Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ephesians 5:8-14 - “Blinking and Squinting in the Bright Sunlight”

The Outsiders
Third Sunday in Lent (A)
Saturday, February 26, and Sunday, February 27, 2005

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

That’s the first line in the novel, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, and also the first line of the film made from the book. The main character and narrator, Ponyboy, leaves the movie theater, blinking and squinting in the bright sunlight. It’s the 1960’s, and Ponyboy’s just seen some movie starring Paul Newman, but Ponyboy’s also thinking about a ride home. He’s a Greaser, the gang from the poor side of town, and as a Greaser, he shouldn’t walk home alone. The rival gang, the Socials, the more well-to-do were likely to jump him and beat him up if they saw him alone. Which is exactly what happens.

In that bright sunlight, Ponyboy has to come to grips with the stark realities in his life, the sins that surround him, the temptations that are there. The whole novel goes back and forth between darkness and light. Ponyboy often wants to retreat from reality, getting lost in movies and books. His gang, the Greasers, retreat into darkness, mischief and such of the night. Ponyboy enjoys the sunrise, the light on his face, but the light is scary. It reveals the pains in his life, the needs in his life.

That blinking and squinting in the sunlight, that almost painful feeling of your eyes trying to adjust from the dark movie house to the daylight on the street, that’s like the feeling of coming face to face with the light of God. Those verses from Ephesians today, where it talks about exposing the darkness, the light making everything visible. Think of God’s Word, God’s ways working in your life like that bright light that you find when you open the door to leave the movie theater.

Just as Ponyboy liked to go to the movies to escape the realities of his life, sometimes we kind of hide out with our secret sins, doing the things we’d rather people didn’t know about, the things that we use to escape for a little bit. But the movie ends, and Ponyboy heads out into the bright sunlight. So, too, you’ll find that you can’t hide forever. God’s light finds you. God’s light shines into the corners, makes you blink and sneeze and squint, wakes you up and causes to realize the realities of your life.

The light reveals that the things you thought were good are actually fruitless. The light reveals that you don’t know the things of God. The light reveals how far you are from God’s ways. The light reveals the broken down places in your life. The light reveals the trash and rubble lining those once dark alleys. You want to retreat into the darkness. You want to close your eyes to the light.

Except before we start thinking that Paul—that’s St. Paul not Paul Newman—is only talking about choosing between the darkness and the light, let’s remember where this passage starts in Ephesians. It starts in chapter 5, verse 8. It starts with a set fact that is already true about you in Christ. Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Set fact. Truth. Done. Put it on your resume. You are light in the Lord.

As much as Paul is urging us to choose the light, to stop hiding out in the darkness, to face reality, to admit the sins in our lives, to leave the movie house and deal with what’s going on in our lives, as much as Paul is urging us in this passage to choose God’s ways instead of our sinful ways, he is starting with the fact that you are already light in the Lord.

Through faith in Christ, you are not dark and sinful and turned away from God. Through faith in Christ, you are light and holy and a true child of God. Through faith in Christ, this is a said fact about you. It is a gift from God, that God’s light is flowing through you. It is God’s mercy that removes darkness from your soul and places His light, His Holy Spirit in you.

So, you see, the first thing we need to remember today is that this passage from Ephesians isn’t like telling us to go into the store, compare products, and choose the right one. As if you’re in the store, seeing nice displays of darkness, but also some displays of light, and you need to make the right choice and choose the light.

No, it’s not so much like going shopping, making that choice, as it is that the light was delivered to your doorstep. Special delivery, express, overnight, delivered daily worldwide, God brings His light to your life. If the devil’s delivered darkness, God’s kicking that darkness off the doorstep, throwing it out of the mailbox, throwing it out of the house into the trash. God’s delivering light into your life. It is yours to keep; it is already here in your life.

So when we hear verse 8, we gotta remember that we’re starting with the set fact about you: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Paul says it throughout this letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 2, he says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins…but God made us alive with Christ.” And again, “you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Even more, “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people.” Over and over again, Paul is helping us understand that we are not sinners condemned to everlasting death, but instead, in Christ, we are forgiven, God’s people, given the promise of everlasting life.

So again, put that on your resume: you are light in the Lord. It’s true about you. Write it down. Make it part of how you describe yourself, because that’s who you are in Jesus.

But let’s go back to Ponyboy walking out of the dark movie house into the bright sunlight. If we are light in the Lord, how come it still hurts to see the light? How come it still hurts to see God’s light reveal our sins? How come we still want to go back into the darkness instead of being in the light? If we have God’s light in us, how come we don’t always follow God’s ways, how come we don’t even want to follow God’s ways sometimes?

Because we’re like dark rooms. God’s knocked a hole in our walls, letting His light pour into our souls, but there’s still corners where His light hasn’t reached. Our rooms are now a combination of light and darkness. Our lives are now a combination of faith and sin. As much as God has shown us His truth, has brought faith into our hearts, has made us holy and light in His sight, we are still sinful and struggling against the darkness. That struggle will remain until Jesus returns, bringing us to eternal life, where the walls will finally be torn down all the way, the light will pour into our lives, and the sin will be done away with completely. Until then, we will struggle between good and bad, light and dark.

