“Walking in the Light”
Dr. John Judson
December 26, 2021
Isaiah 5:18-24; John 1:1-5
They are solid. She is a dynamo. He’s a rock. I’m feeling up. She is feeling down. What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Cindy is the sun. I know it was originally Juliet, but Cindy works better for me. Metaphors, these are all metaphors that we use all the time. You might even call us “metaphorians.” I say that because studies have shown that we use metaphors between 20 and 25 times an hour. What is a metaphor? It is attaching the attributes of one object to another object to which you cannot literally apply it. In other words, when say someone is a rock, we know they are not a literal rock, but we understand what the metaphor implies about that person. We take those attributes of a rock and apply them to another person. Metaphors enrich our language and our understanding of the world around us. So why this morning, the day after Christmas, are we talking about metaphors? We are doing so because without understanding metaphors we cannot understand the Bible in general, and the opening of the Gospel of John in particular.
To understand this opening of the Gospel of John, this critical piece of our faith, we need to examine four metaphors, three of which are in this passage and one of which is not. We will begin with the metaphor that is not here and that is the metaphor of the way. The “way” is used throughout the scriptures, from the beginning to the end, from the journeys of Abraham, to the Book of Acts where the church is called “the Way.” It is used to describe the reality that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the Prophets, Jesus, and Paul has laid out before us as a way of life; a manner of living that will lead us to life in all its fullness. Think about the way as our life’s journeys, including the choices and decisions we make. That “way” is supposed to be informed by the second metaphor we will take up, which is the life, or as we read, “What has come into the world was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Life within Judaism meant more than simply breathing in and out. It meant life in all its richness and abundance. It meant a life of abundance, and grace, and sharing; a life without violence; a life of loving God and neighbor. Take a second and imagine what your ideal life would look like. Chances are it is filled with peace, fellowship, abundance, friendship, and community. These words are all richly wrapped up in the metaphor of the life as it is used throughout the scriptures. So those two metaphors, the way and life, show us what God desires for us, for all human beings. God desires that we all have that rich abundant life and the manner in which we are to find it is to follow in the way. But the question has always been, whether it is in the Hebrew/Jewish community or within the Christian community, how do we find our way to that life? The reason we ask that is that so often we live in darkness, which is the next metaphor.
Darkness in the scriptures is the inability to see the way that leads to the life. Let’s take a moment to dig into this metaphor of the darkness. Have you ever been somewhere that is really, really dark? It may be your bedroom at night, or a closet with the light off, or a night in which there is no moonlight or starlight. The danger of the dark is that we can lose our way, we can wander off the path, we can find ourselves in a ditch, or falling off a cliff, or in the presence of animals that may harm us. The dark is the place in which people can secretly meet and plan and scheme. The dark is the place in which, if we live in it, we will lose our way. We will wander off the path. We will not find the life that God wants us to possess. The trouble is that the world is filled with darkness and with those who whisper to us that we should leave the way of God in Christ. The struggle for the community of faith has always been that if we want to attain this abundant life by walking in God’s path, how do we be sure that we are staying on the way? The answer is that we look for a light that will illumine our path.
Within the Jewish community the light that illumines the way of God that leads to abundant life is the Torah. The Psalmist says that Torah is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” What Judaism understood was that if people wanted to find life, they needed to be obedient to the Law of Moses including rules such as love God and neighbor, care for the widow and the orphan, don’t glean to the edge of your fields, make sure that the poor get fed, and help your neighbor in need. All of these good things, if we follow them, are the light, the lamp that dispels the darkness and illumines the way to life. But something happens in the Gospel of John that moves beyond the Torah as light; and that is the light is Jesus, the Word made flesh. And this is a light that cannot be overcome by darkness. It is a light that cannot be extinguished. Jesus is the light, the lantern, that helps us see the way, the path, and find the life. And Jesus is the light because he was the one who was in the beginning with God creating all things. Think about the imagery of creation in which there was chaos, a void, and the Word of God spoke and there was order, there was light. What John does is take that metaphor and say that Jesus is the creative and still creating light, which is why darkness cannot overcome it. John tells us that together Jesus and God created all that there is, and so there is no power that can overcome them. So, that if we are willing to follow that light we will stay on the path and find the life that God offers; a life filled with richness, abundance, peace, hope, and love.
The challenge for all of us then is to take following Jesus seriously. I mean this in a very, particular way, that we don’t just believe in Jesus, that Jesus is a particular something, or someone, but it is allowing Jesus, through his life and teachings to be our light, and our guide. It is about imitating Jesus in all that we say and do. And if you want to know more about how to do this, join us on our next sermon series which is about this journey on the path, illuminated by the light, so that we find the life God desires for us. My challenge to you for this week, and for the new year is this: ask yourselves, how am I consciously trying to imitate and follow Jesus, that I might walk in the light along the path, and find God’s abundant life?
