perhaps because I need reminding
	just how fundamental this idea is
	to my faith and the faith of others.
God is that luminous transparency,
	through which we see the world clearly.
God is the love that connects us to one another.
God is the very breath in our lungs,
	which brings us life
	only by moving in and out and between.
When I lose track of God, I need reminding 
that God is the light, by which we see everything else.

That is the key to spiritual gifts,
	why they are so many
	and why they are so powerful.
They plug us in to the underlying reality of the world.
They make us really real, whether we call them Christian or not.
	Faith, hope, and love,
	forgiveness, curiosity and community.

“In your light, we see light.”

This is also the key to defeating the unintended consequences.
It is true that we cannot know the effect of our thoughts, words, and actions.
	They will always reach beyond us.
We must not underestimate the power God has given us:
	over our bodies and minds,
	over our lives and livelihoods,
	over our community and country,
	over our very world.

God put creation in our hands,
	as God put Jesus in our hands, 2000 years ago.
What will we do with it?


This question fills me with wonder and dread.
	Geologists call it the Anthropocene: the age of human influence.
I know how complicated it all is.
And I fear that I will only make things worse.
It is easier to destroy than to create,
	to break than to mend,
	to lose than to gain.
And yet.

Here is the miracle.
God gives us solutions.
You can find them in scripture,
	(though not only in scripture):
the labor that strengthens,
		the silence that speaks,
		the bonds that release.
They can be learned,
	but they require attention, patience, and reflection.
To change ourselves, we must change our minds:
	metanoia, repentance. 
We must have the humility to be imperfect,
	until God shows us perfection.

God did exactly that in Jesus.
He was corrected.

I will not say Jesus was imperfect.
I believe it was perfect for him to be corrected,
	or at least prodded, by his mother.
I believe it was perfect for him to show us perfection.
Above all, I believe that perfection is dynamic.
It is not about who we are, abstractly, by ourselves,
	but who we are with one another.

“In your light, we see light.”


We never know ahead of time what we’re supposed to do.
I’m sorry about that.
	I am genuinely sorrowful.
	I really don’t like not knowing.
You will know in the moment.




I can give you examples, things to think about.
True forgiveness is always rewarded.
	I don’t mean ignoring or forgetting or even letting go.
	I mean caring enough about yourself and someone else
		to build a relationship on everything that has gone before,
		to go forward with eyes open
		in a way that serves you both.
	It can be unimaginably hard.
	Start small, but know this.
	Every time you forgive someone, you get better at it.
		It becomes easier to forgive and to be forgiven.
Deep curiosity is always rewarded.	
	Any subject – when you care enough to truly pay attention,
		you will discover something new:
		about the world,
		about the God who made it,
		and about yourself.
	Everything you learn will make you more curious,
		more able to learn, and more knowable to others.
Genuine love is always rewarded.
	It may not be returned.
		I’m sorry about that.
	Genuine love will grow.
		It plants a seed.
		The beloved becomes more open, 
more loving and more true to themselves.
	Everyone you love will make you more loving
		and more lovable.

Keep your eyes open for these virtuous circles,
	these miraculously unexpected consequences.
They build on themselves.
They show us truth.
They reveal God.


That’s not all that God is.
What a silly thought.
God is not all male or female, gentile or Jew, servant or free.
God is not even Christian (heretical I know).

God simply is.
God is the light by which we see light,
	the livingness of life,
	and the reason behind reason.

God is also Jesus Christ,
	concrete, tangible, with us.
Mere humanity cannot stop 
	true forgiveness, deep curiosity, and genuine love.
It did not stop Jesus; it will not stop you.

The way is hard.
	I’m sorry about that – genuinely sorry.
	The world is not as I would have it be.
When forgiveness, curiosity, and love work in me,
	the world does not become better;
I do.
Someday, perhaps I will be good enough,
	to see the world as it is,
	or perhaps to forget myself entirely.

Do not ask the good you wish to do;
ask the good God wills through you.


One more quote.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: 
only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King did not overcome the world,
	but, then again, the world did not overcome Martin Luther King.
The seed he planted continues to grow.

Look for the light.
	You will find it.
	And by that light, you will see.

 

 

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