"What Would We Do Without Light?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 3/14/1999
Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-16
The people in many of these ancient civilizations worshiped the sun as a god. Seeds would not germinate until the sun had warmed the soil. Plants that had started their growth cycle in a shaded area responded to the sun's light by twisting and turning toward its warm rays.
Many of you have heard the story about the dandelions that started growing through the four to six inches of freshly laid asphalt on a parking lot in one of my former churches. Each seed reached for the sun even though it was covered by a thick barrier. Light and warmth work miracles for nearly everything that grows.
There is a story that I once used during a memorial service that illustrates the power of the sun's rays. The setting of the story is England. The lord of a particular manor kept beautiful flower gardens on a portion of his estate. In the cool of the evening, he would walk in this secluded part of his world where he often experienced inspiration.
One evening while walking in his rose garden, he found an old grey stem that needed to be removed. The stem represented a visual thorn among his roses. Since the grey stem sat deep in the flower bed, he understood how the gardener had missed seeing it. The lord told him that he had found a blighted, lifeless stump in the middle of one of the rose beds and asked him to remove it. The gardener smiled and said, "Sir, let me show you something most unique that has happened with that grey stump."
The two of them descended the marble staircase leading into the formal gardens. To the surprise of the lord, the gardener walked past the grey stump and headed for the gate in the wall that surrounded the garden. The two turned a corner and walked along the back wall. There the gardener and lord stopped to observe a trellis filled with magnificent roses. The gardener explained, "Sir, I discovered the grey stump several months ago. However, when I first started to remove it, I noticed a green shoot that appeared at its base. In reaching for the early morning sun light, that small branch grew through a crack in the wall so it could bloom on the other side."
During his ministry, Jesus frequently used the metaphor of light to describe himself as well as our own capabilities. Jesus taught, "You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine. The eyes are like a lamp for the body. If your eyes are sound, your whole body will be full of light." The most insightful teaching from Jesus is in the Gospel of John. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness."
What is Jesus talking about? Obviously Jesus was not talking about sunlight. Sometimes in our discussions we use the words "light" and "darkness" as if there were a common understanding among people about the meaning of these words. In what context did Jesus use these terms? In both the Greek and Aramaic languages, the word "light " can mean "understanding." Light and darkness can be translated as "understanding" and "ignorance."
Paul wrote in our lesson, "You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord's people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is this spirit that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness and truth."
When we read Paul's words, we can easily conclude that understanding is the path to spiritual freedom. We no longer have to be misled by the mistakes we make with our attitudes, our actions, or our lack of good judgment. Having this light in our lives will draw all kinds of good things to us. Paul is absolutely correct.
If there is a down side to possessing such light it is that we live in a world where understanding is frequently not a part of many people's lives. That is why Jesus needed to send disciples into the world to become the leaven for the loaf. Disciples who understood Jesus' message needed to go forth and teach others who knew nothing about it.
Since this is Girl Scout Sunday, I want to tell you a story that will illustrate this same theme. Some years ago Becky Rhine spoke to a group of senior Scouts. Becky had gone through the Scouting program as a young girl and was now a senior Scout leader. An incident had occurred that affected one of the girls in her troop. With the girl's permission, Becky used this event for instruction and hoped it would benefit all the girls.
A teenage party had taken place at a home of a boy whose folks were away for the weekend. The trust covenant between this young man and his parents was violated. What started out in a spirit of innocence grew into an event over which the young man had no control. When word of a party was turned loose in the wind at his high school, many people showed up who had not been invited.
There was underage drinking. Teenagers were loitering outside, sitting on their cars with their stereos blasting. This activity prompted a concerned neighbor to call the police. The police came and the teenagers found themselves in trouble. The story about this incident grew with each retelling and it spread throughout all the social circles at school. Of course, this Girl Scout had attended the party and was guilty by association.
In essence, this is what Becky said to her troop: "You will constantly find yourselves among others who have not had your training. There may come tensions in your life caused by your desire to find acceptance among your friends. Those tensions will tell you that it is okay to set aside what you have learned. When you do that, you will be allowing your friends to guide you. It would be like your choosing an unfit person to instruct you on the principles of physical fitness. How can anyone teach effectively what obviously has not been working in their own lives?" "I will always keep calling on you to accept the greatest challenge of your life. I will always be calling on you to provide leadership in the areas of life-skills and character development. The world hungers for people who know who they are and where they are going. Be one of them every day of your life! Scouting will help you get there."
Any listener in that room could have heard a pin drop. Do you know why? Becky was inspiring, but more than that she was saying words that everyone understood were true. This is how "light" radiates from one person to another. This kind of light attracts people just as sunlight attracts plants. When someone else's words can stimulate your thinking so that you can make a commitment to values that will dramatically influence the quality of your life, that is the effect this kind of light has on people.
Becky's words were simply another way of saying what Paul said nearly 2,000 years ago. "So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is this spirit that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness, and truth." When Jesus sent forth his followers into the world, they went as those who marched to the drumbeat of another drummer. Today we go forth because we made a decision to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
While that one decision has enormous practical implications for the way we live, what is more important is the impact our decision has on other people. The world needs people who possess light, i.e., who possess understanding. Let us consider how understanding governs the role we play in life. If all of us demonstrated every day our understanding of God's purpose of life, think of the possibilities we could create.
When we read Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, many of us respond by thinking, "Yeah, but suppose a person is going to hijack my car? What if a thief is breaking into my home? Suppose someone is telling me something that is completely unreasonable?" We are good at coming up with counterpoints to nearly everything Jesus taught.
What would happen if we stood our ground and decided to play the game of life with a much different set of rules? This is what Jesus asked his followers to do. In essence Jesus asked us to trust that our role is to bring light into darkness, not make judgments or fight for our version of justice. Understanding builds bridges; it does not have the ability to create barriers.
Many of you have heard the story about the young man who broke into my grandmother's home a number of years ago and held a knife to her throat. He wanted money. In a very calm voice she asked him, "What would your mother say if she could see you now? What would your Sunday School teacher say about what you are doing?"
And then she asked, "Have you had anything to eat?" He said, "No." She said, "Sit down and let me fix you something." The young man began to cry. My grandmother apparently had reminded him of people who cared about him. After this strange episode, he even came back to visit her and to thank her for reminding him of things he had long since forgotten. My grandmother understood that the young man's act was a call for love and she responded.
Consider the act of Jesus when he hung dying on the cross. Not only during Lent but every time we see the cross, we need to remember what well-meaning people did to him. Jesus did not attack "his enemies" with his words. He understood why they felt the way they did. Their Gospel was the Law. That is what they had been taught. Jesus preached that there was so much more than the Law, and they were not interested in hearing about it. They thought that by killing the messenger they would kill the message. They failed.
Think about words Jesus spoke during his crucifixion. Think about the understanding of Jesus that generated those words. In essence Jesus said, "O God, please never hold against these people what they have done to me. Their own actions clearly demonstrate that they do not understand what they have done." That statement came from a being who was the light of the world, a light that was bright enough to span centuries. Only when more of us radiate this same level of understanding will the world become a safer community where all of us can live in peace.