by Elaine Maust
May 21, 2006
It was Katrina. Day 2. Tuesday. I remember that day being long and very hot. It was filled with the strangest mixture of relief and concern. We went to bed early that night. There was no power after all. Even though a lot of things that happened that day are a blur, I remember this. Duane and I lay in bed like a couple of kids on a camp out. “I have my hand in front of my face and I can’t see it!” “My hand is slam in front of my nose and I can’t see a thing.” It was very dark.
Remember how dark it was with no lights? No nightlights. No light in the bathroom or the hall. No street lights or yard lights. No lights from the city nearby. It was dark!
The Bible says that Jesus came into the world to be the light in the darkness. In John 1:9, the Bible talks about Jesus, calling Him, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” But really we have to start at the beginning of the story…
Genesis 1 describes the world at the time of creation as darkness covering “the face of the deep.” At least after the hurricane, we knew the sun would come up the next morning. Imagine the darkness on the earth described here.
And then, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good.” (Gen 1:2-4) I’d say simply “good” is a bit of an understatement.
Since I’ve been a teenager I’ve been fascinated with the way the Bible uses light or fire (sometimes called the glory of God) to represent the presence of God. Like Genesis 1 for example, “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” See the connection between God’s presence and light?
Hold on with me and we’ll breeze through the Bible and find just a few examples of light or fire representing God being present.
Remember how God called Moses? The burning bush, right? God used a fire that wouldn’t burn up to get Moses’ attention. A symbol of the presence of God.
And how about the Israelites, when they were on that ill-fated camping trip of theirs across the wilderness… What was there to remind them that God was with them? (Exodus 14:20) What showed them the way to go? The pillar of fire. I picture a dust devil, one of those mini tornados, on fire.
And remember how the people could tell that Moses had been with God? You remember, his face was shining. After he had been in God’s presence, his face was shining so brightly, in fact, that he had to cover his face because it seemed to freak them out. No sunglasses, back then, I guess. (Exodus 34:29)
Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. (I Kings 18). What was to be the sign that God was real? Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God.” And whoosh, fire fell down from the sky and burned up the altar, the rocks and even the water. God was real all right. And God was there.
In the New Testament Jesus comes on the scene. Jesus, who comes into a humble family from a small town. But when Jesus is born, there is a light show. Remember? Luke tells us that the “glory of the Lord” shown around the shepherds. And what about the part with the Wise men, what helped them find the baby king? It was the light of a star. (Mat. 2:2)
And Jesus, once he started talking about what he was up to, said things like this, (Jh 8:12) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” God was present in the world and Jesus used “light” to explain and describe what that could mean.
There were other amazing examples of light during Jesus’ time on earth. Remember when he and three of his friends went up onto the mountain that day? (Luke 9:28-36) It’s called the transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became “bright as a flash of lightening.” And God showed up and spoke out loud.
And what about this one… When Jesus was dying on the cross, there were a number of strange phenomena. But here’s one that sticks with me. (Mk 15:33) “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” And at three, Jesus screamed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This time darkness is a symbol of God’s absence.
And I could go on and on… There are stories in Acts in which light symbolizes God’s presence. Remember what was on the heads of the believers in Acts 2 when the Spirit made its inaugural entrance? Fire, right? And what was it that temporarily blinded Saul to get his attention in Acts 9? “a light from heaven flashed around him.”
And at the very end of the Bible, the next to that last chapter of Revelation in fact, there is this. (Rev 21:23 & 25) Heaven is described as, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light… for there will be no night there.” Being in God’s presence all the time means that it will never get dark.
Let’s face it. Sometimes God is hard to understand. You’ve probably heard me say before that anyone who undertakes a relationship with a divine spirit, better have a taste for a mystery. Fortunately, God loves us and wants to help us understand.
I imagine this… God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are sitting around in heaven. (okay for the record this is not in the Bible and is based solely on my imagination) Anyway, they are sitting around in heaven and they are trying to come up with ways to help us understand what God is and they come up with this brilliant (pardon the pun) idea, the perfect symbol, light.
Think of all the ways that light or fire make a great symbol for God. It illuminates (or helps us see). It can show us the way. It burns up what is unnecessary. It is comforting. It gives off heat or warmth. Remember how good it felt to sit around the camp fire a few weeks ago, during Jubilee’s retreat?
For those of you who may have come from the Catholic tradition, this sermon is old news. You grew up with candles in every service and with lighting candles when you pray. It is a tradition that I have adopted. That’s why I light a candle here in front of Jubilee every Sunday. It is a reminder that God is present with us.
In the same way that the Spirit hovered over the earth at creation, the Spirit is here this morning. And the Spirit is hovering over all of us and over the folks outside our doors in the Red Line neighborhood. And all the folks in MS, in the US, and around the world. The spirit is hovering over the face of the earth this morning, present and ready to light up our lives.
John 1 says, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1 goes on to say that God sent Jesus so that “all might believe.” (I Peter 2:9) God has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Remember how much light a single candle gave off during Katrina? Now imagine God lighting up the dark places of a person’s heart.
Sometimes God knocks a person down with an unmistakable light show. Paul could tell you about that. But more often the light comes gently. Ps. 18:28 (KJV) says, “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” Or in NIV, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”
What an amazingly, gentle and powerful God we serve. Our God is dazzling enough to light up all of heaven and powerful enough to be present with every human being at the same time, yet God comes gently to me, lighting up the dark places inside my heart. (Ps. 27:1) “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Like striking a match and lighting a candle.
I guess all of this is why I find it so amazing that Jesus also says, (Mt. 5:14), “You are the light of the world.” What? Us? Oh my! Doesn’t that make you want to holler, “Wait one minute”? God is light. That we can understand. Jesus came to demonstrate that light, we’ve got that. The Spirit is a flame. But us, you and me, the light of the world? The visible presence of God in our homes and neighborhoods and work places? Lord have mercy!
Fortunately God does have mercy on us, lighting up the dark places in our hearts. Forgiving our sins. Melting our anger. Warming our hearts toward others. Showing us the way. Ps. 18:28 (KJV) again, “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.”
This morning in our healing service, I invite everyone to come forward. Light a candle and invite God to light up some dark places inside your heart. Or light a candle as a prayer for the darkness someone you know is facing. If you would also like to have someone pray for you and to be anointed there will be two stations for healing prayers. Please just step up to either of the prayer teams and we will pray for you.
We come this morning, knowing we need God’s light in our lives. We come asking for forgiveness for our sins. We will ask for healing in our bodies. We will pray for healing in relationships. We will ask God to heal anxiety and depression. And we will also stand in for those we love, and be anointed for them.
However you need God’s touch this morning, come forward. Please light the candles from the back to the front. Children, you are welcome too. Just bring a grown-up along with you.
Ps. 18:28 (KJV) says, “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” Come, light a candle this morning and invite God to do that.
Light of the World
Reader 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Reader 2 – He was with God in the beginning.
Reader 1 – Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Reader 2 – In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”
Reader 1 – The light shines in the darkness,
Reader 2 – but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:1-5)
Reader 1 – “There came a man who was sent from God;
Reader 2 – his name was John.
Reader 1 – He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
Reader 2 – He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Reader 1 – The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)
Reader 1 – “This is the verdict:
Reader 2 – Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light
Reader 1 – because their deeds were evil.
Reader 2 – Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
Reader 1 – But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,
Reader 2 – so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
Reader 1 – “You are the light of the world.
Reader 2 – A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Reader 1 – Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Reader 2 – Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Reader 1 – In the same way, let your light shine before men,
Reader 2 – that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)