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Sermon for March 19, 2023 – Fourth Sunday of Easter Preparation

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5017 | He Sees the Heart
Jeff Broadnax

I once saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “I don’t know why judges get paid so much. I judge everyone for free!” Unfortunately, this funny line has a lot of truth in it. Human beings are often quick to judge others and place labels on them. If we do not see a person as part of our group, we can be tempted to overlook his or her wisdom, experience, personality, value, and ability to change and we place them into a little box whenever it is convenient.

We can disregard another’s humanity, dismissing them with labels like liberal, conservative, millennial, boomer, vaxer, anti-vaxxer, not to mention racial and ethnic labels. Many times, we do this unconsciously and without even thinking. Other times, we may consciously harbor bad feelings towards others because of how we were taught or how we interpret our life experiences.

God knows about this human tendency; however, he does not share it. In the book of 1 Samuel, God sent Samuel the prophet to the house of Jesse with an important task. One of Jesse’s sons was to be anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel, but God did not tell the prophet which son to anoint. Jesse brought seven impressive-looking sons before Samuel, yet God rejected them all. Eventually, God chose David to be the next king — the youngest son who was almost forgotten and looked the least how Samuel imagined a king should look. As Samuel viewed the first seven sons, God spoke these words to him:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7

We can often be like Samuel and incorrectly judge a person’s value by superficial things.

Like Samuel, none of us can see others clearly because we cannot see what lies in a person’s heart. The good news is that Jesus Christ can. As Christians, we must learn to rely on Jesus and see others through his eyes, which are filled with compassion, empathy, and love.

We cannot hope to have healthy relationships with our neighbors by relating to them without acknowledging Christ’s relationship with them. When we see them as belonging to him, we seek to love our neighbor as Christ loves them. This is the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples in the Upper Room.

Jesus loves each and every one of us. This is our most important label. To him, this is the identity that defines us. He does not judge us by one aspect of our character, but by who we are becoming in him. We are all beloved children. While that might not make a funny t-shirt, it is the truth by which Christ-followers live.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 23:1-6 · 1 Samuel 16:1-13 · Ephesians 5:8-14 · John 9:1-41

This is the fourth week of the Easter Preparation season (Lent), a time when we ready ourselves to commemorate the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and when we prepare to celebrate the glorious empty tomb of our resurrected Lord. To participate in the process of examining our walk with Christ, we have to recognize our inability to accurately discern spiritual things. We need God to reveal us to ourselves to be aware of the ways in which we need to spiritually grow. It is only by the Spirit that spiritual growth takes place. This week’s theme is God leads us through spiritual darkness. In the call to worship Psalm, we read how the Lord leads the psalmist peacefully through the darkest valley. In the passage in 1 Samuel, we learn that God is far better than we are at judging human hearts. In Ephesians 5, Paul is speaking to an audience who God has brought out of darkness and into light. Finally, John tells the story of a man whose sight was restored by Christ.

Being Light

Ephesians 5:8-14 NIV

You are at your congregation’s Sunday gathering when you see Phyllis coming your way. She is a wonderful person, but she tends to be heavy handed with her perfume. It is a scent you do not enjoy but she obviously likes it…a lot! Phyllis is a wonderful person — salt of the earth — but she is also a chronic hugger. Most people would agree that hugs are great. However, not everyone thinks hugs are great, and not everyone thinks hugs are great all the time. Phyllis is not one of those people. Phyllis is a wonderful person — a ray of sunshine in this cold, cruel world — but she does not know her own strength. She has wrapped you in a hug of the bear variety and you are fairly certain that you have sustained some mild rib damage. On top of your physical pain, you now smell like Phyllis; and you will keep smelling like Phyllis for the rest of the day. Every time you breathe in you have a powerful aroma that reminds you that Phyllis is…wonderful.

