In my campaign to get rid of clutter, I came across a forgotten folder labelled “Worth Re-Reading.” In it, I found the sermon below by John Harper, who served as rector of St. John’s Church (“the Church of Presidents”) on Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, from 1963 to 1993. John delivered this sermon on November 18, 1990.
One of my most cherished friends, John died in 2002. I asked his widow, Barbie — who remains a dear friend — for her OK to publish the sermon here. I was right when I designated it “Worth Re-reading.”
When I spoke about the Black Dog a year ago, a number of you told me that you had one, too. Indeed, various forms of depression seem to be a common experience for many of us. What is more surprising, however, is that in spite of these kinds of darkness, people find ways of helping each other and of being lights for one another. Your Black Dog may never go away, much as the dark is a continuing fact of life. But some of us can learn that we belong to the light and not permanently to the dark, that by reaching out to another, we find our lives strengthened.
It is comforting to know that another person knows our pain, shares in whatever form of suffering we are subject to. It is also helpful to know that we can grow together toward the light in spite of the ever-present times of dark that may never go entirely away. We go into the dark and find God Himself is there, not leaving us to fight alone.
Luther’s “Prince of Darkness Grim” is replaced by the King of Light who called himself the Light of the World, giving light “to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” His resurrection is promise of deliverance from the darkness of our emotional graves. In Christ we see the struggle between “our ancient foe whose strength and power are great, armed with cruel hate” and Christ, “a bulwark never failing: our helper, He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing” (Hymn 687). The battle goes on and on for us; you and I here this morning know what darkness can mean share with each other.
Use your struggles for some good; take the opportunities and challenges that have been given to you, yes… and the darkness too, and make the most of them. We can be frightened almost to death and still learn how to share with others; we can be full of dark thoughts and still radiate that darkness into relationships with others; we can be insecure and yet allow people to gain courage from us because we have shared what little we have with them.