08-12-18 LIVING AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT

LIVING AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT

Psalm 27: 1-4; Ephesians 4:25- 5:2

 

In a sort of testimonial, David in Psalm 27 gives us a masterpiece of faith: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Notice that it’s not addressed to God; it’s addressed to whoever reads it or hears it. It’s a person taking a stand of courage against the tumultuous tides of the world. Artur Weiser, in his commentary of the Psalms, suggests that David “expresses fearless trust in God which enables him to face the future calmly and undauntedly in spite of many perils.”  [PSALMS, Westminster Press, 1962, pp. 245-246.] And James Luther Mays, Professor Emeritus of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, says:

[It] begins with alternating interdependent declarations about God and self: God is light, salvation, [and] refuge to the psalmist—the psalmist fears no human being (vs.1) The declaration would hold even for situations like the slander of evildoers, (vs.2) and the attack of a hostile army (vs.3).  He so trusts the Lord. [PSALMS John Knox Press, 1994, p. 130].

 

Can you think of a time when you hit rock bottom? Perhaps you had a personal crisis; a financial problem; a problem with an addiction; or a problem with your job?  Who could you trust? Could you lean on the everlasting arms of God to carry you over the troubled waters of that time? Perhaps you found others on whom you could depend.  Sometimes the light of God can be reflected from the heart of a person we learn to trust. Some people live as children of light; they are trustworthy, confidential, and wise. If you have found such persons, you know who they are. As we learned over the past several weeks, God’s people always wanted a God they could see, and touch, and face. But God refuses to become what we want; God is who God is. What, however, if God’s plan was for certain human beings to carry around some pure light with them? One person who did it perfectly was Jesus Christ.  He was so sure that he said to others “I am the Light of the World.” When he said, “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30, he claimed the light of God for his life. So that’s one person who carried the light perfectly.  Light is so important; to go into a dark cellar one needs light; to drive through the dark of night one needs headlights; to walk through a dark path one needs a lantern, a lamp, or a flashlight. Light is vital in darkness.  No one can make a room so dark that a single match cannot illuminate it: that’s the power of light, and the weakness of darkness!

 

When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Ephesus, he knew what spiritual darkness looked like! The Ephesians were surrounded by spiritual darkness: people worshiped at the Temple of Artemis; people bought idols in the markets, and their Emperor demanded to be addressed as “lord and god.”  I shared that with you last week. That was the first century. Now we fast forward to the 20th Century and the time when the world was facing the crisis of World War II. When writing about the strength and value of a democracy, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote these words:

…We may well designate the moral cynics, who know no law beyond their will and self-interest, with the scriptural designation “children of the world;” or “children of darkness.”  Those who believe that self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law could be termed “the children of light.”… [He went on to say] The [western] world came so close to disaster not merely because it never believed that Nazism possessed the demonic fury which it avowed. Civilization refused to recognize the power of class interest in its own communities. It also spoke glibly of an international conscience; but the children of darkness skillfully set nation against nation …. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free of their malice. [THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT AND THE CHILDREN OF DARKNESS, Charles Scribner’s and Sons, New York, 1944; pp. 10-41]

 

Niebuhr’s conclusions seem alarmingly timely although written over 70 years ago. Notice how the children of light must know about the children of darkness; they should learn their ways without falling into moral decadence, blindness, or relativism. Some of the most vital information available for winning a war comes from your enemy, Espionage, as we know, becomes a vital resource for collecting information on an enemy.

 

The Apostle Paul in both his second letter to the Corinthians, and again in his letter to the Ephesians, equates followers of Jesus as children of light, and those who don’t know or deny Jesus as children of darkness. Can’t you hear the tempting words of the children of darkness: “Come on, everybody’s doing it.” We now hear of people hiding their taxable income from the IRS and of people hiding their large amounts in off shore accounts. We know that parents and their children work outside of the rules to obtain high SAT schools for college scholarships. Some will do anything for coveted scholarships. We need to know the ways the children of darkness operate, but not follow their paths.

 

Several years ago, a girl in one of our Confirmation Classes had a classmate say to her: “Christians have no idea what the Real World is like.” That’s another phrase the children of darkness say. Real world. It as if to say in the real world people have to lie, or cheat or steal to get ahead; they have to bend a few rules, do a few drugs, or sleep with others to get ahead. But the children of light should not be naïve; need to know what goes on in the ranks of the darkness. Ig’s good to know what quicksand is out there and the consequences those choices bring.  There are examples of children of light and children of darkness all around us. Daily decisions and temptations can have lasting effects. Let me leave you with the words of Ephesians from The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, by Eugene Peterson. In this section that has the title: “The Old Way Has to Go,” he records these great words starting with verse 17. Paul says:

 

And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there is no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God, but with reality itself.  They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.  But that’s no life for you! You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, and been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.
Today, make any changes necessary in your life to become a better child of the light.

