Sermon: Be The Light
Scripture: John 9: 1-12, 24-25 ; Ephesians 5: 8-12
Date: March 3, 2019
The other day I was eating breakfast and the sun was streaming in through the windows in the Acme Fly By Night Sun Room. In fact, I found myself feeling a little bit annoyed that it was shining right into my eyes while I was trying to eat and do my devotion and then I thought about the seemingly endless days of rain and gloom we have been experiencing and I repented of my bad attitude. After all, it was another day and the sun was coming up, the birds were singing. There were even some flowers starting to poke through in the backyard. It gave every appearance of an early Spring morning. I’m sure you have noticed that even on the gloomy days we’ve been experiencing lately that the light is coming earlier and leaving later every day. In a sense, the earth is coming back to life after many weeks of lying dormant. I had that in mind as I spent time in devotions that morning which focused on the upcoming season of Lent, and it struck me what a dramatic contrast between the church season of Lent, as we prepare for Easter, and the way that the world prepares for Easter. In the church, the colors are dark and subdued. The hymns are somber. The scriptures talk about sacrifice and death. But outside the world is coming to life. The days are getting lighter. The first flowers are peeking through. The trees are beginning to bud. In the stores the Easter decorations are bright and colorful. And as we get closer to Easter, the contrast becomes even more striking until on Good Friday, the separation seems to be the greatest. In the church we strip the altar and drape black over the cross. The Christ candle is extinguished. But in the secular world, the malls are crowded as stores offer sales and we flock to buy our Easter outfits and take our kids to talk with the Easter Bunny. Perhaps more than any other time, faith and life seem out of balance. How do we focus on the ugliness of the Cross when there is so much beauty unfolding around us? But then, could it be any other way. There has always been this tension between darkness and light since the moment that creation began when God called forth light out of the dark.
Isn’t there always a tension between faith and life? How could there not be when we consider that during Lent, people of faith seek to walk with Jesus, the Son of God, who came to bring life, as He moves toward His death. Perfect love nailed to a cross by perfect hate. There is this uncomfortable tension between faith and life, darkness and light which reaches its climax at the foot of the cross, but is always present in our faith journey. Until at the moment of resurrection, God calls humanity out of the darkness of the tomb and recreates us as children of light.
That tension is clearly seen in the movement of this man that John tells us about, from blindness to sight, darkness to light. Jesus himself alerts us to the fact that this is going to be a story that illustrates this ongoing tension in and among the people of faith by the way he begins the story. He basically says that the battle that is taking place in this man’s life is a battle between darkness and light. As long as there is daylight, He says, then we must be about God’s work. Because when the darkness comes, we will have missed the opportunity to do the work He calls us to do. But the good news is that when Jesus is in our world, we will always have the light, no matter how dark things might seem. But in contrast to that, the Pharisees in this story are moving from spiritual enlightenment to spiritual blindness. From light to darkness. “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” Jesus said, indicating that in Spiritual terms, blindness is a choice. And that while Jesus became more and more clear in His revelation as the Messiah with each step toward Jerusalem, the “so called” enlightened ones of Israel, slipped deeper and deeper into the darkness of the world. Their dissent, their spiritual blindness culminated with putting Jesus on the cross. In his book, Making Today Count For Eternity, Kent Crockett tells the story of William Dyke, who was blinded in an accident at the age of ten. Dyke overcame his blindness and graduated from college with high honors and fell in love and became engaged. Not long before the wedding, Dyke had surgery on his damaged eyes in an attempt to restore his sight. If the surgery failed, he would remain blind for life. Dyke insisted that his eyes remained bandaged for the wedding , and during the ceremony, the doctor who performed the surgery stood next to Dyke. The bride came down the aisle and as soon as she arrived at the altar, the surgeon removed the bandages. Of course, the congregation waited with great anxiety. And as he stood face to face with his bride to be, Dyke said so all could hear: “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
Commenting on this story, the author writes:
One day the bandages that cover our eyes will be removed. When we stand face-to-face with Jesus Christ and see His face for the very first time, His glory will be far more splendid than anything we have ever imagined.
It is that contrast that is at the heart of the Gospel and I think the heart of this Sacrament. Those who are no longer blind are those who see the face of Christ and it is as Christ draws closer to Jerusalem and his appointed destiny on the cross, as the world descends into darkness, that Jesus is most clearly revealed as the Messiah, the Son of God, the true light of the world. The darker the world becomes, the brighter Christ’s light shines.
