Sunday, January 7, 2018

Let There Be Light (Sermon)

“Let There Be Light”
Mark 1:9-11
Allen Huff
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

         The lectionary pairs these two short passages, and together, they make me think of watching a sunrise from the Atlantic coast. Have you ever watched a sunrise? As the sun peaks over the horizon, light scatters across “the face of the deep” like the release of a great flock of golden birds. They fly in every direction – westward toward the shoreline, and into the misty reaches to the north and to the south. All things feel the creeping warmth of that new light. All things are stirred by the beating of those wings.
         At sunrise, it makes sense to imagine God actually speaking in some human language saying, “Let there be light.”
According to John Scotus Eriugena, the 9th-century Celtic teacher, “To say that light is created on the first day is to say that light is at the heart of life. [Light] is the beginning of creation in the sense that it is the essence…from which life proceeds.”1
         It feels redundant to emphasize the imagery – Jesus, the Light of the World, rises from the waters of baptism. The dove descends. And the Spirit breaks forth over the creation, making it new and whole. Restored through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, humankind, God’s chosen stewards, are released into every corner of the creation to live as signs of God’s presence in and boundless love for all things.
         That’s the point of baptism. Baptism affirms the goodness, the holiness, the Belovedness of the material world. Baptism proclaims God’s blessing on all creation by proclaiming blessing and belonging upon one, specific creature. And God’s love for that particular person not only redeems him or her, it testifies to God’s redeeming love for all that God has created.
         While baptism embraces and proclaims the Incarnation, our response to the good news of God’s incarnate love in Jesus will be homicidal fury. Beholden as we are to power, wealth, and certainty, we will find God’s revelation of pure love intolerable. We will dismiss God’s justice, kindness, and mercy as it is embodied in Jesus of Nazareth because it makes us feel too vulnerable in a dangerous world. The ways of violence, the ways of fear, resentment, and vengeance feel more trustworthy and effective. We will, time and again, say, “We have no king but [Caesar!]”
         That only makes Jesus all the more unforgettable. On Friday, we reveal the lengths to which we will go to avoid holiness, but God always goes one step further to bring us back. Always.
         “You,” says the Father, “are my Son, the Beloved.”
You are my Beloved because in your baptism you choose and commit to go that extra step to bring light into darkness. You, my Beloved, are sunrise on the brand new first day of a brand new creation. You, Jesus, will release the golden flock of the Holy Spirit upon the earth. You, my Beloved, are the Light.
         In Christian baptism, we participate in Jesus’ baptism. We identify with his light, his essence. Claiming our own Belovedness, we become reflections of Jesus’ light in and for the creation.
         The story of the “first day” of creation and the story of Jesus’ baptism are beautifully paired metaphors. Water. Spirit. Light. Sky. And the deep-time relationship not only between God and the creation, but the relationship within God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
         Alana Levandoski is a contemporary singer/songwriter. She did the whole Nashville thing some years ago, but after discovering Celtic Christian spirituality, she began to write and sing very differently. On the first album recorded by the new Alana Levandoski, the first song is entitled “Behold, I Make All Things New (Alpha).” (The “Omega” version is on the back of the bulletin. We’re going to sing it in a few minutes.) The “Alpha” version poetically reiterates the first day of creation. The first and last verses are the same: “Behold, I make all things new.” She sings that three times, and follows it with, “Let there be light. Let there be light.” In the two middle verses she sings, “God unseen is taking form…Let there be life,” and then, “The first and last are surging forth…Becoming life.”2
         Those simple words – “God unseen is taking form,” “The first and last are surging forth,” – are like light breaking across the face of the deep. They affirm that the created order is an essential part of the Incarnation. For us, the Incarnation has a particular human face, Jesus of Nazareth. And calling him God Incarnate does not exclude us from our own incarnate holiness. Indeed, Jesus calls us into the demands of discipleship, the demands of living as ones who are Beloved by God. All that holiness and all that purpose claim us in our baptisms. So, in spite of our limited, fallible, and all-too-human bodies and minds, human beings are active participants in God.
During confirmation, young people who were baptized as infants declare their own Belovedness of God. They acknowledge that as physical beings, they are created out of that which God calls “good.” And they make their own commitments to following Jesus. Richard Rohr says it this way, “The divine image is…held by all people, but we each have to choose to grow in our likeness to God.”3
Baptism also affirms that we are not God. For fear of all that is holy, good, and true, we will still nail God Incarnate to the cross on Friday. So, we confess our separation from God and our need to return to God. Yet, beneath all that is broken and corrupt, down at our deepest center, even we are manifestations of God’s essence. We are bearers of and participants in God’s Light.
We’re going to sing “Behold, I Make All Things New (Omega)” by Alana Levandoski. The words and melody are simple. That gives you the opportunity to mediate on them and to make this more than a song. Make this a prayer in which you hear God claiming you, identifying you as Beloved, and calling you to follow in the way of Jesus, God Incarnate, the Light who is breaking forth upon all Creation, and who does, in truth, make all things new.

Behold, I Make All Things New (Omega)4
w/m by Alana Levandoski
Behold, I make all things new. (3x)
I am the light. I am the light.
Anything made manifest, (3x)
Becomes the light. Becomes the light.
Behold, I make all things new. (3x)
I am the light. I am the light.
Turn your face toward my face. (3x)
Become the light. Become the light.
Behold, I make all things new. (3x)
I am the light. I am the light.
Become the light. Become the light.

1J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality, Paulist Press, New York-Mahwah, NJ, 1999. p. 3.