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Our Deacon, our Light

The Rev. Deacon Richard Cole is Emmanuel's Deacon, and we're lucky to have him! Richard is a longtime parishioner of Emmanuel Church who felt called to ordination 11 years ago. Since then, he's been serving the needs of Emmanuel's community by wearing various hats including an especially critical one during our time of transition between Rectors. Aside from his stellar singing talents, impressive mastery of languages, humility, sense of humour, wonderful memory for faces and names, and genuine kindness, he just so happens to be a great preacher who never fails to make us laugh when he regales us with frank and honest takes on the characters and situations from his life, always with a lesson to be learned, of course. See his most recent sermon below.

Richard is first and foremost a servant of the church, and selflessly donates his time to help us get closer to The Source of Light. We thank you Richard, for all of your wonderful contributions and wish you a very happy Ordination Anniversary, you are our pretty little white light shining through on our troubled days.

(Psalm 27)

Isaiah 9 :1-4

1 Cor. 1 :10-18

Matth. 4 :12-23

Jan. 26, 2020

Epiphany 3 (11th Anniversary of Ordination)

Since those beautiful words of St. John’s that we heard at Midnight Mass, at this the very darkest time of the year, many of our readings in the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany have had to do with light: the different forms that light can take, the different meanings that it can have, and the different ways in which we perceive it – if we perceive it at all. For John the Evangelist, Jesus is the light of God come into the world – even if the world did not recognize him. To walk through life unaware of the divine presence is that darkness of which Isaiah speaks in today’s first lesson.

Then we have light in the form of the star of Bethlehem: its brightness may guide the Wise Men to the manger where Jesus was born, but it fills Herod and his court with terror, shedding light on a truth they would rather ignore because symbolizing a prophecy come true. In the Gospel that we will hear next week, for the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, the aged Simeon prophesies that Jesus will be the glory of God’s people Israel – and not only Israel, but a light to enlighten all the nations.

The author of today’s Epistle knew a good deal more than he might have wished about the impact of light. Yesterday was the feast day known as the Conversion of St. Paul, when he experienced light, but a light so powerful on the road to Damascus that it literally knocked him off his horse and blinded him. Forgiven, baptized and with his sight restored, Saul took on a new name, as befits someone with a new identity in Christ. The Apostle Paul became just as effective serving as a witness to the Good News as his alter ego Saul had been when trying to suppress it. It is the same transformative power referred to by the writer of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom then shall I fear?”

When I first walked into this Church, back in a year over which we will now draw a discrete veil – but suffice it to say, before some of you were even born – our Christ window was not the magnificent work that you see now. The Star of Bethlehem was very dull indeed – so dull that no one paid much attention to it at all. But the day finally came when the old light bulb burned out, and it was decided, quite intentionally, to put a very bright one in its place. The effect on the congregation when they walked into Emmanuel the following Sunday was unforgettable. Some people literally gasped to see the star shining forth in all its glory. But it wasn’t only about the star: that new bulb lit up details in the entire Christ window that had gone unnoticed for years.

We can only imagine the extraordinary light that burned in Our Lord’s eyes. Whatever it was, it drew people to him like a moth to a flame. Over and over in Scripture, we have verses recounting how Jesus looks at people, how he sees them, picks them out – and how that look has the power to transform them. In today’s Gospel, Jesus sees the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, and calls out to them: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And without further ado, they drop everything they are doing and they do follow him. Then there is the rich young man who has followed all the commandments but has been unable to part with his possessions. We are told that Jesus looked at him – and loved him, warts and all. And perhaps the most amazing encounter of all is between Our Risen Lord outside the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene, who does not recognize him until Jesus turns, looks at her and calls her by name.

