Saturday, February 21, 2009

Light against our darkness, especially in the church

Sermon for Last Epiphany
Fr. Tim Fountain

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:5)

Christ, who came into the world at Christmas, is the light of the world.
The way – only he opens the way to heaven and only he is a reliable guide to the presence of God, he is the light on our path.
The truth – “Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 849)
The life – we are baptized into Christ and we share his body and blood, “that we may dwell in him, and he in us.”

Various shadows attempt to overcome the light.
The world – personalities and earthly powers cast shadows in an effort to hide the personality and power of Christ.
The flesh – our own self-centered nature is a great shadow. We can obsess on our own pleasures or our own pains. We “can’t see past our own nose” when we walk in our own murky thoughts and urges and ignore the light of Christ.
The devil – the “Father of Lies” manipulates and convinces us that dark is light and light is dark. (II Corinthians 11:14).

This Sunday, we are given a last glimpse of “Epiphany” light – the “Aha!” of seeing Christ – to help us against the shadows.

Collect of the Day: “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross…”
Mark 9:2-9, “The Transfiguration.” Jesus shows his glory to three apostles, just before they follow him to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. This Gospel lesson comes up at the end of Epiphany, in order to strengthen us to do battle with the shadows during Lent.
(Beginning this Wednesday, we enter a season where we are asked to identify the shadows of the world, the flesh and the devil in our lives, and to seek the light of Christ to disperse them.)

II Corinthians 4:3-6 reminds us of the struggle to keep the light shining in the church. (Background: Paul and his missionaries are being undermined by a self-serving group of leaders, mocked by Paul as the “super apostles.”)

The devil seeks to cast shadows over the church. He is able to blind some people to the light of Christ – these people will fall for the sweet words and tricky arguments of the “super apostles” rather than hear the truth of the Gospel. “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is why I do the boring and unpleasant work of warning you about false teaching by Episcopal Church leaders – unpleasant because no matter how much info is out there, many church people will prefer the darkness to the light. But this work is necessary –

The flesh seeks to cast shadows over the church, by exalting personalities at the expense of the Lord. Paul is clear that the preacher is not the light: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…” This is why I am more likely to preach about my flaws and failures, so that you can see Christ in the positive things that are happening here rather than any illusion about me. As I preached last week, the church exists first and foremost to bring glory to God, and we receive our blessings when we do that.

The world seeks to cast shadows over the church, by creating “important” agendas that push Biblical Gospel aside. Paul says that ordained leaders are “your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Slaves in the ancient world usually had a particular job, assigned by their owner for the good of his family or property. So Paul is saying that preaching the Gospel is his duty, assigned by the master (Christ) for the good of the master’s household (the church). Too often, the “slavery” of the preacher is misinterpreted to mean that the congregation, not Christ, is the master – so the preacher is rewarded for doing this and that to please the people rather than giving them the truth for the sake of Jesus Christ. II Timothy 4:3-4.

But Paul leaves us with good news: The light is with us. As we enter the shadows in Lent, we go equipped with the Word of God and the Sacraments of Christ. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” May the light disperse your shadows. Amen.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

A wonderful sermon! As I read, it came to me that it is only as we face the truth about Satan and his works of darknesss that we can truly rejoice in our deliverance into Christ's Kingdom of Light.