Posted by: dacalu | 20 January 2020

Light from Light

This morning, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Mercer Island. We celebrated the second Sunday after Epiphany and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Here is the sermon I shared.

Prayer for II 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 49:1-7 (“I will give you as a light to the nations”)

Psalm 40:1-12 (“I waited patiently upon the Lord”)

I Corinthians 1:1-9 (“in every way you have been enriched in him”)

John 1:29-42 (“He said to them, ‘Come and see.'”)

Sermon

Today, I want to talk about three words,

            words we say each week in the Nicene Creed:

            “Light from light.”

In full, I might say

            “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only son of God, God from God, light from light, true God from true God,

            begotten, not made.”

What does it mean that Jesus is “light from light”?

Like light, God makes things clearer,

            God shines light on us so that we grow,

            so that we understand ourselves better,

            and so that we understand our neighbors better.

This is one of my tests for right belief and right behavior.

            Does it help me understand the world better?

                        Do I think more clearly and know more?

            Does it help others understand me better?

                        Do I speak more clearly and communicate more?

Light improves transparency and openness.

It is a good standard in science.

Good scientists make theories simple and clear,

                        easy to grasp and easy to test.

            They craft experiments

                        that definitively reveal the truth of their hypotheses,

                        or their falsehood.

It is a good standard in engineering.

            Good engineers make tools simple and clear,

                        easy to use and understand.

            They make code and cars and computers

                        as intuitive for the user as the designer.

It is a good standard in general,

            for thinking and speaking and community.

Shining light on your own thoughts, emotions, and motivations

            leads to self-awareness, clarity, and integrity.

Shining light on your surroundings

            leads to knowledge and wisdom.

It is a standard for faith as well.

CS Lewis put it succinctly:

            “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.”

But what do I mean, concretely?

             My belief in God has brought me to a better understanding of myself.

                        Talking with God has taught me about myself,

                        given me tools and courage and compassionate companions

                                    for real self-reflection.

                        I find that I am not perfect,

                                    but can improve.

                        I am both stronger and more flexible than I knew.

            My belief in God has brought me a better understanding of others.

                        It revealed a world of persons and souls,

                                    imperfect as I am imperfect,

                                    improvable as I am improvable,

                                    and each with their own fears and delights,

                                    each with their own identity.

            My belief in God has also brought me a better understanding of the world.

                        By believing in a God who made all things,

                                    and who made all things good,

                                    I learned that all things deserve my attention,

                                                my curiosity, and my love.

I choose to believe in God,

            on those days when God isn’t speaking too loud to ignore…

I choose to believe in God,

            because God brings light.

More than that,

            God is light.

Consider vision

            Photons from the Sun bounce off of objects

                        and travel to my eyes,

                        where they stimulate rods and cones

                        and send signals to my brain.

            This is not a miracle in the classic sense.

                        Real, physical particles pass through space,

                        connecting observers to the world.

            It is still miraculous,

                        wondrous and amazing and worthy of awe

                        that we see clearly and know the world around us.

Like light, God connects me to the world.

            The interactions are just as physical, just as real;

                        a word, a glance, a gesture

            somehow communicate my thoughts, my feelings, my identity.

When I remember that God connects us

            and can connect us

            I pay attention.

            And, the more I pay attention, the more I see:

                        more curiosity, more clarity, more light,

                        and more God.

So far, I could say these words as a Buddhist or Hindu or committed empiricist.

            I have spoken for truth and wisdom.

I am happy to preach that gospel,

            and to share it.

            Christians have no monopoly on the truth.

            But we, with all other truth-seekers, must spread the good news

                        because there are plenty of people out there

                        spreading lies, hiding truth, and worshipping the darkness.

We must not take truth for granted.

We must not take light for granted.

But there is more.

As a Christian, I can say,

            and I do believe,

            that Jesus makes God more visible.

Jesus is light from light and truth from truth.

He is the fundamental order and knowability of the universe,

            the logos of the cosmos.

But, he is also a real, physical person in time and space.

Like the photon,

            his very physicality allows others to communicate,

            with God and with one another.

In a way, he is as un-miraculous as the photon.

            Our God is not a transcendent abstraction,

            but a concrete, historical figure,

            who asks us to do specific things –

                        to love and learn,

                        to eat and drink with one another,

                        to forgive.

We test our faith in these acts.

We ask whether they lead to more light and truth.

We ask whether they improve our life and our relationships.

That is what “light from light” means to me.

And it is my aspiration.

            Just as Jesus is a light from the light of God,

            so I hope to be a light from the light of Christ.

When we participate in the life of Christ,

            concretely, physically, specifically,

            we participate in the light of Christ.

It allows us to judge our creeds and our institutions.

It allows us to judge our actions.

Do we bring clarity?

Do we create connection?

Have we witnessed to the light of Christ?

I do not claim to do this perfectly.

            The thought makes me want to laugh and cry.

            I claim it as a hope, and I strive to do it better.

I do not claim that the Christian Tradition,

            or the Anglican Communion,

            or the Episcopal Church,

            or the Diocese of Olympia

            do this perfectly.

We are, however, committed to improving.

And we must hold ourselves accountable to that standard.

Do we bring light to the world?

Do we hold ourselves to standards of clarity and transparency?

Do we have ways to improve?

Martin Luther King reminds us of what it means to bring things to light:

            the danger and the power and the opportunity.

He said this:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

The real virtues are not the mirror image of vices.

            Light is not the equal opposite of darkness,

                        but a real, physical, tangible power filling the darkness.

            Knowledge is not the equal opposite of ignorance,

                        but a concrete ability to see and touch the world.

            Love is not the equal opposite of hate, or even of selfishness,

                        but the creation of connection, order, and meaning,

                        where once there were only isolated objects.

This is the Epiphany of Christ,

            sacred and secular,

            wrapped together.

This is the mission of the church:

            To preach Jesus Christ,

God from God

Light from Light

True God from True God.

This is your opportunity and your power.


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