4/15/2012 sermon: Walk in the light

Location: St. Andrew’s Burke, VA
Text: 1 John 1:5
2Easter Year B

Walk in the light

I saw a movie some years ago, “City of Angels.” In this movie Nicholas Cage played an angel whose job was to escort people who had died to heaven. Heaven was depicted as a very bright light, a light shining with the presence of God. When I saw this scene my heart jumped with joy.

In trying to understand why this scene made me so happy, I read an article in Psychology Today about near-death experiences, which are the closest we can come in this life to experiencing the scene that the movie depicted. The article said near-death experiences are fairly common, and they occur in all cultures. In the vast majority of cases, people who have a near-death experience report having had a sense of leaving their own body, of traveling through a tunnel, and of seeing a very bright light.[1] Those who have had such an experience report that the light they saw brought peace and joy, and that they were reluctant to leave the light and return to their earthly life.

I preached this sermon here last night, and after the service a woman told me that she had had a near-death experience, and her experience was just as I had described. She told me that I could tell you what she had shared with me, and that she is no longer afraid of death. Think of it, there is at least one person in this very church who has had a near-death experience.

I cannot explain this phenomenon scientifically, but isn’t there something in each of us that longs for the light, something that fears the dark and rejoices in the light? Isn’t life itself a journey toward this light? These are the things that I began to think about when I read today’s epistle lesson, especially these words:

“…God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all…. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Here we understand that the light is not just our destination, but rather as children of God we are to “Walk in the light” in this life as we prepare to be with the light in our next life.

I tried this week, when I was writing this sermon, to ignore the darkness and focus only on the light. After all, this is Easter. God has triumphed and Christ Jesus has defeated the darkness once and for all. As one of my theology professors at seminary used to remind us, the cosmic war between darkness and light is over, all over except for the “mop-up” campaign in which we are living. Yet how can we recognize the light for what it is without seeing the light in relation to the darkness?

Our epistle lesson today challenges us to turn to the light that is God and take a good look at ourselves in the clarity of that light. God is good. God is true. And God is the ultimate fullness of all that is. In our epistle lesson today John tells us to “walk in the light.” This doesn’t mean to leave earth and go to heaven, although we all hope to do that someday. To “walk in the light” is to live our lives in such a way that we strive always to be more like Jesus, to be good and true to God.

Yet all too often instead of walking in the light we get stuck in darkness, hoping that the things we do in the dark stay hidden. Often we pretend that we are walking in the light, when in reality we can’t even see our feet. All manner of dark acts occur at night; those who do dark acts hope that the night will hide what they are up to. The things that we hide from others—sins such as tax evasion, infidelity, and abuse of others—don’t take place in the light of day; they require secrecy and concealment. Some sins even involve self-delusion, such as, “I pay too much in taxes, anyway,” and “My spouse just doesn’t understand me.” John tells us, “Walk in the light.”

We can not only walk in darkness, we can get stuck there. Sometimes when we are walking in darkness, our sins can feel so overwhelming that we don’t know how to begin to do anything about them. Our dark path can get so familiar that we stumble along, hoping that no one will notice our lack of light. At times such as these, we need someone to tell us what happens when we bring our failings into Christ’s light. We need someone to tell us how good truth-telling feels, how good it feels to name our dark acts and make them right. We need someone to tell us what a joy it is to be forgiven, absolved, restored to right-relationship with God and with the person we sinned against. When we confess the dark mess we have made of our lives, healing begins. Christ’s light shines in the darkness and restores us, making us whole.

I suspect that you know that we are made for walking in the light. In the wake of the “Do random acts of kindness” fad a few years ago, scientists documented this fact, that doing good deeds—walking in the light—feels good, walking in the light brings us joy. These scientists were also surprised to learn that counting our acts of kindness—taking stock of how we walk in the light—helps us to continue to be kind and to live in the light.[2] So once again science catches up with Christianity.

I cannot end this sermon with the darkness because there is so much light surrounding us here at St. Andrew’s. The most recent example happened just yesterday, at Tom Hazard’s funeral, held here in this church. You might not know Tom; he was a former parishioner, one of those victims of divorce who allowed his ex-wife and his four children to have the church. But Tom had been a guitarist with the Netcasters, the group that plays at our contemporary service on Saturday evenings. So the Netcasters rolled out in force to play for Tom’s funeral, bringing a lot of God’s light with them. Then the whole labor of love which is St. Andrew’s funeral ministry showed up and showered the family and friends with God’s light. So it was no surprise to me when several of Tom’s siblings and children spoke of the great God-gift Tom had been to them. There was a lot of Jesus spoken here yesterday, and isn’t that the way it should be? God’s light. The light of life. With Jesus who shows us the way.

We are created as children of the light, called to shine as we reflect the light of God for all to see. Walk in the light as Jesus walked in the light. Dance in the light, and share with others the joy you feel every time you choose the light.


[1] James Mauro, Bright lights, big mystery,” Psychology Today, July 01, 1992 (last reviewed on October 01, 2009), http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/bright-lights-big-mystery.
[2] See http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/Resources/Research/Kindness-How-Good-Deeds-Can-Be-Good-for-You/

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