In Sunday school we spent time thinking about what a record of elaborate formal national worship might say to us, or how it might serve as any kind of model for our own worship. We noted the attitude of humility Solomon adopts, and people shared stories of kneeling in prayer – interestingly, childhood memories, of fathers, and of joyful memories of being children around those fathers. We thought about the “tribal” character of this national worship … the possible sense of belonging to a whole big group, and how reassuring that would be, but also the possibility that the belonging would involve exclusion of people outside the tribe – and then we remembered that in ancient Israel, in the Torah, there is a lot of emphasis on including “the stranger,” including the stranger in the celebration of Pesach (Exodus 12:48), including the foreigners in the worship in the house of God (like in Isaiah 56), commending love for the stranger “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” and because God loves them (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) … so, that attitude of welcoming the stranger is presumably the antidote to the kind of tribalism that would turn that belonging into an exercise in hating whoever “isn’t one of us.”
Then in church we read about the fiery serpents in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9), and about Jesus being the light of the world (John 3:14-21). And in reflecting on that, our pastor had us imagine being in a dark room – really dark (I thought of the tour guide at Mammoth Cave turning out the lights, and not being able to see a hand in front of a face, or the person next to you) – and then, thinking … how do you feel? Afraid? Peaceful? Do you want a light – or are you anxious about what you might see if you had one? And from there, thinking about people being like dark rooms … until you get to know them; and thinking about what it is like to explore a dark room with a flashlight … maybe not that easy, easy to miss things; and what it is like to become accustomed to a place that is dark, even get used to it, to feel like everything is really OK, and not to want to shine a light on some of the darker corners.
Jesus, in John, says when the light comes into the world people don’t come to the light because their deeds are evil, but everyone who does what is true does come to the light. Jesus doesn’t present a contrast between evil and good in that statement. So that maybe we need to be a little bit uncomfortable about assuming that people shy away from the light because “they’re evil” – we can easily imagine people are broken, ashamed, so used to the dark … or I thought, perhaps convinced that they are evil, or that the darkness is where the likes of them belong … so that to do what is true and come to the light may not at all mean that people are any “better” – just that they are more desperate, perhaps, for something, and so willing to take the chance to be seen for who and what they are, who sense that the light could be something good, with possibilities, maybe for healing, or for belonging … who are willing to hope and trust, as we heard this morning, that “the light is there because we are loved.”
And we sang “I want to walk as a child of the light,” which we hardly ever sing. But I suppose I will be singing it for the rest of this week.