Sunday, March 15, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
It’s all about the lighting. This expression has been used a lot in reference to making something look really good. Professional photographers and artists know that lighting makes all the difference in the world. Whether it’s the profile of a person’s face or sillouette, lighting is important to highlight the right image and expression. Lighting can make a person’s face seem soft and gentle, angry, or lost. When photographing nature, lighting is critical to capture just the right moment. The vivid oranges and reds of a sunset all demand perfect timing of the light to freeze that one specific moment in time. Film-makers use lighting to cast various moods. Happiness and joy are usually depicted with an infusion of great light, while dark lighting evokes a mood of fear and trepidation. Lighting makes all the difference in the world.
This time of year most of us are longing for longer periods of light. We just turned our clocks ahead last week, so we would capture one more hour of light at the end of the day. Winter days can be long and dark, and by this time every year, we are in desperate need of more light. We are eager to get out of the darkness and be flooded by the light of spring. Scientific research points out the need for light. Many people are affected with what is known as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – which brings on a state of temporary depression and sadness. Special UV spectrum lights that mimic the sun and release vitamin D can help with this problem until the sun is closer to the earth starting in the spring. In fact, it has been found that most people in the northern hemisphere of the country are lacking in vitamin D because of the lack of sun exposure. To many people, lighting makes all the difference in the world.
And yet, the same light from the sun that heals this vitamin deficiency, can also cause skin cancer if exposed to too high levels. Too much light can be just as dangerous as not enough. As any photographer and he or she will tell you that too much light – an overexposure – can totally ruin a picture. There needs to be a balance between the dark and the light. And this applies to human nature as well. Humans have been trying to find this balance since the beginning of time. And it’s not an easy task.
Ever since sin entered the world, humans want to do what is right – to walk in the light so to speak – but we don’t always do the right things. Sometimes we walk in darkness. At times it’s our own fault and at other times it’s because we have become trapped in darkness because of the sinfulness of others. Shame and blame are some of the worst feelings that keep us trapped in darkness. Soon they begin to breed fear and worry and we don’t know how to find our way out. We can get trapped in the darkness and we need a guiding light.
Nicodemus, a well-respected Pharisee in Jesus’ time knew all about being trapped in darkness. He had heard Jesus speaking. He saw the signs or miracles that Jesus did. And so he went to Jesus to ask Him who He really was. He wanted to know how Jesus could do all the things He did. Nicodemus believed Jesus must have been sent by God, but ….he wasn’t sure. He was listening to too many of his friends instead of believing with his own heart. So Nicodemus went to talk to Jesus in the dark of night because he was afraid that other people – the people he associated with – would find out he went there. He didn’t want to lose his friends. He didn’t want to lose his place as a Pharisee in the temple. So he kept his visit with Jesus private. In the darkness no one would know.
But things done in the darkness cannot be hidden forever especially went exposed to the light. Our gospel text today begins with Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ questions about the kingdom of God. Yet Jesus’ response seem to add to Nicodemus’ confusion and ours. Jesus reminds Nicodemus of how God saved the Israelites from the biting serpents by making them look at a serpent on a pole. Moses lifted up the serpent and they were healed. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son of Man must also be lifted up. I’m sure Nicodemus was feeling like he was still in the darkness of confusion. But what Jesus was saying was that we have to look at the things that frighten us in order to be healed.
Snake venom can kill a person, but it is that same venom that is used to make a cure. The cross was an instrument of death, yet through the cross God saved all people. We have to look at things honestly and see what they are. We have to see with new eyes. Lighting makes all the difference in the world.
So Jesus continues his conversation with Nicodemus and speaks probably the most famous quote in Scripture, “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And goes on to talk about those who do evil hate the light, and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” I wonder if Nicodemus got it then? Nicodemus who went to Jesus in the darkness, did not want to go to him in the light, because then everyone would know. And Nicodemus did not want to risk his reputation. He wanted to know more about Jesus. He wanted a relationship with Jesus, but he also wanted to stay in relationship with his friends who many were against Jesus. Darkness or light? What was his choice? That is the question Jesus asks of us today.
As wonderful as the light is, it can be painful. Exposing ourselves to the light means revealing all of who we are. If you’ve ever looked at yourself in the mirror in a room with really bright lighting it can be a little scary. All your flaws and imperfections are revealed. There are even lights that doctors can shine on your skin to reveal the underlying sun damage. It’s scary. They say ignorance is bliss and there’s some truth to that saying. Sometimes we actually prefer to live in the darkness, to live in ignorance, because the truth – the light – is too painful. That kind of bright light hurts our eyes. Ask anyone who has battled any kind of addiction and they will tell you that facing the truth is the hardest thing to do. It’s much easier to tell ourselves lies and live in the dark than to face the truth about ourselves. And we’ve all told ourselves little lies. “It’s somebody else’s fault. I’d be fine if it weren’t for him, or her, or something else. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m not good enough. What’s the point. It’s too hard. They won’t like me if they really know the truth.” The problem with deep dark secrets is that they hurt us more than being exposed to the light because in the darkness they grow into shame and fear. Light on the other hand heals us. But in order to be healed, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and that’s a hard thing for most people. We have to be willing to let the light reveal who we really are. Lighting makes all the difference in the world.
The Good News is that Jesus is the true Light of the world who has come to bring us into the light. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn or judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus came into the world because of God’s great love for us. He did not come here to judge or condemn us. We need to hear these words from Jesus because they are speaking to us today. Jesus came to save us, to heal us, and to bring us back into a closer relationship with God. Jesus knows that we are broken and hurting people. He knows that there are hidden secrets that keep us trapped in fear and darkness and his healing light is offered for all people.
We don’t have to try and be perfect in order to have access to this light. In fact in our effort to try and be perfect, we aren’t being true to who God intended us to be. God loves us just the way we are, imperfections and all. St. Paul says in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Out of God’s great love for us we have been given this gift. We didn’t have to earn it. We didn’t have to pass some great test. We only have to accept it and say thank you. And the good things, the good works we do are expressions of our gratitude. They aren’t ways we earn God’s love; we already have that. Our lives are lived in gratitude for the gift of life that God has given to us.
As we continue our journey in Lent, take time to be still. In our busy lives it is hard to find the time, but take some time every day even if just for a few minutes. Close your eyes and thank God for the gift of God’s grace that doesn’t condemn, but that saves. Take time to be silent and feel God’s healing light wash over you. Let it wash away all your fears and worries, all your guilt and shame and pain. Jesus suffered and died so we would have eternal life and eternal life begins here on earth. Eternal life is a change in existence. It is life lived in the unending presence of God. It is life lived in the light of Christ. Live in the healing light of Christ for that light makes all the difference in the world. Amen.