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“Braving the Darkness Once Again”

“Braving the Darkness Once Again”
Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
Bach Vespers
November 6, 2016 (25th Sunday after Pentecost)

Congratulations!  You reset your timepieces correctly; you have fallen back instead of springing forward; and you have arrived here in a timely manner for the prayers of the evening.

The problem, however, is that it is dark outside and it is going to get darker yet.

There are those dark days when people are alarmed, unsettled, shaken, days when we can’t even hear the murmur of a prayer.  Perhaps these are such days.

The front page in Friday’s The New York Times wrote: “An overwhelming majority of voters are disgusted by the state of American politics, and many harbor doubts that either majority-party can unite the country after a historically ugly presidential campaign…”

There have been other dark times, far darker, for sure.  The letter we just heard was written to the people of Thessalonica 2000 years ago; those were dark days, so dark, in fact, that people thought the end was just around the bend and quite a few simply quit working altogether.  The writer warned people “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter…”

Similar darkness is sung about in this evening’s Bach cantata #20, “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (“O eternity, O word of thunder”).  Thank God music accompanies the words, lots of music, otherwise it would be too much to bear.  The cantata’s words lead us straightaway into Dante’s Inferno:

“They will be plagued by heat and cold,
Fear, hunger, terror, lightning’s bolt
And still be not diminished.”

For those who have lived a bit of life, you know dark nights will surely come.  Whether or not you believe in Hades and the devil, you know how it feels when hell is nipping at your heels.

This night, like so many down through history, is painted in gloomy shades.  We desperately need a word of hope, a moment of prayer, a glimmer of light.

Is it just the melancholy in my own soul or are you also shook by the darkness of these days?  The dastardly things candidates say to and about one another and about other people; the inability to listen to those facing unemployment, racism, and sexism; the rumors of war, the sounds of bombs bursting in air, the heightened police presence on our church’s doorstep this very moment, complete with high-powered weapons and riot gear—just like those times soon after Jesus died, fear and chaos are in the air.

After all the years, we still have the yearning of the ancient epistle writer: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”

That is why we have gathered this evening.  We may say we have come just for the Bach, but I suspect there is something deeper as our voices reach toward the heavens, crying out for “eternal comfort and good hope.”

In a few moments, following the singing of the cantata, we will utter a few prayers.  They are not new-fangled prayers cooked up for this occasion.  They are cobwebby and well-worn and yet dazzling and vigorous; they abound with the wisdom of the ages and have been found to support countless people navigating terrifying caverns of darkness. The church has appointed these prayers for nights such as this: “O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done.”

The days ahead promise precious little light; darkness soaks our bones. God’s good gift for evenings such as this is the promise that darkness will not prevail.

We are, after all, a people of light.  We use very few candles when the sun is up.  But when darkness drapes creation, we go wild, lighting every candle we can find. When gloom fills the sky and nightmares haunt us, we tell one another the stories of how God has triumphed previously: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who led your people Israel by a pillar of could by day and a pillar of fire by night.”  And we implore God, for one another’s sake: “Enlighten our darkness by the light of your Christ; may his Word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”

This is why we have braved the darkness yet again to be here.  This is why we sing, why we pray.  In this dark sanctuary, God entrusts us with good hope and eternal comfort.  And from this place we will process out into the night, bearing light for our fearful world.  Amen.