This is the sermon I prepared and shared with the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. We met together in spirit. The text was Ephesians 5:8-16 in The Message.
Bemus Point is always quiet this time of year, but not this eerily quiet. Stores and restaurants that are normally open are closed, seemingly abandoned. Lights are off, businesses are shuttered and life has seemingly screeched to a halt. The darkness seems to be winning.
In these days of COVID 19 does it ever seem like you are feeling your way through the darkness? What you knew yesterday isn’t true today. The situation keeps changing at a dizzying rate. There is a powerlessness to life in the darkness. What makes the darkness seem hopeless and helpless is the sense that the Lord is not there. Life within the darkness feels utterly alone.
It reminds me a bit of life in Palestine when I lived there with my family in the 1980s. Day by day life changed. One day it was safe to go to this part of Bethlehem, while the next day it was no longer safe to go there, but you had to find another way to go to accomplish what you needed to do. One day we had water, while the next day we did not.
In your wildest imagination, did you ever expect there to be a shortage of toilet paper? The other day I couldn’t find any bananas. And I know it’s a silly question to ask, but nonetheless, I always check to see if any more hand sanitizer has been shipped to whatever store I happen to be in.
But now, light has come. This reading from Ephesians uses light as a metaphor for Christ’s transformative power within us as the believing community. I don’t know about you, but in these days, I especially feel the need for transformation. It is easy to give in to fear—fear of illness, fear of not having enough. Introverts are happy for the quiet (however not the situation). Extroverts like Ray and me are chafing at the bit—wanting to get together with friends, desperately missing the fellowship with other people of faith.
The first verse of our second lesson resonates with me in The Message version. “You groped your way through that murk once” (v. 8). Murky is a good way to describe our current reality. On the other hand, Christ, the light has come and calls us the light of the world. Baptism is sometimes referred to as enlightenment.
Here we find a brief identity reminder. The author reminds the readers that they were formerly darkness, but now they are light in the Lord. Then a call to action follows as a result of their identity as light. “The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.”
The fruit of our light identity involves conduct which is pervasive goodness, right and truth. Goodness recalls the good works God prepared for us (2:10) while right and truth involve conduct, speech and relationships as established in Christ (4:21-25) (Rick Carlson, workingpreacher.org).
We aren’t really told what the works of darkness are that the Ephesian churches were to expose. However, the readers were warned not to be co-participants in such works. What we do know is that they were the opposite of goodness, right and truth. Instead, Christians are to expose such wrongs for what they are and to engage in the exact opposite behavior, demonstrating with their very lives what it looks like to live the right way.
The three short phrases that begin with the call to wake from sleep were likely part of an early hymn, maybe even a piece of baptismal liturgy. Light and dark are associated with wakefulness and sleeping. “Wake up from your sleep” or “Rising from sleep” was an allusion to resurrection and conversion (Eric Fistler & Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com).
In the conversion from darkness to light, we become light in the darkness. Because of what God has done for us in Christ—making us new creations in baptism, transforming us, bringing us from darkness to light, therefore, we are to respond by living lives that demonstrate Christ’s love to the world. As verse 10 puts it, “Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.
How shall we then live our lives? As today’s second lesson concludes, “These are desperate times!” And so they are. The desperation goes far beyond whether or not we will be able to meet together for Easter Sunday. People have lost jobs and more will likely find themselves in that situation. We will have more people who are unable to pay their bills, who are hungry, unable to purchase life-saving prescriptions, more people suffering from depression because of their situations. Although we cannot physically be with various people, we can reach out electronically and through the old-fashioned means of a telephone call or a letter.
As Lutherans, we are used to living lives in community. Our life together is emphasized as opposed to our individual me and Jesus lives. Yet today, in the era of the Coronavirus, we cannot gather as we would like. In pondering these things, a chorus from my days as a student at Elim Bible Institute in the 1970s came to mind:
Lift your vision high,
We’re in a way we’ve never been before.
Lift your vision higher
And you will see the glory of the Lord.
For without a progressive vision
We dwell carelessly.
Without a progressive vision
We will dwell carelessly.
So lift your vision higher
And you will see the glory of the Lord.
We haven’t been this way before and we need Christ’s light to lead us. In fact, we are the light of Christ. Without progressive vision, we don’t take care to live as Paul calls us to live in our second reading. Let us lift our vision higher to see God’s glory in the middle of all the things we find ourselves in right now.
Let us be the light to lead others through the murkiness of today. The other day, one pastor posted a question on Facebook, “What do you miss most about worship?” For me, it’s the physical contact, the hugs of God’s beloved people and the opportunity to hug them back. Those times will return when once again we can joyfully gather and sing and pray, receive holy communion and function physically, corporately together again. But in the meantime, “Make the most of every chance you get.” In these desperate times, Christ is with us and we are the light and presence of Christ to a desperate world.