Deacon Christopher's sermon...
John 3:16 has become one of the most commonly known passages of the New Testament. Signs labeled “John 3:16” can be seen held by fans at most sporting events. Books have been written just about this one line from John’s gospel. I admit that I even had a book titled “John 3:16”.
But continue to read the passage. Continue after what it is that Jesus proclaims to Nicodemus.
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
Wow, as a police officer I can have a field day with this passage. I have seen this day after day on the streets, in my training, in my friends and in my family. It is the central focus that I have labored on in the hopes of making myself a better man for this world, and perhaps helping a few others along the way.
Since I was a child I had a fear of reading out loud and speaking before a crowd. The problem persisted throughout my teenage years, and crept along with me as an adult. One fateful Sunday while serving as a chalice bearing at St. Paul’s Fairfield the reader for the Epistle did not show up. The priest kept nudging me to read. I kept nudging her back to leave me alone.
But, being a good and faithful soldier I took my orders and walked up to the lectern and began to read, what I thought was St. Paul’s letter. It went on forever. It had to be at least five paragraphs long. I started to literally black out as the fear of public reading overwhelmed me. As I heard my voice quivering the oxygen left my brain so that my heart and lungs could have more oxygen for the fight or flight reflexes that were taking over. I had never been so scared and felt such utter failure.
As I sat down, I still don’t remember getting to my seat, I heard the priest begin chanting the Gospel. I don’t even think that I stood for it. It sounded very familiar to me. Grabbing my leaflet I looked at the Gospel and realized in my terror I had read the wrong reading. I then looked at what I was supposed to have read and it was only four sentences long.
I went home depressed and berated myself for my public humiliation. Words of “stupid”, “bad reader”, “unintelligent”, “screw up” flooded my head. I knew that these adjectives could not be true, but they felt like the truth and I was afraid to confront them
A friend of mine told me about this book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. He knew that I wanted to write a novel but I was blocked. Every time I started writing really good works, I stopped and told myself it would never happen. Part of the process in the Artist’s Way is to write Morning Pages. Every morning before anything I did or said aloud, I would sit down and streamline three pages of uninterrupted thought. Even if it was mundane babble it would go on the pages.
After one month something occurred. I wrote on those pages why it was I believed I was unintelligent and could never read or speak in public. There were several blaring reasons that stemmed from my childhood which led me down a path where I was taught, sometimes on purpose and other times just recklessly, that I was stupid, not a good student, a bad and slow reader, and too poor a speaker to ever talk in public.
That day I threw away those Morning Pagers and never wrote another one. I had felt as if the shadows of my doubts and self-perception had been washed away in a white glow. You see, I had come to realize the Deception that my life had been given. Lies cannot stand the truth and once the Light is cast upon the Darkness, just as John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. A favorite translation of mine actually says, “and the darkness could not comprehend it.”
From that day on I read out loud in my home to myself, my children, my wife. I then began reading out loud during my deacon training and whenever given the opportunity I would speak in front of crowds until the lies that had hidden themselves as truth had disappeared.
So what happens to us along the way? Very truly I believe in Paul’s words when he says in this Epistle “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” In order for us to do those “good works” we must believe that we are “good”. That we are created for something better than what it is we have been told.
Darkness is therefore a lie. A deception that we have believed about ourselves for so long that it has become more true than the truth of who we are. Lies, like shadows, are without substance which is why we must keep feeding the lie with sadness, doubt and fear. Eventually it morphs into anger, regret and even violence.
And what happens when someone comes along bearing truth? That truth which is at the very heart of all we have come to believe is the opposite of what it is we have come to falsely understand about ourselves. When the shadows of the Deceiver become all that we allow ourselves to accept as true, then when the Light shines upon us and exposes our weaknesses and fears for what they truly are we rebel against the Light. It is, after all, much easier to remain where we are in life than to accept the possibility that there is something Greater out there, something that we have denied for so long about ourselves and to ourselves.
Today I will be meeting with anyone interested in reaching out to those in our community and beyond as Christians. It is our mission to help those in need. These are the good works that God has decreed through his son for us to complete. I ask all of you to push aside any doubts or fears that may arise from trying something new, or attempting to step out of a safe and comfortable place in an existing ministry in the hopes and plans for you and your ministry to grow even more.
Perhaps there is something you have always wanted to do but somewhere along the way someone laughed, belittled, or ignored your idea, charity, or dream. The wound begins to take on a new form in the Darkness that hovers around the hurt like a vulture until we stuff it down so deep that we become comfortable with the pain, and sometimes even rely on it so we don’t get hurt again.
That is not God’s calling to us. That is no way for us to live and certainly no way for us to help reach out to others, friends and strangers alike, in our personal and communal ministries. I have been with this parish for two months and I see potential that expands across the infinite possibilities that each one of us possessed as children. I am excited to be paired among you because I know that there is nothing short of greatness in the Light that shines from your eyes as you look up at me, week after week.
Before I leave I would like to end with a quote that has inspired me. It says everything that I have tried to say.
Our Greatest Fear —Marianne WilliamsonAmen.
it is our light not our darkness that most frightens us
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.