STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 24, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Epiphany 3
WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME
Call to Worship Psalm 43: 3 & 4
Give me your light and truth,
Let them be my GPS,
so I can find my way to the sacred mountain,
to the place of your presence,
To enter the place of worship,
meet my exuberant God,
Sing my thanks with a harp,
magnificent God, my God.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Jesus, Light of the World,
We praise you for your great love which moved you to enter into the world.
You are light and your light is greater than all of humanity’s spiritual shadows and darkness. The darkness can never extinguish you.
Your light is our hope.
We confess that sometimes we dwell in darkness.
We attempt to hide from you in the shadows of our spirits thinking you do not know our thoughts and hearts. There are sins that we revel in, from which we do not want to be saved. Things like pride and self-pity, gossip, judgemental attitudes, lust, gluttony, envy, and greed. Our souls are clouded by our love of the night and our refusal to die to our self.
Our world is also caught in sins from which we do not want to be saved. Hatred, oppression, war, a lack of forgiveness, a desire for power, avarice, a refusal to listen to one another, finger pointing and blaming and the self-righteous conviction that we are right.
We need your forgiveness. Shine in our lives, in our hearts and in our world. Dispel our darkness.
As we worship today, we pray for all those who are sharing in this service with us. May our worship glorify your holy name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Psalm 27:1
God is my light and salvation;
with him on my side I’m fearless,
afraid of no one and nothing.
Prayer for Illumination
Radiant God, by the light of your word, we find our way. As we listen for your word, shine your face on us so that we might live in faithfulness to you. Amen.
Isaiah 60: 19 – 22
1 John 1: 1 – 7
John 8: 12
Message: I am the Light of the World
Winter can be a dreary time of year. We don’t get out much – or, this year, at all. There is snow to shovel. We must be vigilant, so we don’t slip on the ice, knock ourselves out and freeze to death. We have to brush off and warm up our cars, and sometimes push them out of awkward places. But the dreariest thing about winter are the long, dark nights and the drab, overcast days. The descend on us like an anvil, crushing our spirits and draining us of joy. But this time of year, we have the hope of daylight stretching out it’s arms a little more each evening. Every now and then, there is a crisp, beautiful, sun-filled day when the light sparkles off the snow like a trillion diamonds. There are moments when we witness the sun’s warmth create a melting trickle of watery hope. Light lifts us from our despair and puts a bounce in our step and hope in our heart.
Even in the sun-lit desert of Judea, the prophet Isaiah knew the hope and joy of the sun. The Israelites of Isaiah’s day lived in a world of darkness. They were subjected to the powers of Assyria, occupied by a foreign army, and taken from their homes into captivity in a foreign land. The temple was destroyed and with it the heart of their ritual faith. The political darkness that oppressed them plunged them into spiritual darkness as well. The people turned away from God to follow foreign religious practices. They fell into the worst of sins, idolatry. They could only see the bleakness that surrounded them. From their perspective, God had abandoned them. Into that darkness, Isaiah spoke this promise, “the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60: 19 & 20).
The gospel writer John, tells us that promise was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus, “The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him… What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out” (John 1: 2 – 5). In Christ, God became the everlasting light, not only for the Jews but for anyone who would receive him. Jesus claimed this truth for himself. Not once, but three times in John’s gospel Jesus announces, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; John 9: 5; John 11:9).
As I was thinking about my sermon, I came across some quotes on light that give us insight into the role Jesus plays and the power he has in our lives. I want to use them as a jumping off point to help us grasp the depth of meaning behind Jesus title, The Light of the World.
C.S Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun, not because I can see it, but because, by it, I can see everything else.” There are two times in the day when we cannot see the sun – when it is not shining and when it is shining. When it is not shining, we do not see the sun’s light directly, but we do see the light of the sun as it illuminates the moon and the moon, in turn, illuminates the world. This is how Christians today see Jesus. We no longer have his physical presence with us, but we have the impact of his presence all around us. We see his light because of the things he shines on and through. We see him shining through the love and kindness people show to one another and in the places where we glimpse peace and justice in the world. Even when the sun is shining, we cannot look directly at it. Our eyes cannot bear the intensity of the light. Not only does the light of Christ highlight what is of God in the world, it also shines intensely on what we cannot bear to see. It shows us the sin in the world, and it pierces like a laser into the darkness of our hearts. As the Psalmist wrote, “Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you” Psalm 139: 11 & 12) . Spiritually speaking this doesn’t mean that God makes no distinction between sin and virtue, but that for God neither darkness nor light are obstacles – God’s “x-ray vision” means we cannot hide from him no matter where we go or how hard we try. Jesus, the Light of the World, is not only the one who shines to condemn our sin, he is also the one who shines to show us God’s world, God’s way.
At times, because of the orbit of the moon and Earth, the moon is completely vanished from our sight. All we can see is the depth of the night and in that darkness, we do not see very much or very far. Sometimes, when things in life are so hard, so bad, or so painful, we can’t see through the darkness. Yet, as the poet in Auschwitz reminds us, “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining; I believe in love, even when there’s no one there. And I believe in God, even when He is silent”. Christians “walk by faith and not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith is the conviction that even when it seems The Light of the World is no where to be found, we know he is still there, just as on the blackest night, we know the sun is still out there shining.
