Living in the Light


A sermon preached on April 3rd, 2011 based upon Ephesians 5: 8 – 14.

The passage from Paul revolves around a distinction between living in light vs. living in darkness.   I want to spend some time getting at what is meant by this, because I think it can easily be misunderstood.   Our first thought might be that it simply means those who live in light do good deeds while those in darkness commit evil deeds.  But there is more to it than this.

Acts of darkness take place hidden from view – out of the light, so to speak — with the intention of deceiving.  The Old Testament has a whole host of examples of darkness, beginning with Adam and Eve, who, when they break the one rule God lay down for their lives in the garden, what do they do?  They hide.  Keeping out of sight is what living in the darkness is all about.

When God catches up with them, they start telling half-truths — words
designed to obscure the truth.  Adam blames Eve and she blames the snake.  In other words, they want to deceive God and themselves into believing that there was no part of themselves that willfully wanted to rebel against the Lord.  In refusing to own up, they cling to the darkness.

Later on they have two sons:  Cain and Able.   Cain becomes jealous of Able.  Does he talk about this with his brother?   Does he talk to God about it?  To do so would have been to bring this whole troubling matter out into the  light of day.  Instead, this anger hides away in the pressure cooker of Cain’s heart, until one day he lashes out at his brother, killing him.   When God comes around asking what has happened, Cain won’t own up to what he has done.   “How am I supposed to know what happened to Abel?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Later we hear about how Jacob and his mother conspire together to deceive his brother Esau and their father, tricking the old man into giving his blessing to Jacob, rather than Esau.

These days we have a word for this sort of thing:  dysfunctional.   The
family of Jacob and Esau was classically dysfunctional.  They were not
functioning the way they were designed – in harmony.  They were divided, and the division was deepened by layers of deceit.

In every situation of dysfunction there is deception and deceit – an
absence of honest communication.  People don’t say what they are truly thinking and feeling.  Convoluted things take place in dysfunctional relationships.   Somebody offends us, and instead of taking our gripe to the person to talk through, we seek out another to complain to, with the hope of recruiting this other person to join us in an alliance against the offending party.  Sometimes there will be a glaring problem affecting everybody, but the problem becomes compounded by an unspoken conspiracy never to speak aloud of the problem in order to maintain the appearance of everything being okay.

Perhaps we give a “gift” to another person pretending the gift is truly free, when in fact in our heart the gift comes with plenty of strings attached –  expectations of what the other will do for us in return.    We’ve done it to others and had it done unto ourselves.  Perhaps an uneasy feeling arises within us alerting us to the possible presence of unspoken strings, but when we try to speak of the unspoken strings — to bring them to light – the other person denies their existence:  “I never said that!”   Were there, or weren’t there, strings attached?   Maybe there weren’t, but because we had gotten so many “gifts” in the past that came with unacknowledged baggage, we’ve begun to see baggage where it doesn’t exist.   As you see, in the darkness of what we call dysfunction, it is easy to get lost in all the rabbit holes.

When Christianity talks about “original sin” – how we are all sinners – that in some sense we inherit sin from our parents, we can find such a notion incomprehensible.  But one way to understand what is meant by original sin is to ponder the fact that we are all, to some degree, dysfunctional.  In every one of us there is some sort of deception, deceit, and fraudulence.  We can’t help but be fraudulent, because everybody we know has some level of fraudulence.   So we absorb it growing up.

I once read about this study of children who were raised in two kinds of deeply dysfunctional homes.  Half of the children grew up in impoverished families in which they suffered from neglect, abandonment and physical abuse.  They often went hungry, and at a fairly early age ended up out on the streets.  Theirs was a pretty tough environment to grow up in for sure.

The other half grew up in affluent homes. They didn’t go without food or clothing, and for the most part they weren’t beaten or otherwise physically abused.   On the outside, they looked like all-American families.   The abuse that these children suffered was far more subtle.   Their wounds came from parents who said that they loved their children, but who, in fact, didn’t.

Because of their own deep woundedness, the parents were incapable of loving their children in the sense of taking the time to truly know them, care for them, and encourage them.   From the parents’ point of view the children’s sole purpose was to bring glory to the parents.   These parents would readily say they loved their children, when in fact they constantly undermined the children’s development of a sense of self apart from their parents.

Two different kinds of homes where love was absent and the darkness profound, and yet the darkness of the affluent homes went much deeper because it involved a level of deception and deceit that wasn’t present in the impoverished homes.   The psychic wounds of the affluent children proved to be, over the long haul, far more intractable.  Grappling with darkness masquerading as light, they grew up confused about what love really is.

The children from the impoverished homes weren’t under the same illusions.  When they found real love, it was easier for them to recognize.

Jesus was the one truly functional person to live upon this earth – meaning he was living fully in the light, and not in the darkness.  There was no deceit, deception or fraudulence to him.   Some people found his light wondrously attractive.  Others, however, found his light greatly disturbing, because it revealed the darkness they were so adamantly set on denying.

In Jesus’ day, the dominant expression of religious piety was one that focused attention exclusively on external behavior.   But the problem with this was that if your heart is full of darkness, your “good deeds” will be undermined. As Paul says, they will become “unfruitful works of darkness.”   And eventually whatever is in our hearts will eventually find its way out.

So Paul begins our passage by declaring, “Once you were darkness…”   If we live with a big gap between appearance and reality, then we are living in a deep darkness. “But,” Paul says, “now in the Lord you are light.”

If we have had an encounter of the heart with Christ, than something has happened — perhaps in a flash — perhaps gradually, whereby we have come to realize that at a very deep level, nothing at all can be hidden.

That God sees everything, knows everything, so it is not possible to hide from God, so we might as well give up trying.  This would not be possible without the realization Christ brings that the God who knows us also loves us, in spite of our many flaws.

Paul continues, “Live as children of the light.”   Experiencing a love that sets us free from a need to cling to the darkness, we can let go of our habitual defensiveness.  We can begin to honestly acknowledge our failings and flaws, and thereby work on changing the way we live in this world.

We can offer authenticlove rather than sham love.   We can become people worthy of the trust of others.

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