We Are the Light of the World

We Are the Light of the World in Our Generation
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
John 11: 32-44
November 7, 2021

Many years ago, I was actively looking for a house.  On one of my Sunday afternoon walks, I found the one.  And I was getting ready to contact the listing agent to extend an offer, when one of the CPA firm clients dropped in to talk.  After 30 years of working for one company, he received one of those take-it-or-leave-it early retirement packages. 

He quickly realized that he still needed to earn an income.  He had done all the work necessary to become a licensed real estate agent.  But, six months of marketing had not yet yielded a single listing.  He was discouraged…and worried.

I told him about the house I had decided to purchase…and asked if he would be my real estate agent for the transaction.   It was a chance for this person to learn the ropes without a lot of leg work.  He grabbed the opportunity.

A few weeks after closing, the agent stopped by the office again.  This time, he came bearing a gift.  As I was unwrapping it, he began telling the story of his gift.  He had noticed that I collect original art.  And so, he had hired an artist to draw and paint a picture of my new home as a house-warming gift.

By now, I had opened the painting and was staring at it…trying to reconcile what he said with what I saw.  The house I purchased, 329 W Pleasantview, was a classic, red brick ranch with white shutters at the windows.  But the image on the canvas was a white adobe home.  It was, in fact, my neighbor’s home…331 W Pleasantview.

As I pondered our Gospel reading for today, I wondered why this particular story is chosen for the Feast of All Saints?  Who are the saints in this story?  How do we recognize them?  What is the story they are telling us today?

Scholars describe the first 12 chapters of John’s Gospel as “The Book of Signs”.  A Sign, in this context, is a symbol—or an action—that points toward God.  Throughout John, Jesus performs many healings…each is a sign of his divine nature.  He quiets storms, feeds throngs of people, and teaches with wisdom that amazes people.  These, too, are signs of his divine nature.  Today’s reading contains the final sign in this section of John…the one that will lead directly to Jesus’ death:  Jesus raises Lazarus.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are siblings…they live together…they are friends of Jesus.  By the time that Jesus gets to their village, Lazarus has been dead for several days.  Mary meets Jesus, kneels, and states her faith: “If you had been here, he would not have died”.  Mary is weeping.  The local folk are weeping.  And the text tells us, Jesus wept.

I’ve thought about these tears a lot this week.  What do the tears tell us about these people?

Mary has seen many of Jesus’ healings first-hand. She knows—or thinks she knows—what Jesus is capable of doing.  But when her own brother became ill, Jesus was not there.  I wonder if her tears reflect the sorrow of losing her brother and the bitterness of Jesus being absent when Lazarus needed him.

Like Mary, we live in the time between Jesus’ physical life on earth and his return. 

Jesus weeps, too.  Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are so deeply connected with Jesus that He weeps when they weep.  They share one another’s joys.  They carry one another’s burdens.  In this story, the raising of Lazarus serves as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And soon, Mary will anoint Jesus with expensive perfume—foreshadowing the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial.

In our Eucharist, there are several optional prefaces for saints. My favorite gives thanks “For the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all your saints, who have been the chosen vessels of your grace, and the lights of the world in their generations”.

In Jesus’ generation, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are chosen vessels of grace.  They risk their lives and their fortunes to walk with Jesus.  Along the way, relationships deepen, their eyes learn to perceive the Divine, and their hearts welcome Christ.

Their tears are a Sign of Love…

In medieval times, churches used stained glass windows to tell the story of Christianity to a population who, largely, could not read.  The stories of Jesus, and those of the saints, adorn cathedrals throughout the world.  Through images and symbols, our Christian narrative was handed down from generation to generation.  The windows are Signs…that point us toward the Divine. 

In my generation, there are many people who have touched my life and made a difference in who I am…people who have shared my joys and my burdens… people who have wept with me.  There are people like that in your life, too.  They are saints…people who gave of their time, wisdom, and talent to be quiet witnesses of Love…of the Presence of Christ.

Each of them has earned a stained glass window in my life…and each of those windows tells a story about them…and how they pointed me toward a deeper way of knowing and becoming.

I have often told the story of the real estate agent to emphasize the importance of details.  But the reason I remember the story has nothing to do with the error…and  everything to do with the Nature of the Gift. The gentleman had been in my home and he noticed that my walls were covered with original art rendered by local artists.  He went seeking a local artist to paint an image of my house.  And not just any artist.  He went looking for someone who was struggling, like him, to make a living with his craft. 

That kind of giving is thoughtful and generous.  This wasn’t a quick trip to a kiosk for some gift cards, wrapped with a Hallmark message.  This gift reflected the character of the one who gave it.  His way of giving has influenced my way of gifting.

Other stained glass windows in my life have taught me how to love, how to be loved, how to open my life over and over again to God’s whisper of “Come”.  They are people who didn’t write a “to do” list for me.  Rather, the way they live, and move, and have their being…is a guiding light to me…a Sign that points me toward God. 

The most daunting thought about the saints of my generation is that I am called to be one of those people too.  And so are you.  We are called to be vessels of grace in this world, in this time, in this place.

Our baptismal vows are pretty intense when you pause to think about them.  We vow to respect the dignity of every human being, to support those who are baptized in their walk as Christians, to set our lives apart from evil and vice.  We are vowing to continually re-orient our lives toward God, to walk the way of Love, to live the way of Love, to become Love.  It is the journey of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus…and all the saints who go before us.

When we come together, this Body of Christ known as St. Martin in the Fields, we are a stained glass window in our community.  We are known for our welcome of God’s people.  We are known for putting shoes and socks on the feet of homeless people.  We are known for feeding those who struggle to feed themselves.

And yet God continues to whisper to us, “Come”.  Our human flourishing curriculum challenges us to imagine, anew, what it costs to respect the dignity of every human.  As Harry Potter navigates his murky world of good and evil, we, like him, learn to see the goodness in others.  This is the work we do to equip ourselves to be the “light of the world in our generation”.