Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea on Sunday March 30, 2014 (Lent 4, Year A). You can listen to the sermon here.
Have you ever seen a light so bright you were afraid to look at it? Have you ever shielded your eyes because the light was too strong? Have you ever stepped into the shadows to get out of the light? All of these responses are good instinctual responses. When I ask those questions, how many of you thought of the sun? We have been taught that, while necessary for human life, the sun is dangerous and we need to protect ourselves from its heat and light. We wear sunscreen to protect our skin, we pay attention to how long we spend outside in relation to the UV levels for the day, we sit under trees and umbrellas, we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes. We know how to avoid light for our own good and protection. It seems to me that these instinctual reactions have come to change our understanding to all forms of light – even the light of Christ.
Today’s epistle from the letter to the Ephesians is all about light and darkness. The passage begins, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light.” When I first read the passage I changed the words a bit without noticing it. I read the opening sentence as “for one you were in darkness.” Those two simple letters, that one tiny preposition, make all the difference in this sentence. This passage is about children of darkness not children in darkness. This sharp boundary-making language calls into focus the chief concern of this passage: Identity matters.
Darkness as identity is a reflection of hopelessness, death, and despair. It is hardened hearts, futile minds, and complete alienation from God. It is the hostility that undermines unity in the body of Christ. Before our relationship with God, before we knew Christ, this is where we were – this was who we were. But knowing all this, God chose us – and our identity has changed.
We are now, by virtue of our relationship with God, children of light. This identity is drastically different than our old identity. As children of light we rise from the dead – just as in Baptism – and clothe ourselves with Christ. This is an identity defined by pleasing God and exposing unrighteousness – exposing darkness to light.
It does not matter how strong we think our darkness is, God’s light is stronger and God has chosen us to bring us to light, to make us light. God, knowing the deepest, darkest, saddest, scariest part of us – still chose us, and continues to choose us. It does not matter how unworthy we think are, how we do not measure up to societies standards, we have been chosen. Just ask David how the world’s standards measure up to God’s.
As children of light our lives must be different than they were before. Life as light must be different than life as darkness. But, what does that look like? If we continue reading in the epistle we begin to get a sense of what this means. “Try to find what is pleasing to the Lord.” We are to find out, we are to, what is a more accurate translation, discover what is pleasing to God. This is no passive or easy task. It is an ethical call to remain vigilant in actively pursuing a transformed, renewed state of mind – state of being – that is pure and blameless. The epistle continues, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” These unfruitful works of darkness must be exposed and brought to light. When things are brought to light they are transformed, they are changed, they are renewed.
Last week we heard the story of the woman at the well, and were reminded of our need to see the other in our midst. Today’s epistle takes that one more step. It is not enough to simply see the other in our midst – to see those oppressed – but we must bring that oppression, that injustice, to light. To stay neutral and simply see the other in the word is to contribute to the darkness. To stay silent is to agree with oppression, because there is no such thing as a neutral position when it comes to light and dark – when it comes to justice and oppression. We, as children of light, cannot choose innocence or ignorance over awareness and allow injustice to continue – to allow children of God to continue to be seen as others.
As children of light we are to be living testimonies of the power of God, and in a beautiful gift from the lectionary today’s Gospel provides us with such an example.
Today’s Gospel from John continues our journey of wonderful and amazing stories of transformation. Today
we hear about the man who has been blind since birth. From the very beginning of this lengthy passage we are told why this man is blind. It is not because he sinned, or his parents sinned. Jesus makes clear “he was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” This man was born blind so that his life may be a testimony to the power of God.
The actual miracle of this man’s restoration of sight is not the point of the story, but rather this is a sign of something greater – something beyond this moment. Just as was the case with the Samaritan woman last week, Jesus is slowly revealed to this man. The blind man goes from seeing “the man called Jesus,” to calling Jesus a prophet, to recognizing that he must be from God, to addressing him as “Lord” and worshiping him. In this encounter the he establishes a relationship with God. He goes from a person needing healing to one of the disciples. He goes from hearing this man called Jesus to worshiping the Lord.
Not only does this story give us a witness to God’s power, but it continues the concept of the before and after, the then and now that we experienced in the epistle. We were darkness and now we are light. We were blind and now we see. Once our eyes are opened, once we have received this identity of light, we can never go back. Our lives are no longer as they once were.
Sometimes it seems as if the brightness of the light is just too intense and we need to shield ourselves from it, we need to back away from its power. No matter how great the temptation we cannot do that. This identity is challenging and scary, it will take us out of our comfort zones, but we must keep our eyes wide open. We must not be afraid to look into the light.
I wonder if you caught the great risk the blind man takes in proclaim Jesus as Lord. As the blind man tells of his conversion experience no one really believes him. First they think he is a different person – surely he cannot be the man who was blind. He must be his doppelganger. So they asked the man’s parents. “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” Listen carefully to their answer, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eye. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” This is a bit of a bazaar answer, “Ask him . . . he will speak for himself.” Luckily the Gospel writer lets us in on the parents motivation, “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.” Out of fear, the blind man’s parents encourage the Pharisees to ask him – they do not want to get involved. For them the risk of coming out of the darkness is just too great. But, the blind man, he gets it. He tells the truth, and even in the face of threats, the abandonment of his community and family, and expulsion he sticks to his story. He does not lose sight of his new life. He knows his world will no longer be the same and he is not going to forget that.
We too are called to take this same risk. We are called to proclaim – to confess – our faith and use our lives as a testimony to God’s power. In this new world of faith, our confession, our witness, our proclamation is everything.
Before us is the gift of new vision – we have the opportunity to receive the sight of God. Our worship this morning began with the collect of the day in which we prayed, “Evermore give us this bread,” Jesus Christ the true bread, “that he may live in us, and we in him.” We have the opportunity this day and every time we gather to participate in this worship, in this bread, that transforms lives, that gives life to the world, that changes our vision so we may see the kingdom of God. That gives us the ability to accept the risk of being a follow of Jesus and stand up for those who have been left out – to eradicate darkness and bring this world to light.
The season of Lent is a preparation for Easter – it is a time when we make ourselves ready to proclaim the Good News that Christ has been raised from the dead and we have been saved. What better way to prepare for this great Easter proclamation than by receiving the gift of sight?
Our call as Christians is to have our eyes opened, to see the light, to receive new vision from God. This will be disorienting, things suddenly are not how they once seemed. This new sight opens us to see as God sees, to see ourselves and one another as we are in God’s kingdom, not in the blindness of this age.
It is my hope and prayer that you will join me in these final weeks of Lent to allow our blindness to be overcome with light. To bring to light our darkened identities. May we see as God sees, may we see every person – including ourselves – as worthy and beloved. May we trust the new thing God is doing in our midst and not be afraid of letting go of our old sight. Join me in taking off our sunglasses and boldly staring into the light of Christ – that we may be transformed and carry out our call to transform the world.