For Darkness Is As Light with You
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
February 7, 2016 Last Sunday after Epiphany,
Psalm 139; Luke 9:28-43a
Psalm 139 is a breathtakingly beautiful testament to God’s constant, intimate presence in our lives. “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
God is with us even in our darkness, even when we plunge into an abyss of doubt or depression or despair, even when we do wrong. Even our darkest darkness is as light with God. God turns our darkness into light. God turns our messy, wounded, flawed selves into healed and redeemed lives, and then God’s light shines through our stained glass into the world as pure love.
The Psalm ends with a plea to God. “See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” It is a plea to save us from unbelief, to help us believe the beautiful promise that God is with us always and forever.
The transfiguration story in Luke is also about the ability to believe.
Jesus took Peter, John and James up the mountain with him to pray. There they saw him transfigured into a being of light. They saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah who had departed from the earth hundreds of years before. They saw God approach in the form of a terrifying cloud and they heard the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus.
Imagine for a minute that you had such an experience. Try to think of this as if it really happened to you. Pick any kind, loving person you know, the first who comes to mind. Imagine you saw that person suddenly transformed into a being of light in dazzling robes, and you saw two ghosts talking with her or him, and suddenly you were surrounded by a terrifying cloud and heard the voice of God coming out of it saying, “This is my beloved child.”
You would probably never look at that person or the world the same way again. You would also be forced to decide whether you believed that what you saw was real. It is a fascinating detail of Luke’s account that Peter, John and James told no one about it. Maybe they did not expect anyone to believe it, or maybe they were not sure they believed it themselves.
They came down the mountain from that sublime vision and encountered a human mess of a situation. A great crowd of eager people surged around them and a man cried out in desperation pleading with Jesus to heal his son from a demon that made the boy scream and foam at the mouth and tear his own skin. His father had begged the disciples to heal the boy, but they could not.
Jesus responded in a shockingly human way after his divine transfiguration. He got angry, he got nasty, he blamed everyone, he called them names. “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer am I going to have to put up with you?”
Yet angry as he was, Jesus showed compassion and healed the boy. Everyone was astounded at the power of God flowing through him. Even in that very human, messy moment, even after an outburst that Jesus probably regretted, the light of God was present and able to work through him. Psalm 139 says of God, “For darkness is as light with you.” God can work through us, just as we are.
Visions and miracles happen even in our day. We hear about them through the media or books or word of mouth. According to traditional wisdom, visions and miracles all serve one greater purpose, which is to strengthen our belief in God so that the loving, healing power we saw in Christ can flow through us.
Jesus used the words faithless and perverse in his anger. The word translated perverse means literally to have turned away from the path. What makes Jesus angry is that we turn away and do not believe the truth that he is trying to get us to accept: the truth that God is real and ever present; the truth that the light of God is ready to shine through every person here right now, just as we are; the truth that God is ready to work miracles of healing and service and creative love in our every interaction today. Jesus is angry because our disbelief shuts God out and denies the world the light and love and life it could have.
Jesus is begging us to believe. The proverb says, “Seeing is not believing; it’s the other way around. Believe. Then you will see.” We can have miracles all around us, we can have the Spirit’s power flowing through us, we can have Christ right in front of us in the form of any person, but if we do not believe, we will not see.
The other night I had the privilege of working with a committee that is leading their congregation through a process like the one we went through to create our Identity and Aspiration Statement. I invited them to picture themselves as the disciples in the transfiguration story, but instead of it being Jesus who was transfigured, it was their church. I asked them what they saw when their church was revealed in its true glory.
I was struck by their answers. One saw the faces of the congregation glowing with love for one another. A second heard the sound of children laughing in the church. A third said she saw light streaming through the stained glassed window, but not from the outside in—she saw the light coming from the inside out.
Sound familiar? Do you know of any other church where the faces glow with love and the church is filled with sounds of children and the light shines through a stained glass window into the world?
I have one in mind. I know a congregation that says in its identity and aspiration statement that it “strives to be a loving church family where everyone feels welcome and at home, appreciated and supported.” I know a church that says it intends “to continue being a congregation where children are cherished.” I know a congregation that dreams “of being a church that shines like a lighted window into the community, a beacon for social justice, increasingly engaged in works of mission and widely known for generously serving those in need.”
The people of that church have a beautiful vision. All they have to do is believe it, and they will see it is true.
Life will still get messy. They will have moments of weakness, of anger, of relapsing into unbelief. That’s all right, “for even the darkness is as light to God.” If they turn back to believing in their vision every time they turn away, then even in the dark they will see themselves transfigured. They will see that there are faces around them here that are glowing with the light of Christ-like love. They will hear that the church is even now full of the joyous sounds of children. They will see the opportunities the Board of Mission and Social Action is giving them today to shine like a lighted window into the world.
Let us pray asking God to strengthen our belief so that we may see the truth of this beautiful vision unfolding around us…