Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Light and Darkness Become One

I preached this sermon this morning in my preaching class based on some thoughts that I have been mulling over in the last week about the use of the word, "Light" among Quakers.

This sermon is based on Jonah 1:17-2:10 (NRSV)

In the Quaker tradition, we use the metaphor of the Light a lot. Partly because early Quakers use this imagery often in their writing and also partly some Quakers are uncomfortable with using the word "God". Most of them tend to be spiritual refugees from other denominations, having grown up being told that God did not love them for one reason or another. Some tried to hide their true selves from God and others, feeling like if others knew the insides of their souls, they would be disowned forever by God and the church. Now to them Light seems safe to say because it is a new metaphor to them, something different, something without baggage.

But I have been reflecting on what I have been using for the opposite of Light for most of my life, which is usually darkness, to describe a lack of God, evil. I started rethinking using darkness to describe the opposite of Light last semester when I read a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In an address in 1967 Dr. King said, "In Roget's Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence." Ever since then, I have been wondering: Do I promote this negative duality through the way I talk about my spirituality? Light/White = good and Darkness/Black=bad.

To seek out guidance on how I should proceed with this question, I went to the wisest place I know of for answers. Facebook!

Several friends commented. A friend bought up the ideas of an UU theologian Jacqui James who writes that there are some good points about darkness, like it brings relief from the scorching heat. Also in darkness seeds begin to sprout and thus new life begins. Another friend brought up the story of Jonah being in the whale. Jonah had to go through the darkness within a fish to accept his call. As we heard from the passage, in the darkness, Jonah says a praise of thanksgiving to God, before the fish throws him up onto the land.

Before this praise of Thanksgiving, Jonah has tried his best to avoid accepting the call from God to go to Ninevah. As we hear in the praise, he had to be close to death before he realized the entire positives in his life and how much he believes in God. But we know from the passage that he was not actually near death because God sent the fish to shallow him before he drowned to the depths of the ocean. God protects him, even though he acts disobediently when God calls him. Jonah is not the only prophet he tries to hide from God. Oh no!

I bet some of us have stories of being disobedient towards God's calling to come to be here today listening to this story. Heck, you probably wanted to be disobedient and did not want to get out of bed this morning. I know I did.

For me the journey of coming to seminary took me to rural Missouri. I had heard the calling before I moved to rural Missouri from Washington DC, but I ignored the call. I was always too busy or too poor to go to seminary, or I thought. I kept saying no to seminary, thinking another opportunity, in the form of a job or anything else, was around the corner. But it took me asking God late at night alone what the next plans God had for me. It took doors closing before I said yes to God's calling. I thought I was spiraling downwards but now I know that God was leading me here by taking me to those dark cold nights in Missouri. Now I am thankful for those cold dark nights wondering where I would go next.

As future pastors and leaders of the church, we will be charged with helping people of all ages as they go through terrible parts of their lives. Some things we will see will be horrible. But sometimes we will see our parishioners struggle and they will actually be rebirths into Christ and deeper faithfulness. There will be times where we will go through difficult times in our own lives too. But the good news, just like Jonah in the fish, we are not alone. God will always be watching over us and this process.

Also I think this is where the church that we are inheriting is right now. Many people think the church is dying. All the signs are there. Attendance is down across the board in the mainline denominations. Churches are often in the red, only surviving off of endowments from past generations. There are more pastors looking for positions than open positions. Most of us are going to graduate without an assurance of a job.

But in the midst of this struggle, there is a hope, a seed, a thanksgiving to be seen. We are seeing the church changing. LGBTQ people are being accepted in as the children of God as they have always been. The church is becoming more than just a building that is open on Sunday to only some. There are so many examples of pastors and Christians taking new risks, trusting on God, doing and being in the Church in radical new ways because we cannot do any worse than we are right now. A couple weeks ago we listened to Dean Kay preach about his former church in Minnesota which changed themselves into a new kind of church with an active laity outreach to the community. We live in a time of great hope of pastor being bold. The church is being reborn and we are involved with this process.

Finally, this Sunday we will celebrate women finding an empty tomb and a command for them to tell the world about their find. In this dark cave, a place of death and sadness, God gave a people a message of hope that has lasted over 2,000 years, the resurrection of Christ and a proclamation of freedom to the captives. Light and darkness became whole together in that tomb with Christ's Resurrection. This act confirms God's devotion to all, despite what some people may try to say. By putting Jonah in a fish and by making a sealed cave empty, God shows that God does love all!

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