A Homily originally given at Morning Prayer in Trinity School for Ministry's chapel on 9/20/12.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
This question really stuck me when I read it one spring day in a book of poems by Mary Oliver. The truth is I wasn’t sure at all what I would do with my life. I was studying Painting and Drawing at Tyler School of Art. I always assumed that I would be an artist, but lately I was beginning to question if that was really where my primary calling was. Besides, I was no fool, I knew that the chances of earning a living as a painter were small. I also wasn’t sure what role the Christian faith I inherited from my parents would play in my life. It was a time of great searching and questioning.
At that time my spiritual home was a Quaker meeting made up of a pretty theologically diverse group of people. My reading of old Quaker books, George Fox’s journal in particular, had captivated me. Although I now have some pretty significant disagreements with Quakerism, I believe God used it powerfully in my life. My time in that Quaker meeting helped set the course that would eventually lead me here to study and to pursue ordained ministry.
You may not be familiar with that particular sect outside of the man on the Oatmeal box. Quakerism began with a group of seekers in mid 17th century England who felt lost and alienated amidst the religious and political controversies of the time. They weren’t sure if they could trust any of the voices competing for dominance in the church and society. Their conviction was that if they submitted themselves to God together in silence, Christ himself would come and be their teacher. The presence of the living Christ within and among them would be like a light that would reveal to them the truth about themselves and the truth about the scriptures. This light would show them the way forward and make them friends of God. The name Quaker actually began as a derisive term, the name they preferred was the Religious Society of Friends but early on they also referred to themselves as the Children of Light.
The picture of Christ as a guiding light really resonated with me. I wasn’t sure where I was going in life or what I could trust in, but my evangelical upbringing pointed me to Jesus Christ. I knew I couldn’t go wrong by placing myself in his hands. I knew that the meaning and purpose for my life could only be found in him.
The Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus was going back to Judea to raise his friend Lazarus, his disciples discouraged him because there were people there who wanted him dead. Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:9-10). Jesus knew the divine purpose to which he was called. He also knew that the appointed time of his mission was coming to a close. Soon the hour of darkness would be upon him.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus’ soul is grieved because that hour has finally come. He knew his death was imminent and he was afraid. Jesus was not without ordinary human anxiety, yet he submits to his Father saying, “Glorify your name!” and the heavens declared back God’s confirmation.
I don’t know what God’s plans for your life are. Each of us has his or her own unique calling, yet one thing I can say for certain is that it will be towards the end of God’s glory. God’s will for your life is that his name be glorified in you. You and I must submit our anxieties and uncertainties to him. Our true self, the person God created us to be, is found only in Christ.
Jesus’ death, his willing submission and self-sacrifice to the Father, even onto death for our sake, is his glory. It is also the life in him that he gives to us. The eternal life of the Trinity is self-giving love, and Jesus possessed that life in all its fullness.
The life in Jesus is the light of all humankind. It reveals to them their sin and God’s righteous judgment, but at the same time God’s grace and mercy. It is a beacon, a light-house, searching out the sinful, the lost, and world weary. This life—lifted high upon the cross—draws all people to itself.
Jesus spoke to those gathered around him, who heard his anguished prayer and the voice of God’s confirmation like thunder. He said, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”
Jesus’ words are urgent. When Jesus left for the home of Mary and Martha, he acted because he knew the “day” appointed for his mission was waning. Those who work can only do so while the light of day remains. Jesus, who is himself the light of the world, suggest to the people that he won’t be with them much longer. The sun is just about to disappear below the horizon, now is the time to choose. Will they believe in him and be children of light?
There is a moral dimension to being children of light, which involves being people whose lives are characterized by truth and goodness. Jesus means more than moralism though. Being Children of light means being born again. We cannot produce in ourselves the eternal life of God, but rather it comes to us through Jesus Christ. Again George Macdonald writes, “God is the father of Jesus and of us…but while God is the father of his children, Jesus is the father of their sonship” (The Creation in Christ). Jesus begets in us the life of God. Even like a mother, he bares in himself our true life, and labors to bring it forth.
We need not stumble in darkness, but can walk in the light of day knowing who we were created to be. This wild and precious life is his gift to you.