From Darkness to Light
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Ephesians 5:8-14, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Back when I was in college, I didn’t have a lot of money, in fact, Christina and I were often significantly underwater financially, and I was talking to a friend of mine about it and he recommended that I sign up to do an allergy research study, at his mother’s clinic, to make some extra money. I responded, “But I don’t have allergies.” And he said, “That’s okay, they sometimes need people without allergies to use for their control groups.”
So I made an appointment to see if I qualified and, when I arrived, they tested me for everything under the sun, pricking my back with about a thousand little plastic needles. (I hear that they do a simple blood test now.) As we finished up, I told the doctor that I didn’t think I had allergies. But as she ran through the test results, she said, “You not only have allergies! You have horrible allergies and it is obvious to me, in the short time you have been in this office, that these allergies are significantly affecting your quality of life. And, what’s more, If you would just take a pill in the morning it would greatly improve the way you feel every day.”
I was so shocked! It’s funny cause I had no idea! It had come on so slowly, that I had gotten used to being sick and I hadn’t even noticed how bad it was. [Pause]
This phenomenon, this inability to see things the way they really are, is what Paul was talking about to the church at Ephesus. Our passage describes this perfectly. If Paul was in that allergy doctor’s office with me, he would be nodding his head as the doctor described my symptoms, looking at me like, “How could you be so foolish.” And, at the same time, to the doctor he would tell her, “Of course he didn’t know how bad it was; no one ever told him.”
In the church at Ephesus, there were two groups that Paul was writing to. Like the doctor, there were those who saw the problems exactly as they were; they saw that things needed to change and that the change needed to begin with them. But they didn’t know how that would translate to seeing God’s redemption happening in the world at large. They had been promised redemption, both personal and for all of creation but they hadn’t seen it yet and, I suspect, they were getting worried. They hadn’t seen any markers of what God was doing.
The other group at Ephesus was more like I was with my allergies…they were asleep to the problems in their lives, to the problems with the way they lived their lives. And, also, they couldn’t see any that needed to changes that were needed in their communities and in society in general. They couldn’t see reality for what it was. They couldn’t be bothered to seek God’s will for their lives. They didn’t see anything that needed to change, not in their hearts or in their actions.
Paul had a big job ahead of him in order to teach them both. He needed to wake up those sleepers who couldn’t see that the world and their hearts were broken – and at the same time, he needed to explain to those who clearly saw all the brokenness and hurt in Ephesus, and to explain to them that God is still working to redeem, to restore, and to reconcile everything, even when it doesn’t look like it,
or feel like it.
We can relate to both of these ways of thinking, sometimes, can’t we? Just the other day, I was having a conversation with a young man who had been baptized a couple of years ago. He is a part of a tradition that only does adult baptisms and he had reached his late twenties without it.
But, here he was, years later, describing to me that he still didn’t understand why he needed to be baptized in the first place – it just didn’t feel like anything real had happened. He felt like there were all of these promises made about what would happen when he was baptized and they just didn’t pan out… or at least it didn’t feel like it to him.
Almost every Christian denomination, ours included, believes that baptism is a sign that you are washed of sin, that you are entering into covenant with Christ, that you become a member of the worldwide, universal Church, that you are made an heir of the kingdom of God, and that you are newly created in Christ. These are big promises. Sometimes it doesn’t feel as real as we think it should.
In some ways, we could experience baptism and expect that everything is fine as it is. That we no longer have to work to change anything about ourselves because we are forgiven. Because God’s grace has washed over us, we no longer have to worry and that means we no longer have to work on our life of faith. But, in other ways, for some of us, we might wonder how we feel so similar to the way we did before, if God really is in control, in our lives, and in a new way… if we really have been made new in Christ – why aren’t all of our problems and weaknesses, all of our struggles with sin, all of our broken relationships – if God really has done all of these gracious things in us by our baptism, then why aren’t things better than they are?
In the same way, we can look around and we see a deeply divided society. A world full of war and hate. We see violence. We see death… AND We cry out, “But we were promised life. We were promised light.” In the midst of all of this, it is hard to see God. And, frankly, we are forced to ask, “If God is in control if God truly does reign, why is everything still so messed up?”
It’s a good question, right? It’s a question that Paul answers with. a. story. It may be a theological story, full of statements and truth about God, but it’s a story, nonetheless.
And it begins with a God who loves so much and so deeply that God feels compelled to create. We are the fruit God’s compulsion toward love. But God’s love is not a love that forces or coerces and, because of this, God gave creation, including us, the potential not to love or be loving in return.
From that lack of love, sin came into the world and Paul warns us against performing all unloving acts because, as long as there are those who would choose not to love, then there will be sin present. But the God who loves sent messengers to teach us about that love. That same God created a people, first through Abraham, and then in the Church, through which he would bless the whole world. That God of love also sent the son, Jesus Christ, to teach, to serve, and to save.
This is the story of God’s redeeming love. The story Paul told to the Ephesians.
And we find ourselves in the middle part. So much of that story has already happened, but so much remains to be done. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Yet right now we wait. When Christ finally returns all will be renewed, changed, and recreated into what it was meant to be all along. But, right now, we wait. We pray. And we hope… and we work, but we wait. And, as we wait, we do the things that God has placed before us, the call of all believers, to make disciples of Jesus Christ that all of creation may be transformed after the image of God. We wait and we work for Christ’s rest-o-ration.
Several days ago, I had a conversation with another young man. We were talking about life and church and faith and the way it seems like being Christian is not important in American society any-more. He looked at me for a second and then he asked me what I was going to do, as a pastor, to help with the problem. And my answer, off the cuff, was that I hoped for a revival. I hoped that people would be so filled with the joy of their faith in Christ that they can’t help but tell the story. He said something like, “But that has never worked before.” He continued, saying, “I think if you would just minimize the whole God thing and its disciple-making and play up the whole transformation and social justice piece, you would have people beating down the church doors.
And I said to him, that I personally believed that transformation comes from being renewed in Christ and to downplay that is to forget the story of God that calls us to be a transformed and transforming people. And I followed up with something resembling a quote by G.K. Chesterton, the British writer, which reads, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
If only we lived our highest principles and our highest ideals. Growing out of our love for Christ… then we would have a revival like has never been seen before.
I hate to admit how much I feel that church at Ephesus and, you might also feel like I do, as well. Like the Ephesians, we can also be found impatient or clueless, as we either stand still or search for shortcuts for solutions. But I hear Paul admonishing us to be better and to trust in God more. For, on the one hand, we wait, but just because we wait, doesn’t mean that we can’t put effort behind our hope. And, on the other hand, just because we are the recipients of a grace that comes before anything we have ever done or can do, that does not mean that God is done with us… God, in Christ, is constantly calling us to be more, to grow more, to grow further in grace and in relationship with God.
And so, even as we wait, even in the complete knowledge of our human fallibility, of simply being a human who makes mistakes… as we wait, we know that Christ has worked in and around us, is working within us, and will continue to work through us… until he comes again.
And, yet, we know that Christ’s kingdom is not fully here. In that blessed knowledge, we can find peace and assurance… and also… our deepest call from God to be part of the solution to the world’s deepest problems, problems that can only be solved by the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. A grace that will always be with us, no matter what.
May that grace and peace go with us as we live his word. Amen.