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All the light we cannot see

Rev. Harry Currie

Nov 26, 2023

Ephesians 5:6-14, Matthew 25:31-26

I just finished watching a netflix miniseries called “All the light we cannot see.” It was based on the book of the same name by Andrew Doerr which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.


       I’ll try not to give away too much of the story, but it is set during World War 2 in France where a blind girl Marie-Laure has escaped with her father from Paris to her great uncle’s place in Saint Malo on the coast.

       At the same time there is another story line about a young German soldier Werner who was an orphan, but a genius with radios, who ends up in St. Malo working with the military to track illegal radio signal.

       The strange thing is that both Marie-Laure and Werner several years earlier used to listen to the shortwave radio and in particular to the Professor who liked science and liked facts and talked to the children about light.

       One of the things that the Professor said that both Marie-Laure and Werner held on to was that…

… the most important light is the light you cannot see.


       Light is a very important metaphor in this story. Marie-Laure is blind but has great insight. And she learns to see Paris and St. Malo, because her dad builds her giant models of the cities so she can touch them and learn her way around.

       Werner is a genius with radios. Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. And the light we see is part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

       The light we see, what we call visible light is about point 37 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum. We only see a thirtieth of the electromagnetic spectrum

       So, in a sense, there is all kinds of light we cannot see… from radio waves to microwaves to infrared to ultraviolet to x-rays to gamma rays.

       Some animals like spiders and butterflies can see ultraviolet. Some animals like certain snakes see infrared.


       So, while we see an incredible amount, there is an incredible amount of stuff we do not see.


       The story, “All the light we cannot see” has several themes. The tragedy and horror of war. Truth. The complexity of individuals. The juxtaposition of choice vs predetermination. Letting one’s own light shine, being alive and being one’s own true self,


       And all of these themes relate to this idea that there is much more to be seen that what we actually see.


       And so, I began to think about this and all the light verses of scripture, from the very beginning of the bible where God says: “Let there be light.”


To some famous verses such as

       The Lord is my light and my salvation…

       The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…

       in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….

I am the light of the world…

       Let your light shine before others…

God is light and in God there is no darkness at all…


And I began to think that if God is light and that we only see a small percentage of the light spectrum, what does that mean for our faith?


       And so, I want us to keep that in mind. God is light and yet there is so much light we don’t even see, as we come to the last week of the church calendar year, called Christ the King Sunday or for those of us who like a less masculine way of talking about it, the Reign of Christ Sunday.


       And what I like to think about is this on this Sunday. What if the guiding principles of Jesus were the guiding principles for this world.

       What if love reigned supreme? What would this world be like if we made decisions based on how Jesus would treat people.

       What if Compassion, Forgiveness, Love, Respect, Justice, Equality, Kindness, Gentleness and Self-control were not just words, or things to aspire to, but the controlling aspect of our communities, our nations and our lives.

       That in some ways is what it means to talk about Christ reigning.


       And for the Reign of Christ Sunday, we have another interesting parable.

       Interesting in a number of ways.


But let us summarize it first. When Jesus comes and sits on the throne of glory, he will gather the nations.

       Notice it says nations. That is interesting. Not people.

And he separates them into two groups, the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.

       And then Jesus basically commends the sheep and blasts the goats.


       And the criteria.


The criteria is about when you saw Jesus hungry, or naked, or a refugee, or sick, or in prison, and you helped him. Or you didn’t help him.


And the righteous say, when was that, Lord?

And this time it calls Jesus King. The King says: when you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me.


And the ones on his left, the goats, the unrighteous ask the same question.

When did we see you in need and not help you, Lord?


And Jesus answers, inasmuch as you did not to it one of the least of these you did not do it to me.


       So here one interesting thing to this parable. In this parable Jesus is the king who sits on the throne, but Jesus is also, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the foreigners, the refugees, and the ones in prison.


       And yet another thing to ponder. All of us have been told lots of times, or at least if you have been in the church many years you have, that our Christian salvation is by God’s doing. It God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s action, Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ forgiveness…

That is what saves us. Not by us being good enough.


       But this parable makes the criteria compassion and good works.

       I am not sure Martin Luther would have liked this parable. He certainly didn’t like the Epistle of James which said that faith without works is dead. He called it an epistle of straw.


And yet another thing to struggle with, is the separation of sheep and goats and one group to eternal punishment and one to eternal life.


       It seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ love for all people and accepting and including the sinners and fallen and traitors and criminals and caring for them and giving them second chances….


       You probably know I don’t believe in a literal hell as a place of punishment after death.

       I believe that all go to God’s light. So, this parable is a bit of a challenge.


       So, one way to deal with a parable is to not make it about someone else.

       This parable is not about your enemy, or the Nazis or Hamas, or the nation of Israel or some local politician or your Ex. It is about you.


It is about looking at your own life, not only the life you see, but the parts of your life you don’t see.

       It is shining the light of Christ more deeply into self and seeing what you are truly like.

       We have a tendency to build a fairly positive narrative about ourself, and this is the outward face that we present to the world.

       But like every individual, you are infinitely complex, made up your history, your knowledge, your experience, your stories, your physical and mental abilities, your parents and grandparents and their stories and all the stories and people in your ancestral line.


       In many ways when you meet another human being you just see a fraction of who that person really is.

       And sometimes when it comes to another person it is the light you cannot see that is the most important light, not the light they present to the world.


