Walking in the Dark
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 23, 2016
Darkness and light are not opposites. They are equally parts of life, rising and falling like waves from the same ocean. St. John writes so beautifully that "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” He speaks of the human experience. Darkness is as much a part of life as light is and just as the light shines in the darkness, the darkness shimmers in the light. All of life even in the dark moments as is shot through with the presence of God. Light and darkness coinhere, they do not cancel each other out.
Barbara Brown Taylor agrees and explains that in her experience "dark and light, faith and doubt, divine absence and presence, do not exist at opposite poles. Instead, they exist with and within each other..." The Christian way is not the way of avoidance or denial, but of acceptance. We understand that all things that come in life are tools for our deification, not to be avoided, but embraced.
So, we must learn how to walk in the dark.
All of human life is touched by God and is salvific. We are not dualists. For example, we do not believe in the distinction between sacred and secular, spirit and flesh, or matter and spirit. We believe that in the Lord’s incarnation all of matter, all of human life, all that is visible and invisible, is even now participating in a divine movement towards fullness.
I like this little quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.” And this, “By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”
Jesus entered into this beautiful and fallen world preaching the Gospel, raising the dead, casting out demons and healing the sick. The darkness of this world did not hinder or restrain him, it provided a contrast that made the power of God’s shine even more brightly. Remember how he said that the blind man was born blind so that God would be glorified? The blindness provided a backdrop for a most wondrous theophany.
Of course, there is a darkness that is natural, part of the order of creation itself, and there is also a darkness we human beings create in the world. There are too many examples to name. This second kind of darkness is an illusion and a creation of our wandering, fearful minds. This darkness has no existence in and of itself. It is a figment of our imaginations brought to life and projected on to the world. It cannot stand. It will eventually fade like morning fog when the true light and the quieted mind descends by holy silence into the storehouse of grace that lies in the human heart.
Today’s Gospel about the Gadarene demoniac is not about demons. That is not the focus. Let is not get distracted and lose our way. This Gospel reading is about the unconquerable compassion of the Savior; about how the light penetrates and deifies the darkness. Once again the Lord’s compassion fell all over the place as a manifestation of his great love; on the possessed certainly and also on the demons and the townspeople.
He did not send the demons “into the abyss” for they prayed for mercy. He also answered the prayer of the frightened and confused townspeople to leave their country reminding me of a wise line from Robert Frost, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” He left because he never forces himself on us – because he loves and not because he doesn’t.
Compassion is like flowing water. When it meets an obstacle, it flows around it or under it or over it. Compassion is flexible. It understands and does not force itself. Sometimes it is fierce, sometimes it is gentle. Whatever the case, Compassion recognizes that there is not one answer to every problem. There are different needs and different medicines.
The sad truth is that it is we who create much of the trouble that is in this world and as Christians we are called to be like Jesus and walk into that darkness with the joy of the Lord and his mercy – never to return evil for evil.
There is a Native American saying that comes from the Cherokee people. You may have heard it somewhere, maybe not, but it is wise and worth repeating.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Let’s be sure and feed the good one.