Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Faith for Life - Follow the Light

Preached on Sunday, March 12, 2017

Scripture readings: Exodus 13:17-22; John 8:12-30

A sergeant got separated from his squad while they were out on maneuvers. It was late by the time he caught up with them, and he had missed supper.
Around Lake Lenice, on Crab Creek
North of Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
February 2017
He asked them what the meal had been. “We had pork,” said one solder. “No, it was turkey,” said another. Still another one said, “I thought it was chicken.” Finally, one of the men confessed, “I couldn’t tell, sir, it was dark out.”
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Let’s think about light: what is its importance and meaning to us? Then, let’s think about what it means to follow, because Jesus promises whatever the light is as a prize for those who follow him.
First of all, there’s the light. The gospel of John is full of references to light, and the light has to do with Jesus.
Light means so many things to us. It affects us in so many ways. Too much light can be painful and dangerous. A solar eclipse is going to cross the Pacific Northwest, this August, and we all need to be careful how we watch it. In the summer, I like walking in the shade, but you can’t find that around here, so I make do with morning or evening light.
Light can be fun, like playing with a flashlight, as a kid. There are fireworks on the Fourth of July. There are candles on birthday cakes, and lights on Christmas trees.
Light can be kind, like when someone turns the lamp on when they catch you reading in the dark. There are campfires. And there is the glowing fireplace on a winter night.
Light can be inspiring, like when it shines through a stained-glass window. Living here, we have the inspiration of our spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
Maybe you have a special feeling in your heart when, at the end of the last day of a long trip, you turn the last corner and you see the light shining on your front porch.
Jesus is the light of the world and the light of life.
Usually, in the Gospel of John, darkness is the image for evil. In that case, Jesus, the light of the world, invades and conquers darkness.
Light is the real goodness behind everything good in the world. Jesus, the light of the world, is God’s comfort for the griefs of this world, God’s healing for the hurts of the world, God’s guidance for the questions of the world, God’s hope for the fears of the world, God’s peace for the conflicts of the world.
Jesus compares himself with something so basic in order to invite you to use your heart and ask yourself what light is for you, and so find out for yourself what Jesus wants to be, for you, and for the needs of those who are around you.
In Genesis, everything begins with light. Life begins with light. The first thing that happened in the universe was that God said, “Let there be light.” Today’s prevailing, scientific theory of the origin of the universe is a sudden explosion of energy and light that we call “The Big Bang”.
The Old Testament often uses the expression of “seeing the light” to mean being alive or being born. Each of us has had our own experience of seeing our first light with a slap on our bottom from the doctor and a cry; only no one remembers that.
But there is also an experience of Jesus bringing you the first light of his life dawning upon you. Perhaps you have a memory of that. You suddenly felt alive in a way that you didn’t before. You can’t believe that whatever you had before was quite worth being called life.
When my youngest sister was little and the rest of us would be talking on and on about things that had happened before she was born, she would get bored and say, “Oh, that happened when I was dead.” The experience of Christ dawning upon you makes your previous history seem like that. Because Christ has filled you with the light of his life.
“The light of the world” was also a term which people used to describe the sun. They knew that the sun gave life to growing, living things on earth and that there would be no food without the sun. Jesus, the world’s true sunlight, is the source of our mental, and emotional, and spiritual nourishment and growth.
The light of your life may be someone you love who loves you back. So, the light of the world, Jesus, often ripens nourishment for us through our relationships with others. In his book “The Four Loves” C. S. Lewis writes this: “We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”
There are people who have helped you or changed you. Maybe the first rays of the light of Jesus beamed on you through your parents and your family in childhood. Maybe Jesus has given you rays of light through a teacher in school, or a Sunday school teacher. Maybe Jesus gave you light through a friend.
Many people will say that the light of Jesus came to them through their spouse. Maybe it comes when you hold your first child in your arms. You have seen it in someone else’s dignity, or purity, or courage, or peace, or wisdom.
Maybe someone has found light in something you have said or done. When Jesus says that he is the light of the world, he wants to shine through you, and through all of us in the same way he has shined on us through others.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, and us, this amazing thing. He said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) But you know that the light comes from him first. And the light of Jesus (so John tells us) “shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5) That’s what the light of the world wants for you.
Jesus is the light of the world and you need light in order to see and find your way. Light shows you what you are doing, and what’s going on around you.
There was a little girl who got a stubborn case of pneumonia. She got tired of doctors, and nurses, and medicines, and being tested and poked. When the doctor decided to take some x-rays, she put her foot down. She wasn’t going to let them do it. The doctor told her it wouldn’t hurt, and that it was just like having your picture taken.
