Sermon: Pentecost 13, 19 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Darkness and Light- Ephesians 5

-While Jenn and I were in Jerusalem we went on a tour of the City of David,

-And I went through the Hezekiah tunnel.

-This was a shaft ordered cut by King Hezekiah to divert spring water from the upper Gihon,

-To deprive the invading army of Assyria a water supply.

-About 100 metres into the tunnel the person I was following’s phone light stopped working.

-In that short time before I got my phone out we were cast into pitch darkness.

-That can sometimes freak people out,

-But when I was younger I used to go caving and it was one of the rituals with any new cavers,

-To get everyone to turn out their lights to experience what is a total absence of light.

-I never really asked,

-But I have wondered how many people opened and closed their eyes to see if there really was a difference.

-I can assure you there is no difference.

-Part of the exercise with new cavers,

-Was to demonstrate how impossible it would be to navigate your way out of a cave system if you lost your light.

-But the other astounding thing about total darkness,

-Is how even the smallest of lights can dispel its immobilising power.

-A single match could illuminate a large cavern.

-Even the screen of my mobile phone,

-Was enough to eliminate the darkness of Hezekiah’s tunnel till I turned on the torch.

-The gospel of John opens with that memorable picture of the incarnation of Jesus;

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

-It’s a theological statement of a physical reality,

-Where there’s light there’s no darkness,

-Light dispels darkness.

-Later in John Jesus announces;

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

-In Ephesians 4 Paul has introduced his readers to this theme of darkness and light,

-With the negative description of their Gentile background;

“You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:17-19

-The darkness that holds the Gentiles in its thrall,

-Can be seen in their alienation from God,

-The ignorance of their minds,

-And the hardness of their hearts.

-Paul says they’ve lost all sensitivity,

-Which is an interesting metaphor given their state of darkness.

-There are cells in our eyes that are sensitive to light.

-If those cells lose that sensitivity,

-Or something impedes or blocks the light hitting those cells then we’re blind.

-Paul is alluding to a moral blindness that has occurred in the lives of the Gentiles,

-And because of this loss of sensitivity,

-They’ve abandoned themselves to licentiousness,

“Greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:19

-In ch5:8 Paul again reminds the Ephesians that once they were in the exact same position.

-At the beginning of ch2 he’s described their condition;

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2

-There are real dark spiritual powers at work in the universe that lead humanity astray.

-In ch6:12 Paul reveals the identity of these forces arrayed against us;

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

-The darkness we see all around us in this world has its roots in the demonic forces at work in our world.

-But Paul doesn’t want to dwell on the negative so he now exhorts his readers, vv8-9;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:8-9

-Chapters 1 to 3 of the Ephesians letter are explanations of how God has moved us from darkness to light,

-From death to life,

-From ignorance to knowledge.

-Our relationship with God is now changed from alienation and wrath,

-To family and blessing.

-And with that changed status comes a changed life.

-Paul gives four exhortations to live this new life beginning in Ephesians 4:1;

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1

– 4:17

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” Ephesians 4:17

– 5:1

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

-And from our reading this morning 5:8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-” Ephesians 5:8-9

-In celebration of their 200th anniversary the Bible Society used the slogan ‘Live light’.

-In the new colony of Australia,

-Christian leaders knew it would take more than government to build a nation.

-It would need people of hope,

-People who live light.

-And so the Bible Society was formed.

-Live light,

-Live as children of light.

-The Bible Society and Paul are just picking up and practically expanding,

-What Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount;

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

-Even a single match can dispel total darkness,

-But Jesus and Paul are not calling us to be a single match.

-As cute as ‘This little light of mine’ may have sounded in Sunday School,

-We are to be a people who shine on a much greater scale.

-Just listen again to the language Jesus uses,

-‘You are the light of the world.’

-‘A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.’

-This is not a little light he wants us to be.

-So how do we live light?

-Look at v10;

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10

-This isn’t a difficult task.

-In the preceding verse Paul has already said;

“Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:9

-If God is light,

-If Jesus is the light of the world,

-Then whatever is good, right and true would have to be pleasing to the Lord.

-But there’s a rider on that.

-In a narcissistic culture like ours in the West,

-What is ‘good and right and true’ is what is ‘good and right and true’ for me.