I wonder if we would recognize Our Lord if he walked through that door right now. It is almost inconceivable that he would resemble anything like the standard depiction in Italian Renaissance art of a dark Venetian blonde with blue eyes. Just as importantly, do we see him in the face of that street person who sleeps in the doorway of the UBS on the rue du Rhône, or the prostitutes on the rue de Berne? How about that annoying Roma person who asks us for money every single day on our way to work? Do we really see Jesus in that person? And by the way, when we interact with them, do they see Jesus in us?

Paul’s entire letter to the Corinthians consists of constant reminders that to be reborn in the light of Christ means not carrying on with business as usual in the darkness. In today’s passage, Paul exhorts his readers not to quarrel among each other about things like the person who had baptized them.

In the extremely hierarchical and status-conscious Roman Empire, of course, it would have been vital for a prominent family, when choosing the new faith, to have the most prestigious baptism possible – rather like today, when a royal wedding has to be performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, or, at the very least, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, as with Harry and Meghan.

Paul says flatly that those things don’t matter – so much so, that he actually forgets to list one household whom he did baptize, and has to go back and correct himself. In the world of values turned on its head by Our Lord, what appears important is simply foolish. Conversely, what seems ridiculous to worldly wisdom – namely, the Cross and Jesus’ willingness to die on it for the mistakes of others – that apparent weakness, says Paul, is where the real power lies, because it comes from God.

I was in Rome two weeks ago and visited Trajan’s Column, built to the glory of that Emperor’s many conquests and battles. Something like a giant comic strip wraps itself around and around the column, from bottom to top, depicting in graphic detail the selling into slavery or torture and execution of Trajan’s enemies. That was the world of Paul and what his contemporaries thought of as real might and power. But Paul says no: none of that, because God’s weakness is far stronger than any human strength, and God’s light will always outshine the darkest thoughts and actions of human beings.

In a more than unusually frustrating week, my Internet and landline were down three times in the space of four days. The first two times, they could be repaired virtually, but not the third. I literally spent hours on my cellphone with a Swisscom technician attempting to walk me through the process of pulling out and inserting cables, pressing buttons on and off – all to no avail. This technician, very patient and polite and well-spoken, so much wanted my system to work. Everything centered on a little light on the router. It should be white, the young man explained – “une jolie petite lumière blanche” – except mine was an angry red, and it was flashing. “Now, Monsieur Cole”, the nice technician would say, “I know there’s a white light there – you just can’t see it.”

For most of us, we walk neither in utter darkness or in splendid light. Our life’s journey takes place in ever changing shadows. There come times when an unyielding light, so blinding that we dare not meet its gaze head on, shines into those dark parts of our souls that we fancy we can keep from everyone, including God and ourselves. But how much more frequently does a line in Scripture or something deeply felt in prayer come to us as a wonderful revelation, shedding an entirely new light on an issue that we thought devoid of all hope. Far too often, we concentrate on the flashing red lights and fail to see that little white light right in front of our eyes, that ray of hope, of forgiveness, of love, when all around us seems to be nothing but despair. In a flash, we see that what we reckoned as our weakness, our vulnerability, our failure – God has transformed into a strength, a lesson learned to help others.

I find it fascinating that almost everyone who has ever been pronounced clinically dead, whether they considered themselves believers or not during their lifetime on earth, reports being welcomed by a being of light, who lovingly shows them their past life – mistakes and all – yet without judgment. Indeed, no judgment is needed, these people say, because the light makes them understand what has been right and true and good in their lives – and what has not.

Our lives are not our own. God takes us to places where we may never have expected or even wanted to go. God does that not only to accomplish his purposes for ourselves, but also to help accomplish his purposes for others. One of the true joys of living in a community like Emmanuel is that in celebrating each other’s joys, in bearing each other’s burdens, we feel ourselves so knit together in the Body of Christ that we no longer wish to strive for anything less than that unity of mind and purpose that Paul talks about. The world of darkness – evil, hatred, selfishness, greed – may consider us fools for caring as much about each other as we do for ourselves. We know differently. We walk as children of light, and it is a light that will never, ever be extinguished. AMEN

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