Here is a story that I don’t remember, but I have been told that it is true… When I was a little girl about Georgia’s age (3), living at the service station my parents co-owned at Mile 245 on the Alaska Highway, some traveler asked me, “Who are you?” I replied “I’m Goldilocks… I think.”
It takes time to know who you truly are, what your gifts are, and what your calling in life is. And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it can change!
I love the opening lines of the passage from Isaiah today. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… “ I love the fact that Jesus reads it in the gospel of Luke and then says, `This is it folks – this is why I’m here. ‘ I struggle with reading those middle verses. I want to end where Jesus ended in the gospel at verse 3, but it’s important to know these middle verses which say basically that others will do your work and you will get their wealth.
Something written 2500 years ago to give a hopeless people a sense of hope, has unfortunately been used in various places to give a sense of entitlement.
“You shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory.” Is this a part of the struggle, the mindset in the holy land today – A sense of entitlement that comes from this ancient word attributed to Isaiah? I also wonder if this is any different than the mind-set that has prevailed too long in our own country in terms of the `Indian Act’, and the disparity still between First Nations communities and those who moved to Canada later, seeing this as the new Promised Land, the God-given land of opportunity. Was this the same mind-set that, in the building the national railway, charged a head-tax on the Chinese workers and then paid them poverty wages. There are more examples, but I think you get the picture.
How do we live into the words of Isaiah – knowing that so many are imprisoned unjustly, that all who are blind need to see, whether physically or spiritually – we need to be awakened to what the whole picture is. How can we testify to the Light that brings life to the world? How can we bring the joy and the justice we long for?
The gospel says John the baptizer wasn’t the Light, he just testified to the Light. Yet John had his own light – it was a beacon to draw people – it sparked their interest and it sparked their hunger for spiritual depth. Jesus himself told his disciples that they were the Light of the World. Recent scientific studies conclude that there actually is light in us. There is a tiny bit of light emitted from our very cells. So maybe when we say that someone glows, it’s because they really do!
How else can we testify to Divine Light; what credentials to we have?
I remember listening to Anita Fast at VST a number of years ago. She went as part of a Christian peacekeepers team to the Israel and Palestine. She told us that some of the most effective work there was done by `the grandmothers’. These older women would just stand together and watch if an arrest was being made. They had the power of silently witnessing – a way of speaking without words to say, ‘I see what you are doing.’ Where an Israeli soldier might normally be rougher on a Palestinian citizen they questioned or arrested, they were hesitant to be too aggressive when a grandmotherly figure was watching! Well, since I’m going to be a grandmother soon, I resolve to try to be more bothersome and brave.
Sometimes, overwhelmed by the pain and suffering of the world, or by shutting ourselves off from all of that –our own light diminished. But we hold to those beautiful words at the beginning of John’s gospel, about the `Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.’
Now if we only see that light in Jesus, we can be tempted to just stand adoringly around the Christmas manger, instead of getting on with it and being the light that Jesus in turn calls us to be; our only credential being that the Spirit of the Lord us upon us and wont’ leave us alone.
I got a phone call this week from my friend Lynn Gardiner. I hadn’t seen her for about a year, but she’d been busy. `I’ve been making some quilts for the homeless’, she told me. On Friday, she brought some of them over. (You’ve seen them this morning.) They are beautiful. What motivated Lynn? She’s seen some of the homeless people hanging around the downtown in Salmon Arm. The idea of the quilts came to mind. `But`, she said, `I let it go.’ However the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let her go and basically said `Get on with it.’ She did, and now has given us these beautiful gifts to share.
I’m not very talented with needle and thread, but I do know that when I hear of injustice, my heart pounds and I know I must speak out. I don’t always do it. I’m not always brave enough. Still the Holy Spirit haunts me through Martin Luther King Jr’s words about the appalling silence of the `good’ people. I try to be one of the `good’ people.
So, when I heard the decision of president Trump to simply declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel this week, I was deeply distressed. I wrote a letter to our Prime Minister and to Chrystia Freeland, our federal foreign affairs minister. It will likely be in the paper this week. What authority do I have to do this? What credentials? I am not an expert on the Middle-East, I am not a holocaust survivor, though I’ve made myself watch every holocaust movie, and read history to understand the horror of what happened. I am not a Palestinian…but I have seen their suffering first-hand. I like people to say nice things about me, and I’m sure I will be accused by some of being anti-Semitic. But I do know more now that I did just over four years ago, when I went to Israel and Palestine, and a lot more than I did 14 years ago. So I had to speak up and say this is terribly wrong. There are copies of what I wrote on the round table, and also copies of the Christmas letter from Sabeel that I posted on our website, with a little introduction from myself.
What else can we do to bring sight and freedom, and justice? The pastoral letter written to the church in Thessalonica (our commissioning for day) encourages us to pray without ceasing.
This praying is not so they or we can change God’s mind, and ask God to fix things. Rather it is so the Divine might move in us and we might have the courage and strength to speak out where a voice is needed; when we cannot speak – to stand in silent witness, rather than responding with contempt or violence; to show the Light of the World by being light through our actions. We pray so that we can be tuned in to that holy frequency that helps us rise above our reptilian survival instincts to see the beauty and interconnectedness of all people and all sentient beings.
Praying isn’t a dour duty. It’s the fuel we need to draw on in times of fear, despair, outrage, and joy – that the Spirit of God will not be quenched. May this unquenchable, sometimes disturbing Spirit – give you the confidence you need – to know when to speak, how to act, and to share the true light that is in you. Amen.