(John 3: 14-21)
One of the great things about going on vacation is that, if you are like me, you can get caught up on your reading. Especially if you’re on an airplane for several hours. I took three books with me: a murder mystery, a biography on Jimmy Carter, and a book on the Sermon on the Mount. The book, aptly named: Sermon on the Mount, A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven was written by Amy-Jill Levine who is one of my favorite authorities on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is odd considering the fact she is Jewish. We’ve done a couple of her studies here at the church and they were extremely well received. Amy is a University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies and Mary Jane Wellman Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences and has written numerous books that I plan on adding to my reading list.
In chapter 3 of the book, Practicing Piety, she talks about us being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. I want to talk about being “the light” so I’ll save the salt metaphor for another sermon. In any event, she points out that there are over two hundred references to light in the Bible so that has to tell you that light, in its many forms, is a big deal to God. She mentions a few such as; Let there be light, and there was light, from Genesis 1: 3, and Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, from Psalm 119: 105, and There will be no more night, they need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever, from Revelation 22: 5. It is interesting that she picks light references found in the first and last books of the Bible to show us how important light is in God’s grander scheme of things. Her point is that light is necessary for life. Without light we have no plants, no warmth, no beacons. But she also points out that darkness seeks to overcome the light by referencing John 1: 5 where John said: In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it, meaning that the darkness of evil never has and never will overcome or extinguish God’s light. But that doesn’t mean that the forces of darkness won’t try. Professor Levine even makes a veiled reference to one of my favorite songs when she says that this little light of mine can shine, but it can also be snuffed out, which means we must be ever vigilant in our daily walk with God to safeguard the light. Her point being that this light of Jesus Christ is a precious commodity that must be preserved because if we allow it to go out where we live and work the world around us will become even more dark and scarier.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples: You are the light of the world. And in John’s Gospel, he tells his disciples: 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) For the disciples, Jesus is the light of the world. Yet, as he states in John 9: 5, he is the light as long as I am in the world. The disciples, according to Professor Levine, therefore take up his role; acting as he instructs them and, as he himself acts, they too can be the light of the world. More, she says, he is in the world when his disciples recognize his presence in others: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me, referencing Matthew 25: 35, 36. Once the disciples realize that they are also light, they also recognize that their true role is to shine so others can find their way. That’s the legacy that has been left us by Jesus and the Apostles, to assume that light role and shine so others can find their way through us, through our church, to God. To illustrate this, Jesus says in Matthew 5: 14; A city built on a hill cannot be hid. His followers, meaning us, are to become like that city; a refuge, a home, a place where there is salt and light, love and compassion, a beacon of hope. And, in verse 15 he says; No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Professor Levine reasons that to be the light of the world is to shine not only in the dark places of prisons and soup kitchens, but also in any place where there is loneliness or despair, sickness or pain. We should be asking ourselves where have we, as an individual and as a church, shined a light? Where is our light currently shining, and where else should we be directing our light? That’s what I love and appreciate about our SODS (Somebody Oughta Do Something) mission effort. When we see a need we look for ways to be that somebody or help others become a somebody. I look out the window of this sanctuary and see the backside of Peter’s Place and realize through the granting of space to erect a tiny home village we helped others become somebodies in their efforts to shine some light on the despair and loneliness of another human being, a lost and suffering child of God. On Saturday mornings we turn on the lights in our Food Pantry and Clothes Closet and say: “Come on in, help yourself to some food, some clothing, some blankets.” This is what I believe Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 5: 16; In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. It’s our faith that moves us and Professor Levine says that any faith that does not manifest itself in works is not faith, it is complacency and self-satisfaction. Disciples, she says, are to glorify God by being their true selves, light, existing for others rather than for only themselves. It’s this doing of works that prompts others to do the same. For example, our opening up of our Food Pantry and Clothes Closet on Saturday mornings has prompted some ladies from Peace Lutheran Church in Port Ludlow to come and volunteer on Saturday mornings, assisting those who come to us for help. We’ve provided an outlet for them to also serve the least, the last and the lost.
And this is what the Apostle John is talking about in our scripture reading for today. He says that this is the verdict, the judgment, that light has come into the world. He says: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. One of my study guides put it another way by saying that God loved the world in this way; that he sent his Son to die, to die for us. The entire gospel comes into focus in this verse. God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in. Indeed, John continues, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. And that’s where I think we come in. Through our faith in Jesus Christ and our works through the guidance and urgings of the Holy Spirit, we are doing what we can to help save the world, tommake the world a place to live as God would have it. John says that; Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. This, he says, is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and that some people would rather love the darkness than the light because of their evil deeds, their desire to live ungodly lives, their being self-centered and not God-centered. He says that all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed for all to see. That’s true. Many people don’t want their lives exposed to God’s light because they’re afraid of what will be revealed. They feel trapped and fear the shame they would endure if their secrets were exposed. They don’t want the life they secretly detest exposed and ruined. They may even understand that God is a forgiving and loving God, but what they fear the most is the unforgiving ways of society and those around them, those who would delight in their shame and misery. What they don’t understand is that Jesus is there to unburden them, to take their yoke upon himself to lighten their load. They may even feel threatened by our desire to obey God and do what is right, because they are afraid that the light in you, in us, may expose some of the darkness in their lives, rather than accept the cleansing and healing power of the light. They may even talk bad about us and persecute us because of our belief and faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus knows that and understands it, but he wants us to be strong and maintain the light that has been given us by God. And John reminds us that those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
It’s tough, I know, we were really on a roll a year ago when the pandemic hit, and I honestly feared that this could be the death knell for our church, but in the darkness our light continued to shine, and it even got a little brighter as God opened up new opportunities for us to shine his light on to the darkness. It’s not over yet, that’s the story of the cross, the Easter story. The Light has come into the world to show us the way to the Father. So we must not become discouraged and lose heart. We must keep praying that God will continue to use us to show those out there who are lost and searching, those who want to escape their lives of loneliness and despair, sickness and pain, how much better it is to live in the light rather than the darkness. All we have to do is let it shine.
Please pray with me.
This little light of ours God, the light you have given us through your beloved Son, we’re gonna let it shine. And everywhere we go Lord, we’re gonna let it shine for all to see so that maybe they will want what we have, that everlasting peace that comes from knowing you through Jesus Christ. And, loving Father, we will carry your light out into the night, into those dark places where the darkness of humanity hides, and we will use the light to expose injustice and to bring peace. Yes Lord, everywhere we go we’re going to let the light shine in Jesus’ name. Amen.