Let us pray: Dear God of Light, you have already placed your light in us; you gave us your essence as we were being created. But sometimes darkness and bad habits shroud the light in our souls. Help us to remove any shrouds within, to let your light shine before others: in what we say and what we do. We pray through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           August 12, 2018

 

08-05-18 THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST’S GIFTS

THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST’S GIFTS

Ephesians 4: 1-16

 

Long before God formed me in the womb of my mother over 62 years ago, I wonder how the Holy One did it?  Did God, like a child, cut up my features like paper dolls?  Did God, like a teen in chemistry class, mix my ingredients together, and make me?  Or did God, just know how to put the right chromosomes together and then endow me with spiritual gifts- like wisdom, understanding, and respect for the Lord?  Who knows how God made me and gave me the gifts I have? Who knows how God made you? But it is clear that there is not a set recipe for any of us. Like snowflakes, we are all different. But like Christmas cookies, we are sprinkled with characteristics that make us unique.  Some in our midst serve God directly as a minister, a chaplain, a choir director, an organist, a Sunday School teacher, an usher, an elder, a or a person showing great hospitality.  Others have similar ingredients but their work took their gifts in other directions.  Some are excellent at medicine, some excellent with their hands, or with their hearts, or with their minds. There are so many professions, jobs, and important tasks that need to be done in our world.  And yes we can take a raw talent and hone it. With practice, someone can be good at sports, or at music, or at mathematics, or in construction.  As the late Mr. Rogers used to say to his television neighbors: “Each of you is unique. There is no one else quite like you!”  And so it goes.

 

When Paul was writing to new Christians in Ephesus, it was a very cosmopolitan town- and very pagan. In the city was a giant temple to Artemis- the goddess of the hunt and of fertility. People would come and pray to her. And in the harbor was a giant statue of the emperor Domitian—whose ego was as giant as the harbor creation- believed to be 27 feet high on top of a massive base; and the Emperor demanded that people address him as “lord and god.” That was the climate of Ephesus when the apostle Paul started writing to a group of Christians there, trying to talk them into believing in the one true God, and in Jesus the Christ-the anointed one-the one who came to save people from the darkness and guilt of sin.  It was not a fertile land for planting gospel seeds in Ephesus; it was rocky to say the least! But Paul used God-given gifts for the same reason they’ve been given to us: for the building up of the body of Christ, which is the church. They are not given to stoke our own ego; they are given so the Body of Christ can be equipped to face the wiles of the evil one, and the distractions of the world.  Even in our day, finding fertile soil for planting gospel seeds can be difficult. Some people let words from a horoscope guide their important decisions.  Some people leave choices up to chance.  Others find their answers—and sometimes their gods—online or in peer groups.  Some fall into the world of gaming and bit coins that can move from fun to the darkness of obsession or gambling.

 

Into the first century world and—by extension—the twenty-first century word, Paul writes that he is “a prisoner of the Lord.” That is not just a metaphor; Paul was an actual prisoner, imprisoned for his testimonies about Christ! Some of the most powerful letters historically are from those imprisoned for Christ; the German Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a 20th century example that wrote letters from prison.  But in the first century world, when people could often been seen in shackles (or fetters) against their will, Paul’s claim that he is indebted to Christ and no other. He is willfully shackled to Christ. The response to the Prayer of Confession that Glory chose last week declared “O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to me; let that grace now like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.”  We, like Paul, may choose to be a prisoner for the Lord. But here was the radical proclamation for the culturally diverse people of Ephesus: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the hope of your calling, on Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.” Goodness. That would really turn people on their heads when they first heard it! “One Lord!” (not Domitian)! “One faith!” (in a community of many faiths?) What a ridiculous idea people must have thought.  Paul had brought a giant culture-shift to them, and today he keeps grounding even us in Christ during the shifting tides of our fast-moving world.

 

Next Paul talks about gifts; and not just ordinary gifts but ones from Christ. He says “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive and he gave gifts to his people.” Then, like a commentator, Paul explains what he meant: “When it says ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth.” Maybe you wondered where the phrase “He descended into Hell” originated in the Apostle’s Creed; this is one place it is found in the Bible. Then Paul listed gifts; gifts different from the Gifts of the Spirit listed in Isaiah chapter 11. Referring to Christ, He says, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles (that means the sent ones), prophets (another word for preachers) some evangelists (that is, people who share the gospel with others), some pastors (generally persons who oversee flocks called congregations) and teachers (the a high calling of helping others learn about Jesus and the Bible). All of that is to equip us for the work of ministry.  When I was ordained as a minister back on July 24th 1981, I chose those words from Ephesians to be on the cover of my ordination bulletin. Those words grounded me then, and now, to Jesus Christ.

 

Finally, Paul says why it is important to be grounded, and to use the gifts God has provided. “We must no longer be …tossed to and fro and blown by every wind of doctrine; by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”  That described Paul’s world but it describes ours too, doesn’t it?  There are people all over our land who want you money, want your allegiance, and want your vote; many of them will say anything to get them! They can try to influence you over the phone, through the mail, by hacking your information, or in person.  This passage implores us to stay grounded, using the gifts God has given us to ward off those who would trick us, entice us, or try to win us away from the one true God.  We may not have a shrine to a goddess at the edge of town, or a huge statue of an emperor off of our beaches, but believe me, there are those with a desire for power and influence who want to turn your eyes from Jesus. Don’t let them! Keep Jesus in your sights.  We who love Jesus are part of God’s plan to change the world!  Together let’s serve our Savior, and no other. Together, let’s give glory to God, and no other. And we can, together, be grounded by the grace and the words of God in the commandment “You shall have no other gods before me”—spoken in love, from the source of love. An anemic body of Christ may fall; but a strong body will stand. Do your part to keep the body of Christ strong.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           August 5, 2018