When we hear the reading from John 3 most of us recognize it instantly as the gospel in a nutshell scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son…” (Jn 3:16) As a result, the second part of the reading is very often overlooked. It’s about light versus darkness, illumination versus blindness, seeing our way clearly versus stumbling about and getting hurt. Ephesians, too, talks about light; walking in the light, being light, being uncovered by the light, becoming light.
Most of you are probably familiar with the song “This Little Light of Mine”. Many of us learned it as a children’s hymn and we were taught to hold up a finger to represent our light, our life. That particular hymn, although written by Harry Dixon Loes, was adopted by an African American women, named Fannie Lou Hamer. Fannie was a civil rights activist in the sixties when it was still very dangerous to be a civil rights activist in the States. Fannie would sing “This Little Light of Mine” to groups of activists to bolster their resolve. She believed the civil rights movement to be deeply spiritual. Fannie heard a sermon from Rev. James Bevel, an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by an appeal for African Americans to register to vote. Fannie was the first to volunteer. Many suffered from institutional racism – harassment, loss of jobs, physical beatings and even lynchings.
A few weeks ago, I was out driving when it started to snow. Just a few flakes at first, nothing to worry about. But after a few minutes it made the Queensway pretty slushy. While driving behind some of the large trucks, the slush would spatter on my windshield. At first I didn't put my wipers on because it just made the view a little foggy, not enough to worry about. Finally it got to the point where I had to put my wipers on and all they did was smear the slush splatter so that my vision was impaired. However, there was that that little space of clear windshield left to squint through. But as a transport truck passed me, I got a massive splash and suddenly I couldn't see anything. I lost my focus because the view out the windshield was completely gone. I felt a sense of panic because I could no longer see the lines for the car lanes and at that point I happened to be on a part of the Queensway near my home that is undergoing construction so the lanes have been repainted to be “s” shaped rather than straight. I later heard on the radio that there were a lot of accidents that day, so clearly others lost their ability to focus on the road or the traffic in front of them as well.
It is so easy to lose our focus whether it's driving or whether it's in just living day to day. Today is the first Sunday in Lent and Lent begins with the story of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry with His baptism and His temptation in the desert. Lent is that season of the forty days leading up to Easter and the celebration of the resurrection, a time when we're called to keep our eyes and our focus on the cross.
I know with Covid it's been awhile since anyone could have a “normal” wedding or reception, but think back to the wedding receptions that include a dinner and speeches that you have attended in the past. How many times did you encounter the tradition of the bride and groom having to kiss because the guests clinked their glasses? Of course, one of the latest activities that replaced this tradition was to have the guests stand up and sing a song with the word love in it to make the couple kiss. This means the newlyweds aren't the only ones who have to interrupt their meal, which seems only fair.
Today is Valentine's Day, a day devoted to the idea of love. I know that the gospel reading from Mark 9: 2-9 doesn't seem to fit this theme, but when you think that “transfiguration” could also mean “transformation” and that love has the greatest ability to transform, and you squint your eyes a certain way, it could work. Maybe? Sometimes that's the problem of working with a lectionary that doesn't follow secular “holidays”. But it is true, that love has the ability to transform people.