Monday, March 23, 2009

Lent 4 Sermon Notes: March 23: Light and Dark

Why do farmers burn their fields.

Lent is the season that we “live the questions” instead of the answers. So today’s scripture is especially hard to wrestle with because it is a scripture many of us have a deep emotional connection with.

It offers a powerful and unmitigated answer. It envisions a stark contrast between light and dark.

John 3:16 is a scripture that many of us have committed to memory. It warms us with the feeling of being loved and prized by God.

Then, John goes on to speak about those children of light and darkness.

That kind of polarization can be dangerous. I prefer the parts of the bible that live into the ambiguity. Stories like ………..

John here and elsewhere gives us dichotomies. We are either in the light or the dark. I think I bristle at this outlook on the world because my experience of life is a walk in the sunshine and in the shadows, and often it is overcast. Not too dark, not too bright.

Looking over my journaling and sermon preparation with this text shows me that my struggle with this topic isn’t new. My previous sermon on this passage was “Light, Darkness, and Dusk.”

I recently heard in an article in Christian Century that the gospel of John is the primary gospel in evangelicalism. To me, John’s mysticism demands that we approach Jesus through the straightforward Mark or the storyteller Luke. John seems like a graduate level course compared to Christianity 101.

John is dished out to beginners in evangelical churches because that branch of Christianity highlights a choice between evil and good. The folly of evangelical churches tend to be the overconfidence that they have a firm grasp of evil and good, and that there is a blanket prescription for all darkness.

I want you to know that we live in a world that responds with most energy to dichotomies. Words like struggle, ……. Attract attention and commitment.

This isn’t a bad thing—we should celebrate those stories of those among us who have seen the light in the darkness and have walked into the warmth and brightness of God’s mercy.

But, I admit to some shame and unworthiness in my life as a Christian because I don’t have a big “rescue story” that I can personally share as a witness with you. I have no dramatic change of personality or behavior as a result of my faith in Christ. I was born into this faith of mine. I was passed around in the pews and at church meetings, much like my children are.

If your experience is similar to mine, I think the danger to this “steady light” kind faith tradition is that we’ll forget to fuel the fire. New Christians, people brought into the faith from lives outside it, seem to burn with the heat and intensity of a fire with plenty of kindling.

As inheritors of the flame, those of us who have been raised in the faith might suffer from the illusion that we don’t have to add anything to the fire to keep in burning. I don’t have any life change stories, but I can tell you about recognizing the resentment and selfishness that grew in my own life that I have by grace recognized as fuel I must cast in the fire. The sanctifying grace of God burns out the impurities in our souls and devours the weeds and thorns that have grown in our souls.

As Paul writes in Ephesians, “by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing—it is the gift of God.”
The danger of the dichotomy is that in glorifying the process of coming to the light, we will exclude our attention from the darkness. We might begin to huddle around the light instead of seeing the shadows we cast. We will be like moths drawn to a flame.

Jesus invited us to join him in the ministry of bringing the light to the darkness. The light isn’t just about our salvation, it is about the salvation of the world. We have a role to fill in the work of God.

We are not the keepers of Grace. We are not the definers of Grace. We have no business putting parameters on Grace. Grace is free and open to every person. We are simply the communities who come together to give thanks for it and who seek to receive it and reflect it as a community of faith.

We are people who want to live out in the openness of God’s vision for the future. There is a wideness in God’s mercy. There’s a wideness that encompasses the darkness and the light and all shades of experience in between.

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