To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Ephesians 5:1-14
The late J.F. Powers, an American novelist and short story writer drew a lot of his inspiration from developments that happened in our nation during his lifetime. One of his most powerful short stories was entitled “The Trouble,” which examined race relations from the viewpoint of a young child. There is an especially moving scene in which a young African American child expressed a profound truth. In the midst of a race riot in a major American city, an African American family watched the fighting in the streets from the safety of their apartment. This child’s mother had been caught in some of the crossfire of the riots and was hurt rather seriously. The family gathered around to care for her; even their family doctor and minister have come to check on her condition. As this young child joined his grandmother at the window to observe the chaos in the street. It is absolute horror outside. We can all imagine what we have seen televised much too often in our nation to get an idea of what this child was witnessing.
All of a sudden the child notices a white man running down the street, fearing for his life. As he turned the corner and headed down an alley behind their building, he was just ahead of a gang of African American youth. The man had made a fatal mistake, because the alley was a dead end, and there was no way for him to escape. The gang comes around the corner and the child recoils in horror, terrified at what might take place before their eyes. But just then, down the alley, the back door of the apartment house opens. The child’s grandmother, seeing the plight of the man, had left the security of her observation window and gone down to help him. The child’s mind began to swirl with these thoughts: “I was very glad for the man until I suddenly remembered my mother upstairs, badly beaten.” “I then became sorry for what Grandma did, and then again I was happy that she did.” The child began recognize that the trouble with the world is that if somebody gets cheated, or insulted or physically injured that people feel they have the right to do the same thing to others resulting in a cycle of violence that never ends. It is amazing how this short story written back in 1947, 70 years ago still rings true today in our society and culture. Some might say that the child in Powers’ story is correct. The endless cycle of violence in our society and culture never stops.
In Christian communities some might argue the endless cycle of sin never stops. Paul refers to this as darkness in our life. The only time it will stop is when people begin to walk a new way to begin a journey to walk in the light as Paul makes reference. The apostle Paul sets up for us some beacons that will help us in our Christian walk, these are to walk in love and obedience and walk as children of light. As Paul encourages us to walk in love and obedience he writes for us in verse one to become imitators of God. To be an imitator of God, we must first begin a walk of obedience towards God. To begin walking in love, we must give up old ways of thinking and behavior. In Paul’s view, all people shared a dark past. Paul explained in his writing that at one time they were in darkness. Before they were converted to the Christian faith, they lived in disobedience and against God’s will. Paul even begins to mention specifically the sins of the people:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3-4 NIV translation)
What Paul provided for us was a catalog of living life in darkness that is living life in sin. The problem for us today, is that many of these things listed in this catalog have come to be called “acceptable behavior.” What God considers to be sin is accepted as normal behavior among us. Thousands of years ago Paul wrote of such things as sexual immorality, greed, and obscenity and how they keep people in darkness and here today in 2017 these things continue to keep us in darkness. It’s true that our society has progressed in many ways yet in God’s eyes have we progressed for the better?
As Paul encouraged us to become imitators of God we must ask how to accomplish this in our lives. Simply stated, just as a child learns to model the behavior of a parent, we imitate God when we allow God’s character to flow through in our daily lives. We must become aware of the things that keep us in darkness and get rid of these things within our life. Only then can we begin to truly walk in love and obedience. Paul continues encouraging his audience by writing:
For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)
Light and dark are familiar metaphors for good and evil. Taken alone, this verse does not seem particularly challenging to us. However this verse is defined by the verses around it. Within these verses is a great challenge to us. The challenge before us is living in darkness or living as children of light. In thinking of darkness and light I recall the story of a lighthouse keeper on Robbins’ Reef off the rocky shore of New England. Jacob Walker, after years of faithful service of minding the light, caught a cold one stormy night this cold turned into pneumonia and he eventually passed away. His wife buried his body on the hillside above the shore, on the mainland, in plain view of the lighthouse upon the reef. Then she applied for and received the appointment as the keeper of the light. For twenty years she carried on alone, and then a New York City reporter went out to get her story. In the course of the interview she told the reporter that every evening she would stand in the door of the lighthouse and look across the water to the hillside where her husband was buried. She would always seem to hear his voice saying, as he often said when he was alive, ‘Mind the light! Mind the light! Mind the light!'” Her response than turned spiritual as she commented that across the troubled waters and the crashing breakers in life that there comes another voice to us, a voice from that green hill far away, without a city wall, a voice out of the darkness and evil of our day. This message was one that came from the Son of God saying the same thing as her husband, “Mind the light! Mind the light! Mind the light!”
With God’s presence in our lives this is certainly true yet some of us in trying to mold the laws and commands of Scripture to accommodate our personal lives and preferences might remain in darkness. The Christian walk is not easy. The commands of Christ are not always easy to follow. Despite this reality Christ is there to offer us the strength, guidance and comfort we need. As our gospel lesson shares with us:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
One of the ways we can become better children of the light is by following these simple rules in life.
Rule # 1 The Rule of Common Sense
Determine whether what we are about to do or about to say is sensible? Perhaps asking this following question will help us in following this rule: Is it something that is necessary or needful?
Rule # 2 The Rule of Our Best Self
People will eventually know us for what we do and what we say. Try putting our best foot forward at all times. Perhaps asking the following question will help us in following this rule: Is it kind? Remembering these words from Romans:
Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. (Romans 15:2)
It is important that we ask ourselves whether something we are about to say or do is something that will help or harm someone else.
Rule # 3 The Rule of Sportsmanship
Years ago I used to play tennis regularly and I had a friend who I would often compete against. I cannot recall this person ever arguing about whether a serve or a shot was in play or out of bounds. Those who play tennis are aware this is very rare. My friend would even go so far as calling some of his own shots out that I would’ve played because they “were too close to call.” The game of life should be played the same way, with the same type of honesty and integrity.
Rule # 4 The Rule of Publicity
Would we want our actions known to the people who admire us? Think about our spouse, best friends, parents and children and whether they would be pleased with our actions.
Rule #5 The Rule of the Most Admired Person
Many of us have mentors and role models in our life. Before saying or doing something, ask whether these people would approve of our actions.
Rule #6 The Rule of Consideration
What will be the reaction and effect upon others concerning something we say or do? We must think not just in the present sense, but also into the future.
As Christians we are exposed to the works of darkness everyday in our life. In confronting the darkness recognize that the light and love of our Savior Jesus Christ can shine everywhere in our life. In thinking of the light of Christ, I am reminded of an article about a family who took their children to some caverns for a day of exploration. As always, when the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to dramatize how completely dark and silent it is below the earth’s surface. The couple’s young daughter who was suddenly in complete darkness was frightened and began to cry. Immediately she heard the voice of her brother, “Don’t cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights.”
In a real sense, that is the message of gospel: that the light is available to us, even when darkness seems overwhelming. It is up to us to accept the light.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
March 26, 2017