The little girl gave in and said, “OK. You can take my picture, but I’m not going to smile.”
Jesus, the light of the world, enables us to get an inside picture of what’s going on in the world around us, in which we can see the meaning of things, and the real needs of a dark world. The light of the world also enables us to get an inside picture of ourselves. Getting these pictures doesn’t always make us want to smile. We may see something we hadn’t seen before. It may be something we didn’t want to see, and we see that it’s wrong, and we see that it needs to be fixed.
But this can be a good thing. The artist Michelangelo said that, when he made a sculpture, all he did was to set free the shape that he saw inside the block of marble.
Christ shows us what we are dealing with on the inside of the people around us. He enables us to see the potential strengths, and the unexpressed needs, and the mysterious weaknesses. The light of Jesus shows us what we need to do in order to deal, in God’s way, with what we see in God’s light.
Jesus enables us to look within ourselves with honesty, repentance, patience, and faith. The light of Jesus reveals that we are God’s creations, that we need him, and that we are made to be loved by him and by others. Jesus shows us that everyone else is made for just the same reason.
Jesus shows us that we are made for fellowship and partnership. Jesus enables us to see behind, and around, and ahead, to see him at work, to see his gifts, his wisdom, and his hope.
The light of Jesus shows us where we could be taking ourselves if we don’t follow him. Doubt un-wrestled with, and discouragement, are forms of darkness that keep us from seeing what we can do. The light of the world helps us see that we can do something, or (at least) be something, by following Jesus.
Following! When Jesus said that he was the light of the world, it happened to be during a special Jewish feast, called “The Feast of Tabernacles” (tabernacle is a fancy word for tent). It celebrated the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
On that journey, God led his people every step of the way; but he led them in the strange form of a moving column. It was a column of smoke by day, and a column of fire by night. With God acting like this column, the people of God could travel day and night. They could see in the dark because they had the light of God who is the light of the world.
The rabbis passed down one of the prayers from the Feast of Tabernacles, as it was celebrated in the Temple. The prayer goes like this: “Oh Lord of the universe, thou commandest us to light the lamps to thee, yet thou art the light of the world.” The people had been praying that prayer during the week when Jesus said that he is the light of the world.
Jesus is the pillar of fire that guides us through the dark, in the wilderness, so that we can find our new life. Jesus is the light that needs to be followed. Jesus is the light that shines for the express purpose of bringing us somewhere.
We have plans about where we want to go in life. These plans are our idea of what it means to be successful, or to have a meaningful life. They make our life into a journey to somewhere, unless, perhaps, our goals are mainly behind us.
In the wilderness, the Lord had goals for his people that they often forgot, or misunderstood, and they often thought more about the goals that were behind them, in Egypt. They often wanted to go back, if only they could.
Jesus is the light leading us forward, through a desert, to plans and goals we may, or may not, fully understand, or appreciate, even yet. At least, Jesus wants us to see this life as it is, as a journey forward to goals that he knows.
In the end, the journey will bring us home as members of his family, and there will be more freedom there, in our true home, than we can dream of.
We are on what is called a pilgrimage, a journey with a holy purpose. Since we don’t know the purpose exactly, everything along the way could turn out to be important in reaching the goal. Every crisis and every decision to be made is part of getting to the promised land.
And yet the important thing isn’t so much making the right choices that will take you to where you think the promised land is. The most important thing is sticking close to the light of the Lord, so that the journey makes you what the Lord wants you to be, wherever you go. Every turning point or choice that comes along is the opportunity to receive more of the light of life from Jesus.
In the long conversation of Jesus, one of the things he said to those who didn’t understand a word he said was this: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be.” (John 8:28) Jesus lifted up means Jesus lifted up on the cross. Our journey, following Jesus, is a wilderness journey where darkness is a problem, but it’s also a journey of grace, and forgiveness, and hope, all because of a God who offers himself for us on a cross.
To follow the light means being a disciple, and being a disciple boils down to being partners with other disciples; being a kind of team under the command of Jesus. But Jesus, carrying us and our sin on the cross, is not only our leader, but a player too.
A soldier follows his sergeant into the fight. A patient follows their doctor or counselor, but the best doctors and counselors need to be players, too, in the wellbeing of their patients.
Jesus is our leader, and a player with us. His leading work and his shining work are part of his saving work. Following Jesus makes for an interesting life so much beyond the understanding of those who don’t know who he is. It’s the difference between light and darkness.

Following Jesus means living his way but, most of all, coming back again and again to that cross that gives us the light of love and the light of life. This is what makes Jesus the light of the world.

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