Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Light of the World

22 June 2008 / Proper 7-A: Matthew 10:24-33

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Light of the World

"…nothing is covered that will not be uncovered,

and nothing secret that will not be known."

Jesus says we are to be fearless in our witness to the new kingdom life he comes to proclaim and live. We can be fearless because there is much about God and kingdom life that is yet to be revealed. That which is covered or hidden will be revealed. Revelation continues. It does not end with tradition or scripture. God's revelation is not limited to a handful of Biblical writers and editors who gave us our scriptures. God, says Jesus, is not limited at all except by the limits of our own imagination as to the nature of God and God's intended kingdom.

There are those who live among us, fortunately, who every day seek to help us see that which is covered, hidden and secret about God and God’s kingdom. In our tradition we call them mystics because they are able to recognize some of the mysteries of God's hidden-ness in the midst of our everyday surroundings and encounters with one another.

One such person is remembered in our Calendar of Saints: Evelyn Underhill who died on June 15, 1941. Underhill was a lay person, and someone with little formal religious training. Yet, her abilities to recognize the hidden dimensions of God's presence in our life and to write about these mysteries of God makes her one of the most significant witnesses to Christ in recent history. That few Christians have ever heard of Evelyn Underhill speaks to the hidden nature of God's ongoing revelation itself. Yet, she left us what I consider one of the most important prayers next to our Lord’s prayer:

Lord! Give me courage and love to open the door and constrain You to enter, whatever the disguise You come in, even before I fully recognize my guest. Come in! Enter my small life! Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self. Amen

Some years ago while in London I fell in love with the gallery of Pre-Raphaelites in the Tate Museum. Prominent among them is William Holman-Hunt whose painting, The Light of the World, shows Jesus standing at a door and knocking, a lantern in his hand. I was absolutely drawn into Hunt’s mystical and luminous rendering of the 20th verse of the third chapter of the book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” The same scene was featured in a stained glass window next to the pulpit in my parish in Connecticut. And I only recently learned why it is I am so attracted to this mystical image: while moving my mother to Sykesville from Chicago she found this: a prayer card I made in Sunday School at First Congregational Church, Oak Park, Illinois, with Hunt’s The Light of the World on the front, and the words, “I come that they might have life,” on the back

This image reveals an inner and well hidden truth about God in Christ: he is in fact always standing at the door and knocking, waiting for us to open our door. Which reveals a not so hidden truth about us, even those of us who are disciples of the One we call Lord: we tend to keep our doors closed. And we tend not to hear the knocking. Why? That's right: we are too busy doing so many important things that we just do not hear Jesus knocking on our door. If we are not busy with work or family, we are so busy with church busy-ness that we cannot hear Jesus knocking at the door. That is Jesus' constant complaint about organized religion and tradition: it keeps us too busy to hear or participate in God's ongoing revelation. And so whatever new thing God is presently calling into being remains hidden to us.

Then I don't know about you, but when I do hear the knocking, I tend to look out the peephole to see who it is. Oh, no! I say. It's Jesus! I know what he's all about and he's going to want me to do something for someone. So I run and get my Palm Pilot, run back to the door, and without opening the door I speak through the keyhole and say, "Look, Jesus, I am awfully busy today! I am a week late with the Newsletter, I have a 67 email messages to respond to, but look, I have an opening a week from Thursday at 2:00 PM. Could you come back then?"

All this shambling and dodging when I know that what verse 20 also says is true: “If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you.” It is an invitation to Eucharist – to Thanksgiving – to a heavenly banquet with our Lord and Savior!

So it is we pray, “Lord! Give me the courage and love to constrain you to enter.” To constrain means to force, to urge, to compel. Hunt’s rendering of The Light of the World has no door knob or handle on Jesus' side of the door. Only we can open the door to let God in. Or else God remains hidden from us and we remain hidden from God. The Holy Habit of Daily Prayer and Bible Study is a time-honored way to open the door and let Jesus in.

What Underhill’s prayer acknowledges is that in so opening the door to Jesus we are hoping Jesus will bless and change everything in our common life together. He will make things new. Help us to understand our life together in whole new ways. We pray for change!

Today we have an opportunity to open the door together and let Jesus reminds us of what words he taught his disciples to pray – the Biblical Lord’s Prayer that calls us to live for today, to live on bread that is given daily, bread that is his body given for us and for the whole world. We pray that we might forgive others the very same way we wish our sins to be forgiven. Every now and then we need to renew our prayers. In this case we will be going back to the kinds of language Jesus uses in Luke and Matthew rather than the colloquial and politicized cadences of the time of King James and Queen Elizabeth. Jesus wants to come in and teach us his prayer anew so as to shed new light on how we might live into the life of his kingdom.

It is a good thing to learn new ways to pray so that we might hear what Jesus says to us in whole new ways. He desires to bless and change all “the common things and small interests” of our lives.

And in our prayers we must thank God for mystics like Evelyn Underhill and William Holman-Hunt! They teach us to listen for that knocking on the door, and encourage us to open the door. Only we can open that door and welcome the Risen Lord even before we recognize our guest, whatever disguise He comes in. The Kingdom of God is at hand for those who have eyes to see it and the make the time to welcome it into our midst. "…nothing is covered that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not be known.”


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