There is a Hasidic story about the birth of the world. In the beginning, this story goes, there was only darkness, but Ein Sof, the source of life, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. Then there was a terrible accident and the vessel containing the light, which was the wholeness of the world, was scattered into a thousand million fragments of light. These fragments fell into all events and all people where they remain hidden until this very day. But then we humans were created in response to this accident with the capacity to find the hidden light in all people and all situations and events. Our calling, according to this story, is to make the light visible once again, to lift it up, to share it with others and thereby restore wholeness to the world.
This story speaks to something deep within me, especially in these tumultuous times when fear of the other and political and religious polarization is tearing our country apart. There is so much beauty, so much good in all us and the world, and yet there is so much that is evil, wrong, unjust. The ways we treat “the least of these” affects the ways we treat each other and who we are. This is why not just our criminal justice system is broken but our immigration policies are so flawed. When those is power get to decide what is lawful or unlawful not based on guilt or innocence, need or opportunity, just or unjust, but on wealth and power and arbitrary rules, compassion and mercy have no place.
The story of Ein Sof, the birth of the world, speaks to my own experience and my journey in life as well as what we all have been seeing and hearing in the daily news…. families separated, refugees turned away, a lack of civility, blaming and shaming that has taken the place of dialogue or civil conversation. There no longer seems to be a middle ground where we can meet to talk, listen, learn, discern even in our churches. We now define ourselves as Democrat or Republican, for Trump or against, not fellow sojourners, neighbors, friends.
Many of us still have the luxury of living in a fairly safe, sheltered world. Every time I hear this story of Ein Sof with its explanation for the existence of sin, evil, and suffering, deep questions arise for me. As part of a mixed race family with both black and Hispanic children and grandchildren I have been somewhat exposed to that other world where people are assumed lesser, automatically guilty by color of their skin or legal status.
That exposure has been both painful and precious. By adopting and loving these precious children I have been forced to face my own deeply ingrained prejudice and fear. I want to deny those deeply ingrained beliefs and fears, but they are still there. We all have them. We may protest, but they are still there and we need to own them. It takes courage to name them and claim them and then humbly ask God to remove these fears and defects of character. I find myself struggling every day with the question, “what am I doing to lift up my fragment of light?” It is a hard question, but a good one, a life giving one.
Much as we may long to stop the world and get off in a safer, saner place and time, this is where we are. We now live in the world of almost weekly mass shootings, where owning guns seems more important than protecting and saving lives. That’s why this is exactly where we are supposed to be: facing the challenges we are facing, for we are the very ones we’ve been waiting for. We are God’s hands and feet, God’s eyes and ears.
Ours are the arms which hug and hold or push away and reject. We are the ones who can make a difference. We are the ones who get to decide whether or not we step up as faithful followers of our master when he told us to not just love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love the stranger and enemy. We are the ones called to align ourselves with the One who designed the changing seasons, the swirling electrons, the majestic galaxies, the tiniest insect or singing bird, the One Who sent Jesus to show us how to relate to and love each other even when it is dangerous and difficult.
In spite of the way it often feels, you and I are not helpless. Even with our aging failing body parts. What we do matters, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when we feel useless and forgotten. Together we are a mighty force. The healing of the world is not about one person bringing together all the fragments of light, but each of us holding up our little gleam. We become less than what God created us to be when we disengage from the God of the poor, the disenfranchised, the lost and forgotten.
I now believe that what God wants from each of us is to treat others with grace and love just as we want to be treated. God wants us to respond to evil with good, to forgive the unforgivable and above all to practice gratitude, for when we are truly grateful we cannot be selfish and thoughtless. Gratitude opens the heart, gives birth to generosity and compassion. Gratitude helps us truly see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and love with all of our heart. We who have embraced Christ as our Savior and example are called to be little Christs to everyone that comes across our path, sharing and caring, accepting, forgiving, blessing, loving.
And that’s something each of us can do. We can, if we but will, choose to allow nothing in life, no matter how rich or poor, sick or well, old or young, to keep us from practicing daily acts of kindness. Each smile, each apology, each kind word, each act of graciousness, each swallowed criticism, each unspoken grumble or gossiped word sends positive energy swirling into a world longing for love and reassurance.
Jesus said, “he who has eyes, let him see, and he who has ears, let him hear.” If we look for the good around us, listen for the light and the loveliness in life, we will find it precisely so we can pass it on. By deliberately practicing gratitude as our way of not just being in God’s presence, but being God’s presence, we become his hands and feet in the little everyday acts of thoughtfulness and thankfulness that transforms not just us but those we encounter.
You and I are called to let our light shine, tiny as each of our fragments may be.. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, the ones chosen to set the example for others, to show the way toward graciousness and civility, toward acceptance and tolerance. We are the one who can set this country on the path to a less divisive and prejudiced society. We are the ones we have been waiting for, the ones God’s been waiting for to hold up His light of love and acceptance. We are the ones created by our loving Creator to be agents of goodness and gratitude.Sermon by Joyce Musselman Shutt