Sermon 4 Lent – March 22, 2009

March 23, 2009 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

Imagine, if you will,

walking alone in a forest,

a deep forest straight out of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm,

old, huge trees reaching up far out of sight.

Imagine, that as evening nears, you become lost.

You hear the howls of wolves heard far off

but seeming nearer and nearer the darker it gets.

Imagine becoming colder and colder,

less able to see where one is going;

not sure where the path is or if there is one,

and not knowing the way out.

Still walking, you find eventually that you are going in a circle,

and you have not made any progress.

And the temptation grows to simply sit down and give up,

to not move anywhere,

for what is the point, indeed, when you cannot see where you are going?

Best to wait until the morning,

if the morning comes.

Now, imagine,

if you are in that deep and dark forest,

alone, and friendless, without food, without shelter,

exposed to the elements and to the beasts of prey,

and you see in the distance a light

and hear the sound of voices.

You might feel many conflicting emotions at this point.

Hope, strange in its renewal;

fear, of the unknown which awaits you.

You move toward the light,

and you find that in a clearing a large bonfire has been made,

and around it people are standing and warming themselves

and in its light they recognize each other.

You watch them as in the light of the fire they prepare food and tell stories

and work and play and care for children

and stand guard against the dangers that surround.

From the other side of the clearing,

another person comes into the light, and the people turn toward him,

but not in fear; they are not surprised to see him.

Indeed, they seem to have been expecting him.

“What has taken you so long?” seems to be their unspoken question.

He is brought some food, and in the circle of light,

you see him gaunt with hunger and fear,

but in the light and heat of the roaring fire,

you see the hope and joy returning to his face,

as he smiles and accepts the food and care with thanks.

Now imagine turning away from the fire and the gathering,

from the babble of voices and the laughter of children,

the smell of food and the light and the warmth,

and setting your face to the darkness,

the howl of wolves becoming louder and the voices becoming more distant,

the cold wind becoming more biting with each step you take away from the clearing.

You may even convince yourself that what you have seen is a mirage,

an illusion just as the shimmering of light in the desert

can look like water to the thirsty wanderer.

But for as long as you walk through the forest,

for as long as you stay one step ahead of the wolves,

you can faintly hear the sound of those people,

in the darkness of every evening there is a flicker of light in the distance.

Why would you turn away from the light?

Why would you walk again into the darkness?

There is only one reason.

To walk into the light means to become visible.

It means to reveal yourself to the gathering, in the light of the bonfire.

It means to give up your anonymity and become part of the community

that works and plays together and keeps the fire going.

Many people hear John 3:16 with great joy:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

They don’t keep reading to verses 19 and 20:

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,

and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light,

so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

What does this mean?

It seems to negate the comfort and grace of John 3:16.

Next to this word of grace, there is a word of judgment.

But grace does judge, but in a passive rather than an active way.

A person of grace or an act of grace

does not judge and may not judge by actively condemning another person,

it judges by passively revealing the hearts of others in the light of grace.

Have you never been in the presence of a gracious person

and in the presence of that gracious person

you become angrier than you have ever been in your life,

because in the presence of that gracious person your own lack of grace

becomes unbearably obvious?

In the presence of that person of right and good action

your actions are revealed to be what they are?

And though you know there’s no good reason,

though you know it is against all reason,

you simply want to tear that person down,

expose her for a fake because no one can be that good,

drive her away from you because she bothers you too much,

and be back secure in your invisibility in the darkness.

That is the reason you might turn away from the light,

because coming into the light would mean that you are not alone anymore,

you’re not on your own anymore,

you can’t live for yourself anymore,

you would now be in the community and living for the community,

putting aside your own aims and needs and wants

for the sake of others.

And that’s not a decision to be made lightly.

Some people would rather risk the howls of the wolves

and endure the futility of walking in circles through the dense thickets of a forest.

After all, the wolves might not get you,

and you might find the path out of the forest just beyond the next tree.

But to enter the circle of light is never to leave it.

It is to stay there forever and ever, for the circle draws you in and the light envelops you.

Someone who wishes to remain in evil,

who aims to continue living for self,

who wants to continue hiding from God and others,

cannot endure the light of Christ,

but of that one’s own will that person turns away from his light

and exchanges it for the shadows.

But what if a person does not desire evil actions,

truly desires the light of God in their lives,

but is afraid of what the light will reveal?

What if they are afraid that when they walk into the circle,

when they expose themselves to Christ and his church,

their nakedness is too horrible to contemplate?

“What if I am driven away, or if the people run away screaming in fear,

what if the fire itself dies at the sight of who I am?”

Such people need to focus not on John 3:19-20,

but John 3:17:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world,

but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

In the light of Christ we are revealed as the sinful, scared, wounded people we are,

but we are not despised and we are not condemned

Paul puts it this way to the Ephesians:

“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us

5even when we were dead through our trespasses,

made us alive together with Christ.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In the light of Christ we are fed and nourished,

we are bathed and healed,

we are given a part in the community,

and the wolves of sin, death and the devil

will not tear us limb from limb

because we are in the light,

we are in the circle,

and the light dazzles their eyes

and the blessed ones fight for us

even as we fight for and serve the blessed ones.

Imagine if you will,

being on the edge of that circle of light and fearing the light

as much as you fear the darkness.

Come into the light.

Do not fear what it will expose,

do not despise the warmth it will bring.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

that all those who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Texts for the day

Entry filed under: Sermons.

Sermon Lent 1 – Mar 1, 2009 Sermon Easter 5B

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