We Belong to the Day 24th Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 November 15, 2020 Matt. 25:14-30
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good.
From that ancient, ancient text to this very moment, light has been associated with all things good. Running deep within our psyches we sense the epic struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. This imagery has been used in Scripture throughout the ages to help convey an important message. Listen for it.
In Job’s darkest moments, he imagines that he is going “to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.” Yikes! Even the light is like darkness? And when Job sees the evil that runs rampant in the world, he describes the evildoers as people who “want nothing to do with the light. For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.” For Job, evildoers want nothing to do with light.
The great hymnbook of ancient Judaism, the Book of Psalms, sings about God’s light: 18:28, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns darkness into light.” 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom then shall I fear?”
Then the Prophet Isaiah urges us, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Then he looks ahead to the One Who Is To Come, and describes him as “a light for the Gentiles.” Extraordinary! The Lord says, “A light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (We’ll hear more about this as we get into Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.)
Anticipation of the Light is woven all through the Old Testament.
When we get into the New Testament (which begins right before the birth of Jesus) this anticipation is greater than ever. When Jesus is just 8 days old, he is taken to the Temple to be presented to the Lord and to be circumcised. A man named Simeon was moved by the Spirit to take Jesus into his arms, and to praise God, saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Later on, Matthew sees the wonderful things Jesus is doing, and understands that he is fulfilling what Isaiah had predicted, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
In the Gospels, Jesus talks to the people, and tries to help them see how the light works in their lives. He tells them, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others that they may 1. See your good deeds and 2. Praise your Father in heaven.” Jesus says that we are the light of the world!
When John started to write his description of the life of Christ, he began by setting the stage and using this imagery of light. He says of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Then he describes John the Baptizer: “He came as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.”
And he records these words of Jesus, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done through God.” Luke tells us that he also said, “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.”
Do you see the pattern emerging here? Is it becoming more and more clear? But wait! There’s more!
In the Book of Acts, we see a new character emerge. A young man, a brilliant scholar from distant Tarsus, gains authorization to travel to Damascus to round up Christians and put them in jail. As he approaches Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashes around him. He falls to the ground, hearing a voice say to him, “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” So he asks, “Who are you, Lord?” And the answer comes back, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”
This young man, Saul—whom we now know as Paul—saw the light. And when he saw the light, he changed course. Instead of persecuting the church, he became part of it. And eventually he led the charge in taking that light to the Gentiles—to “those living in darkness.”
(It is, after all, “a light of revelation for the Gentiles.”)
Now, because of his life-changing experience of light, Paul continues to develop this imagery we have been tracing from the very beginning of Genesis. In Romans 13 he urges us, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And in 2 Corinthians 4 he writes, “The god of this age (small g) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…for God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
So, now we come to the scripture that was read for you today. Paul writes, “You, beloved, are not in darkness. You are all children of light and children of the day. Let us keep alert and be sober. We belong to the day.” Paul seems to be drawing a distinction between the rest of the world and the followers of Christ—not so much to say that “we’re special” but more a reminder that, because we have “seen the light,” we are expected to let the light of Christ shine through us!
If indeed the rest of the world is “dwelling in darkness,” then you and I are called to “let our light shine so that people will see our actions and praise our Father in heaven!”
Friends, saying that the world is dark is only part of the picture. And saying that we are children of the light is also only part of the picture. The whole picture looks more like this: 1. The world is dark, and 2. We ARE children of the light, AND 3. God wants us to carry the light into the darkness! But how?!
Our Gospel reading for today gives us a good hint about one way we can do this. Jesus tells a story in which two people take the talents given to them and put them to work, while the third person is afraid, and hides their talent away. (The first two act like children of the light, while the third acts like a child of darkness.) Friends, Jesus told this story to challenge us—to say, “You have been given gifts and abilities that our Heavenly Father wants you to USE for the benefit of all. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!” Part of what it means to be one who belongs to the day is that we take a risk and use our talents. “But what if I am afraid?” you ask. Well, sometimes we are called to act into our fears, to “lean ahead” and move forward despite our anxiety, to overcome our fears by denying them power.
We can do this when we are empowered by God’s love. John tells us that God is love, and that perfect love drives out fear. Filled with God’s love, we can push our fears aside and share the light!
I will finish today by talking about how important it is to walk in the light AS A CHURCH, A FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS. We are asked to encourage one another, and build each other up. Of course, individuals have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but this pilgrimage journey is not meant to be walked alone. In a fellowship with other believers, we benefit from the encouragement of others and we benefit from the encouragement we give to others!
Church is a place where we are free to have different opinions, varying viewpoints—that’s healthy. But it’s NOT a place to tear each other down—no, our call is to build each other up, to keep reflecting God’s light into the lives of others!
Here’s one final ray of light from 1 John: “This is the message we have heard from God and declare to you: God is light; in God there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with God yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But IF we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Prayer: God, thank you for giving us sisters and brothers who reflect your light onto our path. And thank you for shining your light into our lives and healing our darkness. In Jesus’ name, amen.