Saturday, November 10, 2012

Walking in the Light - I John 1:5-19 - November 11, 2012

There are some sermons that come together quickly and easily.  The Scripture are well known and comfortable and their themes flow naturally from the text.  But there are others where I seem to struggle with the passage from the moment I feel that God has placed them on my heart.  This week’s message is one of those born in struggle.  It is not because the passage is complex, but because the language seems almost foreign to our Americanized Christian culture. 

David Yback read the entirety of our focal passage earlier in our service.  Listen again as we hone in on verses 5 through 7. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. John lies before the hearers the choice between walking in the light or living in darkness.  This is not a regular part of our religious language.   It sounds too drastic, too dramatic, too isolating, and too draconian for a culture where we are find ourselves living in the shades grey of individualized relative moral and religious beliefs. 

John was not unique in claiming the imagery of light and darkness to define the very nature of our walk with God.  Listen to some of the others from across the breadth of Scripture.

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—    whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—    of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 89:15-17a  Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.17 For you are their glory and strength.

Isaiah 2:5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

John 3:19-21 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Ephesians 5:8-14 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

We need remember that these passages were written originally to a people who would have keenly understood and appreciated the contrast between light and darkness. We need to remember that this was written long people like Ben Franklin and his kite and key – or before the incorporation of OG&E.  It was a time that when the sun faded from the sky it was dark – really dark – out in the country dark – the childhood “I’m afraid of the dark” dark.  It was a season the light would shatter the darkness at every sunrise.

I vividly remember a late fall Boy Scout camping trip when I was just barely in my teens.  I loved to camp and our troop set up our campsite along the water’s edge of a beautiful lake.  It was the kind of scene grand photos and paints try to capture.  But in the dark an unexpected and severe cold front came in and it snowed.  We were not prepared for this sudden weather change and found ourselves waking up in the early morning hours very cold and very uncomfortable.  While our fires brought us some relief we huddled around them waiting for the dawn.  We long for the light and the warmth it would bring.  While the sunrise might have been beautiful, none of us cared.  We just wanted to light to break the darkness and the warmth of the sun to heat our quaking bodies. We greeted the light with cheers.  

When the hearers of our focal passage, and the other Biblical passages that seize the same language, would have heard these words they would have immediately understood the power of light. They would have understood that the call to walk in the light was an unapologetic call to walk in the way of God.  They would have understood that the purity and holiness of God was a pure and powerful light that would not – and could not -have a trace of darkness in it.  They would have understood that there was simply no room for darkness in the presence of God.

The light of God exposes all that is done in the dark. Both John and Paul speak to the illuminating power of light – what happens when holiness and purity castes its light on our sins and secret places of shame.  What draws us into the shadows and darkness is different for each of us, the things we do there leave their stain. No matter how hard we might try to hide it, the light exposes it. In our focal passage John tells us that if we say we belong to God, that we are in fellowship with God, but still walk in the dark that we are lying to ourselves and those around us.  While I was in Edinburgh, Scotland I ran across a tavern named for the man that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. William Brodie was better known by his title Deacon Brodie.  By day he was a well respected businessman and community leader, but by night he was a burglar and thief to fund secret mistresses and his addiction to gambling. Ultimately this double life landed the Deacon on the gallows where he paid a final price for his life in the darkness. No matter how much we may want to, or how much we may try, there is no way we can live spiritual double lives – basking in the light of God while still hanging on to life in the shadows and darkness. No matter how we may try, we will find ourselves spiritually naked and exposed before God.

But God does not leave us there. The holy light of God does not just expose us, it shows us the way for our redemption.  Our passage cries out; But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness When we seek to walk in the light – in the way of God – in the presence of the purity and holiness of God, then our sin and secret shames will be burnt away. We are able walk in light because of God’s grace gift of forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus, the light of God shatters the secret shames and the shadows it hides in. Somehow we have been deceived – we can imagine God’s forgiveness but we struggle with forgiving ourselves. Thorough faith in God through Jesus Christ our sins have been forgiven totally and completely.  This purifying and redeeming light is spiritually transforming and forever life changing

This is an essential for us to hear because it is easy to us to be tempted to sink into the shadows out of God’s bright light.  While we know the way of God is life giving, it also demands that a counter-cultural faith that can be challenging for us.  The paths of comprise and subtle choices for shades of grey area so well traveled they can seem effortless for. Our culture so highly values our individual freedoms we chafe at the very idea of suppressing our will for the way of God.  We so value individual choice that we push back from a spiritual standard that exposes our selfishness and self-centeredness.  But, I believe deep inside we know that we were meant for more.  We were not created to live in the shadows of deception and degradation or in the cold darkness of spiritual isolation.  We were created to live in the light. We were created to bask in the warmth of God’s love and the light of God’s way. 

In God’s grand sovereignty God has chosen to give us the choice of whether we will live in the shadows and darkness or claim a life in the light of His love and grace.  There is no room for darkness; no way for us a spiritual double life, where say we choose the way of light while still sinking back into the shadows.  There is no option to continue to carry the guilt of our sin and secret shame.  We need not fear God’s judgment or wrath.  His forgiveness is absolute, resolute and life giving. The choice of life with God is a bold and counter-cultural choice. But it is not a life of optional selections of moral values and religious faithfulness.  It is an all or nothing, all in our all out, kind of faith where you choose the way of light over the way of shadows and darkness.  You are called to choose between God's way or any other way.  You are called to choose the choose between the darkness and the life-giving, soul forgiving, way of light.

If you are ready the dark night can and will give way to the dawn.  Hear Jesus as he speaks in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Come now and claim God’s forgiveness.  Come now and choose a life walking in the light with God. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.17 For you are their glory and strength.  AMEN.

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