And so, when we look at the parable of the sheep and the goats it is a chance for us to look at the light within us that we often hide or cover up.


       So, what part of you helps, and care. What is your compassionate side, your giving side, your helping side?

       Who do you find it hard to help?


What part of you will reach out to the stranger, the one who is different, the one who has different lifestyle, a different race, a different culture, a different religion or lack thereof, a different politics, a different moral structure?

       Are you repulsed by people who have very different thinking than you do?

       I am at times. I find myself saying nasty things in my mind about people who I think are too exclusive, too narrow theologically, who I think are judgemental, and divisive and like to argue for more prisons, more armies, more police and more weapons.


       What part of you will reach out to the prisoner? How are you at forgiveness, and I don’t just mean forgiving your children and friends whom you love. When you love you tend to forgive…

       How are you at forgiveness for the people in our jails. How are you at forgiveness for the one who cheated you, the one who abused you, the one who demeaned you, the one who libeled you, or the one who hit you?


       Can you clothe people with love, with praise, with respect, with good wishes, with blessings, even though that person is on the street and may be drunk or high?


       Sometimes when I look at the parts of me that I do not see, or do not show the world, I don’t see myself in a good light.

       Sometimes I fail the test and am sure I am a goat.


And here’s the thing, when I am a goat. When I am the unrighteous, when I am accursed, when Jesus could tell me, “depart from me…go away to eternal punishment”…


       It is not that when I die, I will go to hell…


It is the fact that when I don’t care, when I don’t feed people love and grace, when I don’t clothe someone with respect, when I don’t welcome the different, or forgive the ones who have done me wrong….

       Then I make hell for others…and I live in hell myself…


Sometimes that a great truth in itself. Often you don’t necessarily see the part of a person that is in hell. Sometimes, the negative energy in a person is invisible, the hell that someone is living in… We see someone’s visible self, which might seem to be good. Someone might seem to have it all together… but inside there is hell.


       And yet, sometimes when you look deep down inside at the light that others do not see, or even you do not see in yourself, sometimes you see the Christ living in you. You see kindness, love, care, concern, forgiveness, acceptance and an understanding that every las person is a child of God and a brother and sister of Jesus…

       And that is eternal life. Another way to say it is that it is life in all its fullness. Abundant life, joyful life, where you are free to be yourself and you set others free to be themselves… It is your true self, or your God self, or your best self.

       You don’t have to wait until you die for heaven, but truly God’s kingdom, God’s rule of love can come on earth in you, as it is in heaven.


       So, one way for you to look at this parable of the sheep and the goats is to look at yourself and help you see all the light and darkness inside.


       But I think yet another important point of this parable is for us to think about God in ways we don’t often think about God.


       To realize that maybe when it comes to the light of the world we see only point three seven of the totality of the light of the world.


A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.


That very much is the experience of humans with the divine. Each of us experiences and knows God in only a small way compared to the enormity of God’s grace, God’s action, God’s love, God’s being and God’s presence.


       This parable challenges us to see Jesus, to see God, to see the divine in ways that we just don’t seem to see God.


       In the story “All the light we cannot see” the story teller is trying to get it out of our minds to see people in binary ways… Good or bad…

       Werner is a German soldier who was part of finding illegal radio signals. As such he led the soldiers to find people and execute them and their families.

       But he is also a good person, with a gentle soul who is seeking truth and seeking hope in the midst of the hell he is living in.


       Marie-Laure is part of the resistance and the Resistance lied and deceived and participated in violence.

       In war while we like to say these are the good guys and the bad guys, but the truth is every person is a very complex mix of dark and light, of history and family, of cultural bias and social control, of woundedness and giftedness, of truth and lies, of choice and predetermination and there is light and dark in every person.


       There is light in every person and God appears in the most unlikely of people, in ways we don’t always understand.

       I now can see that God was in some of my worst enemies and worst situations, in ways I cannot always explain. Sometimes God was guiding me, even though I thought I had taken a wrong turn. Sometimes God was the pain I felt, and sometimes God was the enemy just waiting for me to forgive, or reconcile, or care, or love.

       God is not just here in church, in the wonderful music, in the beauty of the sanctuary, in the prayers, the scripture and the sermons…

        There is so much of God that we do not normally see. That is why sometimes it is important to wake up, to look again, to consider the lilies, to open our eyes, or let God open our eyes…

       It is possible to see more than colours and the visible ROY G BIV light spectrum…

       Like Marie-Laure, the blind girl, we can learn to see with our hearts, our minds, our other senses and our spirits as well.

       God can be found in almost every place, in every situation. In your darkest moments, your greatest sins, your biggest hurts, as well as your joys, your loves, and your highest highs.

       God is found wherever there is love, kindness, compassion, creativity, the arts, nature, people, story, healing, and so on and so on.


       God is everywhere, but like light, we only see a fraction of God’s presence. That is why we are told in the scriptures on more than one occasion to “wake up”. Wake up and smell the coffee which is another way of saying: wake up and see God. Enlarge your vision.


       God is not only everywhere, God is with us, everywhere we go. Even if we make our bed in hell, God is there loving us.

That is why we can bend the knee to Jesus and let Jesus reign in our lives.

For Jesus is love and light; and we only see and comprehend a fraction of Jesus’ love and grace.

And sometimes, the most important love and grace is the love and grace we don’t even see.


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