Monday, 01 February 2010 19:47

January 31, 2010 Sermon

“Children of the Light”
John 12:20-36a
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 31,2010
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

This is a sermon about darkness and light.  This is a sermon about our unique and powerful vocation as Christian people to be bearers of light in a world bent upon darkness.  This sermon is also a challenge to us all to not only witness to the light but to embody the light of hope, the light of faith, the light of justice, the light of Christ--in a world of darkness.  This is a sermon about embracing our audacious calling to be children of the light.

We need to say up front that the issue of calling light good and darkness evil has been used by those in authority to raise up people of lighter skin as Godly and people of darker skin as heathen and inherently evil.  That's not what we're doing here.  At UBC we are very careful when we sing hymns or use metaphors.  We are conscious of not running toward unthinking judgments based upon our literal language.  And yet, this is the language of scripture.  As long as we are careful not to jump to other conclusions, we can look at these passages for what they are.  Literary catch-phrases, metaphors for our existence.

New Testament writers, writing in the culture where dualisms occurred in great number, also used the image of light and dark to distinguish between good and evil, those who know God, and those who walk in ignorance and so forth.  Enlightened people are those who have seen the light of truth and have a new perspective upon the world.  The Dead Sea Scrolls contains a book known as “The War Scroll”.  It depicts and eschatological battle between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.  Guess who wins?

No one uses dualisms as often or as intricately as does the writer of the gospel of John.  John's gospel juxtaposes light and darkness over and over.  He uses the images of good and evil, water and Spirit, earthly and from above, and so on.

Clearly, in John's mind, Christ is the light of the world.  "In the beginning was the WORD the word was with God and the word was God," says the first few verses of the Gospel.  "What was come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  That means that we are children of the light.  People blinded by evil don't understand people of the light.  Our light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome us.  That is, IF we let our light shine!

In the 12th chapter of John, Jesus was about to be given up to death and he tells his disciples, in wonderful metaphor, "The light is with you for a little longer.  Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.  If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light."(John 12:35-36)

"Walk while you have the light,"  says Jesus through the writer of John.  If you have the light in your heart, then there is a walk that we must walk.  There is a talk that we must talk.

Karen Weldin is an activist and a good friend of mine.  She as I co-lead the Southern Baptist actions for Soulforce several years ago as we advocated for the rights of LGBT people.  She went to a meeting of the Oklahoma Baptist College of which she was an alumni and told her story to the representatives, celebrating the light she had found as she embraced herself as a lesbian Christian.  She told of how her sexuality was an expression of herself as a child of God.  One of the leaders of the college told her “you are not a child of God.”  She came back to her Soulforce faith community licking her wounds and wondering if such a thought could be true.  We held her close and told her how she is definitely a child God.  We told her about her light which had displayed the light of Christ in her story.  We reminded each other that we need to claim the light we experience.

Walk while you have the light!

Isaiah was Jesus' favorite prophet.  It is no accident that, using the imagery of Isaiah, Jesus refers to himself as the Light.  Isaiah 42: 6 & 7 says:

"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness"

Walk while you have the light.

Then there’s Isaiah 58:

"IF you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, IF you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, THEN your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.  God will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail."(58:9b-11)

That is Isaiah's plan for darkness and light.  Getting out of darkness requires repentance.  Bridging the gap requires movement.  It requires works of mercy.  It requires speaking good not evil.

It's hard to speak intelligently in darkness.  It is more common to simply cry out: to lament like Jeremiah, or to be numbed to the point of sleep.  The church’s role is to witness to the light.

Hear this: If you follow the light, you cannot help but be on the right path.  If you do not know the light, you will be snared by the fowler in the darkness.

Walk while you have the light.

We’ve let our political parties become our focal point of darkness and light.  I’ll be attending the caucuses on Tuesday night and I have received several calls telling me about how their candidate is a child of the light.  Our nations categorize themselves into nations of light and nations of darkness.  But doesn’t Jesus call us to a higher standard of discernment?  Aren’t we supposed to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves?  William Sloan Coffin famously said, “I am called to say with Amos, ‘let justice flow down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’.  I don’t have the plans for the irrigation system just yet.”

But how do you know the light?

Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Georgia a few generations back looked cynically at the church as a place where people admired Jesus.  They thought he was a good guy who they could look up to.  What he didn’t see was people willing to follow Jesus.  People were not willing to risk their comfort level, their property, their social standing, and their prejudices in order to follow Jesus.  They wanted their cake and eat it too.  They wanted their privilege and their comfort and they wanted to be blessed by God.  If the Bible tells us anything, it tells us that this kind of thinking doesn’t really work.  We are called to be disciples.  We are called to follow Jesus.

