The light shines.

(Photo taken at Camp Weed.)

(Photo taken at Camp Weed.)

The following is a sermon preached at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, FL.

First Sunday after Christmas
St. John’s Cathedral, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013
Judges 6:36-40; Ps. 147:13-21; Gal 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel verses this morning are poetic and profound.
John’s words point to the expansive nature of a messiah
who is fully human and fully divine.
He is the beginning and end of the story.
And his story includes every one of us, every inch of creation.
It is about the power of the Word.
It is about a Light so intense that nothing can extinguish it.
A Love so expansive that nothing can escape it.

The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
This statement is a promise that holds true.
It is a promise that every situation is redeemable.
Every corrupt system,
every dysfunctional family,
even debilitating illness.
All is redeemable.
All is salvageable.

God is always working toward this end.
Creation is always moving in this direction.

Recently I received a beaded bracelet with
a turquoise cross on it.
It was a gift from a man whom I often see
outside of Clara White Mission.
I can’t tell you his name.
He suffers from acute mental illness,
possibly schizophrenia.
He comes during our Morning Prayer and
coffee fellowship on Wednesdays.

I often catch a glimpse of him on the edges
of our gathering.
And then, at some point, I sense his attention on me
as he circles around coming closer and closer each time.
Suddenly he zeroes in, says a word of peace and
hands me a gift of some sort:
a greeting card with detailed writings;
a page of stickers;
or some wrapped hard candies.

He stands still barely long enough for me
to say” Thank you, God bless you”
and then he is gone again.
I cannot say for certain what the attraction is
but I like to think it has something to do
with the light of Christ.
I want to imagine that the light of Christ
emanates from our gathering and
he is drawn to this.
When he comes to me, I see that
same light in his eyes.
Even in the midst of his confusion.
Even with all the voices clamoring
for his attention, it is there.
I hope that our encounter causes that light to burn
more brightly in him and in us.

What comes into being through the Word is Life
and it is the Light of the world.
It is a light that gets reignited in relationship.
It happens not just within us but among us.
We are to receive this flame,
to welcome it and to share it.
This true light enlightens all people.

I have experienced this light over in Taliaferro Hall,
specifically in the Cathedral kitchen.
It was about half my life ago,
before we had a system of
institutionalized shelters and feeding programs.
The poor in our city were far more
reliant on soup kitchens.
The Cathedral fed the hungry on Sunday afternoons.
It was a very painful time for me personally,
when I was going through a divorce.
I was in no shape to interact with crowds of people.
But somehow I knew healing would involve
getting out of myself.

So, I volunteered to help with food prep on Saturdays.
Many Saturdays, it was just me and Lowell Jackson,
standing in the kitchen, slicing vegetables and
talking about life.
The light of Christ burns brightly in Lowell and
I was gifted with his friendship.
During those difficult months,
as I worked quietly in the kitchen,
I sensed the nearness of
a loving and compassionate God.
The light shines in the darkness.

This week I have been reading Francis and Jesus,
a book about the life of St. Francis.
Francis teaches us that we will find God amidst
people and situations that we fear or despise or
that even repulse us.
“God is where we least expect to find God (p. 25).”

When I was fifteen years old, my mother Sarah and
I set out on a road trip to visit my brother
who had just begun college in Virginia.
We spent the first night in Savannah with
my mother’s college roommate and dear friend.
The next day, as we were driving through North Carolina,
my mother missed the bypass for Concord so
we found ourselves in rush hour traffic in that town.
We had been sitting at a very long red light.
When it turned green, we didn’t move.
I looked over at my mother, who was driving.
She was having some kind of attack,
which turned out to be a grand mal seizure.
It was a miracle that we were at a red light
and not on the open road.
I threw the car into park and jumped out.
Some kind men came, and then the police and
then an ambulance,
which carried my mother to a tiny community hospital,

That evening I sat waiting in the dark,
empty hall outside my mother’s room,
as her room was being cleaned (she had become violently ill).
I think that I prayed — but not much more than
“oh, God, oh, God, oh God.”

At some point, I looked up to see a man
walking down the hall in my direction.
I didn’t think anything of it until
he came to a stop right in front of me.
I didn’t recognize him right away because
he was wearing street clothes.
He was one of the police officers who had helped us
earlier in the day.
He had gone to the local Shoney’s and
bought me dinner.
I was blown away by his kindness.
My mother and I were just strangers, passing through.
That man embodied the Life that brings light to the world.
God is where we least expect to find God.

He is alive.
He is with us.
No matter what our circumstance,
If we look for him,
we will find him.

When we celebrate Christmas, we not only celebrate
the Light that burst forth from Mary’s womb,
we also celebrate the Light that burst forth from the tomb.

Through God the Son, we have been adopted.
We are children of this Divine Light and
we are called to bear this Light for all people.

God longs for us to allow the living Christ
to be embodied in us.
Even in our brokenness –
especially in our brokenness –
He longs to use us to bring good news and
heal this troubled world.

For the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
full of grace and truth.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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2 Responses to The light shines.

  1. The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Askren,Ph.D. says:

    Praise God for Mother Beth Tjoflat and her vulnerable sharing of” God Moments!”

  2. Beth says:

    Wonderful and inspiring words Mother Beth. Thank you!

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