Shine, Jesus, Shine

John 12:8   
Union University Church
April 21, 2019    
Reverend Laurie DeMott

Easter is typically about bunnies and chicks and little cuddly lambs like we saw in Children’s Time because as I told the kids these baby animals represent new life and the possibility of a new beginning but in this sermon, I want to put aside those typical Easter animals and hear a message for us in an animal you will not find in your Easter basket, unless you were foolish enough to leave that basket unguarded, because that animal is the dog. Specifically, I want to talk for a minute about that frequent generator of sermon illustrations, my dog Dexter. I have talked about Dexter enough in sermons that even those of you who have been unfortunate enough not to have met him in person probably feel well acquainted with him but for the visitors and the uninitiated, Dexter is my two year old black and white Springer Spaniel who in looks and more importantly, in personality is the face of grace. I do have another dog Cody, who I trot out every now and then in my sermons when I want to talk about sin but today is a day for the gospel message of hope and grace and so, Dexter it is.

Dexter is an easy going dog who takes life as it comes without complaint, who enjoys a good run or a nap on the couch with equal acceptance, and who actually likes to please me which makes him very easy to train. He does however, have one obsession: Dexter is obsessed with the light. As a puppy, he discovered that when I open the door to my house, the windows in the door refract the sunlight and cast a beam of light upon the ground that moves as the door moves, and so he developed his own game: when I swing the door open, he races out to the porch to try to pounce on the light before it gets away, and cat-like, he will continue to chase that beam of light as long as I move it hither and yon by opening and shutting the door over and over again, which of course, I do, to watch him play. Dexter is so obsessed with that beam of light that sometimes it’s hard to get him back inside the house because when he comes to the door to be let in, and I open the door to let him in, of course, the window catches the sun and the light goes skittering across the back porch again and he MUST chase it. He sometimes will even sit at the back door pretending he wants to come in just to get me to open the door so that he can run after the beam. Thank goodness we live in Alfred where the sun doesn’t come out that often or I would never get my dog inside! On those too frequent gloomy days, Dexter sits with his chin on his paws, staring out the window, waiting for the light to return, and as soon as the sun peaks its face through the clouds, Dexter is back at the door, tail wagging, begging me to open the door and let him out. Dexter believes he has one job in life and it is to follow the light; when the light beckons, he can do nothing else but follow.

We are here this Easter morning having spent the last few days in the shadow and the gloom of the cross. We have walked through these dark days with the disciples, sympathizing with their fears, their bewilderment, their guilt, and their grief. It’s been unfortunately easy to sympathize with them because we know what it is to hurt so badly that we cannot imagine there is a way forward. We know what it is to be confused about our lives and uncertain of where to go next. We know what it is to feel like the whole world is against you and to worry that the unjust powers are winning. When such hard times come to our heart, we are tempted to just hunker down in the darkness and stay in the tomb of our despair, but Easter proclaims that the door to the tomb has been opened and God’s light is shining upon us. We don’t know yet where that light is going to lead; we don’t know yet how that light is going to heal the ache in our souls or what changes it will bring to our troubled world, but Easter is about trusting in that light and it is about the people we choose to be: when God opens the door to your tomb; when the light shines upon you; are you going to follow? Dexter knows who is and knows that he HAS to follow that light. Do you know who you are — child of God, disciple of Christ? The door is open, the light is shining, are you going to get up out of this tomb and follow?

Now, I would be foolish to claim that the proclamation of Easter is going to erase all of our doubts or instantaneously heal all of the wounds that we are carrying with us from past battles and disappointments. Even Jesus bore the scars of the cross after his resurrection, and the road ahead might feel just as confusing or discouraging as it did before this day, but Easter promises that when we make a commitment to step out of this dark tomb into the light of Christ, we will be making a commitment to one who will never desert us on the way. Though we turned away and failed, Christ’s love for us remained steadfast even through death on a cross, and in his resurrection God declared that there is always a way forward if we place our lives in God’s hands because the risen Christ will be with us to guide us and enrich our lives. All we have to do is have the courage to follow.

The founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley once commented, “‘My brother, Charles, amid the difficulties of our early ministry used to say, ‘If the Lord would give me wings I would fly,’ [but I would reply], ‘If the Lord bade me fly, I would trust Him for wings.’”

When Dexter sees that light, he has to follow, and I am thinking that you are the same way. Sure, maybe you have doubts about the world and you get so discouraged that you want to just shut your door tight to keep out the unrelenting news of injustice and the human capacity for cruelty. Or maybe you are full of doubts about yourself and every day feels like a struggle to be the kind of person you want to be, that you believe you can be. Maybe you even have doubts about God, and you’re not always sure about this whole faith enterprise, but I think you are like Dexter, and you know why I think that? Because you are here. When you got up this morning, you decided that you needed to be in church today. Other people are sleeping in or at home eating their Easter candy, but you came here because you knew you needed to hear once again the good news that God has opened the door of your tomb and is shining a light in your darkness and you could not help but run to the door to see. You are a person who, like Dexter, MUST follow the light, in spite of the world telling you it is foolish to believe in tomorrow, in spite of the voices of cynicism telling you it is better to protect your own self-interests, in spite of the powers of the world trying to trample down your hope, in spite of even your own temptation to shut that door tight again; there is something in you that compels you to peek out of the tomb looking for the light; to dare to believe once again that something more is possible than the darkness the rest of the world insists on seeing.

You were made to believe in the light. And you were made to follow. Because you are a disciple of Christ. We have one job as Christians and it is to follow Christ’s light as it blazes forth upon the world, breaking the bonds of death, triumphant over hate and cruelty, victorious in love, and making of us a new creation. And we will believe in that. As disciples of Christ, we will get up every morning and say, “Today, I am going to watch for Christ’s light and when I see it, I will follow. If it is in the face of a friend shining love upon me, I will offer up my prayers of thanksgiving for that light. If it beckons me down a path that I thought was too hard, I will trust that God will give me wings and I will follow. If it shines into the dark corners of my heart and assures me that my sins are forgiven and I am made new, I will not insist on staying in the dark torment of self-pity and guilt but will rise up out of that tomb and accept the mercy Christ offers and start the day made new.”

My dog, Dexter knows who he is and knows that his job is to follow the light. Do you know who you are? You are a child of God, a disciple of Christ. The door is open, the light is shining. Get up out of the tomb and follow.