Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Light of the World

Our world is changing. It is changing rapidly, and it's not changing for the better. A good question to ask is simply this. What in the world is going on? That's an important question for us to consider. Let me remind you of the definition of wisdom that I've given you. Wisdom is understanding God, other people, yourself, and your situation. It's as we understand our situation accurately that we will be able to respond wisely to it. And we really do need to respond wisely.

So, what in the world is going on? But let make the question - and thus the answer - clearer. I'm going to re-phrase it. What in the world is Jesus doing? He is, after all, Lord. And He is guiding history to its proper goal. So, stating the question this way is better. And I think that we can come up with a good answer to that question. Jesus is letting us know that we are failing. He has given us a task to pursue, but we have not been pursuing it. He gave us a target to shoot at and hit, but we have been missing it. And the result? The world around us is falling apart.

So, what is this task that Jesus has given us that we are failing to accomplish? Here's one expression of it.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. ​Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5.14-16

Jesus has called us to be light. What He wants is for us to shine brightly into the darkness of evil. The expected result is that the darkness would be pushed back. But that's not what's happening. And why? Our light has dimmed. And what we are seeing is all wrong. The darkness is conquering the light. What else can we conclude but that we are failing?

Let's take a closer look at what Jesus said. First, who is He referring to? Who is this light? One popular understanding is that Jesus is calling us as individual disciples to shine. But that's not what He said. The 'you' here is plural. But the word 'light' is singular. He isn't saying, 'You are the lights of the world'. No, it's, 'You, all of you, are the one light that is to shine in this world'. Jesus is calling His Church to this task. Jesus is calling His Church to action. We shine together.

Next question. What is to be the result of this shining? Or to say it differently, what does success look like? Listen again.

… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The intended result is that those watching us would respond with praise to our Father. Now, think about someone praising the Father. Who does that except Christians? The intended result of our shining is that many would come to Jesus because of what they see in us. The goal is that they would come and join us in making the Father look as good as He really is. That's what success would look like. It is as we shine that they will come to us.

Is that happening these days? To be sure, some are becoming Christians. And thanks be to God for that. But the flow of our world is moving in the opposite direction. Instead of joining us to praise God, people around us are increasingly rejecting Him and living lives of open rebellion. The darkness is increasing, and the light is becoming dimmer. We are failing.

I want to be clear. My indictment isn't limited to this or that congregation. The charge of failure is to be applied much more broadly. It is the Church in America that is failing, and that is why we see things falling apart as we do. We are all guilty. So, next time any of us hears about another court case to legalize some atrocious behavior or the like, we should tell ourselves, 'We caused that. That's our fault.'

It's here that someone might think, 'Wait a minute. I didn't fail. Maybe others did, but I didn't. I've been faithful and working hard at being faithful. So, it's not my fault.' I can understand someone thinking in this way, but it misses an important theme of the Bible. God deals with us as a group.

Let me offer one example of this theme. It's from the life of Daniel. He is praying so that the people of God might return to Jerusalem after their seventy years of exile. Listen to how he prays.

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. Daniel 9.4-11

And he continues from there. What's Daniel doing? He's recounting the rebellious history of Israel that resulted in its exile. We recently read about that history in our Scripture Readings in 1,2 Kings.

Did you notice Daniel's pronouns?

we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled…

We have not listened to your servants the prophets …

And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us because we have sinned against Him.

Daniel includes himself in this litany of sins. But here's a tidbit that we need to remember. Much of the history that Daniel is recounting occurred before he was even born. But that doesn't stop him from praying in the way that he does. Daniel understands that God deals with His people as a group.

So, it is only right for us to say to ourselves, 'We caused that. It's our fault.' God is dealing with us as a group, the Church in America. We have failed to be light, and that is why we are increasingly surrounded by darkness.

But we don’t stop here. Yes, there is a problem. But there is something that we are we to do in response. Once we accept our failure, the solution presents itself. What have we done? How would Daniel describe it? In failing in our task we have sinned. And what is the appropriate response to sin? Repentance and faith.

The first step in repentance is always simply acknowledging that we have sinned. It's owning the sin as ours. The sin of failing to shine might apply to you individually, or it might not. But it certainly applies to us as the group, as the Church in America. And so, just as Daniel did, we need to own this sin. We did it.

What follows after admitting our sin? It's coming to Jesus, the Savior, to be forgiven. As a frequent part of my morning prayers I recite the Apostles' Creed. And every once in a while I linger just a bit over, 'I believe in … the forgiveness of sin.' To be freely and fully forgiven of the foul sin that I commit - and then commit again - overwhelms me at times. That God would be so gracious to me makes no sense. And yet, because of Jesus, that's exactly what He is, gracious. He forgives sin because of Jesus. Once we repent and come to Jesus for forgiveness we should not be down on ourselves or anything even close to that. The Father has graciously acted. Our sins have been forgiven. And that will include even this sin of failing at the task Jesus has given us.

But we’re not done. We repent and come to Jesus for forgiveness. But we also come to Him for change. Repentance is not just about the sin we committed. It's also about getting it right next time. We come to Jesus to be changed so that we get it right next time. And what does Jesus do in response to our coming to be changed? Remember, it is Jesus who gives more of the Spirit, the Spirit who changes us. And He will change us so that we can return to the task and get it right. We can return to the task and shine brightly.

And what exactly are we to do in the Spirit's strength? What are we to aim at? Let me just touch on that. The Lord's Prayer helps. Before we pray for the sake of our daily needs, which is the second part of this prayer, Jesus instructs us to pray for the sake of the Father. We are to pray that His name, His reputation, would be honored. We are to pray that His kingship would be established and submitted to. We are to pray that His commands would be obeyed. And we are to pray that these things would be done on earth in the same way that they are already being done in heaven. We, the Church, are to shine by praying for and thereby actively bringing about those things that Jesus called for. We pray to see God's reputation, kingship and commands embraced by our culture. There is more, but that will do for now. It's a place to start.

Our world is falling apart. We all can see that. And yet, there is hope for our world. Jesus has called His Church to shine in the darkness of our world in order to dispel the dark evil that is even now rising. Success will take much time and much effort. But we can be optimistic that future generations will see much success. What we do in these days will help them do that.

What I'd like you to do now is find your bulletin. I did not plan to have this morning's text be the same as our Reading of God's Law. Providence at work. In light of what I've just told you I think that it would be good to pray again the Prayer of Confession in the bulletin.

Our Father, forgive us.
We find it so easy to hide the light of the Gospel that You have entrusted to us. We give in to our fears before the world and to the pressure to conform and not make waves.We recognize this as an offense against You, the God who has loved us so. We ask that You might cover this sin by the blood of Jesus and that, by Your Holy Spirit, You might make us bold to shine with the Gospel before a needy world. Amen

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