So if that’s the case, if we’re still struggling, and Paul’s saying things like, “Live as children of light” and “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,” then it sounds like we’re back to choosing between light and dark. We’re back to the idea that we’re in a store, trying to decide which one to buy.

Except as much as you and I have many choices everyday between light and dark, between God and sin, you’re not back to square one with an empty shopping cart. Paul urges us to choose the light, but he doesn’t tell us that we don’t have any light in our lives yet. It’s just the opposite.

(get shopping cart full of lights, turn lights on right away, walk it up and down center aisle)
You start with a full shopping cart. You’ve got the light in your shopping cart, the light of Christ, the holiness and forgiveness and mercy and grace and love and promise and hope of Christ in your shopping cart, because remember, that’s the set fact about you, that’s what you wrote down about yourself, that’s what God has already done in your life: His light is in you. You don’t have an empty shopping cart; your cart is full of lights; your life is full of Christ through His Word, through your baptism, through the Lord’s Supper.

In fact, the choice isn’t between putting light in your cart or putting darkness in there. Your choice is whether you’re going to take out the lights to make room for darkness. God is in your life. . .will you let Him stay? (to pulpit)

Paul says, “Live as children of light,” but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have to go searching far and wide for the light of God. God’s light has come into your life, has filled your shopping cart, is in your soul already. Instead, Paul is saying, “Live according to who you are, what you already have. Discover what God has put in your life, the fruits of light: goodness, righteousness, and truth.”

So Paul’s not talking about trying to go find these things somewhere else in the world. Paul’s saying, “Take a look in your shopping cart, take a look at your life. See what God is already doing in you.” If you have shown love to a neighbor, that’s God’s goodness working in you. If you chose to do what is right according to God instead of doing something wrong, if you chose to speak well of an acquaintance instead of spreading a false rumor, then that’s God’s light shining through you. If you told people what God teaches, instead of just making up something you thought sounded nice, then that’s God’s truth speaking through you.

Paul says, “Expose the fruitless deeds of darkness,” but that doesn’t mean he left you to do that on your own. God’s light has come into your life, has filled your shopping cart, is in your soul already. Instead, Paul is saying, “You’ve got this big light source in your life. You’ve got God and His Word working in you. Let God’s Word reveal the darkness, the sin, the shameful things in your life and the temptations around you.”

So like this shopping cart full of lights, take God’s Word and drive it around your life. Let it expose all of the darkness. Let it shine in all of the corners. Let it be a flashlight, an emergency beacon, a lighthouse, a big, old floodlight to help you see the sins in your life. Instead of trying to hide in the darkness, to put things back in a corner, to pretend like God will never notice, to act like you could never know whether something is wrong or right, use your shopping cart of light, use God’s Word in your life to discover what is darkness, what is sinful, what will lead you away from God.

But again, you don’t have to go searching far and wide for this light cart, this light source to expose the deeds of darkness. The light is in your life through Christ. God has put His light in your soul. God has knocked down the walls of the dark movie house and has poured His light into your life. You have His light, His love, His forgiveness, His hope.

(go to cart) As I said, you have the choice to ignore the light, to start turning off the lights, to put darkness in your cart instead of the light. (turn off button on power strip) That choice we have, to choose sin instead of what God has put in our lives.

But the strange thing is that as soon as we try to choose darkness, to run away from God, He brings the light right back. (lights on) We can turn off the lights as many times as we can, but God won’t let His light go away from our lives. He will keep bringing His light into our lives to show us His love and forgiveness. He will shine His light on our sins, revealing what we’d rather hide. He will show us how our sins lead to eternal death. He will bring His light into our souls to lead us to faith. (to pulpit)

So we do need to remember to choose light instead of dark, to choose God’s ways instead of our sinful ways. Today go into your lives remembering that we are called to be God’s people, called to choose to do what He wants instead of what we want. Instead of a mean word to someone, speak kindness. Instead of trying to get everything for yourself, find ways to share with the people around you. Instead of keeping anger in your heart, find forgiveness and love for others.

Yet, that’s not where it all starts today. It starts with a full shopping cart of light. You are light in the Lord. You have God’s light in your life, leading you, working in your soul. So as you go into your daily lives, you will struggle against sins and temptations, you will want to put darkness in your cart, you will want to put your own ways in your heart. Yet, remember that God has taken you from darkness to light, from sinful to holy, from a stranger to His child. God has filled your life with His light. Take His light, take His Word with you today. And so even when you fail, and you and I will fail, even when we sin, God switches that light back on, flooding the darkness with forgiveness and love. As much as it might hurt, enjoy the sunlight. As you’re blinking and squinting in the bright sunlight, rejoice that God’s light is working in your life.