Sunday, March 26

Lent 4A

Ephesians 5:8–14, John 9:1–41

 

LIVE AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT

 

Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from Jesus, the light of the world. AMEN.

 

On Monday FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee and refuted the President’s claim that “Obama had my `wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” just before his election on November 8. This is the same Director Comey accused by some of costing Hillary Clinton the presidency with his public comments concerning the FBI investigation of her use of a private email server, while she was serving as Secretary of State. Director Comey confirmed Monday that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department have evidence to back the President's allegations against President Obama.[1] He also explained that a president does not have the authority to wiretap any U.S. citizen. To wiretap a U.S. citizen FBI investigators and officials at the Justice Department need to go to a federal judge, make a case, and demonstrate probable cause that such wiretapping was necessary in an investigation.

 

I have no first hand knowledge of the depth of Director Comey’s faith, but I do know that he is a former Sunday school teacher at a Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. In our lesson for today the Apostle Paul instructs members of the church in Ephesus to live as children of light. Accusing a former president of a crime, without substantial evidence, is an act of darkness. By shedding light on this act of darkness Director Comey sought to act, in effect, as a child of light.

 

For Paul God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ is the light. In John 9:5 Jesus tells his disciples: “I am the light of the world.” John 1:3–5 affirms that all things came into being through Jesus, the Word made flesh, “and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

 

In Jesus, the light of the world, the depth of God’s love for the world and all its inhabitants is revealed. The bright light of God’s love is intended to transform the children of darkness into children of light. Paul explains to the Ephesians in the first verse of our lesson: “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” The light of the world identifies them as children of light, members of the household of God. Paul exhorts them to live as children of light, for that is who they are.

 

In our lesson and elsewhere in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he offers a number of insights into what living as children of light entails. First of all, children of light are filled with gratitude. In Ephesians 5:18–20 Paul writes: “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Children of light are filled with gratitude for what God has first done for us. While we were yet living in darkness, Jesus demonstrated his great love for us by living and dying for our sake. By raising him from the dead God affirmed that Jesus is the light of the world and that his way of life is the way of life for the children of light. Filled with gratitude for his great love that shines upon us and lights our way, we are motivated to live as children of light.

 

Secondly, children of light “try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” That involves a process of discernment. I remember a member of Trinity Lutheran in Tacoma, who shared in a Bible study how he focuses his life of faith on pleasing God. Someone in the class raised the question: “Doesn’t that run the danger of trying to earn God’s favor, so it could become a version of works righteousness?” The Lutheran tradition has been adverse to anything that smacks of trying to earn God’s favor. We strongly emphasize that God’s favor is a gift. Not raised in the Lutheran tradition, this man looked a bit puzzled by the question; but then he said, “Why would I not want to please the one who has done so much for me?” For him seeking to please the Lord was a grateful response to the Lord’s gracious love for him.

 

One thing that clearly pleases the Lord is to live in love. In Ephesians 5:1–2 Paul exhorts: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In 5:21 Paul writes: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Children of light are to serve one another, to consider the interests of others as if they were their own. They are to love one another, as Christ first loved them (John 13:34).

 

A story is told about a teacher sitting around a campfire with a number of his students. He loved to ask them thought-provoking questions. At one point he asked, “How can we know when the night has ended and the day has begun?” After a brief pause one eager student answered, “You know the night is over and the day has begun when you can look off in the distance and determine which animal is your dog and which is the sheep.” Another student said, “You know when light falls on the leaves and you can tell whether it is a palm tree or a fig tree.” The Teacher responded, “Those are both fine answers, but I have in mind something else.” After discussing several other possible answers, they finally asked the Teacher to give his answer. He looked at them intently and said, “When you look into the eyes of a human being and see a brother or sister, you know it is morning. If you do not see a brother or sister, you know it is still night.” Surely God is well-pleased when we see a brother or sister in the eyes of a fellow human being.[2]

 

A third aspect of living as children of light is to take no part in the works of darkness, but instead seek to expose them. In Reinhold Niebuhr’s book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness he asserts that the children of darkness tend to be wiser than the children of light. The children of light often underestimate the power of self-interest, both in its individual and collective forms. Niebuhr observes that “the children of light are foolish not merely because they underestimate the power of self-interest among the children of darkness. They underestimate this power among themselves.”

 

Niebuhr died in 1971. But I imagine that if he were still alive he would not be surprised at how some children of light are struggling to understand how a candidate with such a propensity to make rude or untrue statements could possibly be elected president. The children of light may be oblivious to other hard realities that influenced voters. According to Niebuhr, children of light have a tendency toward moral sentimentality; whereas, children of darkness have a tendency toward moral cynicism.[3] Paul makes clear that children of light are to expose the unfruitful works of darkness. But doing so requires not just high ideals, but a sober, realistic assessment of our current situation. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns his disciples: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” It is not enough for children of light simply to rant and rave about the works of darkness. To expose the works of darkness requires a moral realism that seeks to avoid the extremes of moral sentimentality and moral cynicism.

 

I want to briefly address one final aspect of living as children of light, what Niebuhr refers to as religious humility. So much destructive havoc in history has been caused by religious extremists, who with absolute certainty have sought to impose their religious convictions on others. On Sunday mornings in the fall Steve Christiansen will be teaching a class on religious violence. A key root of religious violence is the absolute certainty that my religion is the right religion. Religious toleration has been one of the core values of our democratic society. That core value is being tested in our current political climate. Niebuhr, ever the realist, acknowledges that “religious toleration through religiously inspired humility and charity is always a difficult achievement. It requires that religious convictions be sincerely and devoutly held while yet the sinful and finite corruptions of these convictions be humbly acknowledged; and the actual fruits of other faiths be generously estimated.”[4] A key initial step in coming to such a generous estimate is to engage in personal conversations with people of other faiths.

 

Scholars have speculated that the final verse of our lesson from Ephesians 5 is a fragment of an early Christian hymn: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Surely, this is a time when the Lord needs the children of light to wake up and live as children of light, giving thanks to God at all times, seeking to discern and do what is pleasing to God, exposing the unfruitful works of darkness, and practicing religious humility. Be assured that inasmuch as we live as children of light, with eyes wide open and with sober judgment, the light of Christ will shine brightly in our world.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

 

 

 

 



[1] http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/20/watch-comey-testimony-house-russia-hearing.html

[2] This story based on a version in White, Stories for the Journey, 97–98.

[3] Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 9–15.

[4] The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 137.