Sunday, March 15, 2015

Living in the Light: John 3:14-21, Ephesians 2:1-10




Sunday, March 15, 2015 | Lent
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Year B



Ephesians 2:1-10
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christa—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. [1]

Our Gospel reading this morning is from the gospel of John – the fourth of the four books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus’ life on Earth. This one was written by someone called, “The evangelist” because of his passion for evangelism and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. One of the main themes of this gospel is the interplay between darkness and light – a theme that you’ll hear in this morning’s gospel reading.

John 3:14-21
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. [2]




Living in the Light
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church
3/15/15

 

I’m going to let you in on a little preacher-secret. . . whenever we see a verse like John 3:16 come up in the lectionary, most of us are hit by a sudden sense of impending doom. A common problem with some passages is that there isn’t much about them in our commentaries – our reference books.  The exact opposite is true of passages that are so beloved and so widely used as John 3:16. There is so much written on this passage, it can be hard to figure out just where to start. And so many people know this passage so very well that it’s hard to come up with anything to say about it that isn’t going to make two thirds of the congregation think, “Oh, here we go with John 3:16 again. . .”
You can get T-shirts, bracelets, bookmarks, posters, pencils, and heaven only knows what else with “For God so loved the world” printed all over them. Or, if you’re really trendy, you can get something that just says, “3:16” so people have to ask what it means.
It’s hard to read a familiar passage of the Bible with fresh eyes. Especially one that has become a slogan. Perhaps part of the trick to this is going so far back in Christian history to a time when John 3:16 wasn’t the bumper sticker slogan it is today. Let’s take it back this morning to a time when it still had a bite to it.
If we go back in our way-back machine – our Tardis or our Delorean -  to the days when the church was still pretty young, we run into a theologian named Augustine. When writing about the passage from John that we read this morning, he says, “People love truth when it shines on them and hate it when it rebukes them.[3]
We love the “light” part of John 3 as long as it means good things are shining on us. That’s what we turn into our bumper sticker slogan. We like the “light” part of John 3 as long as it means we have some sort of escape from the darkness around us – some way to block it out. We want to draw the curtains at night and turn on the electric lights and pretend that it isn’t night outside our home. We want to cling to the positive side of John 3 while ignoring the difficult challenge it presents.
To be sure, this passage has a lovely message of hope – hope that there is light in spite of the darkness. But John doesn’t ignore or write off the darkness. He doesn’t just whitewash over it. There are people walking in darkness – people who have not seen Jesus.
We spent some time lamenting the darkness at our service on Wednesday night this past week. Poverty. Violence. Entitlement. Etc. The text says to live in the light, but how do we live in the light in our spirits when we are surrounded by so much darkness and despair?
“For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But when we look around us, it’s evident that there are people who say no. There are people who simply do not believe in Jesus Christ. [4] What do we do with that?
In our passage from Ephesians, Paul describes this darkness more than John 3 does. Paul refers to “passions of our flesh.” We often peg these as being just individual sins, but Paul’s letters are written to entire communities. Communities that are full of individuals committing individual sins and that are committing sins as a community by sitting by and allowing themselves to be swept into cultural sins such as poverty, war, and discrimination.
            Paul says to knock it off. Live as who we are truly meant to be in Jesus Christ. Follow Jesus’ example of living as light in the dark world. Accept his invitation to move out of the darkness and into the light.[5] There is something powerful in the knowledge that Jesus Christ came in spite of everything for us. Regardless of our participation in the dark, we are still offered light. If we really let this sink in, it is a light so bright that we can’t help but let it creep into every crevice of our lives, pushing out the darkness.
My buddy Augustine has something to say about this too. He says, “Unless the Father, you see, had handed over life, we would not have had life. . . It is the Lord Christ himself, of course, that is life, about whom John the Evangelist says, “This is the true God and eternal life.”35 [6]
The light that John talks about us living in is more than just an avoidance of darkness. It’s a knowledge that we live in a screwed up world, but that there is a savior. There is hope for the hopeless – even when the hopeless don’t or won’t or can’t see that hope, it’s there. It is there because God loved us so very very much that God as Jesus Christ gave up life on our behalf.
The light doesn’t just make us look nicer either. It doesn’t just light a path to heaven for us. The light reveals our true self. Living in the light of Christ allows us to see ourselves for who we really are.  It allows us to realize who we are without Jesus and who we truly are when we are with Jesus.  We can never be our true selves without Jesus.  Living in the light is not just about behavior or moral will power or even who can argue the truth of the Bible better than whom. Living in the light is a return to who we are meant to be – it’s a state of our entire being – body, mind, heart, and spirit.
We aren’t saved by the things we do. If you’ve heard me preach more than 3 or 4 times, you’ve probably heard me say that before. But it bears saying again. We aren’t saved by being nice people or doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things. Salvation isn’t just a ticket to heaven. Being saved isn’t just some pie in the sky for tomorrow. Oh, there’s a bright tomorrow that comes as we are ultimately redeemed and accepted into the very life of God for all eternity. But there’s a bright today too, my dear dear friends. There is so much more to the Christian life than sitting back and waiting to be swept up to heaven.
Paul tells us, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.[7]” Good works are no longer our manic attempts to save our own skins. Good works are how we live into the abundant, adventurous, fulfilling, exciting, wonderful life that Jesus has freed us for in the here and now. Obedience is how we are able to fill ourselves and the world around us with the light of Christ in the midst of all the darkness falling around us. Doing God’s work in the world is how we say to others, “God loves you. And you who are living in darkness. And you who have said no to Jesus. And even you who just aren’t listening. Oh, and you too, you just going through the motions. Jesus came to love all of us no matter what.” It’s how we say, “I’m a mess too and I’m no better than my neighbor, so I will offer up kindness to those who are a mess like me. I will offer love to those that nobody else wants to love. I will give to those who are without. I will accept those who other people don’t accept, but who God welcomes with open arms.”
This is why good works are considered an important Lenten tradition. We cannot separate our acknowledgement of salvation through Jesus from our engagement with those around us. We can’t relegate the cross to just being our insurance policy for tomorrow. That’s a cheap and tiny cross. That’s only half a cross. Jesus died for so much more than that. When we talk about the cross or John 3:16 as what I once heard referred to as a “golden train ticket to heaven,” we have taken the bite out of the passage. We’ve tamed it into something small and friendly and manageable. We’ve taken away the part that challenges us and rebukes us for claiming light and continuing to pretend there isn’t darkness around us.
Friends, this is revolutionary! The idea of a messiah that loved us and went to the cross for us – all of us whether we accept that and live like it or not – is absurd! The friendly little John 3:16 that we put on our hats and t-shirts and whatever is just a friendly little flashlight when a storm takes out the electricity. But what John and Paul are talking about - this is a light infinitely brighter than staring into the sun!
All for us. Sinning, broken, miserable, dying, messed up us. Wow.
            I want to take a few moments of silent thanksgiving prayer to let that sink in. Just close your eyes and quiet your heart for a minute or two and really let this passage infiltrate your heart. At the end of the silence, I’m going to reread a portion of the passage again and I want you to listen to as if you’ve never heard it before. And then as we gather for a family meal together after the service, I want you all to talk to one another about what this passage really means to you. One way to give the bite back to a passage of scripture is to hear it from another person’s perspective. And if you really haven’t heard it or read it before today, please stay for the potluck dinner and make sure to sit next to me so we can chat about it. Let us pray.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. [8]



