sermons

A Dark Treasure

July 22, 2018

The storms that rolled through Friday night left some of you in the dark for a while. Last I saw, some of you might still be without power.


It’s made for a frustrating inconvenience for sure. But I know you’re grateful that you’re safe and the people and things you love and cherish most survived in good shape for the most part.


But your life has been interrupted nonetheless. You’ve had to give extra thought to your habits, and your routines aren’t so routine.


I like my routines. I find comfort in them. I don’t mind it so much if they are interrupted from time to time. As a matter of fact, some of those “interruptions” can be kinda nice.


A particular instance I remember from sometime back… It was several years ago when a storm knocked out the power at my house. It happened after dark, so when the lights went out, it was total darkness.


But I found a few candles, and before long, a pleasant calm settled in.


This was in the days before smartphones, so there were no bright little screens to fill the room with blueish ambiance.


It really was a moment to listen to the things you only hear when there’s no electronic competition.


For me, it was a moment of inspiration.

I’m a writer. My day job is writing speeches for the mayor. I write words and he says them. I write press releases and media advisories and proclamations and scripts, and letters on the mayor’s behalf.


Those things require a lot of research, backgrounding and verifying of the facts. They’re the kind things that start in the mind, not usually in the heart.


I also write sermons, blog posts, and songs. Now those are the things that are certainly matters of the heart… at least the effective ones are.


When the lights went out the night of the storm, and all the noise that comes with electricity was forced into quiet, the air and the atmosphere felt different. It felt inspired.


As any motivated and sensitive writer does, I sensed the opportunity and took advantage of the moment.


I grabbed my supplies and put pen to paper. The words were flowing. The thoughts were coming faster than I could write them. The room was beautifully dark and quiet. It felt like my little candlelit corner was the whole world.


Writers love these moments. They don’t often come this pure, and they most certainly don’t usually come this organically.


The inspiration was nearly intoxicating. You couldn’t create a moment like this on purpose. I know, because I tried.


As you’d expect, the lights didn’t stay off forever. The utility crews got to work as soon as they could after the storm, and in a matter of an hour or two, the lights were back on, the TV was blaring again, the compressor on the refrigerator was back to its usual hum, and the air conditioners were rattling between the neighborhood houses.


I wanted the dark back. I wanted the quiet back.


I tried to recreate the moment by turning everything off, hoping I’d be able to maintain the feeling of inspiration and the flood of deep ideas. But it wasn’t the same.


Forced darkness isn’t the same as manipulated darkness.


As quickly as it started with an unexpected power outage, it ended with the sudden return to the noise and artificial light that has become our normal.


The moment had passed. And it left when the darkness was gone.


Most people don’t care for the dark. They have good reason to want to avoid it if they can.


We’ve heard all our lives that scary things hide under the cover of darkness. Thieves and robbers and troublemakers and monsters all get their power from the dark.


Frankenstein and Dracula and Jack the Ripper all did their deeds after the sun went down.


We’ve been conditioned to see darkness as sinister and scary and bad.

And if we’re being truthful, we know that some of that notion is true. And we can’t deny that scriptures often use the metaphor of light versus darkness when illustrating the battle of good versus bad.


There sometimes is actual danger in the dark.


If you go down through southeastern Kentucky and into the far western tip of Virginia, you’ll find Cudjo’s Cave. It sits deep under the Pinnacle Overlook in the Cumberland Gap National Park there in Lee County, Virginia.


Several years ago, I was traveling through the area and decided to stop and take the tour.


We were only steps inside when it got really dark and all of the natural light was gone. Lanterns along a narrow path now lit the way.


About 30 minutes into our tour, we noticed that the trail lanterns had been turned off. The guide told us that we were going to step into a spot that would be lit only by her lantern. And when we got there, she turned it off.


I don’t know how to describe the darkness we saw. There was no adjusting to it. There was no way to see anything at all… except for the smallest pinhole of light shining directly above us.


As soon as our guide turned off her light, the room went completely, totally black. And according to the responses when she asked, while our group stood there in the dark, everyone said they instantly noticed the tiny dot of light.


When our guide turned her light back on and flipped the switch on the trail lights, we realized that we were standing just feet from a deep, steep cliff.


There was indeed danger in the dark. A danger that we would not have seen without the help of our guide, and some lanterns on a cable.


[In my earlier preacher years, I would’ve used this as a bigtime metaphor on how Jesus is the light of the world who saves us from unseen danger.]


There is indeed sometimes danger in the dark. But there is also beauty and blessing.


In her incredibly enlightening book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor says that “Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen.” She says that is often while we are in the dark that we grow the most.


To our way of thinking, that sounds counter-intuitive. We’ve always been told that things need light to grow. We have a hard time believing that things grow in the dark.


But for us to believe that nothing grows in the dark and that only bad things happen in the dark, we’d have to believe that God doesn’t exist in the dark.


But Barbara says this; “When we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away and run from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?”


There’s a song that was made popular by a Southern Gospel singing group called the McKameys, and Linda Randle after that. Pastor Marsha sings it from time to time.


The last line of the chorus says, “the God of the day is still God in the night.”


Friends, we have to believe that. We have to believe that God is as present in our darkness as God is in our light.


I would even suggest that sometimes God is even more obvious in our darkness.


Have you ever looked into the noon sky and noticed the billions of stars that dance there? Me either.


You might see the moon in the middle of the day, but the stars are hidden behind the light. They’re there, but they’re not obvious.


For those of who are trying to feel your way through horrible darkness… bumping into things you can’t see… tripping over obstacles and hearing strange noises… for those who can’t seem to find any comfort in their dark, scary situation, I want to remind you that the absence of light does not mean the absence of God.


Most of us remember back in December 2012 when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. While our nation prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we were forced to pause as we grieved and heaved and mourned.


A few days after the shooting, one of my favorite writers, Max Lucado, wrote a beautiful prayer in response.


Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.


These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.


The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?


Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle’s flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.


Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.


Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.


This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.


Hopefully,

Your Children

So, you see? God is just as much, if not more, present in the darkness, the world’s darkness, our nation’s darkness, your own personal darkness.


When we find ourselves in that dark place, we wonder how can that be. It doesn’t seem like God is with us in our darkness. But through the heart and hands of Jesus, over and over again in the scriptures, we see God’s presence in people’s darkest moments.


He was a comforter and a healer and a friend and an encourager.


He was the small speck at the top of that very dark cave that kept the whole place from being completely void of light.


That is the definition of dark, isn’t it? The absence of light?


Well, if that’s true, then we have to believe a difficult truth.


God is both light and darkness.


Saint Hildegard of Bingen was a mystic, poet, preacher, and theologian of the 10th century. She wrote,


“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.”


Friend, it is time for us to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.


And sometimes that light looks like darkness.


I would encourage you, as best you can, to not be afraid of the dark, because Jesus is there.


Who knew there could be so much light in the dark?


What a beautiful treasure!

Isaiah 45: 3 NRSV
I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.