“I Saw The Light”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
Sacred Harp Sunday
January 21, 2018
University Baptist Church
Thanks so much to our Sacred Harp singing sisters and brothers. It’s wonderful to add your sound and your flavor to this Sunday morning service. When people first encounter Sacred Harp singing, we seldom get a disinterested reaction. Some people bristle at the sound as it surrounds your senses and makes your solar plexus vibrate. Some open their eyes wide. Some cover their ears. All of us know that we are in for something completely different. By the way, this is different than what happens on Tuesday nights. We often sing faster and the close confines of room 303 makes it sound even louder. If you really want to experience this singing on a larger scale, come to the all-day convention on Saturday, February 10 at Olivet Congregational Church in St. Paul. Over a hundred singers from across the country and maybe even some international visitors will join us to make a joyful noise. The nice thing about the loud singing is that if you sing a wrong note, no one will know—or if they do, you can always blame it on someone else. Eventually, longtime singers will let go of our need to be right and let things just flow through us. At some point, they get it and what used to look like trees becomes clear.
Hank Williams sang the old gospel number “I saw the light.” Many of us sang it growing up. It’s a song that affirms seeing with new eyes. I saw the light I saw the light no more darkness no more night. Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight Praise the lord I saw the light”.
Today’s scripture reading speaks of Jesus healing someone who has been blind. The person does not understand what he sees at first. He says that people look like trees. Something is still obscuring his sight.
I admit having trouble with the healing stories of Jesus. Are they meant to be literal or metaphoric? We all need healing in our lives. Can Jesus bring that? I think of my sight-impaired friends. While their sight is not in tact, their other senses are attuned in a way that they can see better than some of us---meaning they can perceive the world with a different kind of attentiveness. And they point out our blind-spots.
Blindness in the Bible is often used to mean both physical blindness and spiritual blindness. There is plenty of the latter in our lives.
I think of those who are willfully blind. The old song by Ray Stephens says there are none so blind as those who will not see. I like to think that Jesus’ continuing work and the work of Christ’s church is to heal willful ignorance. It’s to make us all see.
What might blur our vision? What might we not see clearly? What is still an illusion in our lives? What scales need to fall from our eyes?
A bunch of us have been hanging out by the Tomb of the Unknown Minnow on Bde Unma, also known as lake Harriet. It’s part of the art shanty project that is going on for the next several weeks. Quirky little shanties are on the frozen lake and people who visit can convene and see the world with a new perspective. The Sacred Harp singers are singing at the Tomb of the Unknown Minnow. Part of the thought behind this shanty is to develop an environmental awareness of the way that we are connected. Minnows are sacrificed for the fishing industry and we need to remember their place in our ecosystem. As we see the roles of the “least of these,” we are bringing light to the forgotten and disregarded among us.
We wish that others will see the light, maybe even some of our elected officials. We wish that the real news might see the light and not be mistaken for the trees.
Our current president is a master of misdirection. He tweets and we respond with despair, anger, at those tantalizing displays of absurdity. Like a moth to a flame, or flies to…something else…we can’t help but be drawn to it. But it means that he controls the narrative. Once we respond to his tweets, we are making his argument even stronger. And we can’t help it. All the while, what is happening on the margins? Think about how deregulation is normalizing climate change, how the tax plan not only benefits the rich, but squeezes those of us not so rich. Where is the clamoring for infrastructure spending, an expansion of voting rights, a check on the prison-industrial complex? Where is the health care fix, the housing crisis solutions? Why don’t we hear about food rationing in Rwandan refugee camps in our mainstream media? We don’t have time to get worked up about that because we can’t avoid responding to the latest tweeted absurdity. It all starts looking like trees.
Mark is telling us to reverse ourselves: to see through the lies and misdirection, to see clearly. Our work is to clear our metaphoric eyes and see the truth which will set us free. The work of a faithful Christian is to see the big picture, the forest, not only the trees.
“How tedious and tasteless the hours when Jesus no longer I see” says the old Sacred Harp tune. “Sweet prospects sweet birds and sweet flowers have lost all their sweetness to me.” Sounds like someone in deep despair, who cannot appreciate the beauty right in front of them. “The midsummer sun shines but dim, the leaves try in vain to look gay but when I am happy in him, December’s as pleasant as May.”
What blurs our vision? What do we see, but don’t really see?
Maybe we need to set the narrative, control the dialogue, reframe the discussion.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March. Several million in DC and several hundred thousand in the twin cities and across the country. This march illuminates a different narrative and we need to keep paying attention to those who redemptively challenge the status quo. That’s what Jesus always did. It’s what got him in trouble and it’s our job to decide whether to follow the latest shiny thing or to follow the one who calls all people blessed, especially the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and even those who are persecuted. These people see the light and reflect the true light of God.
Time Magazine declared the silence breakers as the 2017 people of the year. Survivors are seeing the light and it is making those in positions of domination squirm—maybe even searching for conscience.
Sisters and brothers, we need to look for the light, the true light.
For it represents hope amidst despair.
It represents truth-telling.
It is evident when people come together and make a beautiful sound.
It points us in a better direction.
Last night, Peter Mayer ended his concert with a great song entitled, “where is the light”. The chorus went “Where is the light (3x). The light’s inside of me.”
The Light is inside and it’s bursting forth. Thanks be to God the creator and embodiment of light.