Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lent 4 Sermon (March 11)

God of mercy and hope, help us expand the circle of those we love. As you have protected us in the time that is past, so be with us in the coming days; keep us from every sin, every evil, and every fear; for you are our light and salvation, and the strength of our life. To you be glory for endless ages. Amen.

Mary Oliver in her poem “Sometimes” give us,

Instructions for living a life:
  • Pay attention.
  • Be astonished.
  • Tell about it.
Good instructions but it is hard for us to pay attention and be astonished, while we live in fear.

In our 1st reading, the Israelites in the wilderness failed to tell the stories of their freedom. To pay attention to the God who rescued them and walked with them. Their constant complaints and murmuring led to the poisonous snakes ravaging the people. Its only when they stopped and confessed their sin, asking Moses to intercede on their behalf that God put a stop to it.

In the wilderness, the Israelites lost their way. They allowed the darkness to enter in and fear became their companion. Finally they saw their error and God was able to help them.

The cure that God offered was staring at the very thing they feared. The serpent on the pole was offered to allow the people of God to face their terrors, to heal them and set them free. They looked into the image of death on that pole, not to worship it, but to see the power of God at work and know it was God who was saving them.

And light overcame the darkness as fear took flight and faith settled in.

Instructions for living a life:
  • Pay attention.
  • Be astonished.
  • Tell about it.
"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Gospel of John)

Looking at Jesus on that cross, we see what we fear; agonizing suffering and a horrible death. But it is that fear that is transformed by God, for now we look to it, we see that indeed if we believe we will have eternal life. It is God’s promise, for just as God promised in that wilderness that the power of God would heal those looking at the serpent, God promises to those who look to the cross will be saved. And not only look but to believe and live that faith in our lives. For our faith is not just understanding with our minds and hearts but an active faith of what we say and how we live.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John)

Christ was lifted up, so all could come to him, to find release, healing, freedom, life, to live into the light and not the darkness.

As one author put it, “That promise is about facing the terror of pain and death in the world, and being blessed in the facing of it. That story underlies all the other terrors we need to deal with, and if we do not face it, we cannot face them. We need to turn and face that serpent because only by looking steadily on its face can we hope to gain healing for our other ills.” (Rosemary Hannah)

But fear can be such a powerful force in our lives. Even as the cross stands before us to beckon us onward toward what God has done. We hunker down and fail to see that “the light has come into the world, for people loved darkness rather than light…”

When he was seven years old, Jacques Lusseyran was blinded in a schoolroom accident. In France in those years before World War II, the blind and disabled were swept to the margins of society, many left to a life of begging. Doctors urged Jacques' parents to send him to a residential school for the blind in Paris, but they would not hear of it. They kept Jacques in his local school where he would learn to function in the seeing world. His mother learned Braille with him; the principal of the school ordered a special desk for Jacques large enough to hold his Braille typewriter. But the best thing his parents did for him was never to pity him. His father constantly encouraged his son, "Always tell us when you discover something."

Lusseyran quickly learned that he was not a poor blind boy but the discoverer of a new world. Barely ten days after his accident, he writes, he discovered a "light" within himself that enabled him to "see" things he might never have found any other way. Lusseyran remembers that, from that moment on, he was now guided by a light that was as real as the light he could no longer see:

"I felt [this light] gushing forth every moment and brimming over; I felt how it wanted to spread out over the world. I had only to receive it. It was unavoidably there. It was all there, and I found again its movements and shades, that is, its colors, which I had loved so passionately a few weeks before.

"This was something entirely new, you understand, all the more so since it contradicted everything that those who have eyes believe. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves."

Lusseyran also came to see how that light changed with his inner condition. When he was sad or afraid the light decreased at once. Sometimes it went out altogether, leaving him deeply and truly blind - but when he was joyful or attentive, it returned as strong as ever. He learned very quickly that the best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love.

Lusseyran went on to become a brilliant student, with an uncanny ability to read people, to hear what was not said, to grasp immediately what was being kept hidden. In 1940, at the age of 17, he joined the French Resistance, helping to smuggle French POWs across the border. He was arrested in 1944 and sent to the Nazi death came at Buchenwald. That he was one of only 30 to survive Buchenwald was extraordinary - but to survive so as a blind man was miraculous. But Lusseyran later wrote in his memoir And Then There Was Light that it was that light he found within himself that enabled him to survive.

"That is what you had to do to live in the camp: be engaged, not live for yourself alone. The self-centered life has no place in the world of the deported. You must go beyond it, lay hold on something outside yourself. Never mind how: by prayer if you know how to pray; through another man's warmth which communicates with yours, or through yours which you pass on to him; or simply by no longer being greedy . . . Be engaged, no matter how, but be engaged." [From Against the Pollution of the I by Jacques Lusseyran and Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor.]

Today's Gospel speaks of Jesus as the light that has come into the world - a light that we behold within ourselves that has the power to illuminate the wisdom and truth outside of us, a light that is the very love of God. Jacques Lusseyran, in his blindness, discovered this light of compassion, humility and selflessness within himself - a light that the darkness beyond his eyes could not diminish – a light that fear could diminish.

This season of Lent, when we travel with Jesus from the desert of discernment to the cross of completion, challenges us to embrace that same light within ourselves and to let that light lead us to the cross & to the truth of God's presence even in the darkness of despair and fear.

I would add only one thing to Mary Oliver’s:

Instructions for living a life:

· Pay attention.
· Be astonished. (Be engaged.)
· Tell about it.
· Share the light!

1 comment:

Kurt Huber said...

Amazon does have his books:

Also one of his books can be ordered through our library from others...