Those Who Walk in Darkness
You guys know I have been walking through a lot…I have been in some pretty dark places lately,
One of the temptations when you are walking in those dark times is to give in to the idea that no one cares, that perhaps God doesn’t care. This is because you feel lost, alone and injured. The darkness is too dark, the night is too long, and you spin your wheels wondering why this has happened to you. It feels that way sometimes but perhaps God is using these dark times to show us what we need to see. Training us to understand folks when they are walking in crisis and pain.
We as Christians are actually called to walk into the darkness. We are called by God to walk into the darkness of this world bringing the light of the good news with us. The good news that we do not walk alone. The good news that our Father God loves us, and not just us but everybody. Everybody you know and the billions you don’t, the folks you like and the folks you don’t like,your friends and your enemies, Jews, Gentiles, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Black, White, whether you are traditional in your beliefs or progressive, whether you are gay or straight, whether you like State or Carolina. God loves us all and that relationship that he invites us to have with Him through His son’s life and death is the light we bear. We walk in the darkness because we carry a great light. A light that cannot be extinguished, a light that cannot be ignored, a light we must never allow to be hidden.
John 1:1-4 tells us: “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through Him all things were made,and without Him nothing was made that has been made. 4In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
It cannot overcome it. It is a physical and spiritual impossibility. For when the darkness has swallowed all the light it can, the light bursts forth and darkness is vanquished.
Last week David Peeler texted me and asked “What do you know about saints.” I thought “You’re asking me?” So I had to be a wise guy “Well I know they like marching and they make a great cloud formation. In fact they kinda invented the cloud from my understanding.” Well we laughed but we went on to talk about the importance of the saints, the famous ones and the ones that are homegrown, the ones who come to you when you need them, the folks with whom you participate in community, the grandmother that never stops praying for you. In fact when I told my grandmother “Granny you don’t need to pray so much for me I’m OK, life’s OK, I grew up, It’s OK” My Grandmother would say “How do you think you got this far? Do you have any idea how often you are in my prayers” We have such a great cloud of witnesses.
Hebrews 12:1 “1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. ”
So what do saints do? I mean they aren’t just up here doing cloud formations
Well we know they share the banquet of communion with us. Every time all the time they share the sacrament with us. They intercede for us, they pray for us, they witness our trials and can encourage us most importantly they are a light for us. They are those beacons of Christ that have run the race. When they finished the torch run they did not throw them down, they held them high and they hold them still, lighting our way home.
They have finished the race. Their reflected light brings clarity to our paths, they are the open door where light shines into the darkness allowing us to see our way into thedarkened world even better. You know few people go into a darkened room and simply shut the door behind them if they want to see, no…they leave that door open for by itslight you can find your footing. The saints, great and small, known and unknown are those open doors that light our way into the darkness of this world, and with each door that is opened the world becomes a bit brighter.
We need their example. After a week like last week…we need the stories of their lives. We need stories, like those of the apostles…testimonies of men that walked into the darkness of the world bearing the light. Men who were not afraid to suffer and die, not for what they believed, but they suffered and died telling the story of Jesus. A story that many craved to hear, a story that some despised. It wasn’t simple belief that carried them there. Theology didn’t take Peter and Paul into Rome to die in the persecutions of Nero…the light did, that light that cannot be extinguished. Andrew was killed in Greece, Thomas perhaps in India or Persia.
These men knew the light, they knew the light when He walked with us. This wasn’t religion in the usual way, this was experience, this was real to them…they saw the resurrection, they experienced Jesus and nothing was ever the same again….nothing, not ever. Had it all been a fantasy, they would have slipped away quietly. Think about it, are you going to go into the darkness of the world for something that isn’t real? Are you? They weren’t either. Peter, Andrew, James and John had good jobs and were likely skilled fishermen. Hey its an honest living and it beats dying in the arena as a lions meal. Unless its true, unless Jesus really did walk with them, eat with them, die for them and was raised by His Father on that third day. Now that’s a story to die for…because it is all true.
Since I got to pick my own saints, I picked the two with whom I had the greatest affinity . Saint Francis and Mother Teresa.
