From Darkness to Light

Sermon delivered on Lent 4A, Sunday, March 22, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; St. John 9.1-42.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today we hold the second of three scrutinies of our confirmands, where we pray for them and show them our love and support as they continue to grow in their relationship with Christ. As was the case last week, this sermon is aimed primarily at them, although the rest of us need to hear what our lessons have to say. Specifically I want us to look at what it means to be the light of Christ.

You recall that last week we saw that you are to die for in God’s loving eyes. As St. Paul taught us, we know that God became human (or in the language of the NT, God sent his Son) to die for us while we were still God’s enemies and unreconciled to him (we live in the dark)! God didn’t wait for us to change our ways or end our hostile feelings toward him before he sent his Son to die for us. No, God knew what needed to be done on our behalf so that we are no longer slaves to the power of Sin. This reminds us that while God will ultimately not tolerate any kind of evil that erases his image in us, God does not want to see us have to face his anger and judgment on human sin and evil. God created us to be his forever and to reflect his image out into the world to heal and refresh it, and for God to receive the praises of creation through us. This is what we will be doing in God’s new creation after Christ returns to raise us from the dead and finally put an end to every kind of evil so that nothing can harm us ever again. This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle lesson when he recites what was probably an ancient Christian hymn: Wake up sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. In God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, we will get to live directly in God’s presence with all its benefits. More about that next week. For now, it is enough for us to ponder God’s spectacular love for us made known in Christ’s death on our behalf.

So what is to be our response to God’s great gift of life and mercy and forgiveness and love and grace (undeserved forgiveness and love, among others)? St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson. We are to be Christ’s light in this dark world, to embody God’s love for his creation and creatures. But what does that mean? It means first and foremost that we desire to live our lives in the way God wants us to live them. Being a Christian is first and foremost a lifestyle where we pattern our lives after Jesus. Our Lord summarized this for us when he reminded us that living our lives the way God wants us to live so that God’s image shines brightly in our thinking, speaking, and behaving means that we are to love God above all others, even our family and friends, and to love others as we love ourselves. We are not to live this way out of some sense of obligation or because we think we have to, but because we remember we are to die for in Christ’s eyes and have been freed from our slavery to Sin and Death to care and work for the best for everyone we encounter in our lives, just like Jesus did and does for us. In other words, we seek to become like Jesus in our thinking, speaking, and actions because we have a grateful heart for all that Jesus has done and does for us. As God reminds us through his spokesman Samuel (that’s what prophets are, spokespersons for God), God sees our hearts, the very center of our will and being, and so he knows our motives for speaking, thinking, and behaving as we do. He knows whether we love him or are just trying to follow the rules. Rules are important, but they are no substitute for love, the kind of love that wants and works for the best for ourselves and those we love, “best” defined of course by God, not us. 

So what does that look like in real life? Here are a couple of examples. If you follow social media at all you know there are a lot of self-righteous, judgmental people who criticize others and attack those with whom they disagree. They don’t care about the welfare or well being of anyone but themselves or their positions and they are willing to attack others over almost anything. If you have ever had anyone make fun of you or criticize who you are, you know how hurtful that is. We may not agree with a person’s thinking or behavior, but we have no basis for attacking the person. So we are called to reach out to others and love them no matter what. That’s hard to do for all of us because when we disagree with others, we want to ignore them or do them harm. But that’s not how God treated us as we saw last week. We were all God’s enemies, but he loved us enough to bring us back into his loving arms again, even before we knew that’s where we needed to be. So if you have a social media account, you are to behave in ways that reflect God’s love. 

Or consider how afraid people are with this coronavirus plague. When we are afraid, we do desperate, selfish things to protect ourselves. People hoard products we all need, for example, and refuse to help others who might be in need. This is what the Bible calls living in darkness; we don’t have a real relationship with God. If we don’t believe that Christ died for us to save us from our sins and to free us from the power of death (even though our mortal bodies will die one day), we will live in fear and darkness because we remain unreconciled to God. But when we believe that we no longer have to be afraid of anyone or anything, not even our mortal death, because Christ died for us, it frees us to shine the light of Christ’s love on the world by making sure those around us are taken care of during this crisis. We’re not to act recklessly, but we are not to act out of fear either because we have nothing to fear anymore! So we call people up and check on them. We run errands for those who cannot get out of their house. We bring them food and water. We share our resources with those who need them but don’t have them (toilet paper, anyone)? This is what shining the light of Christ’s love on the darkness of the world looks like. When we do so, we expose the darkness of others as St. Paul tells us to do in our epistle lesson because we show that acting like Christ is the better way to live.

This can be hard work because while we are freed from Sin’s power over us, we will still act occasionally in ways that are contrary to the ways God wants us to act. When that happens, we ask God to forgive us and remember that Christ lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As our psalm reminds us, we can count on Christ to be with us in all kinds of darkness, even the ultimate darkness of death, because he promises to be with us and God never lies. We believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that his rod and staff are the two pieces of wood that made up his cross, the ultimate sign of God’s great love for us, despite all our messiness and messy lives. 

It is a great privilege to let Christ’s light shine in this dark world through us because we know that light brings Christ’s healing and life, forgiveness and peace. We also know that there are sadly many who want nothing to do with Jesus and they will hate those of us who try to live faithfully and imitate him. This has been the case from the beginning as we see in our gospel lesson. Jesus healed the blind man and in healing him, the blind man came to believe in him, first that Jesus was a prophet and later God’s Son. But there were many who hated the blind man because he decided to give his life to Christ and unbelievers ridiculed him and tried to get him to walk away from his life-giving relationship with Christ. The blind man’s opponents had a powerful weapon. They threatened to expel him from the place of worship he attended. Doing so would have been like all your family/friends turning against you and making fun of you and refusing to associate with you. This was such a powerful weapon that even the blind man’s parents passed the buck and refused to witness to Christ’s goodness and healing love because they did not want to be put out of their place of worship! Following Jesus is really hard because the world and its people are such a mess and many hate Jesus. 

But the blind man didn’t cave in and he discovered that after all the ridicule, all the suffering, all the name calling, Jesus stood by him and promised to do so in this world and the next. Nothing’s changed from Jesus’ day to our own and we all have to decide what is most important in our lives. Will we choose Jesus and life or will we reject Jesus and choose darkness and death? Will we count on Jesus to give us the courage and wisdom and power to love others and embody his love for them, even when they hate us, or will we cave to the pressure to fit in with others? This is a battle that is especially relevant to you at this point in your young lives. No one likes to feel shunned and we all want to be accepted, especially when we are young. And so the temptation is there for you to reject Jesus and his lifestyle for a lifestyle that can only bring sorrow, darkness, and ultimately death, just to fit in with others. But we are not to fear rejection because as Jesus tells us elsewhere, he has overcome the world and will be with us no matter what comes. Let us all resolve, therefore, to live like Jesus and to shine his healing love and light on the world around us. It’s never easy to follow Jesus but it is the best decision we can ever make because only in Jesus will we find our true heart’s desire to love and be loved. May you, my beloved confirmands, always find and shine the light of Christ around you as you live out your lives. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.