You may or may not know a Phyllis, but you have probably had the experience of getting an unwanted aroma stuck on you. Getting someone’s scent on us can be unpleasant. Even when we think the cologne or perfume smells good on them, it is not the scent we chose for ourselves. If we did not intend to smell a certain way, it can sometimes feel like another person’s scent was imposed on us.

This is what it is like for some Christians when they encounter people who are doing things they believe are wrong. They believe that if they are around people who do “bad things,” they risk picking up the scent of their sin. Perhaps they also fear that other Christians will think they condone the behavior of “sinners” if they “smell” like them? Many believers avoid engaging their neighbors because they fear being corrupted by those who make different life choices. They feel it is important to be separate and distinct from “the world,” and they avoid sharing space with those who do not follow Christ.

To some extent, one can understand this perspective. Our society is filled with a lot of distractions, and it is easy to have our eyes turned away from God. If we are not careful, we can allow others to influence us and make it easier for us to act in a way that is outside of God’s will. At the same time, we have to consider if Jesus feared picking up the scent of humanity’s sin. If Phyllis represented the world and the stench of its sinful ways, would Christ try to avoid hugging her? Was Jesus afraid of “catching” humanity’s corruption? The answer is “no.” Jesus put on human flesh and became one of us. He was not afraid of catching our corruption. Rather, we caught his health and wholeness.

So, what does that mean for us? How are we supposed engage those who might live in spiritually harmful ways while not imitating them? Paul gives us some guidance in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible — and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14)

In Ephesians, Paul addressed an audience that was experiencing divisions between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians. Also, Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city where several belief systems vied for new adopters. Given this context, Paul encouraged his primarily Gentile Christian readers to behave in a manner fitting of their calling in Christ, and he used the metaphor of darkness and light to convey his message. In the context of Ephesians, darkness symbolized sin, especially sexual immorality, obscenity, greed, and idolatry. Light, on the other hand, stood for love, goodness, righteousness, and truth. Now that we have a bit more context, we can get a better understanding of how this scripture applies to us.

Paul began this passage with a startling truth about who we are. While the light metaphor is used often in the New Testament, no statement is quite as strong as what we find in verse 8. In other passages, we are called the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and children of light (John 12:35-36). However, here we are called “light in the Lord.” We have been made light, just as Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12), and “God is light” (1 John 1:5). We have not been made light by our good works, and our status is not something we earned. Rather, it is because we are in Christ; his atoning work has made us light. Since, we are light, Paul encourages us to be light.

If we fear being corrupted by the darkness in the world, could it be that we think of ourselves as less than what we are? Perhaps we think too little of what it means to be in Christ? Maybe we underestimate the profound transformation that takes place in all those who accept the new humanity offered in Christ? In Jesus, we are light, and light has no reason to fear darkness. If he lives in us, we need not fear catching the corruption of the world. Working through us, Christ will spread the health and wholeness of his light.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. When we separate ourselves from Christ, we can find ourselves living in the shadows – we can start to slip back into our dark ways. Because of this, we sometimes find ourselves striving for perfection. But God does not require perfection; he looks for the willingness to repent – to turn back, to see Jesus as he truly is and to see ourselves in him. The fact that we will make mistakes does not prevent God from declaring us as light. The light of Christ shines brightest through imperfect vessels.

To Paul, chasing away darkness is part of the role of Christians. In order to chase away darkness, light needs to be in proximity to it. In verse 11, the apostle exhorted his audience to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Notice that Paul says to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness themselves, not those who sometimes do dark things. In other words, we are to share spaces with those who do dark things, but we are not to adopt their ways. We are to be in proximity with those who at times do dark things so they can see the futility of their behavior — so they can see a better way.

How are we then to show others a better way? Some have read this passage and interpreted it to mean that Christians should confront sin and call it out in our neighbors. People with this view take it upon themselves to tell others how they are sinning and that they need to repent. They can even be combative and view their engagement with their community as some kind of war to be won for God. It is true that believers should oppose the works of sin, but how we oppose sin matters.

