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The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 15, 2015  – Lent 4, Year B: John 3:14-21

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen

These opening words are by artist Leonard Cohen and they’re words in which I find inspiration often.  I appreciate the acceptance of imperfect gifts – they are all that I have to offer.  I admire the acknowledgement of cracks, because I see them too; we all do.  I pray and hunger for the light.  I am on watch for the light and on good days, I do my best to help that light flow.  So the words fit me and they fit today’s gospel too, as Jesus calls us to be aware of light and darkness and to ask ourselves what it means that God so loved this world.

But before we dive in to that passage, I want to tell you about something that’s happening this morning in our community.  There’s a rally against hate happening outside of a Baptist church in Zeeland.  And the rally is happening because their pastor recently compared being gay to waking up and deciding to become an ax murderer.

Now first I want to tell you that it’s not like that at all.  Just to clarify.  Being an ax murderer is more complicated than that.

And being gay goes way beyond a decision made in a moment – as psychology, science, theological reflection, real life stories and frankly even common sense tells us at this point.  So the pastor essentially, got it wrong.  But that’s not the point, really.  Because sometimes pastors do.  All of us.

Nor is the point about free speech.  Free speech is part of what allows us to flourish as a society.  I don’t generally make a practice of responding to other preacher’s sermons; what I am working through here is the news story that this preacher’s sermon has become.  Here’s what happened. . .

A young man heard that morning’s sermon, a young man who had grown up in that church and now lives in the Detroit area. He has run a program, a shelter I think for homeless youth.  And his name is Daniel.  Now I don’t know much about Daniel but, because he’s included it in the information he’s sharing with the larger community, I know that he’s gay.  And so Daniel, was understandably bothered by the ax murderer comparison that morning, and decided it was wrong enough to stand up and make some noise about.  And so he and a few friends picketed the church.  And then he organized the rally that’s happening this morning.

What’s interesting is that many of us involved in local organizations working for LGBT rights in this area were torn about whether or not to support the rally idea, for fear of drawing too much attention to this pastor, too much attention to the hate. We were torn about whether or not to draw attention to the hate and potentially fuel it on.  “Of all the things we could spotlight in this community, why that?” we asked.

And that’s a hard question and sometimes it’s a fine line in efforts for justice: when should we call attention to hate and expose it, essentially shining a light on it. And when should we focus energies on other positive efforts with the hope that the hate, the darkness eventually dies out on its own?

Well, one of the only people in our conversation who thought we absolutely should rally was Wayne Coleman, one of the only African American head pastors in Holland.  Wayne joined the conversation a little bit after the first round of decisions had been made, but his contribution was profound.

Wayne and his family have experienced hatred and violence in this community first hand, probably more than all of us combined. And Wayne is constantly trying to draw this community’s attention to injustice here at home.  Wayne’s word to us all what that we have to stand up and let the larger community know what’s happening.  His point being of course, that as imperfect as the offering of protest might be, sometimes, that’s how the light gets in.

Now this sermon isn’t a call to arms.  It’s a call to light.  It’s a call to love.  And I’m working out what that means, with you, with God – for you, for us – for a very big, broad, wide us. And I want you to work it out with me.

In your own lives, here at Grace, and out in this community too I want you to be working it out because among other reasons, I think that this is what the season of Lent is all about.  These hard questions are the questions, maybe even the prayers of the season:

What do we do in the darknesses that we know?  We all know some.

How do we love through the brokenness and injustices we encounter in ourselves and this world?

When should we let ourselves shine?  Light plays in here too!

Should we shine if that ultimately exposes another’s darkness – meaning confrontation that takes us beyond how we normally live our faith?

And what do we do when another’s shining exposes the darkness that is in us?

These are the hard questions that this season, this gospel passage, and our own lives stir among us. They also sit at the heart of the compassion that God has woven into these forty days and forty nights, all the way to the cross and beyond it.

Because the good news, the gospel news is that God is here with us. There is nothing to fear. God is here with us in whatever darkness you know, in whatever darkness you face, whether that be hatred or other forms which darkness takes.  God is already present doing the work of redemption and promising an ultimate peace that passes all understanding.  And so we are called to do all that we can, to offer ourselves in service of this love.

And we might not get it exactly right, in fact we probably won’t  – but even imperfect offerings are received with the assurance that God does something with them all.

“God so loved the world!” we heard this morning. Not just the Baptists.  Not just the Episcopalians.  Not just the gays or the straights or the whites or the blacks.  Not “just” anyone.  “God so loved the world that he sent his only son,” the gospel says.

And the judgement, according to the gospel, has to do with darkness and it has to do with light.  And so I want to hope that what Daniel is doing this morning is cracking it open a bit this morning for us all.  As imperfect an offering as it might be, sometimes, with God’s help, that’s how the light gets in.

And so my prayers are with him today.  And my prayers are with that congregation and ours too, that we all may know the light that is of God.  My prayers are with Wayne Coleman, his family and the people of Imagine Fellowship as they invite us again with them, to stand up and ring the bells that still can ring.

May we offer ourselves this season and every season, imperfect as we are to the work that is loving this world.  And may God expose us all in ways that serve a larger and holy gospel good.