"...I am fully alive and flying with faith soaring above the clouds creating what will be from what is not yet and meeting God in me and all around me. I dance with the doubt so I can fly with the faith."
From "Dancing Into Doubt, Flying Into Faith" Diana Wilcox ⓒ 2010

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Of Light and Darkness

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church - Montclair, NJ
December 16, 2012 - In the aftermath of the CT school massacre
Third Sunday of Advent - Year C
1st Reading - Zephaniah 3:14-20
Psalm - Canticle 9
2nd Reading - Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel - Luke 3:7-18

May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard.  Amen.

During Superstorm Sandy, having fumbled in the dark for something with which to light a candle, I stood back in wonder at the amazing light that this single candle provided - the way it seemed to cut through the darkness and the cold, and how, when more were lit from it, the room came alive again.

We are once again plunged into darkness, a darkness of the soul.  The tragic loss of 26 people, including 20 children in Connecticut on Friday has left us stunned, our hearts in pain, amidst the lights and festivities of this season, the whole thing seems macabe - like a strange and horrible nightmare.  And in this darkness we fumble around for explainations.  We cry out for understanding, we ache in our hearts, we are weary with grief.

So many questions, and the easy answers elude us - they seem cheap, hollow.  Because - the truth is, there is no explaination - no answer that makes it all better, that makes it all comprehendable. 

And so, we are a people walking in darkness - a darkness of our hearts as we take in all that has happened.  It is a darkness that has been a part of humanity since the beginning of time.  A darkness that is always there, ready to envelop us - and as we have seen, it tragically permeates the soul of those who are deeply troubled.  The result is a spreading of that darkness to others, and a sense of hopelessness.

And we can wonder - where is God in the midst of this dark world?  Where is God in this tragedy, in this senseless loss. 

Amid the many responses flowing from the news, was a quote from a source beloved by children for decades, and perhaps we all need a bit of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood at times like this.  Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister best known for his television show, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."  To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

You see, God isn’t absent when these things happen - but more present than can be imagined.  God grieves alongside us, and is the love that that is the candlelight that sustains us amid the darkness.  And God is found in the love that we offer to one another, and to those most affected.  It is the life that grows out of death - the light that overcomes darkness.

Into the darkness of this world, God entered and is entering.  Christ was not born into a world of light, but one filled with darkness.  Candles are not necessary in a fully lighted room.  Max Lucado, a writer and pastor, in response to Friday’s events, said it this way in a letter to God:

Dear God,

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right?  You came at night.  The shepherds were nightshift workers.  The Wise Men followed a star.  Your first cries were heard in the shadows.  To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame.  It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence....

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day.  Won't you enter ours?  We are weary of bloodshed.  We, like the wise men, are looking for a star.  We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger...

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.”  

It is because we live in a world where darkness is ever present, ever possible, that Christ came, that Christ is, and that Christ will come again. 

We as a people of light - as the Body of Christ alive in the world today - are called to shine forth our light in the world.  To live as Christ lived, bringing people into the fullness of the light of God’s love.  Because God loved us enough to enter the darkness, to live among us as the light of life, we know that death and darkness never has the last word - we know the power of resurrection - that life grows out of death, and light overcomes darkness. 

So, as those around John the Baptist asked in our Gospel lesson, what are we to do?  What are we to do in the face of such horror? 

Grieve as Jesus grieved for Lazarus, as God grieves for those lost on Friday.  And respond, as God did in sending Christ into the darkness of the world.  Be the light of Christ in the world today.  The light of Christ that we await in Advent, and celebrate at Christmas, because we know it will always come - it is a light that is never extinguished - that no darkness can overtake fully.  Do as John the Baptist implores us and be the “helpers” that Fred Roger’s mom spoke about - the ones who respond with healing in a broken world.

As a single candle of hope, we have much light to give the world, but like those candles that cut through the darkness and cold in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, when we work together, as a people called by God to love and serve, united as the Body of Christ, we spread the light of Christ far and wide.   Let us reach out to one another in love, and spread that light, so that those living on the margins, those living in darkness, may know the healing power of God’s love. 

The light of Christ was not extinguished on the cross, but is present here - now - in each of us.  And the hope of God was not extinguished on Friday in an elementary school in Connecticut, but exists within each of us who reach out to those in need, hold the grieving in our arms, and love fiecely in the face of tragedy.

We know, as we heard in the reading from Phillipians today, and often as the blessing we receive in our worship, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  What we experience in Christ, in the light that cuts through darkness, in the fullness of relationship with God, it is a love that truly does surpass all understanding.  It cannot be neatly boxed up into easy answers in the wake of tragedy, or even in the joy of thanksgiving, but is there nontheless, if we open our hearts to it.

We await the coming of that light into our darkened world in this season of Advent - a light that was, and is, is to come.  Let us stand united - in the warmth of God’s love - bearing the light of that love into this world - a world in pain, a world in need, a world waiting for hope.

Let us shine the light of Jesus Christ. for others to see.  Let us be the light of Christ bringing others into the fullness of relationship with God.  So that together we may, as the Body of Christ alive in the world today, overcome the darkness of our own hearts, and those of others, and spread the light of God’s all inclusive love around the world.  So that those walking in darkness, may see a great light.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is Campus Ministry Worth It?

I just returned from the Episcopal Campus Chaplains Conference and the Global Chaplains Conference in Higher Education.  At both conferences I was able meet with people from campuses large and small who were engaged in vital mission with students, staff and faculty.

It often seems that folks in the larger church equate ministry on a college campus as an extension of youth ministry - thinking that what we do is have pizza once a week with students during a bible study.  Campus ministry may include a few slices of pizza on occasion, but is also far more than that, because college campuses are a diverse and dynamic environment, with all age groups and often with many divergent cultures and world views.   

As campus chaplains, we are engaged in pastoral care, interfaith dialog, worship, justice issues, and so much more.  Our "congregations" include students, staff and faculty of all ages, and often, particularly in the case of students, facing stresses of life away from home or trying to balance work, home and school.  We are able to provide a voice of acceptance and love for those who have been marginalized by the wider church at a time when suicide and substance abuse loom large.  And we engage our students in reflection on faith and their role in the larger society.

All of this we often do on a shoestring budget, which in my own denomination, is in danger of being reduced to $0 at our upcoming General Convention in July.  It seems that campus ministry is considered an expendable mission of the church, and yet we wonder why young adults don't come inside our doors. 

The truth is that this "first contact" on a college campus has rippling effects not only for the student, but for the church.  I have heard story after story of people whose return to church was sparked by a college chaplain, and many of those people are now in vibrant lay and ordained ministries.  

As Christians, we are called to proclaim the gospel.  We are not told it must be within the walls of a church to those who already know the healing power of God's love.  There is no better place for mission and ministry than on college campuses today - a place of great need.  May we continue to show support for this work in the decisions we make within the larger church.  

Chaplain Diana