Shuck and Jive

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let There Be Light: A Sermon

We have been reading the Qur'an cover to cover and this month we are reading Surahs 19-24. We chose some prayers and readings from the Sufi tradition. The sermon was based on loosely on the theme of Light as a symbol for the via positiva, the way of celebration, awe, and wonder. Sometimes you just have to accept joy and say it's good.

After the benediction, Katrina and the Waves danced us out of the church.

Let There Be Light
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

We are in the season of summer. The days are longer. It is a season of Light. Light could be the most popular symbol for Divinity. In the Gospel of John, the Cosmic Christ is the Light that shines in the darkness. And the darkness did not overcome it.

In the Qur’an, Allah (which is simply the Arabic word for God) is the Light.

The Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree (which in English means light or enlightenment). The Enlightenment is a name we have given to a period in Western intellectual history for the light of reason overcoming the darkness of superstition.

I am not sure if there is any wisdom tradition that doesn’t make use of Light as a symbol for awakening, insight, and joy.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the first sentence placed on the lips of God was, “Let there be Light.”

As I was re-reading Matthew Fox’s 95 theses for the reformation of the church, he referenced physicist David Bohm, who said that matter is frozen light.

All matter, including human matter, is light. You could think of it theologically in that all matter, all flesh, all nature, all stuff, is frozen Divine Light. Not only do we have it in us, it is us.

We use the term Light as a symbol for creativity. It is a symbol for joy. It is a symbol for healing. It is a symbol for awe, wonder, and celebration.

This first week of summer invites us to celebrate Light. This is the via positiva, the way of looking at life, and saying, “It is good.”

We do need to bask in the Light. To let the Light soak in us.

When we moved from upstate New York to Montana about nine years ago, I had forgotten about how Light it is out in the high and dry desert. Upstate New York is beautiful. East Tennessee is beautiful. Lots of trees, lots of green, lots of rain that makes it so. So here in the East, in the land of the trees, there are many overcast days.

But I remember those first several weeks when we had moved back to Montana how light it was. I have this same experience when I return for a summer visit. The sun shines most of the time. There are few clouds. According to Montana’s state song, “the skies are always blue.”

I remember for several days spreading my arms and saying, “Give me that sun.” I wanted the Light, not so much the heat, but the light to sink into my bones.

We have had some beautiful bright light days here recently. Good days to soak it up (with the proper application of sunscreen of course).

My theme for this morning’s sermon is soak it up. Soak up the Light.

It’s time to feel good.

Now I know that we need permission.
We ask ourselves how can we feel good when we have so many disappointments?
How can we feel good when there is so much to do?
How can we feel good when there is so much suffering in the world, in our community, in our families, in our own lives?
How can I feel good when my friend is in pain?

There is so much darkness, isn’t it a sin to celebrate the Light?

If we waited until there was no more darkness, suffering and sin, we would never feel good. There is a time for everything writes the poet in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Today is as good a time as any to laugh and to dance.

That Light of laughter—that dancing Light is necessary to make all the other stuff worth it.

It is a sacred act to take delight in the beauty around us and in the beauty within us. There is beauty within you, don’t ever forget that. You are God’s beauty, God’s Light.

We do weep with those who weep. There is a time for that. There is a time in the midst of the weeping to notice beauty—beauty that is surrounded and illuminated by Light.

Taking notice of the beauty is the highest act of worship.

Over the weekend my Lovely and I watched a wonderful film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The film is based on a wild idea. Benjamin Button was born in 1918. But he was born old. He had age in his baby body, but his mind was that of a baby. As he grows, his body grows younger. He ages backwards.

I won’t give away the plot or the story if you haven’t seen it. It is a good film. It is a via positiva film. Throughout the film we get the sadness about change, but within the reality of impermanence, the joy of the characters is found in accepting what comes, the strangeness, the unpredictability of life itself.

Benjamin at one point says:
Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance.
And at another point, as an old man, or actually a young man as the case is, he has become younger even as he has lived a long time, he offers this advice:
For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great film that may inspire us to take notice of the Divine Light in all of life.

In the midst of it all, in the midst of a constantly changing existence, we could do well to give ourselves permission to enjoy it.

I suppose we also need permission to allow ourselves to be joyful. This has to do with that nagging feeling of guilt or unworthiness that puts very nasty and very wrong thoughts into our heads that we don’t deserve joy.

It could be that we need the Divine Light of forgiveness. The Light accepts us as we are. There is no reason to beat up on ourselves. No reason to deny joy. The Light has accepted you.

The world needs people who recognize the Divine Light within themselves. If no one gave themselves permission to be joyful, at least for one day—there would be no joy at all. Sometimes we just need to say, “Forget the rules (and who made them anyway?) I’m going to happy.”

I love this quote from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Soak up the Light today.

When you go out for lunch…
If you hike with us on Roan Mountain…
If you visit with relatives and friends…
If you mow the lawn…
If you go to the store…
If you fix supper…

Soak it up!

Notice how difficult all those things would be without Light!

Our lives are bathed in Light.

You are the Light.

Let it shine!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I did enjoy this sermon, John. But even more, I enjoyed the one from June 7th, which I finally got on the website. It was so reassuring and comforting.