Sermon for Sunday 18th March – Lent 4
Living in the Light
“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”
Over the years, I have seldom found more genuine self-understanding and a greater capacity for a ruthless honesty about the inner reality of a person’s life, than amongst recovering drug addicts. Just the other day I was speaking with a dear friend who was recounting to me his own encounter with such a person at his church. They were washing up together [another example of how technology gets between us :) - you never get to have these conversations over the dishwasher] and the man spoke of how he knew that the life he had made for himself had been a complete mess, and of how he wanted to live truly before God now, although looking at his life it was hard to see the way forward.
But the reality is that he is far further down the road to Life than most other people, for in the collapse of the life he had tried to make for himself, Light and Truth had broken in. For most of us are adept at making a life for ourselves and unless some catastrophic happening breaks in, we think the life we have made for ourselves is pretty good – we do not see that it keeps us from the Life and the Love of God. The Prodigal tries to make a life for himself, but it is only when he has nothing that the truth breaks in and he comes to himself and begins the journey home. The Elder brother is so full of the life that he has made for himself – that he cannot see the Life that his father offers him – he cannot see that All the father has is his, that he doesn’t need to build a life for himself.
Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when your life is in tatters for then you can begin to discover the Life that is God’s Gift to you – and we need, all of us need to come to this point of Truthfulness about our lives. Blessed are you when the life you have built for yourself lies smashed to smithereens, for then your hands are free to accept the Life that was always offered to you by God.
It is sometimes said, why does a good God allow evil things to happen? And I do not propose to explore that here – but in part it must be acknowledged that Freedom to get it wrong seems to be a door to life. In other words if we were always protected from the consequences of choosing to build a life for ourselves, we would never discover that we had been living a lie. If the Father had not allowed the Prodigal Son to get it wrong, would he have ever have come to his senses, or would he have remained trapped in the life he made for himself, like his elder brother. If indeed it takes the shattering of this false life to bring us to a point where we see the truth about ourselves, we may well ask, why does God in his love and mercy not allow More terrible things to happen to us so shut tight, against the reality of the Life of God do our lives appear to be.
And I must admit that as I read the Scriptures, I am often left thinking, have we as a church got our doors firmly locked against the light and Life of God. In other words have we built a church that We are happy with, like an individual might build a life that they are happy with.
Our reading this morning from the book of numbers puts in Very stark terms the consequences of turning our back on the Life that God offers. The children of Israel have been many years now in the wilderness – Aaron the priest has just died – the last of those who left Egypt are disappearing form the story – yet they still haven’t learnt that Life is a Gif and that God is the Giver – they are still rebelling against the God who has saved them. We may well have heard this story about them grumbling and God sending the snakes amongst them and thought it very harsh, but what we missed is what happened immediately before. That the Canaanite king of Arad had fought against Israel and taken some of them captive. The people had cried out to God asking for his help and he had AGAIN rescued them, as he had form Egypt and repeatedly since – and Then they start speaking against God again!! Right in the very face of God’s Salvation and Life, they complain, “Why have you bought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water and we detest this miserable food” – They detested God’s provision. So God in his mercy shows them what happens when he stops providing. This is what happens when God’s protection is withdrawn – the poisonous snakes come amongst them. God had protected them from the Canaanite king and they complained. So he stopped protecting them. It is Harsh, but the Light can be to those who prefer darkness. The Truth Hurts, to those who have grown accustomed to lies.
AND this theme carries on in the New Testament – let us Not make any bones about this. There is a story in the New Testament, which I have never yet heard a sermon on. It comes from the book of Acts. I once saw an article about it in a small book of writings, but otherwise silence. It is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. A married couple in the early church. I wonder if we know it? It certainly isn’t Sunday school material, but perhaps it should be? The early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles are an amazing testament to the Power of the Gospel, and the Abundant Life that there is to be found in God – there is amazing openness between the believers – abundant Generosity – all share what they have with each other – there are no poor amongst them – it is Like in Eden – the bounty of God is flowing without Let or Hindrance. And it is a standing rebuke in Scripture to the paucity of the Life that we share and call good. And people were freely giving in abundant generosity and response to the Life of God amongst them – it was their guide and rule, not a set of Doctrines but a Life Lived and Real amongst them
‘And a man named Barnabas sold a field and came and brought the proceeds of the sale and put them at the feet of the Apostles’ – But Ananias and Sapphira also sell a piece of property and connive to keep some of the proceeds back and seek to make the case that they have given it all to the Apostles. First in goes Ananias – he is found out – Peter Sees he is Lying and tells him ‘You did not lie to us – you lied to God!’ and when Ananias heard this he fell down and died. They took him off and buried him. Then in comes his wife, Sapphira – and Peter gives her a chance to live in light and Truth by asking – this money your husband brought, was it the price you were paid for the land – and she lies and says Yes it was. “ Peter says – how is it that you have decided with your husband to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” and she falls down and dies – and great Fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
And we might say “Oh how Terrible!” and yes it is, but What is it that we say is so terrible? That they died? Or that they chose to live in darkness and deceit, rather than Light and Truth.
There had been so much Openness in the community – Lives open to one another – but Ananias and Sapphira were closed. Deceit is Always a closing of the door of Life – it is choosing darkness over light. It is the fundamental form of Hiding. And it is why Confession is Such an important Sacrament in the church and one sadly that we think little of nowadays, so content have we become with the lives we make for ourselves – that Making known who we really are – of the deep reality of our lives – bringing it into the Light – the place of healing.
So adept are we at hiding in the dark that we do not even recognize the Life of God when it comes to us – or the truth of God in His word to us – the lives we have built for ourselves are like a Castle, firmly fortified against the grace of God – we hear words like St Paul’s to the Ephesians – for you were dead through the sins and trespasses in which you once lived – and we think, Dead?? That is ridiculous – I am fully alive, I have a wonderful life! A life I have made for myself. We are Not aware of the Reality of Life and Death in which we spend our days. We are deaf to the Truth.
The encounter with the Snakes in the Wilderness, Ananias and Sapphira, Paul’s words about us being dead in sin and trespasses – are this Bright Light of God breaking in and it leaves us with a choice – to turn and face the light and to learn the Blazing Glory of living lives of truth and openness, or to turn away and choose instead the darkness.
And so just as the instrument of God’s Judgment was lifted up and became the source of healing, so is the son of Man lifted up, that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. Jesus is at once the instrument of Judgment – When we look at the Life that is in Him it is like a Blinding Light – and our lives cannot bear that Scrutiny, but if, discerning that our lives are under that judgment, remain in the light, then His Life becomes for us the Salvation Life.
All of us need to come to that point – to acknowledge that in the Light of the Life of the Son of God, all of our lives, which we have so carefully built for ourselves, come under judgment. Like the recovering drug addict, to acknowledge our lives are no lives at all – but then to see in Him the free Gift of Life – that this judgment is not for Death but for life – for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.
We turn to the light, confront the Truth about our lives, and then begin the journey of Salvation - living in the Light, having nothing to do with the darkness – turning our back on lies, living in the Truth. And living in the Truth, the Truth shall set you free.