We do not expose darkness by assuming a posture of confrontation. Rather, we expose darkness by treating our neighbor with compassion, empathy, honesty, openness, and love. Verse 14 reminds us that Christ is the light that causes the sleeper to emerge from the darkness of sleep. In other words, darkness is exposed when believers try to be like Jesus to their neighbors. Jesus did not constantly call out the sins of those around him. Rather, he lived amongst them and through love showed them the light. Similarly, we do not chase away darkness by focusing on darkness. We expose darkness by focusing on the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

Did you hear that? Followers of Christ who live in the light do not chase away darkness by focusing on that darkness. We expose darkness by focusing on the love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

This happens through authentic relationships. It happens when we meet our neighbors where they are and love them right where they are, seeking nothing in return. It happens as we live questionable lives causing others to ask about the joy they see in us. It happens as we join in the normal life rhythms of our neighborhood and seek to be a force for good in our community. It happens as we practice random acts of kindness and outrageous generosity. It happens as we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It happens as we listen to the stories of others, especially those who seem different from us. It happens as we practice radical forgiveness and uncommon humility. It happens as we put our faith, hope, and love into action for the glory of God.

Loving others is not always pretty. Sometimes, loving others is a challenge. However, as we go forward in love, we should remember that the behavior of our neighbors is not the most important thing about them. The most important thing about our neighbors is what God thinks of them, and the value he places on every human being. The most important thing about them is that in Christ they have been reconciled to God and to us, even if they do not know it. This is good news for all of us. I am so glad that my behavior is not the most important thing about me. I do not always do right. I mess up. I miss the mark. Yet, every time I turn to God, he is waiting with open arms. He does not throw my sin in my face, and he does not shame me. When I confess my sins to God, I do so knowing that, in Christ, my sins have already been forgiven. Therefore, I am free to enjoy my relationship with God despite my sin and even though I will sin again. Shouldn’t we imitate this loving posture when dealing with our neighbors?

To me, the most amazing truth about Paul’s teaching is that darkness can become illuminated, and what is illuminated can become light. Darkness does not need to stay dark. It can be turned into light! In this present evil age, darkness will not be completely dispelled. However, this passage can give us hope that some of the darkness around us can be turned into light. If I am honest, it is easy to doubt that this is true. When I look at my neighborhood, I see a lot of darkness. I see so much pain. I see so many self-imposed prisons. I see so much anger. I see so much prejudice. I see so much oppression. I sometimes wonder if it is possible for the darkness to be made light.

Yet isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross? Jesus, by the Spirit and to the Father, lovingly bore all darkness — all the sins of the world — and was not overcome. His spilled blood and pierced body forged a new humanity by which anyone who calls on his name becomes light. In this Easter Preparation season, let us be reminded of the hope that can be found in Christ. In him, darkness can become light. As we go into our neighborhoods, let us carry this hope with us.

Since we are in Christ, let us live as children of light. Let us participate without fear in the work he is doing to bring light to all dark places. Let us shine in our families and on our streets. Let us shine in our neighborhoods and communities. Let us shine at our jobs and at our schools. Jesus is in you so shine on!

Wake Up, Sleeper! w/ Marty Folsom W3

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March 19 – Fourth Sunday of Easter Prep
Ephesians 5:8-14, “Wake Up, Sleeper!”

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Program Transcript

Wake Up, Sleeper! w/ Marty Folsom W3

Anthony: Let’s move on to the next passage, which is Ephesians 5:8-14. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fourth Sunday of Easter Prep and Lent on March the 19th.

8You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 10 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, 11 and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. 12 It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. 13 But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. [Common English Bible]

Paul, the apostle, seems to be making the case that our actions as children of light should align with the truth of our being, our ontology.

What damage is being done when we don’t live in congruence with goodness, justice, and faith? And how can someone more faithfully receive, embrace, walk, act as children of light?

