We are Light, the World is Light


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA on Sunday, July 14, 2019 

Let me begin with a poem by that beautiful soul the late Mary Oliver.

“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.” 

― Mary Oliver, House of Light

Last week we heard from the Lord that the light and the darkness we see is a reflection of what is within. If the eye is “sound”, or whole and true, then the light he has so graciously placed within us reflects on the world around us, If the eye is dark, then the darkness within is reflected. We project either light or darkness on the face of the world.

Today we hear more about light and Jesus puts it directly and deliberately. The truth is, we are as he is, the light of the world. The darkness in us is illusion. It does not define us, nor can it, for we are created by God as light and as St. John puts it, “the darkness cannot overcome it.” While this is a theological and anthropological statement, modern science has, once again, born witness to this truth in part.

According to the Extreme Tech blog:

“The average human, at rest, produces around 100 watts of power. Over periods of a few minutes (or a few hours in the case of trained athletes), we can comfortably sustain 300-400 watts — and in the case of very short bursts of energy, such as sprinting, some humans can output up to 2,000 watts.”

Who says science and religion are opposed to each other? As Zizioulas (I believe) wrote, “Science and religion are not opposed to each other they coinhere.” Truth is truth is truth is truth. Science can confirm some truths and cannot touch others and we have no reason to be concerned either way.

Now, of course, this teaching of Jesus is not scientific. He is not talking about the wattage of the human body, he is talking about how we perceive and how we are to live in this world. We are light, so we must allow ourselves to be light and reveal it through our actions and words, our thoughts and deeds. St. Paul talks in several places about putting away from us the “works of darkness” and he sometimes gives a list of them like the one I read last week from Colossians. The “works of darkness” conceal the light in us. They are the “bushel” Jesus talks about in our Gospel reading.

Right speech and right action are what his lists usually focus on which are, by the way, two parts as well of the Eight-Fold Path. And right action and right speech are about nurturing right relationships with our fellow human beings and with creation itself. That is why I began with Mary Oliver. Her poems reflect an incredible insight into the beauty of creation, of God’s omnipresence, and our sacred place in it.

I want to end by quoting from a song by the country singer Peter Mayer. When I heard it for the first time I remember thinking, “I heard that in seminary!”

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
Cause everything is holy now.

(“Holy Now” by Peter Mayer)

If the light in us is darkness, then we cannot see that the universe is saturated with holiness, that we are light as He is light and all things are light. Our message, our light to the world, is this: to affirm our belief in this truth, that God is not apart from us, that Jesus Christ has proved it to us, that everything is a miracle, that we are indeed at all times looking into the white fire of a great mystery. And that mystery includes even our fragile, imperfect humanity.