Children of Light

March 18, 2018

Series: March 2018

Category: Lent

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

John 12:27-36a

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—'Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

 “Marvelous Light” by Steve Hindalong

You are the light of the world.

You are the way, the truth, and the life.

You are the light of the world.

Lead us out of darkness and into your marvelous light.

 That song has been running through my head pretty much non-stop since last Sunday. I give Rob all of the blame/credit.  In his sermon last Sunday, he shared a wonderful story about a rabbi explaining Jesus’ way as the way of love, Jesus’ truth as the truth of love, and Jesus’ life as the life of love.  The rabbi reminded us that we all come to God through love.

“You are the way, the truth, and the life.” I have sung that line dozens and dozens of times this past week.

This week, our scripture passages remind us that Jesus is not only about love, but also about light. We hear about Jesus as light from the very moment he becomes flesh.  The passage we heard from the first chapter of John’s Gospel is, in fact, usually read at Christmas, when we are celebrating Jesus’ birth.  Jesus as the Word who becomes flesh and lives among us, and whose life is the light of all people. 

Then, later in John’s Gospel, we hear again about Jesus as light as he foretells his death. He knows his time on earth is coming to an end, and he tells the people, “The light is with you for a little longer.”  He encourages them to walk in the light while they have the light, and to become children of light.

In both of these passages, we hear light contrasted with darkness. The opening of John’s Gospel describes Jesus as the light shining in the darkness – a light that the darkness does not overcome.  As Jesus is foretelling his death, he tells the people to walk while they have the light, “so that the darkness may not overtake you.”  Often we hear these passages, and others like them, interpreted as light equals good and dark equals bad.  Believing in God will bring you into the light, otherwise you remain in the darkness, without God.

We need to be careful about only thinking of light as good and darkness as bad. Certainly, we all have times in our lives that we might describe as dark.  Times when we are not filled with joy.  Times when we are grieving. Times when we are troubled. But there are also times when perhaps we choose to be in the dark.  For example, I find that the dark is often a good place for quiet contemplation.  We also need to be careful with the assumption that we don’t find God in darkness.  For God is very much present with us in the darkness.  God is in the darkness as well as the light.

So when I hear Jesus’ urging to become children of light, I don’t hear that as a call to avoid the dark. Which is good, because we can’t avoid the dark.  The dark is an integral part of our lives.  But, as Jesus reminds us, if you continually walk in darkness, you often do not know where you are going. So when I hear Jesus urging us to become children of light, I hear a call to journey with him through the darkness.  I hear him calling us to follow him, even though he is very clear that the life of a disciple will be difficult.  As the song I just sang reminds us, I hear us calling us into his marvelous light.

The song calls God’s light “marvelous.” Michelangelo, on our bulletin cover, calls God’s light “peculiar.”  I love that description, for it is a peculiar light that will lead you both into and out of darkness.  It is a peculiar light that will shine on and within you in the midst of darkness.  It is a peculiar light that will shine on and within you even when you don’t realize it is there.  But Jesus, the light of the world, has a way of doing just that.  Of turning the most ordinary, or even the darkest moments of our lives into something holy. 

There is an old folktale called the “Tale of the Three Trees.” It is about three little trees who once upon a time stood on a mountaintop and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.  The first tree looked at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him.  “I want to hold treasure,” he said. “I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones.  I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be a strong sailing ship.  I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings.  I will be the strongest ship in the world!”  The third tree looked down into the valley below where busy people worked in a busy town.  “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all,” she said.  “I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God.  I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Years passed. The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall.  One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.  The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and knew it was perfect for him.  With a swoop of his axe, the first tree fell.  “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest to hold wonderful treasure,” thought the first tree.”

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and knew it was perfect for him. With a swoop of his axe, the second tree fell.  “Now I shall sail mighty waters.  I shall be a strong ship fit for kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.  But the woodcutter never even looked up.  “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered.  With a swoop of his axe, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought him to a carpenter’s shop, but the carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead, he fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals.  The once-beautiful tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure.  He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took him to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were being made that day. Instead, the once-strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. Too small and weak to sail an ocean or even a river, he was taken to a little lake.  Every day he brought in loads of dead, smelly fish.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened,” the once-tall tree wondered.  “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop and point to God.”

Time passed, and the three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box.  Suddenly, the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

Years later, a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. Soon a storm arose and the little tree shuddered.  He knew he did not have the strength to carry his passengers safely through the wind and rain.  The traveler stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.”  The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.  Suddenly, the second tree knew he was carrying a king – the King of heaven and earth. 

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd.  She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her.  She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.  But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that everything had changed.  The first tree was beautiful.  The second tree was strong.  And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.[i]

That story explains for me so well the marvelous and peculiar light of God. The light which can make the ordinary holy.  The light which can make the darkness holy.  The light which brings hope and healing even when all hope seems lost. 

And the Good News is that we are children of that light. In each one of our lives, the light of Christ uplifts and sustains us, brings hope and healing, turns the ordinary into the holy.  It does not remove the darkness from our lives, but it leads us through the darkness.

Next week is Holy Week, when we remember the last week of Jesus’ life. We remember his entry into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” that quickly turn to shouts of “Crucify him!” in just a few days.  Holy Week can be a very troubling time.  Yet, even in the last days of Jesus’ life, the light still shines.  Even facing death, Jesus shows us how to live as children of light.

I am going to read a poem from the Iona Community called “He Will Walk,” which I think exemplifies how Jesus lived as the light of the world, even in his final days. But first, I want to teach you a brief chant to sing with me.

“Light of the world, light of the world, light of the world, you shine upon us.”

 He will walk a little in front of us towards Jerusalem.

He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.

If we try to discourage him, he will recognize the devil in our voice, and he will tell us as much in no uncertain terms.

Then he will go on again, in faith, towards Jerusalem.

 He will walk a little in front of us into controversy.

He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.

He will argue with the intelligent, stop in their tracks the self -assured, touch the scabby, upset bank balances by his outlandish behavior in the sanctuary, and weep in public.

Then, he will go on again, in faith, towards Jerusalem.

 He will walk a little in front of us into Gethsemane.

He will not be scared, though we are apprehensive.

He will take the traitor’s kiss, the soldiers’ spit, the bile and venom from the princes of religion.

Then he will go on again, in faith, towards the cross.

 He will walk a little in front of us towards Calvary.

He will not be scared, no, he will not be scared.

He will feel the pain of wood and nails; but more than this he will feel the weight of all the evil, all the malice, all the pettiness, all the sin of the world heaped upon his shoulders.

He will not throw off that weight, though he could.

He will not give back evil for evil, return malice for malice, take revenge on the petty-minded, or spew out hate on all who have despised or rejected him.

Then, he will go on again, in faith, towards the resurrection.

 [i] The Tale of Three Trees, retold by Angela Elwell Hunt.