Marty: Right. so not living in congruence? I mean, if you just think of not living in congruence with your spouse or your kids or your parents, you’re going your own way. And what comes from that is called conflict.

And so, to say that the nature of being congruent, is that there is something of being aware of the person, the ways of being that would be aligned with that. And so that is the call of what happens when God comes to us in love. That he calls forth from us a love, which again, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, self-control. These are all ways of being that are congruent with the one who’s given himself to us.

So, the very nature of what it means to be children of light is that when light comes into the world, the light comes into the darkness, as the Gospel of John begins. There is a congruence of the Son with the Father.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we who beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14] So that which we are being congruent with is the very nature and character of God, which has goodness and justice and truth.

When God’s light shines in us, we recognize we’ve been stumbling around in the dark. The reality’s all there. That’s the thing about darkness and blindness is the reality’s all there. We just can’t see it. I wrote a song once. “Waking up to reality. God loves me, not for what I do or say, but freely. And I stand as one transformed by love (that’s his love), living in the one who gives me hope.”

And so, the recognition of the waking up is that once you see who this God is, you understand the love that has come to you. It transforms the nature of who you are in response to that having been loved. We love because he first loved us. And so, congruence is that coming into alignment with what it is that he’s doing.

So, congruence is like to be integrated with God. It’s to have our life woven together, interwoven in a life with him. The opposite of congruence then would just basically be living a lie. You have not been given a spirit of slavery leading to fear again. Living in fear is what Adam and Eve had. And so, to not be congruent with God is to live in fear.

And what does perfect love do? It casts out fear. What does perfect fear do? It casts out love. And therefore, we become incongruent. We lie, we hide, we distance from God, we distance from one another. We cover up those things we don’t want people to see. That’s the shame coming in and in covering up.

Then, we have all of our favorite addictions from drug and alcohol to religious addictions, to workaholism—all the ways we cover up in our hiding and lying because we’re not congruent with the love of God. And we work out of a system of fear that says, if I’m going to survive, I need to take care of myself. Nobody else is, and I need to make sure that I’m not going to be embarrassed or shamed in the world.

And so that whole incongruence that comes from that is damaging at the deepest level. And so basically say the Christian life is not a call to being good or measuring up to standards and ideals. It is a call to honesty. If we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:9]

And so, to say to people, you know, being honest is really the place to begin here. That is the life of congruence. You know, homologoumena—which is the word confession there—homo [means] same, logoumena [means] word. To say the same thing as God. God I’m struggling here. You know what, you’re struggling here. Good. Thanks for being honest. Let’s talk about this.

In counseling, I often say if you’re angry to just say, I’m angry, is actually the best thing you can do because then you can talk about what you’re angry about. If you just act angry, then that anger is going to come out in tones of voice and actions that are damaging. So, to just be honest and say, I’m really angry here. Can we talk about? It’s beginning in a place of getting congruent.

And so, the Christian invitation is not to say, how can I live better? How can I be more loving? It’s to so know the love of the one who’s come to us, that our life has that light shine in us. And we can be honest about what’s there, and in just seeing it and accepting that’s who we are and that we are loved, the transformation happens. The Spirit, who’s poured out, does the work, as God’s goodness and God’s justice become our way of being because we know that we have been loved, that we have been treated with kindness by this God, allows us then to treat others with the same thing.

And the third word of the three you threw out there—truth. The idea of truth comes from the idea of troth, which is to be bound to another person. So, to be betrothed to a person—you can hear the troth in that—truth is a way of being in relationship. So, whenever we’re out of congruence with God, we’re out of relationship.

Guess what? Our way of being true to ourselves and true to others in relationship crumbles. And so, the invitation in knowing the light of God’s love and Christ’s light in our life, is we can see that he has bound himself to us, and it gives us the capacity—having been loved and accepted—to not need to hide or perform or those other things, which releases us into the freedom of a life of love.

