“Joy in the Shadows”

Isaiah 6:1; John 1:6-18
South Presbyterian Church – December 14, 2014 – Installation of Officers – Third Sunday of Advent
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

In a little while we’re going to install our ordained leadership. And it’s a bit unusual to have ordination and installation in December, I guess. Most churches put it in the fall or January, but this is the second year we’re done this and I have to say that I really like it because it weaves itself into the Advent message so well.

We’re waiting.

We are waiting for Christmas … for gifts and presents … or for seeing loved ones or having our children come home … or  maybe for going home ourselves … We’re waiting for a time to finally have the chaos and the crowds die away and getting back to some quiet, winter solitude.

We are waiting for the light to change … for the sun to start its return trip on the Winter Solstice.

We’re waiting for the arrival of the Prince of Peace … ever-hopeful and expectant that things CAN be different.

And here, as we await all those things, we claim what it is to be part of the Reformed Tradition in Christianity that elects its own leaders, that prayerfully consecrates them, that lifts up and celebrates the Spirit that has touched these peoples’ hearts and ignited in them a sense that NOW is the time for them to say yes to God and to serve as Deacons and Elders for our merry little band of believers. J

It is a JOY that we celebrate this day.

When I was younger I remember hearing a sermon once about the difference between joy and happiness. My pastor, the late Reverend Bill Rambo (isn’t “Rambo” a great name for a minister? LOL)  he talked about what it’s like to take a ball and hold it under water. There’s a constant tension there as it tries to resurface. And then once back on TOP of the water, it just floats along.

Floating on the surface is happiness.

Being that ball … KNOWING that even though you’re under water right now that there is a FORCE bringing you back up to the surface … THAT’s joy. Joy is filled with hope and possibility because it is deeply rooted in the ball itself.

And that’s how WE are when we practice a faith that is based on LOVE and not on FEAR. We KNOW that Love Wins! …. EVERY time … love wins.  The Light wins out over the Darkness because the absence of light ceases to be the absence of light as soon as light is present.

Pretty basic, huh?

That’s how it is with joy. No matter how far down the ball is pulled beneath the water … at the first sign that the grasp of whatever is pulling it down … as soon as that grasp lessens even just the slightest bit …. The ball SHOOTS up and breaks the surface of the water … maybe even leaping HIGHER into the air before coming back to settle on the surface and bobbing along to its next adventure.

Today’s readings … both the one from John’s Gospel that we used as our Call to Worship and the Isaiah that we  just read together … they both talk about this reality for people of faith.

In Isaiah, we are told that the Ruach … the breath … the Spirit … the Holy Presence of God  fills us up so much that it anoints us … it BLESSES us. It sets us apart like we are about to do with our leaders. It’s like the air in the ball. We BREATHE IN all that is holy and that EMPOWERS us to bring good news to the oppressed,  to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.

Because we are filled with the essence … the ACTIVE PRESENCE of God, we can do God’s work in the world just like Jesus did … just like Mohammed and Zorooaster and Ghandi and King and Sojurner Truth and  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others who are living today do every day.

GOD does the work. We’re just the vessels … the Light Bearers.

That’s what Isaiah is saying to his people because they had been defeated … they had been captured and exiled to a strange land. And he’s saying, “Hey … wait, you guys. We can do this … God fills us up and calls us by name. We can DO this.”

And about 900 years after Isaiah wrote those words, John gave us  HIS account of the same phenomenon but he used the idea of light and said that we are all LIGHT BEARERS in the world. The world won’t know us because we are DIFFERENT from the shadow world around us. We don’t conform to the environment. The ball is DIFFERENT from the water. It’s filled with some FORCE that keeps it moving toward the surface no matter what obstacles it encounters.

We live in a shadow world much of the time. Psychologist Carl Jung had a lot to say about that. And I am not here to say that the shadows are bad … or that they’re good. They just are. They are a part of our reality.

The CIA claims one thing;   the White House another.

“It’s not torture. It’s enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Hmmm … and bombs are peacekeeping missles.

