Sermon 2-21-2016‘Inward Light’
http://www.hallvworthington.com/George_Fox_Selections/FoxFromtheLord.html; George Fox Selections
http://www.hallvworthington.com/Margaret_Fox_Selections/MargaretMemoir.html; The Life of Margaret Fox, Wife of George Fox, compiled from her own narrative and other sources, 1859.
Be ready for mystery. Always be ready for things you cannot see. Appreciate the things you do not yet understand. They may frustrate you, they may confuse you, but turn the energy of frustration or confusion to good purpose, and the challenge of learning more about yourself and the world. The world is not as dark as you might think. In fact, it’s filled with light – and you carry that light within you.
Christ tells us in this story from the Gospel of John that he is the Light of the World, and that we never need walk in darkness. He calls us out of darkness into Light. George Fox, years later would say, ‘Christ lights every one that comes into the world; and by this light they might be gathered to God.’
The persons who heard Christ say these things were not ready for mystery. They could only see what was in front of their faces. They could not appreciate what they did not understand, and in fact, were threatened by it. Their rules of logic applied, and they demanded that Christ validate who he was. He did, claiming his Father as his witness – his father who had sent him. Not seeing another person standing there, another person in flesh and blood, another person who resembled this young, impudent man, they scoffed at him. Because they did not know his father, they refused to believe the son. Because they could not see his father, they refused to accept the son’s word. Within inches of the Light of the World, they stood in their own darkness. Why? Because they would not, could not, appreciate the mystery of experiencing something they did not understand. How many of us today, living in the power of the coming of the Light of the World, still stand in our own darkness? How many of us refuse to enter in to mystery? To unknowing in order to know? How many of us are willing to walk in the Light, rather than stand in darkness?
Our grandchildren live in Sheridan, Wyoming, and a week ago, Jon and I had a wonderful conversation with Ella and Ben through SKYPE. Ben had just registered for Kindergarten, so he wanted to read a book to us that he’d gotten at Kindergarten Round-Up. “Sam sat on Matt.” “Matt sat on cat.” “Cat sat on Matt.” It was wonderful! Then sister showed us her brand new Bible – purple, with beads hanging from the front. Ella is almost 8, and she wanted to read to us, too. She read a Psalm, and then I asked her to find Psalm 23. Grandpa, Ella and I took turns reading verses together. I told her I was preaching from the book of John. Could she find that? The kids have been learning a song with all the names of the books of the Bible, and so she sang her way up to John, and found it. She asked why some of the words were red, and I told her that Jesus was having a conversation with people, and whenever he spoke, his words were printed in red. She flipped a couple of pages again, and found everything in red. “Look Mom,” she shouted. “Jesus is talking! I’ve got to show Daddy!” And she took off to find Seth.
Jesus is talking. Jesus has lots to say, and it’s pretty exciting – not just to a seven year old, but to anyone who will pay attention – to anyone who will step into mystery. Last week, I told our children that Bible stories began like all stories do, shared from the heart. Before they were ever written down, they were inscribed on our hearts, and humankind shared stories about God, and their understanding of who God was, what God did, and how God moved. “Once upon a time” became “In the beginning”, and stories drawn in the sand, or in the sky began to be written, copied, printed, and read. Jesus’ disciple John, who loved him so, began his gospel with, ‘In the beginning”. Genesis begins with darkness and emptiness. John’s Gospel begins with Life and Light. Genesis brings humankind to creation. John brings the ‘Word made flesh’ to us all. Jesus is talking now. God no longer speaks for himself as he did to Moses, or through a prophet or king, but through his son. God is speaking in red letters. God is speaking in our hearts.
The prophet Jeremiah told us this would happen… that all those written stories of family and community, the laws for living, the adjudication of kings and judges, and the warnings of prophets like himself would one day become written – not in books, or tablets of stone, but on our hearts. A five year old child knows God’s laws. Benjamin may not know the Ten Commandments verbatim, but he knows not to steal, or lie. He’s drawn naturally toward loving God. Jeremiah once said, “This is the covenant I will make, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God.” Always be ready for things you cannot see.
So, how do we tell these stories that were once told in sand and sky? How do we read these stories written down so long ago? How do we know these stories? Does that matter? It did to George Fox. It’s said that “Fox's preaching was always backed up by the scriptures; his listeners usually remarked that they had never heard anyone open their understanding to the obscure meaning of the scriptures so thoroughly. He often delayed speaking until he could feel the "power of God settle on the people" to quiet them and prepare them for his words. He also waited until he felt the promptings of the Lord to begin to speak. Fox spoke by the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and from the presence of the Lord.”
"Our house being a place open to entertain ministers and religious people, one of George Fox's friends brought him there, where he stayed all night; and the next day being a lecture or fast-day, he went to Ulverstone steeple-house, but came not in until people were seated; I and my children had been there a long time before. And when they were singing, before the sermon, he came in; "and when they had done, he stood up, upon a seat or form, and desired 'that he might have liberty to speak;' and he that was in the pulpit said he might. And the first words that he spoke were as follows: 'He is not a Jew that is one outward, neither is that circumcision which is outward; but he is a Jew that is one inward, and that is circumcision which is of the heart.'
And so he went on and said 'that Christ was the light of the world, and lights every man that comes into the world; and that by this light they might be gathered to God.' I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine for I had never heard such before; and then he went on and opened the Scriptures and said: 'The Scriptures were the prophet's words, and Christ's and the apostles' words; and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:' and said: 'Then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say Christ said this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light; and what you speak, is it inwardly from God?’ This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord: 'We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the Scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.' That so struck me that I cannot well tell what he spoke afterwards, but he went on declaring against false prophets, priests, and deceivers of the people. He came to our house again that night, and spoke in the family among the servants, and they were all generally convinced. I was struck in such sadness, I knew not what to do, my husband being away from home. I saw it was the truth, and I could not deny it; and I did as the apostle said: I received the truth in the love of it; and it was opened to me so clear, that I had never a slightest misgiving in my heart against it; but I desired the Lord that I might be kept in it, and then I desired no greater portion."
This is the moment when ‘way opened’ for Margaret Fell. She began weeping. She knew scripture well, but she hadn’t experienced it. She knew that scripture had been robbed of its depth of meaning, taken only as words on a page. Knowing God in her heart had been replaced by knowing God in her head. George Fox had said that the Scriptures were the words of the prophets, the apostles and Jesus, written down, moved from sand to page. That they were lived words, owned words, given words that had come from God, had been used in the service of God, and that the Spirit of God gave them to us. Instead of receiving them in mystery, Margaret and her kind had replaced that with mastery. They could quote the writings of Christ and the apostles, but what had God written on their own hearts? What did their own hearts say?
Do we have to know everything? Can we live in mystery? The Pharisees could not, but can we, like the apostles, like Jesus, like Moses, like Jeremiah, live in such a way that we pay attention to what God gives us, each day? Yes! What we know of God, what we experience of God, what we understand of God is ours… it is our beginning, it is our Light. Can we live from a centered, enlightened soul, a place filled with the Light of the World, as we walk through darkness? Can we appreciate the things we do not understand, and wait for God to reveal the things we cannot see?