Not only is the Light of the World still there, but the darkness cannot extinguish it. St. Francis of Assisi observed, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle”. If we were to enter a room, from a darkened corridor, that had no windows or crack under the door and light a candle, the candle would always be the victor. The light will always chase away some of the darkness, the darkness will never extinguish the light. When we look at the life of Jesus, there was always someone with a twisted heart, an evil motivation, or a fearful soul out to extinguish him. Jesus was put through the darkness of the cross, but death was followed by resurrection. Even their very worst could not win over the Light of the World. There are times when we may feel that all the world is against us, nothing is going our way, the darkness if overwhelming us and is going to win. There are times when people will do their best to annihilate us, because we belong to Christ and they are still trying to annihilate him. United with Christ, we draw our strength and power from his light. In him, we will always defeat the darkness. As C.S. Lewis proclaimed, “Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness; but your darkness cannot now infect our light.”
That is why one of my favorite adages is, “It’s better to light a candle, than curse the darkness.” Christians always have the option of pointing out the problems or being part of the solution. It is easy to whine and complain about what is wrong, but there is no hope in it. It’s easy to criticize others for what they’re doing wrong, but there is no situation in which passive aggression is more life-giving than healthy, helpful action. We may not be able to fix all the world’s problems, but we can do the little bit within our power to heal, improve, and bring hope. From the flame of the Christ candle, we can light our own little candle and we can pass that light to others without it ever diminishing ours.
Reflecting on the technology and knowledge of physics during his life, Victor Hugo reflected, “A cannonball travels only two thousand miles an hour; light travels two hundred thousand miles a second. Such is the superiority of Jesus Christ over Napoleon.” Napoleon was not the first or the last warmonger or dictator our world has seen. You may even have one or two in your family or your place of work. Sometimes they run countries, and sometimes they run churches. They do it by power – the power of weapons, or intimidation, or control, or fear. They can even do it by exploiting the experience of the those who have been truly victimized. It is a dark soul who claims to be a victim in order to control others. The power of Jesus, the Light of the World, is superior to the power this world offers. Martin Luther King is noted for saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Most of us long for the day when darkness will be dispelled, and the world will be without sin and life will be always safe and happy. As Christians, we strive to “walk in the light as Jesus himself is in the light”. We are only too aware of our failure to do so. We are aware that the world is far from perfect and we’re aware that something or someone will always come around to do damage. As Terry’s aunt used to say, “there’s a snake in every garden”. As you know, I do not do well with snakes and many of us do not do well with what is imperfect. People are always leaving churches because of our sin and imperfections. Spouses try to mould their partner into perfect people. Parents worry about the imperfections of their children. There is no perfect workplace. Paul said we carry the treasure of Christ in “clay jars” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The trouble with clay jars is they are prone to cracking. Leonard Cohen rightly reminds us, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”. Jesus comes to us not through our perfection, but through out cracks, not through our righteousness, but through our need for forgiveness. For the Light of the World to shine in the darkness, it needs a way through the armour of perfection with which we attempt to protect ourselves.
The best thing about light is that it just is. We don’t need to earn the sun or work to make it shine. It shines freely for us because that’s what it is created to do. The Light of the World comes to us by grace. Why should be follow Christ’s light? Back in the days before electricity, a hired hand asked the farmer for whom he worked, for a lantern so he could walk into town and visit his “best girl”. The farmer was a tight-fisted old fellow and took the man to task. “Why,” he exclaimed, “when I was a-courtin’ the Mrs. I never carried one of them things. I always went in the dark.” “Yes,” the hired man said wryly, “and look what you got!”
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Offertory: Generous God, we need your light to show us how to live. As we offer you our gifts, help us to remember those in need and to shine your light upon them. Amen.
Hymn of Praise
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Light of the World,
We thank you that because of you we no longer are lost in our sin; you have shined your saving light and shown us the way home. You wait for us with open arms. Help us to embrace you. We pray for those we know who are lost that you would direct their paths.
We thank you because we know longer need to stumble about doing injury to ourselves or others or to your world. You guide our footsteps and speak to our hearts. Teach us to listen and obey.
We thank you that your light is stronger than the darkness of our world. We pray for those who are suffering and for those who perpetuate suffering. We wait with hope for the day when all darkness will be dispelled.
We thank you that because we can walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another. You know how much we are missing that fellowship. Bind us together in unity so that no one may be lost. Be with your Church throughout the world. Help us to be a beacon of light for others.
We thank you that your light is a healing power. We pray for those we know and love who need healing and name them before you… We pray for those who are suffering from CoVid and for the many families who are in grief. We pray for those who are fearful and weary that your light would give strength and hope to them.
We thank you that you call us to let our lights shine. We know that our light, like the moon, is only a gift from and a reflection of your light. We pray especially for front line workers using their skills to heal and tending to people with gentleness. We pray for essential workers, praying your would give them courage in their work.
We thank you for “Every generous act of giving, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1: 17). You are truly a God of grace and love whom we can trust. We worship you, Father of lights, Light of the World, Spirit of Enlightenment. We await the time when without need of sun or moon, you will be our everlasting light and our glory. Until such time may we bring you glory. Here us as we pray together saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn of Praise
Invitation to Mission
Let us follow the Light
So that we will not stumble in the darkness
Let us shine the Light
So that others will find life.
Benediction: May the Triune God bless and keep you.