I wanted to talk about St. Francis…we all know and love St. Francis. Even Protestants love him. He has a place in our hearts. His “job” has almost outpaced who he really was. He is the patron saint of animals. Surely Francis loved animals but his business, like Jesus, was people
I could tell you the life of Francis of Assisi, but you can read that. I want instead to tell you those things I find remarkable in his character. Francis was humble. His greatest aim was to live like Christ. To minister to the poor, the lepers, those forgotten by the mercantile and feudalistic societies of the day. It has been said that no one else in history was as dedicated as Francis to imitate the life, and carry out the work of Christ, in Christ’s own way. He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and even preached to the birds. His deep sense of brotherhood under God embraced others, and he declared that “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.” He set up the first known live manger scene, and near the end of his life he had the first documented case of stigmata. The humility of Francis had far reaching effects as he was able to talk to the Sultans in the Muslim world and long after his death the Franciscans, of all Catholics, were allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land.”
There are saints today. Mother Teresa said “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
“She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, spent a few months in Patna to receive a basic medical training in the Holy Family Hospital and then ventured out into the slums.
Teresa wrote in her diary that her first year was fraught with difficulties. She had no income and had to resort to begging for food and supplies. Teresa experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comfort of convent life during these early months. She wrote in her diary:
“Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.”
Teresa founded the congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. Its mission was to care for, in her own words, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
It began as a small congregation with 13 members in Calcutta; by 1997 it had grown to more than 4,000 sisters running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.
By 2007 the Missionaries of Charity numbered approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries.
In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Mother Teresa traveled to assist and minister to the hungry in Ethiopia, radiation victims at Chernobyl, and earthquake victims in Armenia.”*1
Both Francis and Mother Teresa were humble, their ministries were to the poor. They lived with them and served them. They walked the road with Jesus, their success came from their humble hard work and their devotion to Jesus They were tireless in their work and their vision and amazing things happened, but they too were challenged, they too spent some time searching in the darkness, they too asked God if He was still there as they walked through their dark times. So when things look dark to you, when it seems like God is far, when you wonder if anyone cares, be assured that just as God loves and directs His saints, he loves you and is with you in the dark times even when He seems far away. He is using those moments, not causing those moments, but using them to make it possible for you to walk in the darkness and not stumble, for you to walk in His light when others see no light, to be the light for others.
You are the light walking into the darkness of the world. I want to make sure you hear that: YOU ARE THE LIGHT WALKING INTO THE DARKNESS THAT IS THE WORLD!!
The one thing that the power of darkness hates is those that bring light into the world. While I don’t think, at least here, we are likely to be persecuted at this time, our brand as Christians has suffered to put it into modern day jargon. Things have changed. Once those that didn’t share our faith, respected our faith, no more…but perhaps that is because we have disrespected our faith before them. They hear our hard words, They see our hypocrisy instead of our struggles, they see our self-righteousness instead of our searching for the will of God. They see our infighting, they see us being judgmental, they see us as using one measure for ourselves and another for others. Jesus told us that in judging we would be judged by the same measure that we ourselves used on others. If we judge others harshly, if we judge others with dogmatism and legalism, we too will be judged by the same standard. They see us making the same mistakes over and over and they wonder if we are getting anywhere. I wonder that too sometimes.
But we have an amazing God, who can redeem all our shortcomings, He can make blind men see and the lame walk, he made the scales fall from Paul’s eyes and redeemed the denial of Peter. He softened even the heart of Nicodemus the Pharisee…He is certainly able to redeem us and remind us that people will know we are truly followers of Christ by our love, not by our legalism, they will know we are true in our faith by our open hearts and our acts of selfless service. What do saints do? They stand boldly urging us on, they have walked in the darkness, they have walked when they could not sense God, when God seemed far away and they are there to show us that it can be done, that eventually we sense Him again, that the path will lighten up. He has given us so many signposts, Mother Teresa, Saint Francis, the Apostles, all part of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us always.
*1: DATA DISCLOSURE: Time-lines, dates, quotes and facts for St. Teresa and for St. Francis are from Wikipedia…some are footnoted, some are not.