A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday of Easter – April 23, 2006
Text: John 1:5-2:2
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I say anything else, let me say this: It’s good to be in the light.
Maybe you’re feeling the same way this morning, with the sun shining so wonderfully on our church. We’re going to need our sunglasses for the trip home, I think. A few weeks ago we rolled our clocks ahead by an hour in order to pick up an extra hour of light at the tail end of the day – a chance to get outside and enjoy the cool air and the warm glow of the evening, at least until mosquito season sets in. Even without Daylight Savings Time kicking in, our days are getting longer now as we head into the summer months, and all around I can feel people’s spirits picking up – it’s good to be in the light!
That’s how John feels, too. He encourages Christians to “walk in the light,” so that they can share close ties to each other. But to John, “the light” is much, much more than these hours of daylight you and I are so enjoying. John knows something that all of have heard so many times that we really don’t hear it at all anymore – God is light. Not sunlight, of course, or candlelight, or any other sort of light we’ve ever blinked into – but nevertheless, God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. John’s speaking with pictures, tying what we know about the light to a God who is beyond the limits of our knowing.
This morning, instead of just accepting all this light-and-darkness talk and moving on, let’s take a few minutes to ask John what he means in saying God is light – what would he like us to learn about God (and ourselves) through this image?
I think it’s good to start with a story. A few months ago I was a guest at the home of Dave and Sisy Opdahl. I had been visiting with Shannon, who was showing off her new earrings to me, when one of them slipped between her fingers and fell to the floor there between the living room and the hallway. You might think it should be no problem to see where it fell and find that shiny thing, but as anyone who’s ever dropped a screw or a pill or any other tiny thingamajig can tell you, those little things have an uncanny way of blending into your floor.
After a minute or two of unsuccessful searching, I asked Shannon to go grab a flashlight. Yes, we did want to check the dark spots under the chair and the sofa, but I also had something else in mind – you see, when something’s lost on the floor, the best way to find it is to get down low to the ground and shine a light across the floor from just an inch or so up. <Demonstrate with flashlight and nail on wall.> Look, there – even a very small thing can cast quite a big shadow when the light falls on it the right way.
If God is light, we often imagine that “darkness” must be sin. I’d like to suggest a bit of a revision, based on what Shannon and I learned from our flash-lit search: The God is indeed light, but that sin is more like that earring on the floor.
Let me explain. When the light falls on that earring, it casts a shadow, right? That shadow is darkness – a place where the light doesn’t shine, where the light is blocked by something that won’t let the light pass through. Sin is that thing which blocks God’s light out of our lives. Sin is the thing that stands between us and God, casting a dark shadow on our lives because sin won’t let God’s light pass through.
And as we all saw just now, even the smallest thing can cast a long shadow when the light shines on it just so. In the same way, the shadows cast by what you and I think of as little, tiny sins cast huge, sprawling shadows over our lives that stretch out to touch places we thought were safely and brightly lit. A small lie that seemed so inconsequential when we told it can catch us by surprise when its shadow darkens other corners of our lives. We are just no good at predicting how far and wide a shadow our sins are going to cast when the light of God falls on them – we always, always underestimate.
What are we to do, then? It’s good to be in the light, but as soon as the light shines in our direction, we’re crisscrossed with shadows, each overlapping the next until the dark spots seem more than the bright ones! How can the light ever touch those hidden places where sin stands in the way?
Well, in the long run, our floor is just going to need to be swept clean, so to speak. That’s still coming, though. On the Day of Resurrection, when Jesus returns to us, we’re in for a thorough housecleaning, after which not even a spot of dust will remain to cast shadows across our lives. But for the time being, we are still creatures of this world, tied up in our willingness – and even desire – to keep on sinning. Far from sweeping up, you and I are constantly tracking in new clods of dirt to block out the light! What can we do?
Not much, friends. Not much.
But something can be done for us. Let me show you. When I shine this light over here <point flashlight at Paschal candle, or other convenient object>, you can see the shadow it casts on the wall. The edges are hard – there’s a good, sharp outline there. The better something blocks the light, the sharper the shadow’s going to be. But photographers have learned that it’s possible to work with light, to modify it so that those ugly, hard shadows get softened out. <Place diffuser screen between light and object.> See how much softer the edges are? That means that the light is actually wrapping around this object – almost like an embrace – so that it’s spilling over into places that were dark shadows just a moment ago. You’re used to the same thing happening all the time, if you think about it – imagine how much softer the shadows fall on the ground when the sky is overcast, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Light, under the right circumstances, is able to wrap right around an object and fill in the shadows. That’s what we need.
Now I just said that we can modify light. That’s not exactly right – it’s just a convenient way of talking about what I did with this screen. The truth is that the light doesn’t change at all – it’s still the same light, following the same laws the physics teacher in Marion could explain to us if we asked. The light doesn’t change – what changes is the relationship between the light and the thing it shines on. Something’s come between the light and the object, and that something changes their relationship so that the shadows soften and the light opens its arms.
If God is light, friends, and our sins are the shadow-casting clutter all over our floors, what do suppose might be the thing that changes everything – that allows God’s light to embrace even the sins that litter our lives and wipe away the dark shadows on the other side? It’s no thing at all, of course: It is Jesus Christ.
Jesus stands between us and the blinding light of God, and changes our relationship with God’s light. Between now and our spring cleaning, Jesus makes a way for us to live in the light right now, without fearing those dark spots all over – he brightens them up, softens them out of our lives by wrapping the light of God’s love around them. It’s not a forever-fix, but it’s more than enough to get the job done.
Yes, it’s much better not to sin – not to cast dirt and stones and every other little thing all over our lives to cast shadows. That was certainly John’s point: “I am writing these things to you,” John said, “so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin,” John encourages us, then “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” – the one who stands in between and takes away the shadows of our sin now, and on the last day will take away even those sins themselves, tossing them away from us forever.
In Jesus Christ it’s true – it’s good, so good, to be in the light! Amen.