Sermon at St. Stephen's, Charleston
The Fourth Sunday in Lent: March 26, 2017
So how do we go about being faithful disciples of Jesus as we negotiate the world in which we live in the 21st century? Most, if not all of you, have heard the lesson of looking at a glass of water that is at the half way mark of the glass. The question is then posed as to how to describe how much water is in the glass. Optimists say it is half full, pessimists say it is half empty. I say neither, for I am not an optimist nor a pessimist. I am a “hopefulist.” I made up that word, by the way.
Here’s why. The 23rd Psalm, used today because of its connection to David as a shepherd in Israel, does not describe the cup as either half empty or even half full. It says what? “My head is anointed with oil and my cup is running over.” This is how it is with God according to the Psalmist – our cup is running over. We often look at life and our circumstances from a scarcity perspective. The biblical witness comes at life from a perspective of abundance. In God, our cup is “running over.”
This is part of what we are celebrating today in the baptisms of Lucca and Cynthia, and in the laying of hands of those being confirmed, received and reaffirming. We anticipate the promise of God’s new life in them and in every one of us as we offer ourselves to be transformed, made new, as the people of God in Christ. I wonder if you are aware that the last line of todays Ephesians lesson is from an ancient baptismal hymn: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This is why I am a “hopefulist,” for again Ephesians tells us, “In the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
Of course this is where it gets difficult. It is not easy to be light in a world that so often chooses darkness. We unfortunately saw it again in the attack around Westminster, London, as if we needed another reminder. It is not easy to be light in a world that so often tries to manipulate us with words and actions of fear, anxiety, manipulation and threat. These are our tombs of darkness from which Christ seeks to set us free.
Look at what transpires in the Gospel today. A blind man caught in darkness longs to see. His poor parents are dragged in and are afraid of going too far in their description of events as they are deeply afraid of being expelled from the synagogue for believing incorrectly, or giving credit to “a sinner,” whether it is Jesus or their own son. Then the religious authorities, acting as puppets of Roman domination, mistrust that anything good or of God could come from a new perspective, a new teaching, or from a person who does not fit the criteria established by those in power.
Our hope does not lie in you and me getting our act perfectly together. It does not lie in the Congress, the Supreme Court or in the President, no matter who they are or of what party they may be. Thanks be to God for that. Our hope lies in the One who is Light with a capital “L.” The blind man is delivered from darkness to light in his healing by Jesus. I hope it not lost on us that he was washed in the pool of Siloam – think baptism here. Then there is the example of David, of little or no account because of his job minding animals, shepherds being at the bottom of societal rank. Yet, he is chosen by God to be King, as unlikely as it was. Our call is always to be open to the new thing God may be doing among us: to see as Jesus sees; to think as Jesus thinks; to pray as Jesus prayed; to live as Jesus lived; in the light yes, but also as ones ourselves who are light, exposing the places of darkness that rob God’s people of dignity and hope.
Today, right in this service along with the folks coming forward, we renounce everything in this world that works against God’s love and mercy and say that we choose Jesus, his way and his life. He teaches us that the character of God is yielding, healing, openness, embracing, solidarity, with all who suffer, all who are pushed to the margins and regarded of no account, and daring to be a people of hope and promise – “hopefulists” if you will. It is precisely into the places of darkness we are called to go and expose it all to the light of God as we refuse to perpetuate the lies that tear us apart.
I will never forget a moment some years ago when visiting a leper colony just outside of Calcutta, India. I was walking down a hallway and heard a song being sung with great fervor and apparently joy. At first I couldn’t find the source, but imagine my surprise when eventually I came upon a group of men, ravaged by leprosy and given up as dead since they were considered worthless to the living. As translated for me they were singing these words: “Jesus, we who have no eyes, be our eyes; Jesus, we who have no hands, be our hands; Jesus, we who have no feet, be our feet; Jesus, you are our everything.” Yet the most amazing thing is this – every day out of the soup kitchen run by those same lepers they feed 300 townspeople. They are “hopefulists,” – light in the darkness.
Our bottom line as Christians is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our mission, our hope, must start there or we have no mission. We do not do so for our own sake, to feel better about ourselves, or even to get more people in the pews. No. It is so that through us, the people of the light, the world might be transformed and discover with us that in Christ “the cup is running over” with love, hope and mercy for every single human being no matter who they are or from where they have come. It is why we baptize and why we lay hands today on God’s beautiful people. It is why this parish of St. Stephen’s exists. What matters in the end is that eyes are opened, hearts are renewed, the darkness is exposed to the light, and we see Jesus.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.