Tomorrow’s sermon from Isaiah 60:1-6
I’ve decided to read more this year, and have started the new year off with reading cooking memoirs, in hopes that in the stories the world’s best chefs have written for me about their lives spent cooking and learning, that I, too, will learn something and become a better, more seasoned and versatile amateur chef. I believe that my quest for acquiring cooking memoirs and instructional cookbooks is, in fact, a search for epiphanies in the kitchen.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an epiphany as: a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something,
an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure,
a revealing scene or moment.
An illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment.
Iranian Chef Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat talks about her epiphany in the world of food while learning to cook at the upscale restaurant, Chez Panisse in Italy. After scrimping and saving, she and a friend traded a year’s worth of loose change for 2 crisp $100 bills and treated themselves to a meal at Chez Panisse, where she tasted foods she never dreamed possible.
That night after dinner, she penned a letter to the manager of Chez Panisse asking for a job bussing tables. Upon reading the letter, the general manager hired her on the spot and she worked her way up from vacuuming the dining room to tasting sauces to cooking for an upscale clientele.
Her epiphany moment was the moment that she realized that anyone can learn to be a great cook, all you have to do is master the elements of good cooking: salt which enhances flavor, fat which amplifies flavor, acid which brightens and balances flavors and heat which ultimately determines the texture of food. Her head chef encouraged her to write a book and create a course on mastering these seemingly simple, yet crucial elements of good cooking, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is her debut novel, chronicling her illuminating discovery; a revealing moment in the kitchen for her when everything clicked.
Illuminating. Illumination implies a certain level of darkness which must be overcome with light. For Chef Nosrat, the darkness was the mistakes she kept making in the kitchen.
Darkness can mean many things to different people. In fact, I think if we were to each think of a darkness that we can feel in our lives right now, we would get as many different answers as there are people in this room.
In a world that is filled with hate, threats of war and violence escalate every day, people living in lands whose leaders only care about themselves are starving, and differences of thought in politics and theology create division in our own country and all over the world, and the most common response to each of these and other worldwide situations and events seems to be violence. 2017 saw devastating natural disasters and people are still reeling from the effects.
It is a dark time in our world.
Because we are members of the human race, we experience things : we hurt, we make mistakes, and we look for the light to give meaning and purpose to the experiences that shape our human lives.
It is in this place of longing for light that our stories intersect with the story of the people of Israel, parched from weariness in their souls, and longing for a word of light to pierce their darkness.
They have returned from Babylonian exile to a sad and war torn remnant of what their lives in Jerusalem used to be. The temple has been desecrated and destroyed, their homeland lies in ruins, and the darkness of despair covers them like a blanket. Their eyes are downcast and their hearts are heavy. It is a dark time in their world.
And finally, a word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah. An illuminating disclosure in the disorienting darkness.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The pervasive darkness is pierced, it’s shroud unravels at the seams in the light, which is the very presence of the Lord, the same presence that guided the people of Israel in the wilderness, the same presence that was in the tabernacle, the very same presence that resided in the holy of holies of the destroyed temple is promised to the people whose way of life has been darkness for so long.
The darkness surrounding the homeward bound exiles is exterminated by the light – the far off are gathered back home, and the hope of riches swirls in the air- camels in caravans, gold, frankincense and myrrh. And the promise brings a hope that rings true, because the hope is that experience of illumination for the people of Israel. An illuminating disclosure and a path forward.
The words of the prophet speak new life into nearly lifeless people who face a very difficult task of rebuilding their lives. Arise! Shine! The presence of God is with you! The words of the prophet invite the people of Zion to walk in the light of God’s presence; a hope that marks the path toward renewal and restoration.
Arise! Shine! Lift your heads and look up! Something great is happening, something the darkness cannot hide: a promise of complete restoration “calling the community to believe in the vision, endure the present hardship and, with God, to bring the vision into reality (Callie Plunket – Brewton).”
This vision is illuminated by God’s presence, calling the people to commit to walking in the light of God, “empowered to create, to build, and to remain faithful” (Callie Plunket- Brewton) to the promise of God: the promise of the light of God’s presence with us, the same light that “enables the forgotten and hopeless to rise to their feet (Christine Roy Yoder),” and shines its clarifying rays on the path ahead. An illuminating disclosure, a revelation of hope.
With these hopeful words, though the fulfillment of the promise is ages away, the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah invites the people of Israel, as it invites us, to arise and walk in the light – the light of the presence of God which has come to us, to guide us in hope.
We walk in the light when we trust in the promises of God to illuminate the darkness around us, and when we allow ourselves to become beacons of God’s light by carrying the promises of God with us into the world around us.
We walk in the light when we remember the promises of God in our gatherings together as a community of faith – in Sunday worship, at Wednesday bible study, in private study, in Church at Home.
And we walk in the light when we join together in thanksgiving at the table of the Lord, to share in the gift of God’s hope, peace, joy and love given to us through Jesus Christ. As the wise men followed the light of the star of Bethlehem, as the people who walked in darkness allowed God’s word through the prophet to become a great light to them, so we also take comfort in and draw strength from the light of God through Jesus in communion.
Thanks be be to God for light that overcomes our darkness.