Sellwood/Capitol Hill United Methodist Church Rev. David Weekley

Sellwood/Capitol Hill United Methodist Church
Rev. David Weekley, Pastor
January 8,2012
Invited to be Light
Genesis 1:1-5 | 1/8/2012
It's easy to remember some of the last words of famous and infamous people -- you
know, those last utterances before they exit the stage into oblivion. Like Civil War Union
General John Sedgwick who, looking across a field at a bunch of Confederate snipers,
said to his nervous aide, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance" (See "Famous
Last Words" in the March-April 2003 issue of Homiletics).
But what about famous first
words? Those words that launched some new venture or discovery. Sure, we remember
Neil Armstrong's first words upon stepping on to the moon: "That's one small step for
man, one giant leap for mankind." And Alexander Graham Bell's first words spoken on
the telephone in 1875: "Mr. Watson, come here -- I want to see you.". But lots of other
first words that signaled the beginning of important events or technological advances,
while less familiar, were no less revolutionary.
Many of these famous first words, like
Bell's call for his assistant, were uttered as a result of advances in communication itself.
More first words followed as communication technology advanced. The first words
spoken over a wireless radio were uttered on December 23, 1900, from a station on
Cobb Island in the Potomac River by Reginald Aubrey Fessenden: "One, two, three, four.
Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiesen?" The first spoken word that ended the era of
silent movies in 1927 was Al Jolson's clever line in The Jazz Singer, "Wait a minute, you
ain't heard nothin' yet."
Dial the clock forward a bit and we read the first e-mail, sent by computer engineer Ray
Tomlinson in 1971. No, it wasn't an ill-advised rant about his boss that got sent
accidentally, it was just "QWERTYUIOP" -- a test e-mail to himself using only the top
letters of the keyboard. The first Tweet was sent by Jack Dorsey in 2006, said, in a way
that only people interested in the minutiae of life in the Twitter-verse can appreciate,
"Just setting up my Twittr." Of course, important first words aren't confined to the
advent of communication devices. The first words a child speaks, for example, are
anticipated for months by parents who can't wait to hear their child speak.
The eight most common first words for babies, mommy, momma, dada, daddy, mom,
cat, no and dog. "Let there be light"
First words announce that something new
has begun, no matter how mundane those words may seem. And no first words, indeed
no communication at all, would've been possible without the first words ever spoken:
"Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). The first words in the history of the universe were
spoken not by humans, but by God, who utters those words at the beginning of a brand
new project called creation. God's words signify a major shift from the existing formless
chaos on the earth, represented by the "deep," toward order, separation, and goodness
represented by God's illuminating presence. The Creator, in other words, seems to be
launching a new and transformational technology just by speaking a word. This year
Epiphany (Jan.6) and the story of Jesus’ Baptism by John come close together.
This morning, having just experienced Christmas, Epiphany, and today the Baptism of
Jesus, we can easily make the connection that the light that God spoke into creation
reveals God's own self and character to us.
"God is light," says the writer of 1 John, "and in him there is no darkness at all" (1:5).
The glory and truth of God, revealed in God's own light and presence, exposes those
who would continue to live in the secrecy and darkness of chaos and sin. The gospel
of John takes this understanding further by connecting the Incarnation of God in Jesus
to both God's Word and to God's presence as revealed in light.
Like Genesis, the book of John begins "In the beginning," and says that Jesus was God's
ultimate "Word" spoken to the creation, a light created to pierce the darkness of sin and
death that can never "overcome" it (John 1:5).
Jesus' life -- God's very life -- was "the light of all people" (John 1:4). Read Genesis 1:1-5
and John 1:1-5 next to each other and it's easy to see how the themes run together. God
speaks, and the darkness and chaos of the earth are put in their places.
John was not
the only one to pick up this theme that echoes all the way back to God's first words.
Paul would remind the Thessalonians that they were to be "children of light and children
of the day, not of the night or darkness" (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
Paul reminds them that another day is coming, the beginning of the new creation, when
the darkness will no longer be present. He urges them -- and us -- to step into the light
and live in it, so that we might move out of the darkness of chaos, and into God's
prepared way of life for us and the whole creation.
Human beings have recognized through the ages the results of choosing to live in
On a global level our choices to live selfishly and violently are not more powerfully
exhibited than in human warfare.
As Randy Adams (of Sellwood UMC) reminded us on Christmas morning, in the 3500
years or so of recorded history, only 220 years have actually been lived in peace.
