Epiphany at St. Thomas Church, Liberia

Epiphany at St. Thomas Church, Liberia

6 January 2010, 8 am
January 6, 2010

I’ve been reading the report of

Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – the final report, published just a couple of weeks ago. It uses an interesting word when it talks about reparations and reconciliation. The word is lustration, and it’s used in the context of ensuring that former perpetrators of violence don’t get positions of authority in the government. But the word itself comes from a word for light. In English, we get the word luster from it, meaning shining. The technical use of the word in this report has to do with an act of purification, so that the whole government can be seen to be clean or transparent, after any culprits are cleared out. Yet it has no sense of vengeance about it, only clarity – the same kind of clarity that John’s gospel speaks of, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”'

Lustration is about light shining, and light overcoming the darkness. That’s also what Epiphany is all about – light shining into a world too often living in shadow. And I can’t think of a more fitting image in this nation. As Isaiah says, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come! Darkness may cover the earth, but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will shine around you. Nations will come to your light, and rulers to the brightness of your dawning.’ Is Liberia ready to shine, to become a source of light for others?

Liberia has the opportunity to become a light to the nations, but it’s going to take the collective light-bearing of all her people, and it’s going to take the cooperation and shared ministry of other nations as well. The images of these readings are haunting in their possibility –\ “your sons and daughters shall return home from far away, your heart shall thrill and rejoice, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” That is the dream of Liberians dispersed across the globe, those who have gone to Sierra Leone and Wisconsin, to England and Ghana. What would it look like to have all Liberia’s children come home, drawn by your light shining abroad?

The source of all this light is the presence of love itself in our midst. That light has begun to shine in the darkness, but it hasn’t yet penetrated all the dark corners and caves and crevices. Epiphany celebrates the dawning awareness of the nations that this light exists in our midst, in spite of attempts by Herod and others to quench it with darkness.

How does that light work its way into the darkness? It takes the collective work of all sorts of light-reflectors – shepherds, wise ones, even the stars and sheep and oxen gathered to acknowledge light. And it takes the collective and individual will of those who will sing glory to God, those who go home by another road so they will live long enough to tell the story (whether magi or Liberians who left during the troubles), and even sometimes silly fishermen like Peter, as well as all those who fall in love with love itself, starting with Mary Magdalene. It takes reflectors like you and me.

There’s a wonderful story told about a boy in Greece during the Second World War, named Alexander Papaderos. One day a German soldier on a motorcycle crashed outside his home, and he found a shard of one of the broken side mirrors. He turned it into a plaything as he discovered that he could use it to shine light into dark holes and cracks. And eventually he discovered that this was an image for his whole life’s work. In some sense, it’s the life work of every Christian – to make the light of the world evident in dark places.

The usual thing that keeps us from doing that reflective work is fear, which is simply a kind of darkness, an unwillingness to look courageously at reality, a forgetting that God is present in the midst of it, and that we don’t need to let fear paralyze us. What does the angel, God’s messenger always start out by saying? “Fear not!” What keeps you from reflecting the light within you and around you?

Often it only takes a tiny spark. The people of All Saints Episcopal Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, have seen a lot of darkness in the last few years. Their church is in the Diocese of Fort Worth, and their former bishop decided more than a year ago that he was leaving The Episcopal Church. These faithful Episcopalians were turned out of their church, something like what happened to Anglicans in the cathedral in Harare, and they’ve spent the last year worshipping in borrowed space. A year ago there were about a dozen of them; today there are four times as many, and every time the new bishop visits, there are baptisms, confirmations, and receptions. They are discovering that home is wherever they gather, and God is indeed in their midst.

Last summer, when the gospel about Jesus feeding the 5000 was read, they said to themselves, “we can do that! We can feed 5000 people!” And in the next few months they proceeded to do just that. They raised money in all sorts of different ways and funded meals for more than 5000. Last month a college student, who was doing an internship in a local grade school, met a child in tears on Monday morning. This little girl had come to school too late for breakfast, and said she hadn’t eaten for a while. The college interns connected the school with a program that sends kids home on Fridays with enough food for the weekend. The folks of All Saints now have a new ministry – coordinating the work of packing sacks of food for about 50 children each week school is in session. This group of faithful people has discovered light in the midst of darkness, and they continue to shine their light wherever hungry people are found.

The darkness around us is lightened through feeding the hungry, and educating children and adults, and healing those wounded in body and soul. Light shines when the soul of a nation is healed as well.

There is need for light in darkness in every part of this world. Americans have our own work to do on issues of poverty and racism, immigration and fear of the stranger, as well as too great a willingness to resort to war and violence. As a Church we continue to repent for our part in the slave trade that engendered some of the pain of Liberia. It seems like we make one step forward and then discover how many more steps we still have to go. For the first time we have a president with African heritage, and yet too many of us still think that health care isn’t a basic human right, that it should only go to those who can afford to pay for it. We are in abundant need of light.

Liberia has equally tough work to do – healing from these years of war, sorting out how to ensure that all God’s children can find a place of dignity in this nation – female and male, of every tribe, AmericoLiberian, or from other national or ethnic roots. Healing will take the gifts of every person here, and some beyond. Where and how can this nation become a light to the nations? What fears need to be engaged? Who will share the hope and confidence to overcome those fears?

I think many of those answers are right here in this room. Together, we can work together to shine light in darkness, wherever it’s found. May we dream the dream that all God’s children and all the children of Liberia may come home, and discover a gracious place of healing and wholeness and the continuing presence of the one who loves us all beyond imagining.

Are you willing to dream that dream? Will you be light in the darkness?

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