Only Light Can Do That
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 11, 2020 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 25:6-9; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 5:3-16
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]
Churches and pastors are not allowed to endorse candidates, so I will not do that. I will say nothing that is not being lobbed across the American divide by both sides.
Both are saying that the future of our democracy and world are at stake. Both sides are feeling that the other is being hateful. Both are concerned that the opposition is plotting violence and civil war. Both sides are crying foul at a rigged election.
So if I speak out against those who are destroying our democracy and world, if I speak out against hate and violence and election offenses, I cannot be accused of endorsing one candidate or another, and it is a nonpartisan statement of fact that the next three weeks are likely to be one of the darkest and most agitating periods we have ever experienced.
It is also perfectly legal for me to urge you to postpone everything you possibly can in the next three weeks and dedicate every spare moment to making this a fair, all-inclusive election, and work especially to help those Jesus loved and served most, those who are oppressed, marginalized or disenfranchised. We have only three weeks to act, and we will be living with the consequences for the rest of our lives.
How will you feel if you wake up after November 3rd to find that your side lost? What will you wish then that you had done now?
There. That is as close as I may ever come to a sermon like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” threatening you with “a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath that you are held over,” “much as one holds a spider or loathsome insect over the fire…”
Now let me help you set your anxiety, depression or despair aside, because they are not going to save our nation or your soul. Let me offer you instead the comfort of the wisest spiritual teachers and political activists of the ages. Let me share with you the secret of their world-changing power so that you may be a force for the side of light and love in the next three weeks and all the weeks beyond this election when we will still have the same democracy and world to save, the same causes of racial, economic and environmental justice to serve.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained why we need to set our negative emotions aside, no matter how legitimate they may be.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy…. Violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
King said, “We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”
Listen to the book of Isaiah in a passage that scholars believe was written when Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people into exile. The prophet did not urge revenge, he did not stir up nationalism and ethnic hatred, he did just the opposite. He held out a vision of oneness of all peoples, of the ideal human society, of the best that we can be with the help of God.
“On this mountain God will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…Then God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and God will take away the disgrace of the people from all the earth…It will be said on that day…this is the God for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.”
Only light can drive out darkness, only love can drive out hate, so we need to focus on what fills us with light and love. We need to focus on our highest ideals, our dreamed of goals, our most prized values. If we focus on the darkness we are up against we will descend into paralyzing despair. If we focus on the hate that is aimed at us it will poison our soul.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his beloved congregation in Philippi urging the two women leaders of the community to work together as one. It was extraordinary and even scandalous that Paul endorsed women leaders. It proves that the passages attributed to him about keeping women in their place were added after his death by male supremacists. Paul created egalitarian, Spirit-led churches, knowing that they would be fiercely opposed by Jews and Romans alike, and his advice to them in the face of that opposition was to:
“Rejoice in the Lord always…. Let your gentleness be known to everyone…. Do not worry about anything…. whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure…if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think about these things, don’t dwell on the people who are not speaking the truth, who are doing works of injustice. Don’t worry about them, turn all your attention to being the change you want to see in the world, and the result will be that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.”
This is the way of Christ. This is the profound, radical, transformative wisdom Jesus taught that has guided the most light-filled and loving people we have ever known. When we focus on love and light, then:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for goodness and rightness in this world, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are you when you are reviled and persecuted for your dedication to mercy and peace.
Jesus taught us to align our lives with our ideals, because “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” If we fill ourselves with darkness and hate, how can we be the light of love that the world so desperately needs?
Our calling is to lay down our lives out of love in the next three weeks and in the great struggles beyond November 3rd. But our calling is not to descend into grim darkness. Our calling is to rise and serve with our hearts full of light and love by keeping our eyes on the prize, by feeling solidarity with so many people we love and admire, by thinking about these things.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. So let us fill ourselves with the light of love every step along our hero’s journey. Let us pray in silence now, going down into the darkness within us and opening wide to the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome…