In whatever darkness we encounter in our lives, real or metaphorical, we seek any perceivable glimmer of light to find our way forward. This experience reveals an inherent vulnerability in our lives, and our need to rely on forces outside ourselves [God] for salvation. This was the topic of this week’s FIRL group discussion, sparked by a reading from Psalm 27.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
I come into this week with some leftovers from last. I have been reflecting upon verse 10 of Psalm 40: “I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” I had spent so much time trying to identify the ‘pits’ and ‘bogs’ of our lives and the way in which are delivered, I missed the expectation that we share those stories ‘in the great congregation.’
I usually am not comfortable with words like ‘testifying’ and ‘witnessing’. My first association with those words is more likely to be with evangelicals asking ‘if I’ve been saved?’ or “ am I ‘ashamed to claim Jesus as my Lord and Savior?” Implied in the questions is that there is a right answer and a particular experience that marks a Christian. They’ve arrived. If I don’t have it, I am somehow inadequate in faith. Few of us have ‘burning bush’ or road to Damascus’ revelations. In real life there is no ‘gold standard’ of faith. Most of our journeys include questioning God, wrestling with God, and sometimes stubbornly resisting him. Rarely do we consider that our witness to those struggles is our testimony and that hearing those personal dilemmas from others is the light which saves. More on this later.
In FIRL this week, we focused on verse 1 of this week’s Psalm—”The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” We began talking about fears both personal and societal. Then we examined what it might mean that God is our light and salvation.
A sampling of fears included: Will change overtake us? If we can’t adapt what will become of us? If our partners are unhappy with us, what will happen to our relationships? What will happen if I can no longer take care of myself? What will happen to me if I am trapped in my body—I can still perceive the world but can no longer communicate? Will I be a burden to others?
We fear vulnerability. That is not really news. By definition, vulnerability means we can get hurt more easily. We not only want to avoid the pain, at one level we treat pain as if it were unsurvivable. When we lose someone we love to death or divorce, the pain can be excruciating. It is hard to imagine moving on. But, there is a big difference between thinking of pain as bad and realizing it belongs—however uncomfortably, to our lives and our loving. As Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis said to his frustrated daughter, “My dear, if you would only recognize that life is hard, things would be so much easier for you.”
Whether the pain is emotional, physical or the cross itself, we believe that there is life beyond that pain. That is a light to guide us in the darkness and it is our salvation. The Mammoth cave system in Kentucky is one of the most extensive in the world. There are five levels of passages extending over 400 miles long and almost 400 feet deep. Without light, you would be hopelessly lost. At one point in the tours, all of the lights are turned off. The darkness is impossible to describe. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. In such darkness, I promise you, you will move toward the tiniest glimmer of light. There might be unseen chasms and boulders along the way but the way out is to follow the light.
But our faith claim is even greater. We believe not only that vulnerability is to be tolerated we also claim that vulnerability, and the pain it exposes us to is valuable. Vulnerability is required for loving. We admire the competent but we connect with the vulnerable. Loving requires that we are known—and that our failures and brokenness is not held against us. God loves us as we are. And we know that because he became one of us and knows every human vulnerability.
Sometimes God’s light is a glimmer in the darkness and sometimes it is the blazing sun. The light we follow helps us cope with hardship and the light we follow shows us the way to love. And that brings me back to witnessing and to testimony.
Our community not only depends on us struggling with God, it depends upon us telling the story of God in our lives. Surgeons have a saying about learning and teaching. See one, do one, teach one. That is the process by which surgical procedures are learned The same can be said of our faith tradition. We begin observing Christians, then we try to act like Christians and finally we try to teach others. We are called to follow the light and we are called to be the light. Every one of us is in the midst of a conversation with God. Everyone of us is struggling to figure out what it means to follow the light. Those struggles are every bit our witness as the stories of dramatic life changing events. As one person said this week, she had not really found any ‘answers’ but seeing other people asking the same questions freed her, guided her and gave her hope. Our questions and struggles are not signs of our lack of faith, they are our expressions of faith.
The Good News is that we are not measured by our knowledge or accomplishments. We don’t ever get there. We are always seeking the light. We tell our story and wherever we are on our journey, we trust God’s care for us. Trusting in god’s promise in the midst of our uncertainty is following the light. Telling those stories is being the light. We are called to both.
A final personal and very practical note. We are in the midst of a capital campaign. This is not my wheelhouse. But just because I am not good at it doesn’t mean it is not important. Our faith journeys have all been based upon the stories of others. The cloud of witnesses has guided us and sustained us. All of this happens in the community we call church. Our Faith in Real Life would not exist without this church. And that church requires our hearts and our resources. It is a great gift that we are given. It is our turn to testify and it is our turn to support those who will follow.
Lord, you are our light and our salvation. Help us to be guided by your light and help us to be your light in the world. Let it be so.