My son, Elliot, has a new favorite thing he likes to do. As we walk through the house, with him in our arms, he always stretches out his hand every time he sees a light switch. You see, he’s finally learned how they work. And now, he loves nothing more than to switch them on and then off again. On, off. On, off. From the outside of the house, it looks like a strobe light. But on the inside of the house, Elliot is laughing and smiling as he does it. And so am I.
He is quite literally a lover of the light. And I love that. I love that he loves the light. It reminds me of the candle that his Godparents lit for him at his baptism, and we were reminded of the words of Jesus following the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world.” And now, Elliot is a lover of the light.
In fact, Lauren and I have been teaching him the sign for light, in sign language. It is simple this – a closed hand moving to an opened hand. Light. Light.
So Elliot loves to flicker and flash the lights. And you know, that’s how this week has felt. Like the lights have been turning on and off, on and off. Light, darkness. Light, darkness. Good news, bad news. Good news, bad news.
On Monday, a tornado destroyed 1,200 homes in Moore, Oklahoma, and killed 24 people including 10 children, seeking shelter in their elementary school. Off. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness.
But then, late Tuesday/early Wednesday, little Eli is born healthy to Brad and Stefanie. The earth is brighter with him in it because he is the light of the world too; there’s more light. In fact, we will light a baptismal candle for Eli in the months to come. On. Light. Light. Light. Light.
But then on Wednesday afternoon, I sat with a farmer who is frightened that they won’t get their crop in before the crop insurance deadline because of all the rain softening the fields. And then I heard about a group of fourth graders from St. Louis Park went searching for fossils on a field trip at a local park. While they were out exploring, the ground that had also become soft from all the rain collapsed, causing a mudslide. Two 4th graders were dragged under, buried, and died. 9-year-old Hayem Sani and 10-year-old Mohamed Fofana. A parent’s worst nightmare came true. Off. Darkness, darkness, darkness.
And then on Wednesday night, a man who I have barely met comes up to me at rehearsal for the musical I am in this summer. He says that he has a personal question to ask me. At first, I thought he meant personal meaning about me, but he meant personal for him. He said, “I’m not a member of a church anywhere. And my mom’s not very religious. But I want to get my daughter baptized and I was wondering if you could help me with that.” I told him I’d be honored and delighted to help him with that. I know it might sound like a small thing. But you could feel it in how carefully and sweetly he asked the question. This was no small thing. It seemed like something he’d been carrying around with him for sometime now. And he seemed quite grateful. And I was grateful for being asked. And there was light there. The light of a baptismal candle, we will get to light. On. Light. Light. Light.
So that’s what this week has been like for me. Darkness. Light. Darkness. Light. It is like someone is turning the light switch off and on, off and on.
Which makes it very hard to preach. Because when I hear Psalm 8, I can’t decide if I loved it or hated it. You see, Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise. It’s all about praising God. It begins – O Lord, our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the earth! On Monday, I hated this psalm. How can we praise God when creation has betrayed us? When homes and lives have been destroyed by such monstrous tornados. How can we praise God?
But then on Tuesday night, I loved Psalm 8. A new child was born. There is suddenly more light and life in the world. How can you not praise God at such a time as that? How can you not say, “Allelulia! Thanks be to God!” when a baby is born? How can you not praise God?
And then Wednesday afternoon came and I hated it again. One of the elementary school students, Mohamed, was buried under the mudslide over night because it wasn’t safe for the rescue workers to continue. I cannot imagine anything worse than being a parent sent home knowing your child is out there buried somewhere and you can’t look for them because it isn’t safe. I would lose my mind. How can you praise God at a time like that? How can you speak the words of Psalm 8 – O Lord, our Sovereign, how exalted is your name in all the earth! The words, they stick in your throat.
And then on Wednesday night, a man finally finds a place to have his daughter baptized. It’s like he’d been looking forever, but never knew whom to ask. And all I could say was “Thanks be to God.” And suddenly Psalm 8 is back in my good graces. How could you not praise God at someone finally finding a church to baptize their child?
So friends, such a week as this makes it very hard to preach to you. I didn’t really want to do it. I wasn’t sure what to say. I’m still not sure what to say. All I can do is lead to where I was lead. And here is what happened for me. On Thursday – I got a haircut.
As I was sitting in the barbers chair, the news was on, covering the tornados in Oklahoma. And they started playing cellphone footage of a rescue in Oklahoma. This grainy and shifty video shows what looks like a garbage dump, but it is a neighborhood torn down by the tornados. In the background, you can hear the man carrying the cellphone calling out…”Is there anybody here? Is there anybody here?”
He is walking all over the place, calling that out. And then, suddenly he starts running. And he’s screaming, “Over here! Over here!” He starts asking, “Where are you at? Where are you at?” And deep underneath a mountain of rubble, you can hear the faint sound of a man…”Here! I’m here!” And the man holding the camera says, “We’re gonna get you. We’re gonna get you. We got you. We got you.”
So here I am, sitting in the barber’s chair watching this and I start to tear up. My eyes become watery and I am crying. To anyone who noticed, how ridiculous I must have looked. But the tears came at the sound of that man’s voice, “Where are you? Where are you?” and then, “We’re gonna get you. We’re gonna get you. We got you.” Because it sounded like the voice of God.
Do you remember in the garden scene, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, what God’s first words to them were? “Where are you?”
Where are you? Where are you? We’re gonna get you. We got you. We got you. It sounded like the voice of God to me.
I was reminded that God comes to find us in our suffering. In the places where we are lost and living in darkness. When we are that one sheep, that one sheep that has been lost from the herd, God leaves everything behind to come and find us. When the world is dark, God comes to be with us.
We read in Paul’s letter to the Romans that we are to boast in our suffering. We are to boast in our suffering, Paul says. Which sounds ridiculous. Until we remember that in our suffering is where God meets us. We see God’s solidarity with us in our suffering no more clearly than on the cross. God comes to meet us, hidden in the human of Jesus. God suffers and God dies on a cross. Then from death on the cross is brought the resurrection. God meets us in our suffering and then brings about life there.
God finds us in our suffering. And then God takes our suffering, when we are ready, and uses it to bring more light into the world. A few weeks ago, we heard in Revelation that God wipes every tear…you can’t wipe away a tear unless you are close those who are crying. Unless you are near to them. And that is the promise. That God is never far away.
I realize that might not be enough for some of us. Some of us might still hate Psalm 8 today. We might not be ready to praise God yet. We might not be ready to boast in our suffering. And that’s okay. But we can cling to the promise that God will meet us in our darkest hour. That God will find us there.
Friends, it has been a hard week. It has been a hard year. It’s like the lights are flickering on and off. Good news. Bad news. Good news. Bad news. So let’s just be quiet for a moment. Let’s take a moment for some silence and then I will close us with a prayer.
Oh, Lord, how can we praise you on a week such as this. O, Lord, how can we not praise you on a week such as this. Lord, gives us the courage to be like Paul and to boast in our suffering. Not because it is good that we suffer. Not because you cause our suffering, but because you promise to meet us there. To find us there. And bring about light and life there. So give us eyes to recognize you. Helps us to be lovers of your guiding light in the midst of so much darkness. Amen.