Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 16, 2011
During this season of Epiphany, we turn our attention to light. The Light of God breaking into a dark world – first in the form of an infant and then spreading to encompass all of creation.
Several years ago I tackled the job of insulating my house. I did most of the preliminary work myself during the day on a Friday – removing old rubbish left behind by the previous owner, hauling enough boards through the trap door in my closet to build a moveable pathway on the joists along the length of the house (there was no floor), and installing the solid foam supports under the eaves. I rented a blower, bought dozens of bags of cellulose and asked my friend Cory to help the following morning. I woke up early, determined to finish the job in one day.
As Cory loaded the hopper outside my bedroom window, I traipsed around on the boards in the attic – holding the nozzle tightly while I reached toward the far corners, moving the “walking boards” as I made my way from one end of the attic to the other. It took all day, and when the sun went down, the attic was full of the paper snow. But like the snow outside today – it was drifted and uneven – only 4 inches some places, twenty-four in others.
Cory offered to return the machinery and I headed to the garage to find a rake, some industrial sized extension cords and my trusty trouble lamp. After plugging one cord into an outlet and the other into the first cord, I heaved them and the rake through the trap door. Then I hauled myself up one more time. I turned on the switch, the light went on, and I found the first “walking board,” partially buried under the insulation. So far; so good.
I slowly made my way to the far end of the attic – moving one board then another while holding both the light and the rake. It was slow going, but I got a more confident and I was eager to get the job done. I plopped one last board down that would get me close enough to the end of the house to start the job of smoothing things out and with one last step, I reached to hang the light on a nail protruding from a rafter and then… darkness. Complete darkness.
I panicked. What little confidence I had evaporated; my knees weakened, and my sense of balance was thrown off. When I realized what had happened – I had neglected to make a knot where I had joined the extension cords and I had pulled them apart — I knew I had to turn around and retrace my steps. With the toe of my shoe, I felt for a board that would get me a closer to the trap door and the source of power I needed to tap back into.
That was one of the longest treks I’ve ever made. I fell several times; I stepped too close to the end of several boards which then flew upward like a sea-saw; I tore my hands on splinters from the rafters and bloodied my head on roofing nails. It was hard enough in the light to make that journey and it was nearly impossible in the dark.
The season of Epiphany celebrates it, yet doesn’t it seem that we often find ourselves in darkness? Certainly the events of the past week have felt like it. How can we find a sure footing and avoid the shaky ground of confusion, the splinters of deep division, the deadly nails of violence and oppression when confronted with news like that which we heard from Arizona?
And not just Arizona.
I was even more dismayed as I watched the ribbon of other “less important” news running beneath the live coverage: bombings and floods and poverty killing hundreds of people each day, a million people still living in tents after the 316,000 killed by last year’s earthquake in Haiti, 2 million children worldwide caught in the grips of the multi-billion dollar sex industry, and on the eve of Martin Luther King Day the news reports that though Blacks and Whites use drugs at about the same rate, African Americans are 10 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug offences. The sad and deeply disturbing news keeps rolling by.
And yet, the church maintains and the Scriptures testify to the reality of the Light.
But I have lots of questions: Exactly what kind of light are we talking about? What do we know about it? Is it bright enough? How is it revealed? These are the questions that have been on my mind.
Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, paints a picture that makes the Light seem like the light of the sun to me – present, even necessary in the formation and growth of all living things. Light that goes deep – filling all the cracks and crevices of creation – even those things still tucked safely in the womb – drawing them out, calling them to be servants of the Lord, strengthening them and equipping them to be bearers of the good news of salvation. This light chooses to share its energy – first in a kind of reflective way – the way the sun and moon share light – and then creating light in creation itself – light enough to show God’s faithfulness to all nations.
According to the Psalmist, the Light is waiting to be trusted – like a trouble lamp – able to assist us to see with our own eyes that there is a path and our feet have already been set on it. This Light offers guidance and wants nothing more than to be followed – no sacrifices – just a willingness to be led – an incomparable light worthy of our best songs. We are headed toward this Light and we will eventually meet it head-on.
In St. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, the Light is being revealed. It sounds as if there has been enough illumination for this particular group of Christians to hang on – to keep working – to keep growing. But Paul seems to understand they need encouragement – they need to know that more is in store for them. They have already been blessed with all kinds of spiritual gifts – and Paul is there to remind them that in their waiting, their Lord, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.
How will this Light be revealed?
The story of Jesus’ baptism suggests that sometimes the Light is revealed in surprising ways – heavenly voices and doves. But the story of the Light’s revelation at the Jordan River quickly takes a rather mundane turn. First it is John’s voice – and then it’s the voice of Andrew – human voices revealing the Light – words addressed to strangers, words spoken to friends, invitations extended to family members.
Sometimes, like the sun, the Light seems to fill all the nooks and crannies of our lives, and we must be careful not to take it for granted. Sometimes, the Light seems a little shaky – like a trouble lamp – and the illumination we seek may be at least in part dependent on whether or not we’ve remembered to knot the cords that keep us connected. Sometimes we just need to believe that the Light is, in fact, being revealed. All the time, we must remember that the extent to which the Light is revealed today is, in part, up to us.
Where is the Light today? What does it look like? How brightly does it burn? Where is it leading us? How will we share it?
So many questions – important questions that each of us must struggle with. We may never be completely sure of all the answers, but when we ask the questions, let’s remember the invitation Jesus extended to his disciples when they had questions: “Come and see.”
Where is the Light today? “Come and see.” What does it look like? “Come and see.” How brightly does it burn? “Come and see.” How will we share it? “Come and see.”
Come. And see.