"And Christ Shall Give you Light"

November 16, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Ephesians 5:8-20

            Fourteen years ago, Ted Pratt wandered through a page of my life. It was the summer Karen and I spent in Alaska, working with a Mennonite House Church. Ted had recently joined this group, and was proving to be quite a blessing to them. In fact, that was a word he used quite a bit. "You’re such a blessing to me," he would often say, peppering his sentences with "blessing" left and right. Looking at him (you’ll find a picture on a bulletin insert), the word "blessing" seems somewhat out of place.

            At that time, he was a rough and tumble guy, ideally suited for the far north. In the course of his 38 years, he had manned a nuclear submarine, worked on a ranch, dug underground as a miner - all sorts of hard-labor occupations. On first glance, you would expect other words out of his mouth than "blessing." There it was, however, and he was a blessing himself, living out what he said. No, not in a syrupy-sweet sort of way. He was no man’s fool, and could be quite a burr in the flesh if you touched the areas he cared passionately about.

            For instance, he had become a pacifist, and was quite point-blank with other Christians about it. "How can a follower of Jesus bear arms against someone else?," he’d ask - not meanly, but very seriously. Of course, he hadn’t always believed this. When he was in the Navy, he wasn’t a Christian. The Christians he knew on board were somewhat obnoxious. They never asked questions about the payload their submarine was carrying in the North sea, whether they could launch a nuclear missile in good conscience. They seemed more interested in removing smutty pictures from other sailor’s lockers, and telling the wives of these sailors back home about the sexual adventures of their husbands at various ports of call. Was this really shining forth the light of Christ? If so, such light didn’t interest Ted one bit at that time.

            However, somewhere down the road he became a Christian. And when he was baptized, the water washed through everything. No part of his life remained dry. It wasn’t just a matter of believing the right things. It was allowing the light of Christ to shine upon everything. The word "blessing" was for him synonymous with the light of Christ. He would call something a "blessing" even if it was a burr in his flesh, that is if he detected Christ in that burr, shining upon a part of his life that needed attention.

            That was 14 years ago. Since then, Ted has wandered into other fields. Last I heard he was a chiropractor in the Midwest. Look at the picture and imagine that fellow working on your back. I have no doubt he’s a good one, and that he continues to be a blessing wherever God has planted him.        (for more on Ted, click here)

            "Once you were darkness," the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus long ago, "but now in the Lord you are light." In the preceding verses he has more to say about the darkness, but that’s not his focus. He’s not so much into all the "no’s," the "ought not’s" of Christian living, as he’s into the "yes’s." Mind you, the "thou shalt not’s" are important - but without the light of Christ shining into every nock and cranny of our life, those commandments make little sense. They are only words.

            At a camp meeting this week we began the discussion that will lead to listing the values we hold as a Brethren camp out of which our "no’s" flow. You see, before they arrive every summer camper receives a list of things not to bring or do. They also sign a covenant indicating that they will live by the rules while at camp. But these rules, these "no’s" are based upon some positive values, things we believe are important. For instance, foul language used against another is out-of-place for many reasons, one being that we hold each other in respect and love. That’s the positive value behind the rule. When we look at another in the light of Christ, how can we then abuse them with hate-filled words.

            To be a Christian is to live "in the light of Christ." It’s not merely a matter of saying the right words, but living them out. "Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk," the apostle wrote. "God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. You groped your way through that murky once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true - these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it." (Eph. 5:6--10, Peterson)

            To "live in the light of Christ," is to willingly expose every aspect of who we are to God. We can’t hide from God. We are known completely by the One who created us. It makes little sense to try to keep parts of ourselves out of God’s sight. It’s impossible really. What makes more sense is to allow the light to shine, that is to open our eyes and look, not only at what is revealed in us, but at the path which is being illuminated for us.

            Let’s shift metaphors and talk about the water of baptism, after all - that’s what we’re about on this day. Actually, it is generally believed that this morning’s scripture text from Ephesians quotes an early Christian baptismal hymn. Based on the first verse of Isaiah 60, a line from that hymn sang out, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Times of spiritual rebirth have over the years been referred to as "awakenings," which is appropriate. Coming to know Christ is very much like awakening from sleep.

            Some of us are better risers than others when it comes to the morning. Whether we are pop-out-of-bed types, or gradual second-cup-of-coffee people, there comes that moment when the sleep is rubbed out of our eyes and we face into the light of a brand new day. That’s the image used by this verse of scripture, only it’s not a comfy bed from which we are awakened (then again, it may be very warm and snugly, which is why many people fight rising from it into Christ’s light). Peterson’s translation puts it this way:

                    "Wake up from your sleep,
                            Climb out of your coffins;
                                    Christ will show you the light!"

            Our Brethren ancestors took what seemed to be almost pride in being baptized in unusual circumstances. The first baptism in Germantown, Pennsylvania took place on Christmas Day, outside in a stream. I recall visiting, over the years, with several meek and mild elderly Dunker sisters whose face would light up when describing how the ice needed to be broken the day they were baptized. Nothing like cold water to wake someone up, that’s for sure, just so long as it didn’t make them numb spiritually.

            Wake up! That’s part of what’s being symbolized by baptism. Living in the light of Christ is waking up to a new day. Baptism is like a shower that wakes us up in the morning. Now, us Brethren prefer baths when it comes to this spiritual awakening, perhaps because we believe Christ needs to soak into every part of who we are. Yes, it’s a matter of getting clean, but it’s also a realization that there is no part of our lives that Christ doesn’t touch. The word "realization" is intentional, for we believe that each person needs to realize this for his or herself. That’s why we consider baptism an adult decision.

            Now, waking up and walking in the light of Christ is a lifelong process. Today for two of our young people is only the beginning step. Some of the rest of us may be getting a bit sleepy in our own walk. In reality, awakening - rising with Christ is something we need to do each and every day. We need to live out of our baptism, even if it did happen a long time ago. In the grand scheme of things, you know, it took place only yesterday.

            Sisters and brothers,
                    "Wake up from your sleep,
                            Climb out of your coffins;
                                    Christ will show you the light!"
                                                                ... Perhaps you recall singing the song....

1997, Peter L. Haynes

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