A Love Supreme

This is an old sermon I found from Epiphany 2010. I was reminded of it when a friend was talking about John Coletrane and Theology.


Justin Thornburgh

North Shore Baptist Church

Isaiah 60: 1-6

2 January, 2010 – Epiphany Observed

A Love Supreme

When Pastor Doug emailed me to ask if I would be able to preach today he told me I needed to get my sermon title and text to David before December 22 in order for it to get into the bulletin for today’s service. Knowing that you were planning on observing Epiphany today – the text was easy. But it was hard providing a title for a sermon I had not even begun really preparing – so…let’s change the title of the sermon. As we explore this text from the prophet Isaiah, and as we observe the Epiphany of God the Son revealed to us in Jesus Christ I wish to call this sermon – A Love Supreme…A Love Supreme.


It was 1957. A man from Hamlet, NC had gained some notoriety as a jazz musician. He had played with the likes of Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Hodges. He had begun to make a name for himself as one of the best side-men in the business. The way he could blow that sax was like nothing people had heard since the hey-day of Bird – Charlie Parker. Smooth and elegant – tight and crisp. When he would blow – be it bee-bop or cool – the melodies coming from his horn would transport you to new places.

He had been a side-man since the mid-40’s and was just beginning to make it on his own. He was trapped, though. Trapped in heroin addiction and alcoholism that were spiraling him out of control. I don’t know all of his experiences with the box he was in, but I do know people who have been in that same hell. When you need a fix – you can’t breath. You break out into cold sweats. The quietest noises sound like explosions in your head. You bowels tightens – your bladder loosens. You can only call out like a baby crying out for mother’s milk.  Everything disappears but your own pain and all you can hear is your heart beat. dum-dum. dum-dum. dum-dum.

He was trapped in hell. dum-dum. dum-dum.

Nothing. dum-dum. Mattered. dum-dum.

The sound of the beat. The sound of the beat.

dum-dum. dum-dum.

A light. dum-dum. A sight. dum-dum.

Spirit. dum-dum. Overflowing. dum-dum.

A voice. dum-dum. Of God. dum-dum.

A love supreme. A love supreme. A love supreme.  

Light entered into John Coltrane’s life in 1957 and helped him to fight his demons. Light broke into his life and changed the world of Jazz music forever – as he, in 1964 composed A Love Supreme as a “humble offering” to the Grace of God.


Today we are observing the feast day of Epiphany. Often it is associated with the arrival of the wise men from their far off distant lands; however, it is about much more than the arrival of the magi. The meaning of the word epiphany is an appearance or manifestation. In this case it is the appearance of God the Son revealed in person of Jesus Christ. We are celebrating today – the Light come into the world. We are celebrating the fact that God – the sovereign of all – came to this world to dwell among us as fully human. Immanuel. God with us. With US!

“Arise, Shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you, 

and his glory will appear over you.”

The words from Isaiah were written to a people who had just been released from captivity. They were a people retuning home, and these words were about their beloved Jerusalem. The center of their lives had been destroyed – the temple. The dwelling place of the LORD. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians – and they were returning to a land which was covered in darkness.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come.”

The Christ child was born into a land resting in the glory of Pax Romana. The great Roman peace. A peace maintained through the systematic persecution of any little whiff of rebellion. A peace maintained through the systematic slaughter of the weak. Thousands of crucified lined the roadsides as a visible deterrent to any planning of rabble rousing.  The Roman installed “prefect” of Galilee was so paranoid that he ordered the massacre of any child under the age of two. The land was covered in darkness.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come.” Words so difficult to say.

Darkness is covering our land. As we enter this new year we are bold to remember the nearly 450 people murdered this past year – many of whom were children – our future. We remember the empty chairs at the holiday tables. We remember the nameless 14 year old boy shot Friday night. We remember that violence covers our city.

As some here are struggling with how to pay their rent or mortgage because of being laid off – we remember all of those for whom the new year is beginning with fear and trepidation instead of happiness and good cheer. We stand in solidarity with those for whom the day to day struggle is more than can be imagined.

We remember our sisters and brother who are not here because of sickness. Our beloved sisters and brothers confined to their beds and unable to step out because of the ravages of disease. There are those present today who may be suffering from depression as the holidays remind them of those no longer with them. Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples.

When we have to say good-bye to one of our beloved – as his journey on this earth has come to an end – the darkness surrounds us.

We cry in the words of the psalmist:

“Surely darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night.”

Sometimes, sisters and brothers, we are caught in spiral of endless nights – times when we make our beds in Sheol – the valley of the shadow of death. It is hard sometimes to even drag ourselves out of our homes – if we are blessed enough to have them. The weight of the world, at times, is too much to bear. And it is in these times – when all we can do is curl up into a fetal position and hear the beating of our hearts – dum-dum. dum-dum. It is in these times, though when we are most open to the voice of God. dum-dum. dum-dum. A love supreme. A love supreme.

It is in these dark times when we hear the voice of God though the psalmist:

“Surely darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night.

[but] Even the darkness is not dark to you:

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.”

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, 

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you!”

Sisters and Brothers – when the darkness of night seems to be all we can bear – and all we can do is sit and cry -it is in these moments we listen for the voice of God. When grief clouds our minds and tears blur our vision – the voice of God is calling out to us – “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” Your light is here. “The true light which enlightens everyone” has come into the world.

God the son entered into this world. Our God – the true light – pierced the darkness of the world in the body of a baby boy born in an a stable. Our God entered this world and lived as a fully human man – suffering the grief and pain we suffer. Laughing and playing as we laugh and play. Our God came and dwelt among us – Our God suffered death as we all will – and our God conquered death. 

Our God through Jesus Christ has come to give us hope when all hope seems gone. Our God is the God who healed a woman bleeding for 12 years. Our God is the God who sent the legion of demons into the sea – freeing a man tortured by the world. Our God is the God who gave the water of Life to a woman at a well. And our God is the God came to earth and promises all who believe will have eternal life – we have been saved by a God who has conquered all the trials and tribulations we may face. Though we – at times – may feel that God is the farthest thing from us – there is always a light shining in our darkness. We, friends, are the recipients of a love supreme.

In this new year – when the darkness feels like it is covering us – remember our God has shone through the darkness.  

Remember Our God came to earth fully human – yet fully divine. Obliterating the darkness in this world. 

Our God – in the words of the Apostles Creed – descended into Hell. Bringing the light of heaven into the darkest of places.

Our God is with us in every breath we take. In every beat of our hearts. God is shinning in us. 

We lift our hands an give thanks our God loved us so much – A love supreme. 

We say To God be the glory, to God be the glory

To God be the glory for the things he has done.

And when we are caught in the dark – and the beating of our hearts is all we can hear – remember the light that came in to the world and the words calling out to us in the darkness – a love supreme…a love supreme…a love supreme.


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