Rethinking the Light of the World and Narrow Gates

Hey eleven:eleven friends,

Here are a few thoughts from this past Sunday in case you missed it (or in case you didn’t catch all I was saying at the time… ), and a look ahead to next Sunday!

This past Sunday we reflected on the second of Jesus’ “I Am” sayings in our Lenten sermon series“I am the light of the world: whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

One of the biggest challenges in hearing these 7 sayings is our familiarity with them. We think we understand what they mean, for the most part – but then, maybe not so much.

When things get really hard for us, “going through a dark time,” we might say, the light seems all but gone. Someone offers us consolation and tells us to remember, “Jesus is the light of the world, just trust in him.” And, of course, they mean well, but it can also mean so little – like “I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.”

The truth is our sorrow or pain can seem so overwhelming that repeating these sayings may feel too thin to drive out the darkness. I think part of the sense of helplessness we feel in times like these — and the shallow sounding repetition of such phrases — comes from our tendency to see or long for something magic in them as opposed to seeing something prescriptive, something pro-active.

In Genesis, in the first poem about the Creation, there is light and there is darkness. And what’s interesting to me is that the darkness is there first, then the light is created and separated from out of the darkness as if the one cannot exist without the other.

Curiously enough, photographers often say that the best light for taking pictures is when the sky is overcast. The colors are more vivid. Painters say that contrasting light and darkness on the canvas creates a more explosive, visceral experience.

And we all know that the best times to experience the beauty of the sun is at sunrise and sunset, as the darkness begins to welcome the soft light before the arrival of the sun and the darkness begins to showcase its most brilliant possibilities at the end of the day in the disappearance of the sun.

The pragmatics of Jesus’ sayings come to light (no pun intended) in a phrase Barbara Brown Taylor, preacher and theologian, coins in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  She writes, “Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb or Jesus in the tomb, (new life) starts in the dark.”  Her thoughts echo the words of Sociologist Brené Brown who wrote, “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”

In the Bible, darkness is often associated with evil and sin, grief, and fear. Yet, there are also stories of illumination and salvation, hope and purpose in these stories. Moses spoke with God in the heavy darkness of stormy clouds. Jacob obtained the blessing of his destiny wrestling the angel of the Lord in the middle of the night. Joseph’s night time troubling dream became the key to his connection and success with the Pharoh. And the wise men found the newborn child, hope, and new life by following the starlight piercing the night sky.

For John’s Gospel, written between 60-80 years after Jesus’ death, the saying, “I am the light of the world” is a way of living faithfully into the kin-dom of God. The path through the dark in our lives and in our world is best opened through mercy, justice, and humbly walking with life (the way Jesus lived his life).

My Uncle Mac often reminded me when hiking at night that the dark was not terrifying, but certainly unfamiliar because we’re surrounded by artificial lights all the time. He said that if I could learn to be still in the dark, to listen for the small sounds of life around me, I would begin to see enough of the light that is always present in the dark, and I could begin to move slowly and intentionally, without fear or panic.

Jesus’ I AM sayings express as much about what it means to live faithfully in the kin-dom of God as we experience and participate in its co-creation now as it does about who Jesus was as the Messiah to the Jews in the 1stand 2ndcenturies. Both instances speak of the here and now — and the yet to come.

We live and move and have our being in the possibilities and hope that each moment can bring, even in the darkest of times and places. There is light, the light of life, to remind us that we are a part of God’s great being in the world, even when we feel broken. We are not alone. Because we are all in this together.

Next Sunday, March 15, we will continue our exploration of Jesus’ “I AM…” sayings with “I am the gate.”

There is a familiar quote that goes along the lines of “When one door closes, another opens.” Or, as a friend of mine once joked, “if some doors are closing and others mysteriously opening… your house is probably haunted!”

On a more serious note, Alexander Bell said that we “often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” I want to suggest further that, as the Psalmist in Psalm 139 understood, we are always in the presence of God’s being. We are always supported, sustained, and invited to renewal by a love that seeks to move and heal the world.

I think what Jesus’ “I am the Gate” saying suggests is that the way to life, once again, is along the path of mercy, justice, and humility. The wide path, the wide gate, is easy, he adds. It’s self-absorbed, egotistical, and, in its own way, the path of desperately seeking what we already have (acceptance).

But the narrow way is harder, less about self, and so much more about learning to let go of these strivings and anxieties – and remain selfless, compassionate, and curious  about our part in the bigger picture.

There is healing through this gate; there is an inner and deeply satisfying joy along this path. I hope you can join us this Sunday as we look further at “#i am.”

I hope to see you then!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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