Sunday the 26th of March, 2017
As I sat down earlier this week and looked ahead to what is coming up, I realised that Easter is so close upon us. It is not that long to go until we celebrate one of the high points in our year as Christians. I also thought about how we are in the middle of Lent. Lent is that time in the church season where we prepare ourselves leading up to the Easter season and it is a time in which we meditate upon all that Jesus has done for you and me and think about our response to him.
This morning I am going to preach on the Epistle reading from Ephesians chapter 5, but I would like to start by looking at Ephesians 2:8. It says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In our lives as followers of Jesus we must always keep this in our minds. It is not by our own efforts that we are saved from our sins, but it is through the Grace of God through Jesus. This is something that is a given and we all know, but what does this mean for our Christian living?
This morning’s reading begins this way: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” It is important that we pay attention to what is being said here. It is not only saying that before a person comes to faith in Jesus they are lost and in darkness, although this is true. It is far more confronting than that; it says that a person before faith in Jesus is darkness. “For you were once darkness…” In other words, our very being, the very essence of who we are is sin. This is why the Christian faith is so difficult for many in our world, because over the last century it is thought that we are not evil or bad in ourselves, but the environment around us makes us this way. But this is not what scripture tells us. It goes on to say: “… but now you are light in the Lord.” The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, enlightens our darkness; it turns darkness into light. You and I are in the light of our Lord. To be light, to be “in the Lord” means we have a relationship, a connection to Jesus and his forgiveness. It is His light that produces light in the lives of God’s children.
Whist the reality of this is great news for us, the temptation is always with us to revert to darkness. We live a world where we are surrounded by those who cut themselves off from the light of Jesus; we are surrounded by those who continually live in darkness. Darkness cannot produce fruit. Those who cut themselves off from Jesus cannot produce good works. Even the works they do, what the world would call “good,” are sin. In fact this is often an argument that I have heard from those against the Christian faith. There are many people in the world who do good work, or sacrifice their lives for others, who put others before themselves, who do good things, and who don’t believe in God. You don’t have to be a Christian to do good in this world. Because of our sinful natures the good we think we do is not good in God’s sight. Why? Because of our sinful hearts.
To associate with darkness is very harmful, even detrimental to those who are in Jesus. To associate with darkness has consequences that lead us away from him. And yet this is where we struggle. How often, if we are honest, do we take part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness that is spoken of in this morning’s reading? In things that we know full well are sinful in God’s eyes. How often do we find ourselves doing shameful things that burden our consciences, things that we don’t want others to know about, and as a consequence cut ourselves off from the light of Jesus, and also from our fellow believers? These temptations that we face are very real and they are constantly with us.
It’s at these times where I believe that we as the body of Jesus underestimate the value that each person brings to the church community. Luther in his writings often writes about the importance of meeting together with the saints of Christ, not just for encouragement when things are good, but also to receive encouragement when struggling with our sins. He calls this the mutual consolation of believers. God has called all of you here to this place as children of the light of his Son Jesus; each of you are important to this church community.
The apostle John says in his first letter something that I believe is very important to listen to. He says: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (1:7) You see, our fellowship with our Lord Jesus, and our fellowship with one another as his children, is clearly important in our walk as children of the light.
Walking together as children of light is a critical witness to the light, Jesus Christ, in this world of darkness that we live in. We are not called to journey this Christian life alone. In chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul rejoiced in the unity we have as believers in the body of Christ. Together we are strong; we are not easily tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching; we are not easily pulled back into the darkness, so to speak.
But again, it is not that easy, is it? And to be honest, sometimes it is very hard and uncomfortable to be together as a Christian community. Verse 11 says: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” And verse 13 says: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
These are strong words, and I believe they tell us that in Christian love, our duty is to expose the deeds of darkness that we see. We confront one another in our sin, not so that we judge one another, but so that we always speak of Christ’s forgiveness, so that we build each other up as his children. We go out of our way to help each other see the forgiveness that we have through Jesus, no matter what sins we have committed.
Walking as children of light also means that we expose the deeds of darkness in the world around us. As the light of Christ shines upon the ungodly, we see the true nature of their actions, which ultimately lead to death. As people who have the light of Christ, we are encouraged to pray that as the light of Christ shines on them, their eyes may be opened to this light as well.
The reading for today ends with the Apostle Paul quoting these words: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Now this is not a quote from Scripture, but it is believed to be a quote from one of the early hymns of the Christian church at the time. It is very powerful because it proclaims the truth of what has taken place for the believer in Jesus — an awakening by the light of the gospel.
It proclaims the reality of what Jesus has done for us in that each and every day, we wake anew with the light of Jesus shining on us. Each day, if you like, is a resurrection from death, a rescue from the deeds of darkness, a deliverance from the clutches of the evil one. Each day we wake in the light of God’s grace to us through Jesus. But again, it can be a prayer for unbelievers, for those who are in darkness, that the light of Jesus would awaken them, expose their deeds of darkness, and make them fellow children of light. Just as it is the light that produces fruit in our lives, so it is the light of Jesus’ death on a cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead, that enlightens unbelievers and calls them to faith and a life of good works.
To walk as children of light, means that you and I are to walk in the power of the word made flesh, the lamp for our feet and the light for our path, who shines upon us with his grace.
As we lead up to Easter, during these last few weeks of Lent, I encourage each of you to meditate on the darkness in your life, and to lift your eyes to see the light of Jesus working his forgiveness in you and in this community of believers he has called to this place.