light1
noun
1    the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible; electromagnetic radiation from about 390 to 740 nm in wavelength.
   a source of illumination.
   (lights) traffic lights.
   Law the light falling on windows, the obstruction of which by a neighbour is illegal.
2    an expression in someone’s eyes.
   understanding; enlightenment: light dawned in her eyes.
   (lights) a person’s opinions, standards, and abilities.
3    an area that is brighter or paler than its surroundings.
4    a device producing a flame or spark.
5    a window or opening to let light in.
   a perpendicular division of a mullioned window.
   a pane of glass in a greenhouse or cold frame.
6    a person eminent in a particular sphere.
verb (past lit; past participle lit or lighted)
1    provide with light.
   (light up) become illuminated.
   (light up) (of the face or eyes) suddenly display liveliness or joy.
2    ignite or be ignited.
   (light something up) ignite a cigarette, cigar, or pipe and begin to smoke it.
adjective
1    having a considerable or sufficient amount of light.
2    (of a colour) pale.
—phrases
bring (or come) to light make (or become) widely known or evident.
go out like a light informal fall asleep or lose consciousness suddenly.
in a——light in the way specified: the audit portrayed them in a favourable light.
in (the) light of taking (something) into consideration.
light at the end of the tunnel an indication that a period of difficulty is ending.
the light of day general public attention.
the light of someone’s life a much loved person.
see the light understand or realize something.
   undergo religious conversion.
see the light of day be born.
   come into existence.
throw (or cast or shed) light on help to explain by providing further information.
—derivatives lightish adjective lightless adjective lightness noun
—origin Old English lēoht, līht (noun and adjective), līhtan (verb), of Germanic origin.[9]





a Other ancient authorities read in Christ
[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Eph 2:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 3:14–19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[3] Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2006). John 1–10 (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[4] Haenchen, E., Funk, R. W., & Busse, U. (1984). John: a commentary on the Gospel of John (p. 207). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
[5] Paschal, J. (2008). Homiletical Perspective on Ephesians 2:1–10. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B (Vol. 2, p. 115). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
35 1 Jn 5:20.
[6] Elowsky, J. C. (Ed.). (2006). John 1–10 (p. 126). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[7] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Eph 2:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[8] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 3:14–19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[9] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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