http://openarms.org/SERMONS.html for video of actual sermon
God is Light
Prepared for Church of the Open Arms
Presented on February 15, 2009
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall Fresh on me.
Melt me, Mold me, Fill me, Use me,
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
READ 1 John 1: 1-5
Last weekend I watched the director’s cut of Godfather I and II. Wonderful movies, right? The first Godfather was movie of the year–1972. But I had an extreme emotional reaction. I was depressed. It was not the violence; I long ago found a way to remove myself from violence on the screen. It was the total destruction of Michael.
When the movie begins Michael is student/solider just after World War II. Young, alive, filled with promise. His father is keeping him from the family business, the mafia or organized crime. As the movie progresses, Michael is drawn into the family business and he becomes darker and darker, more and more evil. At the end of the movie, there is no light left in Michael. His life is full of darkness.
And so am I. My dreams are filled with those images and that feeling of doom. Once again I realize how open I am to the influences in my surroundings. Coming to church last Sunday was the beginning of another personal spiritual and emotional recovery … and so was preparing this sermon. I had the core of this sermon completed before seeing the movie but I could not shake the way darkness was transmitted to me in that movie. Is light also transmitted? How does my image of God affect the light that I see and transmit?
When I was a child I learned in a concrete way. I had an image of God that was not just personal but a person. Jesus was my friend… but there was also an image of a judgmental male God…that old white man with a beard sitting on a throne ready to judge me for all the naughty things I did. I’ve just re-read the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, this time in version known as The Message, and I know the source of that image. Even the modern language version if those books do not and cannot change the judgmental warrior God image of the Hebrew Bible. And yet also there is the image of God as Light.
The Hindus have wonderfully colorful, varied images of God. I was taught that they were idol worshipers of many gods but I learned through study — as well as experience in a Hindu temple –that they are believers in one God while recognizing that there are many views of the one God and that God is in everything, including ourselves. None of their images spoke to me except the fire pit representing the Light of God; the warrior God images from the Hebrew Bible do not speak to me, but that burning bush really does.
Light! Light has so many wonderful meanings. Recently Bob had cataract surgery and the light coming into his eye now is now less distorted and clouded. His vision at just a week post surgery was 20/30! Mine has never been that good. He says that colors are clearer; his glasses are in the case; he looks forward to more improvement. His vision is better because there is more light making its way into his eye. No vision is possible without light. This is true for physical light as well as spiritual light.
We spent a couple of hours without light a few weeks ago. There is a large street light just outside our bedroom so we are never in real darkness but that night we were. We enjoyed a few hours of total quite and darkness. But that’s about all I wanted. I love the light!
For me, I can imagine God best when I think of light. That old Hebrew Bible has other images of God beyond the burning bush that bring me light. The first thing to be created was light so light is the symbol of creation. In the first chapter of Genesis is this passage
Then God said “let there be light” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
God led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years with a pillar of light by night so light represents God’s guidance.
The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light. Ex. 13:21
“Arise shine for thy light has come” is the beginning of the 60th chapter of Isaiah. This was the watchword for the girls’ mission organization that was so very fundamental to my life as a girl and teen in the Baptist Church. Here light represents the journey or ministry of my life.
The Psalms are full of light references.
Psalm 18:28 says:
You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.
Psalm 27:1 says:
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
Psalm 119:105 says
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
The New Testament has its share of light. In the gospel of Matthew the Magi are directed to Jesus by a great light. They told Herod:
“For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage” Matt 2:2
Jesus is said to be the light of the world. And in 1 John 1:7 we read:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have community one with another.
We certainly know now that we Christians have light symbols for God. But how does this light image help me on my spiritual path? How does it help you?
For me I first needed to learn that a personal God does not have to be human. This was a great step for me. Personal and person were the same thing for me for many years. Now I have a more abstract image of God but there remains a presence that is personal and close to me.
Second, looking at God as Light, I could see that God is sending light to everyone on the earth. This Light that is God shines on all just as our sun shines on all of us on this planet. God is Light and that Light is for everyone. So I have no need and no right to judge how others live or how they imagine God.
Third, my visual images of God are now expanded. I can see that others need specific images of God and that I do not judge their usefulness in worship nor their validity for that person in their culture and time. Even if someone needs a judgmental, white old man God for their own spiritual path. — That’s not the image I need now but it served me well for many years.
I feel liberated and opened with the image of light. I know the Hebrew Bible and our Protestant tradition forbids making images of God but I also know that human minds work more on image that on words. And some have made the words of God into an idol.
The images I showed the children were my project for religion in art class at Pacific School of Religion. Some thought that doing an art project and a 5 page paper was the easier assignment but I knew I could write 15 pages. I did not know if I could create anything that might be close to art or at all useful. I now keep these three images in my office to remind me that I can create and that God is Light for any source. I learned that the process of creating these images and then explaining and using them was the art I needed.
How does that light image help me as I move through my day? I heard as a child that I needed to live so that other could see Jesus in me. That I might be the only Jesus or Bible some might ever have. I have taken this old ingrained thought, mixed it with years of living and knowledge, and found a scripture to incorporate that.
Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify God who is above you.
For me this means that I seek the light each day; that I allow the light of God to be a part of me until it shines through me. It is me and yet it is more than me. At least this is my desire, never fully achieved.
But I also look for that light in others and not just in other Christians. I can see the light of God in fire images of the Hindus. The Muslims use absolutely no physical images of God in their worship and yet I find light in their lives, message and even in their buildings. Our relationship to and shared scripture with our Jewish relatives allows me the use of their light images for God. We light candles and I think: “there is another present with us today, even Jesus Christ. Amen
May you see Light.
May you be light this week.
Let others see Jesus in you.