Learning to Love Light
3-11-18 Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:16-21
Theme: There are improper uses of this life, improper uses of this faith. It is analogous in scripture to the desire for darkness, and the avoidance of light. Improperness never lets us rest, for we are always trying to hide what we have done. Righteous living gives us freedom from worry, from the chasing of ourselves in futility.
Two months ago I went on a trip to Denver to attend the Mission Shared Futures meeting, the one to determine what the combining of our two conferences into one will look like. In preparation for the trip, I purchased a round-trip plane ticket, confirmed my reservation at the motel reserved for the meeting, and researched a car rental for the trip. In my research, I was delighted to see that I could reserve an economy car for $120 plus mileage costs for the entire four days of the gathering – a total cost of under $150. This was more affordable than I thought it would be. I made the reservation.
When I arrived at the car rental depot, I was informed that they did not have an economy car ready, and I was asked if I would mind driving a high-end convertible sports car instead for the same price. Can you guess what my response was? To go from this………to this……….was what we call a “no-brainer.”
So, we lined things up; the rental car agency attendant asked me several questions, to which I responded affirmatively, and then was presented with a bill for $416.66. When I picked myself up off the floor, I said to the agent, “Excuse me, but wasn’t the advertised price more like $150?” “Ah, yes,” he said, “that’s the advertised price; but that’s before all the required fees.” He said, “Required Fees,” but what he meant was “hidden fees.” Those fees include: Loss Damage Waiver, Custom Facility Charge, Vehicle License Recoup fee, Energy Recovery fee, Road Safety Fee, and three items of which I have no idea what they are for – something called “Pae/Esp/SL1 Charge,” something labeled “Rsn,” and an ambiguous “11.11% Fee” with nothing else to signify its purpose. All of this before the 13.25% tax applied overall. I asked the attendant if the greater cost was because of the nicer car, and he said no, the cost would be the same. I asked the attendant if there were any cheaper options, and he said no. And I asked him one last question – I asked him, “Is it normal for these fees to not be made known to the driver before they are standing where I am in the terminal?” He said two things that stick in my mind – he said, “Yes, this is the normal way this happens,” and then he added, “And people really hate it.”
This experience taught me once again about the challenge of hidden things, things hidden in shadow, things kept from scrutiny or examination, things kept from the light of awareness and understanding. There are many reasons why people hide things – sometimes it’s for the nefarious purpose of raising profits at the expense of the naïve or hurried, such as my experience with hidden fees. Sometimes things are hidden in order to push through agendas that would be seen as unethical with a more thorough examination – call to mind legislation that remains hidden until nearly time to vote. Sometimes things are hidden to keep from revealing who’s on what side in the political sphere — think of dark money. Sometimes things are hidden to keep predators from being exposed – think of the money spent to keep potential witnesses from testifying. Sometimes things are hidden to keep from being responsible for what one says or does – think of anonymity on the internet, of identity theft, of misrepresentation of reality that, with the click of a button, reaches millions of people instantaneously through Facebook or Twitter or E-mail, with little or no accountability for skewing that reality in one’s favor. Such hidden things are everywhere, it seems, to the detriment of our world.
But it is important to understand that not all hidden things are so colored by humanity’s darker nature. There are also the types of hiddenness that have an innocence about them, that come out of people and their experiences that have made them shy of light due to the fragility of the human condition. We have several groups who meet in this facility who depend upon hiddenness in order to build elements of trust, affinity, support and encouragement that are hard to grow when injured by the world – think AA, Alanon, and NA – we call this hiddenness confidentiality and unconditional acceptance. We are renovating this facility in a way that removes our nursery from the typical flow of activity of people coming and going into worship – we call this hiddenness the protection of our most vulnerable children through our Safe Gatherings standards; we call this security. I maintain a ledger of my pastoral counseling interactions, a ledger no one sees but me, to keep track of ongoing conversations and their contents for future reference – I call this hiddenness pastoral consultation confidentiality. And there are many such types of hiddenness which have justifiable, even essential reasons for being helpful and needed parts of our lives.
The light mentioned in today’s passages speaks to both types of hiddenness, one to its ending, the other to its redress. This is the light needed for the purpose of making the world more of what it could be, what it should be in the eyes of God. This is the light of God, the light of Christ, which, from the passage in Ephesians, embodies the elements of truth, mercy, hope, and love. As it says in Ephesians 2:10, “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” This is the light of salvation which is perhaps less about getting into heaven someday than it is about how to live lives of integrity and substance here and now.
The passage is clear — all hidden things in our world need the light God has given us in Jesus. A light that can end the darkness of deceit, injustice, and abuse, and a light that can transform the shadows of loss, despair, and brokenness. A light that tells the truth even when it is unpopular; a light that loves even when its inconvenient and risky; a light that draws attention to the darkness that it might be exposed and transformed; a light that cannot help but be hopeful even in the midst of the greatest fears. A light that is both continually received and continually reflected to our surroundings. This is our light, people of God. This is a light that each one of us possesses through Jesus, a light which helps end our own personal darknesses, as well as, when combined in the Body of Christ, can shine to the benefit of the world.
I read something recently that puts it very well. It’s from the celebrated author and sometime-religious-cynic commentator Anne Lamott, and identifies the simple if not easy practice faith invites us to as we trust God more than ourselves. Here’s what she says:
I make [my son Sam go to church] because I can. I outweigh him by nearly 75 pounds.
But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. [People with a deep sense of spirituality] follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful …. Our funky little church is filled with people who are working for peace and freedom, who are out there on the streets and inside praying, and they are home writing letters, and they are at the shelters with giant platters of food. [They are a continuous outpouring of little lights, helping a blind world to find its way.]” — Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
(New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 100.
I love that – we are, as people of faith, “a continuous outpouring of little lights, helping a blind world to find its way.” It is as we bear the light of truth, the radiance of love, the brilliancy of honesty, and the integrity of justice that we bring to the world’s darkness that which serves its ending. We are, and need to continue to be, a continuous outpouring of little lights, helping a blind world to find its way.
One last thought I leave with you, about the light we are given in Jesus, and what we do with that light.
John Ruskin lived in the days when English villages were lighted by lamps along the street. One evening, he watched with a friend as a lamplighter moved slowly on a distant hill, lighting the lamps along the street. Ruskin said, “There is what I mean by being a real Christian. You can trace his course by the lights that he leaves burning in others.”
We, as Christians, are invited to kindle light in the lives of others through the light we have been given in Jesus. So, I leave you with two questions – what light have you kindled in the lives of others? What light could you kindle in the lives of others? A world prone to darkness is anxious to see…….