The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r009.htm
s009g03 Lockleys Christmass 2 5/1/2003
"The darkness has not overcome it" John 1.5
When one reads these lessons, one could possibly be left with the impression that we as humanity are "second class" citizens. So John tells us "No one has ever seen God" It is only Jesus "who is close to the Father's heart". Or as St Paul puts it, we are "destined .. for adoption". Of course adopted children are no less persons in their own right, and they are loved as much as any other child. But in our human way of thinking, these add up to us believing that we are not quite what we should be.
I think that these natural thoughts come to us because we are just so familiar with the seeming hierarchical nature of creation. We are still left with remnants of a culture where women were considered lesser beings. The fact is also that none of us have had perfect parents and a perfect upbringing. At one stage or other we have felt "put down" when we really needed to be lifted up.
And often religion can exacerbate these thoughts. We have always had to learn more, to give more, to be more compliant - because God loves compliant people more than others.
And yet I think that these are really the elements of darkness in which the light of Jesus has shone.
In the beginning, the first of the creation accounts tells us that man and woman were created equally and simultaneously as the pinnacle of creation. The second account tells us that God cares for humanity even to the extent of rescuing us from our solitude. (I shall deal more extensively with the creation accounts in the sermon next Sunday.)
The gospel tells us that "all things came into being " through him. "The life was the light of all people". "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." There is no hierarchy here. Everyone is treated equally and equally graciously.
Many years ago now, my older brother got interested in photography when he was in high school. He made his own processing equipment as one was able to do in the days before colour photography became affordable. We had a small room tacked on to the back of the house which had been converted into a kitchen - it was supposed to be for a granny flat for my maternal grandmother but this did not eventuate. Hence my brother was able to turn this room into a darkroom for his processing. I can still remember the lengths he had to go to exclude all light entering. I suspect the room was a bit of a "tacked on - extra structure" to the house, so it was not just the doors and windows, but other openings let in shafts of light, all of which had to be blocked out. The point of all this is the extreme difficulty he had to keep the light out. It required ingenuity and patience - a real effort.
And God's light is precisely the same. It is not a dim candle which one could easily miss or is blown out. I am reminded of the poster in offices - "Due to economic constraints the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off." :-) There are no economic constraints when it comes to God. The light is always all around us - it is all pervasive. The light of God's love will not go away. It requires bloody minded effort on our part to ignore or neglect it.
And I suddenly thought how much effort it would be for us to go around with our eyes closed all the time, never taking even the slightest peek into the wonderful world God has put around us. It would take superhuman effort. And of course, particularly in the beginning, we would keep bumping into things. So too if we go through life closing our eyes to the graciousness of God's love for all, we too will constantly bump into other things - God's less than gentle reminders that there are other people in this world for whom God has an equal concern.
I am reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah, repeated by Jesus, after the parable of the sower - the religious authorities "may indeed look, but not perceive, and they may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven" (Mk 4.12). The efforts the religious authorities went to shut out the possibility of God's love for all were not due to some double predestination ordained by God, but again through shear bloody mindedness on their part that no one else was going to share in the light other than themselves.
I find it interesting that nearly all the "I am" sayings in John, like "I am the light of the world" are all inanimate objects, things that exist but have no independent "mind of their own" to discriminate between one person and another. (The exception here is that the good shepherd is hardly an inanimate object.) So:
I am the bread of life - the bread can hardly choose who takes and who might not.
I am the way, the truth and the life - anyone can walk on the way.
I am the gate - able to be opened by anyone.
I am the resurrection and the life - the Cross is for everyone, not just an elite.
Indeed the classic exception which proves the rule, I am the vine (apart from me you can do nothing) implies that if we separate ourselves from this inclusive grace for all, we too will wither and die.
On the 21st of December we watched the ABC program "Empires: Martin Luther, the Reluctant Revolutionary" (part 2). It was a fascinating program as it reminded me of the classic conundrum - is God's grace mediated through clergy and sacraments alone or is God's grace available to humanity directly and personally. I would want to say that God's grace is always mediated, though hardly through clergy and sacraments alone. God's grace comes in our interactions with other people whoever they are. Sometimes this interaction can come through the characters in Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. I would not want to say that anyone has direct personal access to God, for God always brings us into relationship with others in a way that is marked by equality and mutuality. So a priest is most effectively a priest when he or she is an ordinary person, not when he or she dons the sacred vestments and/or pontificates from pulpit or street corner. The danger of asserting that anyone has a more direct relationship with God is that it can become no different from the pedestal clergy have been put on, or on which some have placed themselves. And this last sentence can be reframed more generally - the danger of asserting that Christians have a more direct relationship with God is if we do so, we place ourselves on a non-existent pedestal which will blind us to the contribution others can make to our lives.
One can hear the word of the Lord sometimes through the most irreverent of characters - like Billy Connolly in that wonderful movie "the Man who Sued God": "How can I sue God for an act (striking his boat with lightning) that lead me to this woman? - for an act of love?" There is no hierarchy what so ever - none of us are second class citizens.
"The darkness has not overcome it" was my text, and of course the greatest darkness for the Christian was in the gloom of Good Friday. Good Friday shows the response an exclusive theology has for an inclusive theology - it will try to deny it, it will call it blasphemous, and it will seek it's utter destruction. But nothing can change God's inclusiveness for all which has been from the beginning of time and will be until the end of time.
The evidence for the grace of God for all people is all around us. If we care to look - it becomes "as plain as the nose on your face". We could try closing our eyes, but we can't do that for ever. Nothing can shut out the light of God's love for all people. This is no more likely than someone could extinguish the sun. Even during the recent eclipse we were all solemnly warned not to look at the remnants of the sun, even at the height of the eclipse.
For all we struggle to find the way - the outcome for each and every one is already assured, for in the end it is entirely up to us whether we want to be included with others or not.
And I suspect that we do well to live in the light of these words, without spending time and energy on speculating on the nature or possibility of what lies beyond.
The darkness that exists in us all cannot and will not overcome the light of God's love for each and every member of the creation. Our fate and the fate of each and every person rests solely on ourselves and whether we indeed want to be a part of this kingdom with all. No amount of fancy biblical, theological or spiritual footwork will change the graciousness of God and this has been true from the beginning of time.
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