In the Gospel of John at the time of the kairos, Jesus said it ain’t gonna be easy.  There will be a separation between those who follow and those who simply admire Christ.  The crowds, fickle as they are, will admire whoever is in favor at the moment.  They favored Jesus on Palm Sunday, only to shout, “crucify him” a few days later.  We listen to what passes for the endless news cycle to determine whom we should admire these days.

We are called to be smarter than the crowds.

We are called to be more than simply admirers of Christ.

We are called to be followers of Christ.  That means doing the things he did or would do.  Following Jesus means saying the things he would say.  Following Jesus means preparing for and living in the kairos when it happens.  The kairos does not happen when we admire Jesus.  It only happens when we are intentional about following Jesus.  As Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he or she must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, God will honor him or her.”(John 12:26)

The light is Christ's power in us to make all things new.  The light is all that brings justice, hope and mercy to this world.  If you want to know about Christ's light project, read the Sermon on the Mount.  Read Isaiah.  Use them as a lens through which to assess our present situation.  Like Karl Barth told us, do your theology with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  It will become very clear the workings of darkness and the workings of light.  We are called to walk while we have the light so that the darkness does not overtake us.

You cannot be children of the light unless you know the scriptures.  You cannot know the scriptures and still be judging.  You cannot know the scriptures and still be filled with hatred of the outsider.  You cannot know the scriptures and still be filled with unrighteous anger.

But scripture knowledge alone does not make a you a child of the light.  Walking and talking in the ways of light makes you a child of the light.

We can know our scriptures real well and still fail to do what is called for.  Remember that the beast in the book of Revelation looks a lot like the Lamb.  They use the same language, the same powers of persuasion.  The only real difference is their trueness to God's plan.  They can only be seen by the children of the light.  The faithful witness, those who have been called to patient endurance.  These are the children of light who see their way out of darkness.  This is what Isaiah means when he speaks of letting your light break forth like the dawn.  Isaiah is saying to the remnant people, you must do the work of the suffering servant if that light is to shine.  You must show forth your light so that all people can see it.

But how do you walk?  How do you talk?

We need examples of the light to emulate.  We need the evidence that it’s all worth it to be children of the light.  That’s why we come to church.  I tell you, without the church, we are hopelessly lost.  For the church is the place where the truth can be spoken, where it must be proclaimed.  The church is the place where we garner strength from one another and move together toward a new tomorrow.  The church is the place where we see the light shining.  The church is where we get charged up so that our batteries do not go dead in a week of living in darkness.  The church is the place where we hear the ancient stories and the contemporary stories of  darkness straining to overcome the light.  And the church is the place where we bridge the gap.  Where we repair the breach.  Where we find the strength to tell the truth and be strengthened by the truth of God.  The church is the place where we tell the truth and the truth makes us free.  The church is the place where we garner the strength for the journey.  It is the place where we break the silence.  It is where we say to the dominant culture,  "Your don't speak for me."

And through the strength and the power of the church, we can say that we are committed to the light.  "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not."(John 1:5)  My friends, we are called to be repairers of the breach, restorers of street to live in.  We are called to bridge the gap between darkness and light.  We are called to make our voices heard: to speak so that others don't speak for us.  Let us speak against the darkness on behalf of the light, for we are children of the light.

You know, when I chose this scripture, I knew I would preach this sermon right after returning from Nicaragua.  It would be so easy to tell stories of children of the light that I saw in Nicaragua.  All of those children at our sister church, smiling with such joy, singing and dancing, embracing all of us outsiders were clearly children of the light.  I even thought of the people in Managua trying eek out a living by begging from all of the gringos.  They would fold up palm branches and stick them in our pockets as a gift.  They would follow us like the children from Slumdog Millionaire with great stories and sorry faces, pulling on our heartstrings.  But their plight and even their pitch to us was an example of shedding light on the often hidden faces of poverty.  Surely they are children of the light.

And then I realized that every child has an aspect of the light in us.  In fact, not just every child, but every person.  When we decide that some are children of the light and some are not, then we are traveling down a slippery slope.  We are coming awfully close to playing God.  And this seldom ends well.  We have a light within us and Jesus calls us to be children of the light.

Let me close with this image: Kyle and Jane Childress, who I know from the Baptist Peace Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists have a wonderful child.  Jane tells of their bedtime routine.  They would talk about all of the things that they will do tomorrow.  The toddler would say, "Mommy, when this darkness is done, what will happen?"

Of course, she was simply talking about living from darkness of night to the light of day, but I think a similar question is worth asking: "Mommy, Abba, God when this darkness is done, what will happen?"  Perhaps God will then turn to us and ask us the question.  "What will you do my child of light, to end the darkness?”   How will we witness to the light in the light of day?

AMEN.