People of faith CAN disagree because we live in a world of shadows. But what cannot be denied is that the LIGHT will win out. Whether it’s a dark shadow or a light shadow doesn’t matter half as much as the fact that when it is SHADOW, it is not darkness.

In darkness there is no light at all … and in those times in our life when we feel like there’s no light at all, we have the opportunity to remember that the ball always comes back to the surface. The slightest lessening of the grip on it and it’s GONE.

The same is true of our lives … right now our world is like the ball being dragged down under the waves. Why do you THINK so many people are discouraged … tired … depressed … irritable … just not FEELING right?  It’s because our collective self is feeling the PRESSURE of being dragged beneath the waves again and again, and again.

But even now … even in the midst of the shadow we can see the light. It’s a light that is about to be born inside of us in a new way at Christmas. It’s a light of Hope … It’s a light of Peace … It’s a light of JOY because NOTHING can stop the power of the Light.  NOTHING can stop the Love of the one who created us from getting to us … breathing life into us … and bringing us back up to float on the surface.   … NOTHING.

And the fact that we have new people who feel CALLED to serve God right now bears testimony to that.

Now, Gordon … you’re an ordained Elder but ALSO an ordained Deacon. He is a Deacon wanna-be … J   Even when he’s not on the Board he comes to meetings and he goes to visit people because … well … what is it Jane has taught you?   “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon.”

And right now, as we are EXPANDING … can you believe it? Our merry little band of Believers is expanding its ranks. We’re going to take in 4 new members on Christmas Eve. And right now as we are expanding, we also dedicate ourselves to the promise that we will take care of each other.

That’s what the Deacons do. You can read about their ministry in the ordination insert. They are our care-givers. They represent the caring and love and companionship and support of our entire faith community. They act on our behalf. And our Deacons are amazing. I know … because they minister to me, too.

How grateful we are, Gordon, that God has called you … Stena,  Mary, Sonya, Barb, and Ruth to this work and given you all that you need to do the job you’ve been called to. Thank you for saying YES.

And Carol … you served on the session before … about 10 years ago. But what strikes me about God calling you NOW is that you have NOT been on session during this transition of the last five years. You’ve been with us on the periphery of it, but by joining the session, you are the FIRST of the new Elders totally focused not on what WAS, but on what IS and what is to COME.

In the Presbyterian Church the Elders are responsible for EVERYTHING. In fact, the word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word πρεσβύτερος (“Presbuteros”) which means “Elder.”  NOT in the sense of OLD … but in the sense of WISE. And our Elders hold ALL the power of a church… they are responsible for the spiritual life of the congregation as well as the financial viability, the direction the church will take … There are two kinds of Elders … RULING Elders (not as in the sense of a Ruler to rule over the people, but in the sense of a MEASURING stick … they are the ones to measure and weigh the position of the church) and all who are ordained to serve on the Session are Ruling Elders.

The other kinds of Elders are Teaching Elders like Jane and me … sometimes called Ministers of Word & Sacrament.

And so God has called you, Carol … placed in on your heart, you have been elected by this congregation and examined by the Session as to “why you …. Why now …” and it is CLEAR to all of us that God has plans for us that need you.

God’s light is shining through you and the others continuing on Session … Barb, Summer, Andy, Mary Lee, and Nancy … and with Amy and Linda continuing to advise me and serve as Co-Clerk of Session.

There’s great JOY here because it is SO CLEAR that God has a plan for our little church … our wee kirk.

We ARE the Light Bearers, my friends … when we stand with those on the margins, we ARE the Light Bearers.

When we call others to be accountable for their disparaging remarks or their biased opinions, no matter how couched in fancy language they seem to be  … we ARE the Light Bearers.

When we upset the status quo because some people are being left out when all should be included … WE are the Light Bearers.

And when we will NOT stay submerged but just wait for the chance to SPRING to the surface again … WE are the Light Bearers. We bear the Light of Christ and the Love of God to the whole world … and we start right here on Elmwood Avenue.

Blessed are the Light Bearers for they will find Joy in the Shadows. Amen.

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