Sunday, April 19, 2009

Walking in the Light

1 John 1:1-2:2

An ancient Easter hymn declares:

That Easter day with joy was bright,
the sun shone out with fairer light,
when, to their longing eyes restored,
the glad apostles saw their Lord.
Chalice Hymnal, 229)

On this second Sunday of Easter, as we continue to bask in the glory of the resurrection, I pray that our eyes have been restored so that we can see our Lord. Having had our sight restored, I pray that we might confess that “God is Light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).

This confession that God is light, should bring to mind various biblical texts and images that can help us better understand who we are as the children of God. And there is no better place to start than at the beginning, where God says: “Let there be light.” And when God saw the light, God declares that the light is good. Indeed, as we emerge from a long winter, we can readily affirm the truth of this statement – Indeed, the light is good! It’s good because it lights our paths and warms our bodies.

1. God is Light

John apparently assumes that we would all agree with his confession that God is light, because he goes right on and applies this confession to our lives. But before we skip to the application, I thought it would be helpful to stop and think about what this confession means.

When I read Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text, the contrast that appears in this statement becomes a bit clearer. In The Message version of the text, God is described as being “pure light” and “without a trace of darkness in him.” God is pure and perfect light. There is no stain, no impurity, now shadow even. And if God is this pure light, without darkness or shadow, what does that mean? Does it not mean that in God’s nature there is no evil, deceit, or capriciousness? Doesn’t it mean that God can’t be bribed or corrupted? Indeed, if this definition is true, we can’t manipulate God or use God to justify our darker moments. And, therefore, to walk with God is to walk in the light and not the darkness.

2. Choosing to Walk in the Light

If God is pure light, then when God is present God’s light will illuminate our own deeds of darkness. It’s just like what happens when you turn the light on in a dark cellar – all the creatures that enjoy the darkness quickly scurry away. That image is apparent in the Genesis story of the Fall, where Adam and Eve hide in the hope that their own dark act won’t be exposed. Of course, as the story continues, we learn that their efforts at hiding from God were less than successful.

If God is pure light, without a trace of darkness, the same is not true of us. I think we’re all aware that there’s at least a bit of darkness in our lives. The question is: to what degree does the darkness control our lives. John suggests that we have a choice – we can decide whether we’re going to walk in the light or in the darkness.

When I think of this choice between light and darkness, my thoughts are drawn to the Star Wars films, which at least a few of view of you have probably seen. Although the way in which this idea is developed in the films is a bit simplistic, there’s something to be learned from them. The point that’s made in the films is that whatever choice we make will color the way we live our lives. They also suggest that the choice isn’t as easy as we might think. We’d all like to think that we’re on the right side of things – that we’re people of the light. But as we learn from the films, darkness has its attractions. There’s a certain power that emerges from dark emotions like anger and hatred and fear. If we give reign to them, we may just gain power over our own fate and the fate of others. Sometimes, we may even have good intentions, and believe that our choices are the right ones. We might believe that our choice is benefiting others, but in the end we discover that we’ve given into a darkness that consumes us. This dilemma is well illustrated in memos released just this week by our government. We learned first hand that Justice Department lawyers gave the green light to torture – all in the name of protecting the nation’s security.

But, back to the movies: The characters of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, father and son, live out the tension that exists between light and darkness. Anakin becomes powerful by tapping into his anger and his resentment, but in the end this new found power destroys the very people he loves and it ultimately consumes him – turning him into Darth Vader. Luke on the other hand, although tempted by the possibilities of the dark side, especially when he’s offered the opportunity to save friends and loved ones, he chooses to walk the other way. By embracing the light, he takes a risk, but in the end he redeems his father.

So, which way will we turn? As you consider this question, we need to hear John’s caveat – if you claim to walk in the light, but continue walking in the darkness, you’re lying to yourself and to others. And if you think you’re not walking in darkness, you’re still deceiving yourself, because unlike God, we’re not pure light. There is darkness within us – unfortunately. We’d rather that it be different, but John seems to know us better than we know ourselves. Sin continues to have a foothold in our lives. I know this to be true, because when the light of God’s presence shines into my life, I can see the shadows of darkness present in my life. It’s not a pretty picture, but its reality.

If there’s bad news in this sermon, there’s also good news. We may not have broken free from sin’s hold on our lives, but the light is stronger than the darkness. Through God’s Spirit, which shines the light of God upon our lives, we’ve been enabled to break free of sin’s hold on our lives.

3. The Way of the Light

This is all well and good, but talk of light and darkness seems rather abstract. What about some concrete examples of darkness and light? I don’t know if there’s a better list than the one found in Galatians 5, where Paul speaks of the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. On the one hand, the darkness is expressed in things like: immorality, idolatry, enmity and strife, dissension, faction, envy. As for the light, it’s expressed in these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, Paul writes, there is no law (Galatians 5:16-23). We may never, in this life, fully experience the fullness of God’s light, but when we let this light, which is God, shine through our lives, then surely these fruit will be present in our lives, transforming us into bearers of God’s light in the world. And remember what Jesus say, don’t hide your light under a bushel!

But, when the darkness gets control of us – which it does on occasion – John says that God has provided us an antidote, a way of redemption and renewal, so that we don’t get caught in the whirlpool of darkness. He tells us that if we sin, God has given us an advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous. Jesus makes it possible for us, and the whole world, to stand before God and bask in God’s glory. As Beverly Gaventa puts it:
The fellowship of Christians then is not a fellowship of those who do not sin; but a fellowship of those who know that they have Jesus as their advocate when they sin. (Beverly Gaventa, in Texts for Preaching, B WJK, 1993, 283).

4. Baptism and the Light

Although this morning’s text doesn’t speak of baptism, I think there’s a relationship between baptism and the light. For Disciples baptism marks a point of decision. By going down into the water and then rising out of it, we identify ourselves with the one who bears the light of God – Jesus the righteous (Romans 6). And as the author of 1 Peter puts it: baptism serves as an appeal for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21). When we’re baptized we make a choice – we choose to follow the light, even if darkness keeps calling out our name.
This morning as Rial is baptized, completing something that for whatever reason, fell through the cracks of the years, I’d like to invite you to join with Rial and renew your own commitments that were made in baptism, commitments that you made to walk in the light that is God.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2009

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