Light in the Lord
… for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern 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 speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14 ESV)
Our senses and sciences tell us that we live in a wonderful world teeming with life. Sure it’s not perfect; we’ve got our problems; there are always hurdles to overcome and our messes to clean up; death still stalks us. Hence what we read and understand in the Bible about us and our world before God either grossly exaggerates or simply doesn’t make sense. That’s why we need God’s Word to reveal to us spiritual truths and spiritual realities and having Lent to pause and consider such truths is good so that we might have an orientation or a course correction as we sail through life. Our senses and sciences tells that we and this wonderful world are alive and in the sunshine but spiritually, by nature, before God without Jesus by our side, humanity is dead in sins and is darkness and the world we have infected is groaning.
The perspective Christianity brings to this world is scandalous and shocking to the world. It is bad enough when some religions call people and the world an illusion; shadow puppets masking a true spiritual reality. Or other religions regard the world as the playthings of deities and we must use stories, dreams, or meditation based on the landscape or the physical world to connect with those deities and to know ourselves. Such religions at least regard this world in some sort of positive way and regard humanity as spiritually capable to undertake the journey before them. That’s why humanism which boils away religiosity holds so firmly to this world and ourselves as being inherently good and noble – for them it is all we’ve got – and so we have to make this place better – and ourselves as well – with knowledge and science – especially when unshackled by anything religious.
Christianity’s view as seen throughout the Bible is far more bleak than we ever want it to be – it is so bleak that we are trapped – no matter what we do in this world – even things that are peace producing or pain relieving or problem solving – there are still consequences that come and bite us and we don’t change the essential quality or situation we’re in.
So Paul could write to the Christians at Ephesus – and this applied to Jew and Gentile but the Gentiles had the greater memory about this, the more experience, as it were, of coming from death to life – you were dead in your sins (Ephesians 2:3) – we are by nature ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:4) and yet God, rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). The movement is from darkness to light, from filthiness to spotless, from war to peace. We were trapped – chained – shackled by death – not against a wall – we had a leash, we have the illusion of freedom – but we haven’t picked the lock, we haven’t broken a link in the chain, we haven’t destroyed the wall to which we were pinned; we have been rescued, set free!
This is the mindset of the Christian – old to new – death or life – cross to empty tomb – and yet we are still living in this world – our bodies generally don’t change (though healing might be associated with conversion at times) – we know we’ll still die – and this world certainly hasn’t changed – and yet the Christian is different – in the world but no longer of the world – a stance that the world regards as traitorous by the way. So with this background or landscape in which Christians exist, we hear and understand Paul’s exhortation, his encouragement, his call to live who are – our second reading today – to live our identity in Christ in this world – and he uses the picture of darkness and light.
Note what he said. It is not that we were once in the darkness but now we are in the light but that we once were darkness but now the disciples of Jesus are light in the Lord. The call for us is to walk or live as children of light and each day we try and discern what we are to do that is pleasing to the Lord.
For the world and even for many Christians, Christianity is all about rules and regulations, laws and do’s and don’ts – all pre-packaged and we’re mindless drones, Jesus-bots, following some sort of divine programme. That’s not trying to discern! What Paul is saying reminds us that Christianity is all about a relationship and that relationship affects our behaviour. By the way, this is how we live in this world – relationships always affect our behaviour, guide our behaviour, limit our behaviour – and so many problems arise because the most important relationship for us is the one we have with ourselves where everyone else can go jump or take a back seat – and that definitely can affect our behaviour towards others!
Paul is reminding Christians that they are light in the darkness. You’re not turning on the light in a room to see what’s in it so when you leave the room you are outside the light but you are the torch, the light source, and you shine into wherever you are – home, work, school, recreation, shopping, society – and we are required to first work out what we’re seeing – what is going on, who are these people and what is my relationship to them, and how do I respond … right now, short term, long term, for the first time … can you sense that this isn’t robotic programming but living – looking, listening, understanding, analysing, and then behaving so that in that action, that behaviour we both follow Jesus and serve those around us.
It sounds long and complicated and people can think ‘we can’t live like that!’ but the truth is that is exactly how we live each day. A lot of things we don’t think about – we’ve already worked out the relationships and the boundaries of our behaviour – that’s what growing up does, that’s a lot of what our mothers and fathers do in helping us understand this world. Sometimes yes, we have to stop and think – what do we do? – maybe for first time situations or major events or in terms of a very important relationship – but the process remains the same in the end, when we’ve worked out the relationships and our place in them all, we have a way forward or at least a prayer point as we seek discernment and wisdom. What Christians discover is that Jesus is with them and a lot of this world’s hopes and dreams are the doomed, futile behaviours of the dead who don’t realise it yet.
Yes, it can be hard to see the situation, the world different from those around us. That different perspective can challenge the world’s perspective – exposing its futility or flaws perhaps. Our presence, our light, hopefully never our arrogance can challenge the ‘c’mon, everyone’s doing it’ mantra of the world. We note what is legal, what is moral, what is part of our culture – good guidelines but not absolutely definitive – but instead we follow God’s Word – all of it, not just our favourite parts and thus we meet and follow Jesus into each moment, each situation, each relationship, each day.
We don’t see ourselves as light but wherever we are we see the world in a new light – it is loved by God – still trapped and groaning sadly but the world is loved by God, made by God, amazing because of God and still ruined because of us. Perhaps this seeing the world in a new light is most notable when adults are converted, when Jesus is Lord and there, all of a sudden, and also with a growing realisation you have the society, the world, the relationships, the former behaviour seen in a new light. Some things will continue as before; some will change and never be repeated.
That is what the Christian faces each day – new events and possibilities – and new ways of being light in the darkness, serving those around us, as we follow Jesus.
- Ephesians 5:8 - 14