The Apostle Paul was the author of the letter to the Ephesians. And Paul knew something about being blind. When he first encountered the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul, the great persecutor of the faith, thought that he saw all things clearly. He was a Jew. He followed the law, the Torah. Christianity was a dangerous sect that needed to be destroyed. And so, to really see, Paul had to be made blind. And on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there, Jesus appeared to him as a great light which temporarily blinded him. And several days later, when Ananias, one of those Damascus Christians that Paul had set out to destroy, came to baptize Him as a new follower of Christ, we have perhaps the most dramatic account of an individual coming to faith. The scriptures say that “something like scales fell from his eyes, and he was baptized.” And not only did Paul see the light, but through his Baptism he became the light. How often do scales cover our eyes, keeping us from the true light. The scales of doubt, and fear. The scales of sin. The scales of indifference. The scales of not knowing. The scales of this world. They cause us to view faith through distorted eyes or not at all. These are the scales that blind us. That keep us in darkness. In the 1700’s, John Newton was a slave trader in England. He became wealthy by buying and selling human beings. And he saw nothing wrong with that. He was blinded to the misery of others that made him prosper. But, like Paul, Newton encountered the resurrected Christ and the scales of sin and indifference fell from his eyes. Newton wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, as the story of his journey from darkness to light. And remember what he writes in that hymn, “I once was blind, but now I see.” The blind man said to the Pharisees, “I don ‘t know who you think Jesus is, but all I know is that once I was blind, but now I see.” I was dead but now I am alive again. Recreated by the light. And Paul says to the Ephesians: “for you were once darkness, but now you are light. Walk as children of light.” It is the contrast between light and darkness, life and death, that is reflected in these weeks leading up to Easter, and it comes to a head on the Cross of Calvary, when Christ the light of the world is crucified, and the world is plunged into darkness. When Jesus dies, so that we might live. And the dark moments of faith, which are recalled by the words and songs and images of Lent, make us desire the light just as we long for the days of winter to pass into Spring. Matthew, in His Gospel describes a being of light who comes from Heaven and rolls the stone away from the tomb to show that the True light had been released back into the world. And when the Spirit comes to the Disciples at Pentecost, Luke tells us that flashes of light filled the Upper Room and came to rest on each of the Disciples. And the Disciples become the light.
Paul’s words to the Ephesians speak of that light. They are thought be borrowed from an ancient hymn that was sung at Baptisms in the early church. Because at Baptism believers emerged from the darkness of the water into the light of new life in Christ. It was a transforming experience. A recreating. And so Paul talks of not just being in the light of Christ, but being the light of Christ. “Now you are the light” the church sang to those who had been baptized. It is so easy for Disciple’s to be content to simply bathe in the light of Christ. But in His death and resurrection, at the last Supper Christ reveals His intention for His disciples to be the light. “You are the light of the world.” he says. The call to Discipleship is the call to walk in the light, but more than that, it is the call to be transformed, to be recreated as the light, to walk this earth “as children of light”. To become the light. One writer says: It is a stirring image of Christian discipleship. We are not only to allow Christ to enlighten us, to show us the way, to shine in our lives, but we are also to let our light shine for others. You are light, even as Christ is our light and life. And one reason why you are a Christian, I expect, is that someone was luminescent, iridescent for you; that is, you saw Christ’s light shining through someone else. So you came toward the light. And sometimes through the power of Christ, we shine. In the midst of the darkness, let your light shine.
Several years ago there was a contemporary Christian song called, Every Season, which traced the writer’s faith journey through the seasons of the year. She described God in terms of those. And she says this about this late winter early spring season in the world, when the light begins to replace the darkness. About this season of re-creation that we call Lent in the church. This is what she writes
Even now in death you open doors for life to enter
And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breath
And what was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with you and how you make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be as you are recreating me
And ultimately it’s recreation that this sacrament is all about – being recreated. From death to life. From darkness to light. Because by feasting on Christ, the light of the world, we become the light in a darkened world. So come and enter into this season of recreation. Because all are welcome to dine at the table of our Lord. All are welcome to bathe in the light of Christ. The invitation to you is to come and dine and then go and shine.