8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
By this time of year many of the folks in the northern hemisphere are feeling as if winter will never end. It’s grey and gloomy outside and it seems as if spring will never arrive. Likewise by this time in Lent when so many of us are engaged in soul searching and self examination we may be feeling a little low and wondering why Easter is taking so long to arrive. So as I pondered the various passages offered by the lectionary for this fourth Sunday in Lent I was struck by the imagery of light and dark in this passage in Ephesians. “For once you were darkness but now in the Lord you are light.”
Darkness. The Dark Side. We all know Dark is used as a metaphor for all the less desirable character traits, things like hatred, anger, greed and violence. We use it to describe fictional villains and real ones; black hatted cowboys, vampires, Darth Vader and Charles Manson. Dark is cold. It is the home of spooky shadows, mold, evil plots, secrets and conspiracies. Many children are afraid of the dark and even though we tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of, most of us are quick to turn on a light when we enter a room. We don’t like the dark very much.
And then there is Light. Light is more than simply the opposite of the Dark. Light is everything that is warm and good and pure. When light shines the dark is chased away, evil is defeated. Vampires are destroyed, lies are exposed, ugliness is seen for what it truly is, children are comforted. Light is Luke Skywalker and Saint George the Dragon Slayer and Roy Rogers and Mother Theresa. Light is truth and justice and love, all the good things, all the blessings of life. We love the light.
People who live in the light see the world differently. It’s way beyond glass half empty or half full. It’s looking for the good in situations, not the potential for trouble. It’s trusting. It’s deciding the world is a good place and behaving as if you believe that to be true. People who live in the light are willing to shine their light into the darkness, to stand up against evil and speak out for the right. People who live in the light live in God’s kingdom.
Paul say to the church in Ephesus, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” We may not always be able to do that well, but we can usually figure out what is not pleasing to God.
You all know that I watch the news a lot. I watch for a couple of hours in the morning and then for another hour or two after dinner. When I can stay awake long enough I end the day checking out what the Comedy Channel does with whatever the rest of the media is reporting on. And yet somehow I entirely missed that Terry Jones, pastor of a small congregation in Florida, presided over a group of some 30 people who burned a copy of the Qur’an two weeks ago. You might remember that the last time Pastor Jones was in the news was just before September 11th, when he was threatening to burn a whole stack of Qur’ans. The president condemned this recent action and many Christian and interfaith groups in the US spoke out publicly against it.
I’m quite sure that treating any other person or group of people with complete disrespect and hate-filled speech is not pleasing to the Lord. Jesus said “Love your neighbor” not “mistreat your neighbor”. Even if you are sufficiently ill-informed as to believe that all of Islam is the enemy – which it isn’t - Jesus also said “love your enemy.”
I suppose I can be excused for not noticing the Qur’an burning at first. It didn’t get a lot of press in the US, what with the political budget stuff here and the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear plant problems in Japan and anti-government demonstrations in North Africa and the Middle East and a new war starting and all. We’ve had some really busy news cycles and I guess the media thought that since only 30 folks showed up and there were no demonstrators present maybe it could just sort of slide under the radar. Unfortunately, the rest of the world was paying attention. Particularly the parts of the world where they believe that America as a nation is anti-Islam. People in those parts of the world held demonstrations to let us know they were displeased. Things turned ugly in Afghanistan. Seven people were killed at a United Nations office building. According to the Associated press: several hundred demonstrators were peacefully protesting the purported [Qur’an] burning when the gathering suddenly turned violent. This violence in response to a hateful act is also not pleasing to the Lord.
I was blessed to meet Noor-Malika Chisti, a Vice President of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of World Religions and a member of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations at the Interfaith Peace March in Pomona last September. On Saturday Noor-Malika had this to say in response to that violence: The Prophet Mohammad, peace upon him, gave us the example of how to respond to ignorant and hateful language: show them something better. The killings of United Nations workers in Afghanistan by those who were protesting the burning of the Qur’an by Terry Jones is NOT what was modeled for us, nor taught to us in the Qur'an.
According to Dr. Margaret Aymer of Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Paul is urging the church in Ephesus “to set boundaries and ethics for life together as a community of faith, boundaries that call community members to pursue goodness, justice (or righteousness) and truth. Part of that pursuit includes not only following truth, but truth-telling: exposing that which is false or secretive to community discernment.” (Dr. Margaret Aymer Commentary on 2nd Reading, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx)
Silence in the face of evil is not pleasing to the Lord. Allowing any kind of darkness, any kind of hatred, any kind of evil to exist without speaking and acting against it is not pleasing to the Lord. In fact, when we stand silently by, when we say nothing in the face of evil, we ourselves are engaging in evil. We ourselves are living in the dark instead of living in the light. It is not enough to turn our back on the evil doer. It is necessary that we speak out against their actions. Especially when that evil doer is one of our own community – one of the body of Christ. Now we can say “Well, that guy who burned the Qur’an and that guy who shows up with his “God hates Fags” signs at military funerals, they’re not really Christian. If they were really Christian they’d act differently. They would get the whole concept of loving your neighbor.” But I say that if we simply turn our back, if we simply pretend that they are not one of us, if we don’t speak the truth in opposition to their behaviors we are allowing everyone else to believe we feel the same way they do.
However, if we are to be children of the light, the one thing we cannot do is to treat them hatefully, the way they treat others. Even the harbingers of hate must be treated with love. They are also children of God, our neighbors, whom we are commanded to love and to forgive. We can speak about how Christ calls us to act without speaking evil about others. We can pray for God to open their hearts, we can condemn their acts, but somehow we must love the persons. That would be living in the light – and that would be very hard.
Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia is moving from darkness to light. In 2005 their youth director was fired after being found guilty of sexually abusing a young girl in the church. Other girls came forward but the congregation didn’t want to know. They sort of blamed the victims and wanted to just let the whole thing go away quietly. So it festered quietly. In 2008 a new associate pastor was called who realized that light had to be shed on this evil in order for the church to heal. The church formed an abuse outreach ministry, the young women are receiving help and last year were finally able to tell their stories to the congregation. Last week Pastor Peter James stood before the congregation and preached the story of “the darkness that had been eating away at the church for nearly six years,” publicly apologizing to the young women sitting together in the back row of the church. Associate Pastor Jordan-Haas said “We really seek to change, institutionally and relationally, and that comes at a cost. There is still something hopeful here, and that brings me great relief. It is good when we bring darkness into the light.” (Josh White, “Vienna Presbyterian Church seeks forgiveness and redemption in wake of abuse scandal” The Washington Post April 2 )
It is good when we bring darkness into the light.
In our prayer this morning we asked God to “Open our eyes to Christ’s living presence.”
Christ is present when members of a church choose to “act differently: to tell the truth, to push for justice, to uphold goodness regardless of the norms of the society at large.” (Dr. Margaret Aymer Commentary on 2nd Reading, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx)
Christ is present when we seek to shine the light of God into the darkness.
When Christ is present we can see clearly, we can stand and speak light into the dark.
Let us ask our Lord to open our eyes to Christ’s presence, that we may see.