Anthony: In his book, Mediation of Christ, TF Torrance wrote, “God loves you so utterly and completely, that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ as his beloved Son and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation.”

And in light of that astounding love that is unconditional, it does allow us to be honest. And as you were saying, even in counseling, just being able to name it is a huge step in our subjective experience of healing. And thanks be to God that his faithfulness doesn’t wax and wane based on our moment of what we’re feeling then. But in light of that, we can wake up by the Holy Spirit. Oh, that’s so, so good.

In verse 14, Paul makes the statement that everything revealed by light is light. What does that mean? Help us understand.

Marty: Right. Well, again, TF Torrance, who you just mentioned, talks about light as the constant of the universe and that the very nature of using that imagery of Jesus being the light of the world, there is something about the light that comes from the Father who is the Father of lights.

And so, to say this God is the constant of the universe who gives being and order and meaning and purpose to the world as the Creator. And when Jesus comes into the world—which has become dark, meaning, missing an awareness of who this God is—Jesus is the light who allows us to see that which is real.

And so, if somebody is in the darkness, you don’t really have a sense that they are there or what your relationship is to them. And so, fear is a natural thing when you’re walking down a dark street at night and somebody’s coming, something in you goes, Hmm.

So, the nature of the light that the Spirit brings, is that there is this sense of seeing the other. And if we see them through the eyes of Christ, if our sense is I’m on this street at night because I’m looking for people who are in need of love and care, I’m not going to be afraid. I am going to be somebody who is about being the presence of love on this dark street. And yeah, maybe I’ll bring a flashlight, but to say that just like the moon has no light of its own, when light shines on it creates light that lights up the night.

And I love those nights with a full moon. And you can see things in their own unique kind of way. And so, the moon is also given as a gift to the earth. The sun rules the day, and the moon rules the night. And ruling there doesn’t mean dominating over. It’s a provision. If you look at the providence of God, God provides that which is necessary to operate in all the spheres of life.

And so, the light of Christ, as CS Lewis said, “I believe in the Son not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” And so, the nature of this light that reveals us and those around us.

The light of Christ enables us to see the meaning and purpose for which things are created, including broken things. And to not just say, throw it away, but what does redeeming, healing, making well of this look like? And so light is being revealed in us. We are being seen for who we are.

Those people around us who are easily written off—which my wife always says when she sees people on the streets of Seattle, “I just think that’s somebody’s child.” That person who’s sitting there begging, that’s somebody’s child. And if we can see through those eyes the light of that, that to know that they have been beloved by someone, created by someone, gives us eyes to see the light of knowing that even this person who our eyes could look at and judge and write off, can also be looked at with the eyes of love. And suddenly our eyes become redeeming and healing and wishing for the best for them and asking, what can we do out of love for them?

So, the nature of light—also, TF Torrance says, in the spring, the light comes and warms the ground, and that very thing that God created is brought to come out and be what it was made to be. The plants grow, the birds come out and do what they do, and all of those things. Instead of say, the light of God’s shining in creation is the same as the work of the Spirit that brings us into the being that made for and all the fruit of the Spirit flows in us as light warms our hearts and creates in us that which only God can create—a fruit that lives in congruence and extends his life in the world around us.

Anthony: I appreciate the way that your wife thinks about others, even those who are down and out. And it reminded me of CS Lewis his amazing sermon, The Weight of Glory. He talked about how there are no ordinary people. Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses other than the blessed sacrament itself.

What a beautiful thing. A way of seeing the world as best we can by the Spirit, the lens of Jesus Christ for those that belong to him.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do you think it is so easy to put labels on others?
  • “Christ does not judge us by one aspect of our character but by who we are becoming in him.” What do you think this means?

From the sermon

  • Have you ever felt tempted to avoid people in “the world”? Why or why not?
  • Is it sometimes hard to believe that darkness can become light? Why or why not?
  • What are some practical ways you can be light to your neighbors?

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