-Just look at the issue of euthanasia being raised again in federal parliament,

-Under the guise of a territory’s right to legislate.

-Here is Senator David Leyonhjelm’s argument;

“To Liberal Democrats, to libertarians, the right to control your life, and not have the Government say you can or you can’t do things with your life, is fundamental to us,” Senator David Leyonhjelm

-So old people, sick people,

-Even people who are just tired with life should have the right to end their own lives.

-He would see that as ‘good and right and true’,

-And according to the proponents of assisted suicide,

-So do 80% of Australians.

-But following that same logic,

-Why shouldn’t a teenager have the exact same control over their own life?

-The rider comes in v11;

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

-And then again in v17;

“So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

-Paul is calling the followers of Jesus to be wise in how we live.

-Remember how the end of ch4 focussed on the renewal of our minds,

-The intellectual reformation that allows us to understand what’s pleasing to God?

-Rather than conforming to what the world says is good and right and true,

-We need to follow Paul’s direction to the Roman Christians;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-The world says ‘only you decide what things you can or can’t do with your life’.

-But God says you need to think carefully about these worldviews.

-Let me jump back to the euthanasia assisted suicide debate.

-Research has shown that there is,

-And I quote;

“a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide” https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm

-This is what’s known as suicide clusters, ‘contagion’ or more colloquially, copy cat suicide.

-Now if you’re attracted to the idea that the terminally ill,

-Or just plain terminally tired of life,

-Should have the right to kill themselves when they choose,

-What message does that send to a depressed teenager,

-If our culture says there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to kill yourself?

-What goes through a young person’s mind who is constantly exposed to that message?

-If one persons’ actions had no influence on any other,

-Then maybe a libertarian, utilitarian worldview is good and right and true.

-But remember what Paul has said about the unity that God has created us for.

-It’s no wonder that he says in v15;

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,” Ephesians 5:15

-How you live will affect the lives of others.

-That comes out in a rather remarkable way in vv13-14;

“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.” Ephesians 5:11-13

-The first part of this verse is pretty straightforward.

-As a follower of Jesus you should no longer do the works of darkness you once did,

-Rather you should expose them for what they are,

-Evil behaviours that destroy relationships and devalue life.

-Paul has given a list of those negative behaviours at the end of ch4 and beginning of ch5,

-Put away falsehood,

-Stop stealing,

-No more malicious talk,

-Get rid of bitterness, wrath, slander,

-Fornication, impurity, greed,

-Even obscene, silly and vulgar talk,

-And here in v12 he says there are even some behaviours too shameful to even mention.

-But if a light gets shone onto these thing,

-If people can clearly see how negative those behaviours are,

-How destructive to life those actions are then something remarkable happens;

“. . . everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:14

-I have to confess it took me a while to get my head around this,

-But it’s that little poem that hints at the transforming power of light;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

-Paul is suggesting that when you shine a light on a negative behaviour,

-When the person sees their life for what it is,

-Dead in transgression and sin,

-They’ll repent and be saved.

-The light that Paul is calling us to live is not just an ethical reorientation,

-‘Oh yeah I’ve been living badly now I’d better be good!’

-That’s what Paul negates when he states;

“Even when we were dead through our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:5

-No, when the light of Christ shines into the dark corners of our lives,

-We are redeemed,

-We’re taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.

-Were no longer aliens and strangers to God and each other,

-Now we’re part of God’s family with a whole new orientation, v8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” Ephesians 5:8

-Can you see the gravity of those words?

-You were darkness,

-Not you were in darkness.

-You were darkness itself!

-But now you are light,

-Not just in the light,

-But you’ve been transformed by the light into light.

-What an amazing transformation that is.

-It’s happened to those of us who follow Jesus,

-And it can happen to those whose sins are exposed by the light of Christ and our witness.

-We sometimes underestimate the power of the life we live.

-We underestimate what others are seeing in our lives,

-And the transforming power that can have.

-When we turned off our lights on those caving trips,

-It was to show the impossibility of escape,

-And the desperate straights a person would be in if their light went out.

-That’s how we are before God when we live for ourselves in the spiritual darkness.

-But when Jesus shines his light onto our lives,

-When the light of Jesus shines out of our life onto others,

-We’re shown the way out,

-Then people can clearly see and will be able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14