Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 26, 2020
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
Note: This sermon focuses on the new Genesis Window that was installed in the nave. The artist is Steve Wilson of Baton Rouge.
I will take no offense if you don’t look at me during this sermon. I understand you all have something else to look at. So as you are gazing up there at our new Genesis window, I will start with a portion of our psalm for the day. “One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:5-6).
So let’s begin to describe that, the “Genesis Window.” Even if you don’t know the bible very well, you’ve probably heard this bit before. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Those are the very first words of the bible in Genesis and they form the artistic jumping off point for the window. The words of Genesis continue, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “let there be light”’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:2-3).
One of the first things I notice in the window is bursting and bustling blues, greens, and reds. They are designed that way to represent the chaos, the formless void and the darkness over the face of the deep. This is an important point - the book of Genesis describes how God goes about bringing order out of chaos. Think of it as if you dropped a box of toothpicks on the ground. They are scattered in chaos all across the kitchen floor. Genesis describes this wind, this breath, this Spirit of God sweeping over that chaos and putting them all back into order.
Which is the first spiritual lesson I take from our Genesis Window. There is chaos in the world. No doubt about it. Those frenetic blues, greens, and reds remind me of Hurricane Harvey, the chaotic waters that kept rising and bringing ruin. Being human, living in this world, comes with randomness, chance, luck, whatever you want to call it. Death itself is a type of chaos, as even our bodies decompose our very cells and molecules lose their order. Physicists call this phenomenon, “entropy.” It’s the idea that everything, eventually, collapses into disorder rather than order. The Christian message is that God, and God alone, can move things from disorder into order. Death is transformed into new life through resurrection. Broken relationships are transformed into life-giving relationships through reconciliation. Sin is overcome and transformed into virtue through forgiveness. As you look at that window, think of the chaos in your own lives and take heart. I mean, I’m not the only one with chaos in my life. Right? Look at this window and remember, rejoice that the creator God is always desiring and moving and drawing you into order. Because God reigns even over the chaos.
The next thing that catches my eye up there is the light. That beautiful glorious light that God called into being. And that light came into being just by God’s voice. As you will read in the Gospel of John this spring, God’s voice is always creating. Jesus yells, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man Lazarus comes out of his tomb. Jesus says to the centurion that his son will be made well, and guess what, the centurion’s son is made well. Jesus says to the paralytic to stand up, take his mat, and walk. Lo and behold the paralytic does just that. In the beginning, God says, “let there be light,” and there is light. God’s voice alone creates and calls into being. Indeed, “the Lord is my light and my salvation.”
God has given us the gift of speech. Use it wisely. With our mouths, with our tongues, with our speech, with the things we write on the internet, we can create for good or for ill. We can create pain by using derogatory words, by gossiping, by slandering. We can create joy by speaking words of praise, thanksgiving, delight. Remember that your words, your speech, can build up for the Kingdom of God just as easily as your words can tear it down. I pray that after any word you speak God may hear it and say, “it is good.”
The third facet of this window that I want to describe is the dove. The text from Genesis says that it was the spirit of God, or a wind from God. We should note that the word there for “spirit” or “wind,” is a feminine word. Yes, indeed, humans have attributed both masculine and feminine characteristics to God since the beginning. We Christians have depicted the Spirit of God as a dove, taken from that memorable scene of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan in which the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove. Obviously, since we are Holy Comforter parish, Holy Comforter or Holy Spirit, it just had to be a dove.
Now, this is just my eye, but I see that dove as a powerful dove. A dove of strength and power, not a meek and mild dove that you go hunting for. This dove means business, the business of bringing order out of chaos. I think that is a good thing - Christianity in my estimation has become too sanitized, too milquetoast. The Holy Spirit is coming into our world, coming into your life, not to pat your hand and tell you that everything is okay. Oh no. Like we heard in that gospel text, the Holy Spirit is coming into our lives and we will have to drop our nets, leave behind our old way of life, pick up the cross and follow Jesus. There’s a great old hymn that says Peter, Andrew, James, and John were simple, happy fisherfolk, until the Lord came down. It says, “contented peaceful, fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too.” Young John dies homeless. James is killed with a sword. Andrew is crucified. Peter is crucified upside down. The peace of God, the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ is coming into your life and it will mean that your old way of life must die. The peace we receive is not peace as the world gives but as God gives. But then again, that just means that God is creating a new order out of your old chaos.
Finally, the artist who designed and fabricated this window told us that the individual pieces of glass you see all came from different parts of the world. This means that each piece of glass will bend the light differently because it was manufactured differently. So as the seasons change and the angle of the light changes, the window will take on different qualities. That’s awesome on an artistic level, but think about it this way. This text from Genesis describes how God created the entire world, the entire cosmos. It is fitting, then, that the window depicting the creation of the world comes from all over the world. It is a silent, beautiful reminder, that God cares for and created the whole world, not just our little corner of it.
Well, by now I’m sure your neck is sore. Allow me to conclude by saying this. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing lasts forever. And as Bishop Fisher tells us, we can hold on to our buildings, our things, our stained glass windows, but we need to hold on to them lightly.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:5-6). For we do not worship the fair beauty of our things. We must not worship the created rather than the creator. We must not fall into that old trap of idol worship, of turning the church into a museum, of making our rituals into lifeless ceremonies, of always wanting the past and never embracing the future. We must not hang on to our things too tightly. For if we do, not only will we lose those things, we will lose our souls.