How the Light Gets In



Sermon Title: “How the Light Gets In” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  If you’ve been around me any time in the past month, you’ve probably heard me say, “This is my favorite time of year!”  I love the warm, bright days and cool nights like we had this past Thursday and Friday.  I love watching trees blossom and wildflowers bloom and tomatoes grow — everything except the weeds.  Of course, I’m liable to say in October, “This is my favorite time of year!”  I have also been known to say this at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in July.  I don’t usually say it in February unless I’m on vacation.  All of this is part of my conviction that life is good; and one of the ways I keep myself grounded in that belief, especially when things are difficult, is to remind myself that God’s goodness is not only a big, theoretical idea; it is grounded in tiny, intimate things.  There are many many little gifts we can notice and be aware of in nature and in the people around us.  If you look for goodness, you will find it.  If you are not paying attention, you may not see it.  Gail Vance told me about the year she didn’t notice the blossoming trees, because there were so many stressful things going on her life.  When she realized this, after the season had passed, she made a commitment to pay attention every year to come.

Part of what I like about late spring and early summer is the light.  It’s easier to get out of bed in the morning when it’s already light outside; it’s easier to go to an evening meeting knowing it’s still going to be light when we’re done.  Any meeting which goes on after dark in June has gone way too long.  Light is illumination, and it’s no wonder that Christians use light as a symbol of awareness, God’s presence, and God’s glory.  This is what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he writes, “For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  And for many of us, the importance of light is more than simply church doctrine, it’s something we just know.

There’s a story about a little boy who went to church with his parents in a beautiful cathedral with stained glass windows.  He didn’t understand the theology or the prayers or the preaching, but he soaked in the atmosphere of that beautiful place.  One day his mother was talking about the saints of the church and she told him, “Honey, it’s OK that you don’t know who the saints are.”  And the little boy said, “Mom, I know who they are: the saints are the people the light shines through.”  I have thought of this story as I have sat with Doris Walters this week, and visited with her family.  She is someone who the light shone through.  The saints I know and have known are not people who are holier than everyone else, they are not people who are super-spiritual or super-human.  They are not people who are perfect.  They are people who have found a way to let God’s light shine through them.

This passage from 2 Corinthians is one of the biblical texts which has been most important to me as a person and as a pastor.  I am recovering perfectionist.  This doesn’t mean that I have been perfect and I’m trying to get over it; it means that for years my drug of choice was other people’s approval, and somehow I could never get quite enough; I was always looking to score another hit.  This wasn’t such a bad thing for my parents; it was fine with my teachers; and it was great for my employers. But for me, and I’m sure for Tim, it was its own kind of hell.  Never measuring up to impossibly high standards is a heavy weight to carry around and to expect other people to shoulder with you.  Through the years of my spiritual journey, this passage from 2 Corinthians has given me hope, and ultimately a different understanding of myself.  Here’s Eugene Peterson’s prophase from the Message: “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.  That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.  As it is, there’s not much chance of that.  You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at.”  That’s the apostle Paul.  Here’s songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” which begins with these lines:  Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.

Spiritually, I had it all wrong.  I thought God was proclaimed in my perfection, or at least in my attempts to be perfect, even when it was obvious that I couldn’t possibly get there, even if I tried really, really hard.  God’s power is not in our perfection, it’s in our imperfection and vulnerability.  There’s a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in. 

Here’s the good news — not just of 2 Corinthians, but the gospel: we are not the message.  We are the messengers, called to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Master.  The Message is perfect, the messengers don’t have to be; we don’t even have to pretend that we are. In fact, that message shines through us best when we accept that we are just plain, battered, everyday clay pots.  We’re not even perfect clay pots. Do you see how liberating it is to be freed from the need to be perfect?  It doesn’t mean that we stop tending to our spiritual health, or abandon a life of discipleship and service — what it does mean is that the message of Jesus Christ doesn’t depend on us doing it all perfectly.  If we base our faith on ourselves and our efforts, we will never get it right.  If our goal is to proclaim Jesus Christ despite our shortcomings, misgivings, and limited understanding, we cannot go wrong.  There’s a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in.

I’m going to tell you something you already know.  Ready?  This is not a perfect church.  Our building is in pretty good shape; but there are always things in need of repair. We have beautiful grounds and landscaping, a flourishing vegetable garden and fruit trees, an award-winning Prayer Garden and thousand and thousands of bees.  Thoughtful planning and design have gone into all of these things, and committed people from Creekside care for them.  I would never minimize their contributions — believe me, I appreciate clean restrooms as much as the next person.  But our building and grounds are not the light of Christ, they’re just a container, a clay pot. And a clay pot without the light of Christ — even if it’s a really nice clay pot–it isn’t the church. 

Here’s what Paul says the church looks like when it is giving glory to God: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise.  More grace, more people, more praise.  I don’t know if those three things have to happen in that order, but let’s take a little time to explore that.  Grace is receiving something good, even though we don’t deserve it. We cannot receive grace until we acknowledge that we didn’t earn it.  The grace of God is a free gift that we are offered and we cannot accept it until we accept our imperfection. Psalm 139, which we read and heard from earlier in the service reminds us that God knows us, loves us, and will never leave us.  God didn’t make us imperfect — we did that ourselves.  Being imperfect is part of the wear and tear, the sin and denial which is part of being a clay pot.  This is why we need the grace of Jesus Christ.  Perfect people don’t need grace, because . . . they’re already perfect.  For the rest of us, the ones who aren’t Jesus Christ, we need to remember that we are just the messengers; we don’t own the message.  That light of Christ that we have received by grace — we’re supposed to share it with other people.  And not just folks outside of our church, but even people right here at Creekside.  We’re supposed to offer hospitality and Christ’s love to them, too.  Honoring the light of Christ in everyone, even those with whom we disagree, is the only way to keep ourselves from high- jacking God’s message and making it about ourselves.  When we can acknowledge our own imperfection to other imperfect people, more and more people become part of the circle of God’s grace.  There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets out, too.  Paul says in verse 13, “We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life.”  People who are carrying the glory of God, churches that proclaim the glory of God — you can’t keep that a secret.  The message is not — it is never — that we have figured it all out and we’re telling you how to do it right.  The message is that despite the fact that we’re not much to look at and we’re not always sure what to do, and we’ve had our troubles, we are not giving up because we know that God knows what to do, and whatever happens, God will not leave us.  If we were perfect (!) someone might make the mistake of thinking that we figured all of this out ourselves and that we don’t need God at all.  It is because we have struggles and the way in which we continue to value one another and give praise to God in the midst of those struggles that allows the power and the grace of God to be visible in our lives.  We’re just the messengers and we need to always be searching together for the best way to proclaim that message.  There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

So I’m OK with being the pastor at a church which isn’t perfect.  I hope you’re OK with having a pastor who isn’t perfect — if you aren’t, I’m sorry, I cannot help you. If you want to give glory to God along with me, that’s something we can talk about. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect; what God asks is for us to carry the bright and beautiful light of Christ and let it shine through our lives and shine through our church.  We need to be people whom the light shines through — into and out of.  Everyone, both inside and outside our church, needs to see God’s grace at work in us. More grace, more people, more praise.  Let the glory of God shine through the face of Jesus Christ!  Amen.