People have long associated war and other evils with darkness.
On the eve of the First World War British statesman Sir Edward Grey commented, “The
lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”
This statement formed the basis for a song that was a #1 hit a generation later, in 1943,
during the Second World War called, “When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World.”
(performed by Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra).
This time the lamps and lights going out referred to the “blackouts” made necessary
during nitime bombing raids so commonplace during World War II.
Some of the lyrics to this song: “When the lights go on again all over the world/ And the
ships will sail again all over the world/ Then we’ll have time for thing like wedding rings
and free hearts will sing/ When the lights go on again all over the world.
Where's the light?
Today, even as we worship, wars continue to envelope our world.
Darkness, chaos, evil seems to exert continuous power in over our lives.
So we might ask ourselves, “Where is the light?”
Well, perhaps a better question and a more personal one is, “Where’s the light in me?”
The famous first words of God proclaimed at the very beginning of creation are great
first words for us, too, as we begin the journey of a new year.
As people created in God's image, we are called to recognize the separation of light and
darkness in our own lives. We live in darkness, for example, when we continue to
engage in habitual sins, when we take advantage of the people around us, when we're
bound by anger or burdened with the regrets and hurts of the past.
We live in darkness when we spend our lives focused only on personal gain; when we
turn away from injustice and human suffering.
Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in
newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted and sung. Words that move, dance
and change in size and color. Words that say, "Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me,
sleep with me," but most of all, "buy me." With so many words around us, we quickly
say: "Well, they're just words." Thus, words have lost much of their power. Still, the
word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, "Let
there be light" (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating
are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is
very important. When we say, "I love you," and say it from the heart, we can give
another person new life, new hope, new courage. When we say, "I hate you," we can
destroy another person. Let's watch our words.
--Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the
Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (HarperCollins: 2006), 11.
If we're finding our lives out of control, we can be sure that the swirling chaos of the
darkness is holding us back from living lives in the light of meaning and purpose.
Walking in the light We can choose, however, to listen to God's constant message
to creation: "Let there be light!"
The Word that became flesh brought the light of God
into the world in person, and calls us to live in the reality that no matter where we've
been hiding in the darkness, God is inviting us into the light.
The darkness of sin that has continued to grip much of creation can be broken simply by
confessing our own brokenness and determining to live differently
Confessing our sins (1 John 1:9), and following Christ’s commandment to love God and
neighbor; being light-giving people in our relationships with others (1 John 2:9) are a
few of the habits and practices that indicate to others and to God that we are seeking to
be people who walk in the light of God's creative mercy, power and grace. God's
famous first words, after all, will also be some of the last words at the end of the old
creation and the start of the new.
In the new creation, God says, God's people will experience the light all the time
because "there will be no more night" and God's people will "need no light of lamp or
sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever" (Revelation
22:5) -- just as God said from the beginning. Be the light
The message this dark and
chaotic world needs to hear is the one with which God started the whole project.
Questions to ponder:
What are some ways you/ our church can offer these first words to people who may be
seeking the lightfor the first time?
What kinds of communication strategies and technologies can you/we use to help bring
people from darkness into light?
This is a great opportunity at the beginning of the year for us to focus on the new
creation and our part in it. What will be your/our congregation's first words for this
new year?
What do we hear God saying to us on the threshold of a new year?
It would be hard to
do better than "Let there be light!"
As Maurice Freehill said, “Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark, or the adult
afraid of the light?”
Sources Bellis, Mary. "History of email and Ray Tomlinson." Website. Viewed July 7,
Children's Sermon
Ask the children if anyone has told them what their first words were. Suggest that they
were probably "ma-ma" or "da-da." Then have them guess what the first words of God
were. Turn on a flashlight, and say, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). See if they can
guess why God would make light on the very first day of creation. Ask them to explain
why light is such a good thing (help them along if needed). Suggest that we can be like
light as well, when we behave in ways that help people who are scared and confused,
show love and warmth to others, feed the hungry and put energy into serving Jesus.
Teach the children the song "This Little Light of Mine," and encourage them to let their
light shine every day.
Prayers for Illumination
Merciful Savior, you spoke a word and light appeared in the
darkness. We pray that you would speak to us now, that your word may again illumine
our lives and our world. May the same power that separated day from night and flung
billions of stars into place, ignite within us a desire to hear, know and follow your word.
Amen. First Sunday after the Epiphany, Cycle BGenesis 1:1-5Acts 19:1-7Mark 1:4-11