Several years ago I assisted at the funeral of a beloved saint of our congregation. And when I saw beloved, I mean it: I still remember two families in tears the week after she died. She and her husband sat near them in church, and she always reached out to them, wanting to know the names of their children, and making them feel welcome.
I really loved this saint of our congregation, and I thought that if I were asked, I would give a terrific sermon at her funeral. But I wasn't asked to preach; of course, my colleague, the senior pastor preached, and he told this story.
He remembered a particular congregational meeting at which Pearl was present. He didn't any longer remember the topic of conversation, but the discussion turned passionate, and was at the point where it was generating "more heat than light" (my colleague's words.)
It was at this point that Pearl stood up and said, "I want us all to remember: Jesus is in this room."
Funny how, after that, things quieted down some. People started taking a different tone.
I've been thinking a lot about these words -- my colleague's words -- and Pearl's words -- these past few days.
It's not just the aftermath of the horrible shooting in Tucson, although that has certainly played a part in it. For a long time, much of our political discourse has generated more heat than light. The words chosen and the things said are, in fact, deliberately in some cases, meant to generate anger, but not to shed much light or give us information so that we can make informed choices.
What worries me the most is that some of the most heat-generating comments come from people who call themselves Christian.
Now I'm not naive. I know that heated political discourse will not go away; in fact, the passion is part of the process. There will always be heat as well as light whenever people talk about things that they care about. But it's also good to know the difference, what kind of words stir up the pot, and what kind of words shed light and offer a way forward. I'm not saying there aren't injustices worthy of our anger, whether the awful waste of war, hypocrisy of some leaders, the frustration of having to choose the lesser of two evils.
But this is the season of Epiphany -- this is the season when we strive to see Jesus revealed: "The word became flesh and lived among us and we have beheld his glory." This is the season when it is more essential than ever to understand the difference between heat and light.
Pearl offered and still offers us the first piece of wisdom, at least if we call ourselves Christian:
"Just remember, Jesus is in this room."
This is the beginning of wisdom: "Just remember, Jesus is in this world." He's not just in me, and not just in you. No one of us has all of the truth. We live in the darkness, and we're all called to hold up the candle for one another.