Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:8-14
Sermon Theme: “Are We Children of the Night, or Children of the Light?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; “You Stupid Darkness,” avclub.com; original ideas; Nelson’s Three-in-One; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
A little girl walked around her house singing a song which she had learned in Vacation Bible School: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine; I’m, gonna let it shine, let it shine, shine, shine.” Her parents enjoyed hearing her sing. One evening she got into a terrible fight with her brother and she was sent to her room. The next morning she was in a bad mood. Seeing this, her mother said to her, “What happened to my happy, singing girl? What happened to that shining light?”
To this the young girl replied, “My brother blew it out!”
Paul says to us in today’s sermon text, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells His followers, “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Living in the light took on a whole new dimension for me in the early 1940’s when I would spend the summer with my maternal grandparents on their farm in Dime Box. The REA had come through Dime Box in 1939, but my grandparents could not afford the eight dollars a month to have electricity brought to them. We had the rather dim light of a kerosene lamp inside the house, but out in the yard and beyond was total darkness and made it hazardous to venture out at night, — barbed wire fences, uneven terrain, mud holes, and prowling, nocturnal wild animals forced my brother and me to stay inside. It was only when we got back to our parents’ home in town that we had electric lights, even in the backyard!
In many ways, today, the whole world suffers a greater darkness than that out on the farm. Folks stumble everywhere trying to make their way. Newscasts remind us of wars not just on battlefields, but also in congressional halls, city streets, and homes. Decent folks endure repeated violence while judges seem to pamper criminals and place them in revolving doors that quickly usher them back into society. Parents have trouble not just knowing what’s right for their kids, but controlling them. Many adults and children are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
This present darkness we experience in our world today isn’t unique. It was lively in Paul’s day, too. The only light then was Christ, — and still is. We need to stay in His light and “live as children of light.”
In the Peanuts comic strips, Lucy Van Pelt is a sarcastic, skeptical fussbudget, whereas her little brother Linus is very pious Christian boy who often quotes old Christian proverbs. In one strip, Lucy and Charlie are outside on a very dark night, and Linus comes out holding a lighted candle. “What’s this?” asks Charlie.
“I have heard that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness,” Linus explains.
“That’s true,” agrees Charlie, “although there will always be those who will disagree with you.” Linus walks away with the light, and Lucy turns the other way and shouts out into the inky night, “YOU STUPID DARKNESS!”
Both in the comic strip and in our sermon text, “light” and “darkness” are metaphors, picture language. According to the Apostle Paul, before Christ, a person is not merely in the darkness, he or she is an integral part of the darkness, since there is no source of light within them. Like Lucy, some persons will curse the darkness. Through faith in Christ, we not only walk in the light, we are light, since, as believers, God’s illuminating Spirit is within us. While we were darkness, our lives were fruitless, but now that we are light, we produce the fruits of goodness, truth, and love.
You know, unlike my grandparents in the ‘40’s, we can turn on an electric LED light in a room – well, even a small, non-LED light can light up the whole room, — but there is nothing darkness can do to take away light. We cannot switch on a “darkness” lever. It is just the absence of light. When we do evil things, we are pushing God’s light out of our lives. We often have the stupidity to do that, to push God’s light out of our lives. We only bring darkness into our lives by pushing away God’s light.
Lent is the perfect time to call on our Lord to show us where we went wrong, and push out what the deeds of darkness have done to us. Our text mentions “fruitless” seeds of darkness. Nothing will grow from evil deeds (except prison or death). No fruit! The trouble is that we won’t know until the harvest what kind of seeds we have planted. So we must make sure we are planting good seeds! Church is one place where we can see the light and receive good seed to plant!
Have you ever dealt with the difficulty of dieting? Boy, I have! Over the past few years, no matter what type of weight-loss program I got on, I couldn’t stay with it and lose the weight I needed to lose. Something beyond my own weak will-power was needed for me to lose weight! It wasn’t until I went to the hospital, — not to lose weight, but to have my gall bladder taken out, did I lose 20 pounds, — first a water-only diet, followed by a liquid only diet, followed by Jello and broth only diet, commanded by my doctor and enforced by the nurses.
Dieting is a microcosm of a life in the light. Can we simply make up our minds to change our ways and be different from what we were before? Paul knows very well that we cannot. Behind the liberation that every believer experiences from walking in the light, lies something only God could do. What is impossible for us to achieve is possible for God to achieve through us. It is through the light of Jesus that we find out what pleases God.
Our sermon text from Paul’s epistle ties in very well with today’s gospel text about Jesus healing the blind man, and with verse 5 of Psalm 115, which I’m using for the kids’ sermonette. There are two kinds of blindness, — physical blindness and spiritual blindness. Pity those who have eyes but cannot see! Spiritual blindness and walking in the darkness are the same thing.
The Bible begins with God saying in Genesis, “Let there be light,” and it ends with a description of the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem, in the Book of Revelation. The angel tells John: “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” From ‘Let there be physical light to no more need for any light but God’s.
As you have no doubt noticed, our sermon text is very brief but it packs a lot into those seven verses. In those few verses, Paul has informed the Christians at Ephesus that they were once darkness but are now light, because of their relationship with the Lord. The Christians at Ephesus would have read Paul’s letter, already knowing that God sent the light into the world to be born human in Bethlehem and to suffer and die as an act of redemption for not only the Ephesians but also for all mankind. By grace through faith, this light would be theirs.
Both science and faith tell us there is no life without light. The pre-created world is a dark, formless void. God’s first creative act was light. Light produces life. The ungodly person is a dark, formless void. There is no light in him. The believing Christian radiates the light of Christ, and he or she is commanded not to hide that light under a bowl but to share it. Within the believing Christian, the indwelling light produces the fruits of righteousness, — love, joy, peace, and hope.
To be sure, the life of the believer should always be preaching a sermon, should always be exposing the surrounding darkness, should always be extending the following invitation to unbelievers: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” In those closing words of our sermon text, the voice of light is speaking to people who are sleeping in darkness and lying in spiritual death. The light offers them life and illumination. If they ignore the offer, they will live in eternal night, but heeding the voice, they will live forever in the light. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.