Epiphany is a season of light, and we sure need it now. This has been an extremely difficult week from the dreariest of weather days to the national and global news, and many of us are carrying personal struggles as well.
So this Sunday we will focus on where we can find light and how we can increase it and what God is calling us to do with it. We will hear a wide range of scripture passages, hymns and choral pieces (see the list below) that can encourage our hope and help us with the practical task that now confronts us each—because to paraphrase a Taoist saying on peace, there is no light in the world without light in the nation, and no light in the nation without light in the town, and no light in the town without light in the home, and no light in the home without light in the heart.
Arund Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, summed up his grandfather’s philosophy saying, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” An early 20th Century sermon by William Watkinson said, “Denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” If we want to change the world from its ominous gathering darkness, we need to light and lift our own candle first, starting in our heart and moving out from there.
The scriptures make clear how important to our own experience of light is our sharing of it with others. The Gospel of Thomas includes three relevant passages. Thomas can be gnostic, mystical and downright difficult, but these teachings attributed to Jesus share profound and practical insights about the light we need:
His disciples said, “Show us where you will be so we can seek you.” Jesus said to them, “Let those who have ears listen! There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark…. If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not find it within you, that lack will be your downfall… I am the light that is within and around all things. I am all: from me all came forth and to me all came and found their being in me. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.” Gospel of Thomas 24, 70 and 77
We will hear that passage along with I Corinthians 2:12-16, Matthew 5:13-16 and a responsive reading from Isaiah 58.
The choir will sing “Unconditional Love” by Donna Summer and Michael Omartian, an extraordinary pop song about unconditional, agape love. (You can hear it below, and also see an equally extraordinary Superbowl advertisement about agape and the three other forms of love in the Greek New Testament.)
The choir will also sing an inspiring Introit by Ruth Duck, “Arise, Your Light Has Come,” set to the hymn tune “Festal Song,” as well as “This Little Light of Mine.” The congregation will sing “O Day of God, Draw Nigh,” “The Voice of God Is Calling,” and a new hymn, “The Room Is Dark, It Needs Our Light,” set to the tune “Kingsfold.”
Pianist Annemieke McLane will play three beautiful pieces, two of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words” and the beloved and fun “Sonata in C” (K. 159) by Domenico Scarlatti. (You can hear it below as well.)