“Walking in Love”
Dr. John Judson
December 19, 2021
1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-56
The year was 1953. He had packed his duffle bag, put on civilian clothes, walked out of the gate at Camp Pendleton, and wondered how he was going to get back to Houston to see his young bride and their infant son. My father had just completed his tour of duty in Korea as a Marine gunnery sergeant and now deeply desired to be home. And even though Uncle Sam had given him a free ride to basic training, they were not doing the same for his way home. At that moment a car pulled up. It was one of the men from his unit. The man called out, “Hey sarge, where are you headed?” My dad replied, “Houston.” “Need a lift?” was the response, “I’m driving all the way to Louisiana, and I would be happy to have you ride along.” My father expressed his appreciation, hopped in and away they went. Several days later my dad arrived unexpectedly at his in-laws, where my mom and older brother were living. He thanked his friend, knocked on the door, and in the warmth of the welcome he received he found hope, peace, and joy.
Let me ask this, this morning, do any of you need a lift? If you do, then you need to hitch a ride as together we walk in God’s love. Let me explain. In this world there are many kinds of love. There is motherly and fatherly love. There is brotherly and sisterly love. There is romantic love and passionate love. There is physical love and spiritual love. There is love of country and love of neighbor. There is sacrificial love and love of self. All these types of love have their place and time. Each of these types of love enriches our lives and the world. They make life worth living. What I want us to do today is add one more kind of love to our love lexicon, and that is lifting love. I want us to add lifting love because that is the most accurate way to describe the love of God. The scriptures regularly refer to the steadfast love of the Lord or to the love of God, but our tendency is to want to take one of many forms of love and associate that kind of love with God’s love. We may think of God’s affection for us, or God’s care and concern for us…all of which are present, but at its heart, God’s love is a lifting love. It is a love that finds us when we are down, broken, alienated, and alone and lifts us up so we can find hope, peace, and joy. We can see this in both of our stories this morning.
Hannah was down. As we discussed last week, she was childless while her sister wife had multiple children. And even though she was loved by her husband, she felt the pressure from society to meet the expectations that rested upon all women to bear male offspring, and she felt the derision from her sister wife. Again, to recap, Hannah promised God that if she bore a child she would dedicate her child to serving God in the Tabernacle. Hannah becomes pregnant, delivers, weans her child, and then gives him back to God. Those actions are then celebrated in the song we heard this morning; a song about God’s having lifted her and every other person who is bent down and oppressed. Listen again. “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength…the Lord raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” This is the love of God. This is lifting love that takes individuals who find themselves at the edge of defeat and raises their heads, changes their status, and offers them hope, peace, and joy.
We can find this same lifting love in Mary’s song. This time though, the lifting is not simply for Mary, but it is for a nation…and by extension the world. Again, a recap. The Jewish people have been waiting more than four-hundred years for a messiah to arise who would free them from the oppression in which they had found themselves. During those four-hundred years the Jewish people had been dominated by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. While the Jews had been able to worship at their rebuilt temple most of that time, the pressure to leave their God behind and adopt Greco-Roman ways was becoming almost intolerable. The nation was bowed down under Roman rule. So, each day Jewish men prayed for a messiah. Each day Jewish women prayed to be the mother of the chosen one. We can hear Mary’s joy in having been selected for this task. We can also hear her speak of God’s lifting love. “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…He has filled the hungry with good things…He has helped his servant Israel, according to the promise he made to our ancestors…” Do you hear the lifting of a nation? This is what the love of God does. It lifts.
I want us to return to my father’s story for a moment. In my father’s story there were two people involved, my dad and his buddy. My father needed a lift, and his friend offered it. While we can see this as an analogy of God lifting us, I hope we will also see it as God using my dad’s friend as a lifting agent…as the one who made God’s lifting love real. For you see, that is what we are called to be and do. We are called to be those who allow God’s love to lift us and we are called to be those who are God’s agents of lifting others. And if you think this kind of lifting is hard…it isn’t…so let me tell you a story about Anthony Ray Hinton. It was 1985 and Hinton was working the night shift in a factory that was locked so no one could get in. Unbeknownst to him, miles away, someone brutally murdered two store managers during robberies. A third manager was wounded and picked Hinton’s face out of a set of picture cards. Hinton was arrested, tried, and convicted, even though there were witnesses that he was in the locked factory all night. The only physical evidence was a gun found at his grandmother’s house seemed to be the murder weapon…except later forensics ruled it out. Hinton was sentenced to death. Ultimately, he would spend 30 years on death row, most of it solitary confinement, in a 5x7 cell, only allowed out one hour a day. As he tells his story, for the first several years he was angry and refused to speak with anyone. If he needed to reply to a question, he would write the answers on a piece of paper. But then one night he heard the man in the next cell crying. Moved by memories of his grandmother’s love, he asked what was wrong. The man replied that his mother had just died. Hinton replied, “Well now you have someone in heaven who can plead your case with God before you get there.” Then Hinton told the man a joke. The man laughed…and Hinton had found his voice and calling. He would be a lifter of people. And so for the next 30 years, he was a lifter of inmates and guards. He was a force of God’s love in that prison. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction…and to this day, Hinton continues to be a lifter of people.
This, my friends, is what we are called to be: those who find our voice as God lifts us as did Hannah, Mary, and Anthony and then use our voices to lift others. Here then, is what I would like you to do, close your eyes and feel God’s love, lifting you…taking your hand, lifting under your arms, taking from you the pain, the weight, the fear, the worry and lifting you into God’s very presence, into the light of God. Then, as you are being lifted, think of someone who needs lifting…a friend, a stranger, a neighbor…and then find your voice and make a commitment to go and lift.
Rev. Dr. John Judson