Live As Children of Light
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 22, 2020 Fourth Sunday in Lent
Ephesians 5:8-9; John 9
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text.]
Welcome to the scriptures and sermon for this on-line service. We are in an extremely challenging time, a real wilderness, and we need spiritual help every day to deal with worries and fears and compulsive thinking.
We need help staying grounded in love, help finding peace, help choosing over and over to be our best self, to have the heart and mind of Christ in this moment.
We also need help, though, keeping our focus on the Promised Land, the transformation of humanity and the earth that is the goal of this wilderness transition that we are in, because even though it is beyond our control when we will emerge on the other side, it will make all the difference in the world if we have had a vision of the ideal destination in mind.
The first scripture reading reflects this. It is Ephesians Chapter 5 verses 8 and 9. It is simply this: “For once you were darkness, but now in Christ, you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
The Gospel passage is an excerpt from a longer story from the book of John, Chapter 9 verses 1-17. This healing of a blind man serves two purposes in the Gospel. One is to show the evolving tension between Jesus and the religious establishment that will get him crucified on Good Friday, which is less than three weeks away in our church year. This clash it is still happening today between the ideals of Christ’s way of compassion and love and the selfish ambitions of those with power and wealth.
The other purpose the healing of the blind man serves is to provide a symbol for what Jesus is always trying to do—open our eyes to see differently, changing our vision of who we are and what life means and how human society needs to change in order to align with the realm of God.
Here is an abbreviated retelling of the story:
Jesus was walking in Jerusalem and saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This was the kind of common, confused perspective on the universe and its creator that Jesus tried so hard to elevate to a more enlightened consciousness. He explained that no one sinned, but that the blindness was an opportunity to do the work of light. He said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes.
People who knew the blind man kept asking him, “How were your eyes opened?” And he kept answering, “The man called Jesus healed me.”
They brought him to the Pharisees. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus can’t be from God, for he doesn’t observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” They debated this fiercely.
Finally they released the formerly blind beggar who went and found Jesus. Some Pharisees overheard their conversation and got angry when Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The Pharisees got his point, that they were blind because they did not see the light of God that he was shining, and this whole other way of being a society where compassionate love is the cornerstone of all law.
Live As Children of Light
The title of this sermon is, “Live as Children of Light.” This is what John Newton meant when he wrote, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
Newton was a slave ship captain who was partly responsible for the most inhumane kidnap, torture and murder of people simply because they had dark skin. Newton was darkness, as the book of Ephesians put it, he was lost in blindness until he saw what Jesus is trying to get us all to see, our oneness with all living beings and all the earth. Newton then was light, and he lived as a child of the light by trying to save the people of dark skin and atone for his terrible wrongs.
It was a developmental leap for humanity to see in the eighteenth and nineteenth century that slavery was wrong. It was one of those moments in history when the eyes of our collective consciousness were opened and our perspective changed all across the earth in a very short time.
But there was another aspect to that developmental leap that I only recently learned about, thanks to Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest. The awakening of John Newton, William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and other early abolitionists was not only that slavery was wrong, but that they could form a social movement that could change consciousness and laws to make the world more like the realm of God. Hawken says it was the first time in human history when people joined together as an organized movement with no motive but compassion and Christ-like love of neighbor to change society for the better.
I imagine Jesus spitting on the dirt of the earth and applying the mud to the eyes of these amazingly loving, courageous, inspired yet ordinary people who changed the world by sheer force of vision, energy and will, by the power of light flowing through them, living as children of light.
We are in a time now when I believe Jesus is again applying his earthy poultice to fevered, unseeing eyes. I believe a change of consciousness is unfolding today, and I am not the only one who thinks this. Social scientists are measuring the steady growth of a new developmental level that sees the oneness of all creation.
Paul Hawken says in Blessed Unrest that we are in the middle of by far the greatest social movement in history. He estimates there are as many as two million separate organizations around the world working for social justice and the health of the earth. He identifies four hundred different types of groups, but he says they all have in common the ethic of the Golden Rule, the sacredness of life and compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed.
In other words, they are all living as children of light, working to establish the realm of God’s love, mercy and justice on earth, and they are springing up spontaneously because their eyes have been opened to see what must be done to save humanity and the earth.
A similar uprising of light is happening right now in Strafford and in villages and cities around the world in response to the pandemic and its economic and social disruption.
People are rising up with the light of love of neighbor in their eyes asking what can I do? How can I help? I will deliver groceries to someone who is shut in, I will call my neighbors who live alone, I will organize activities on line to keep us together, I will think about ways to support those who are losing income.
Look around…the realm of God is springing up like daffodils, like blades of green grass right under our feet! Suddenly a whole new day has dawned and spring birds are singing like angels overhead.
And yet even as this happens here and in every neighborhood around the world, there are forces at work that are the opposite of light.
Like corporations price gouging supplies that people need to survive. Like leaders using the crisis to inflame fear and hatred of people from other countries, denying due process of law and humanitarian treatment of asylum seekers, attacking labor unions, throwing off the few regulations still restraining corporate greed.
If we have the courage to allow Jesus to touch our eyes with his saliva and mud, we will see that we have suddenly entered the climate crisis world. We hoped that it was still years off in the future, but whether or not climate change played a part in this particular pandemic, we know that there will be others as the earth becomes less healthy and stable, and the pandemics will strain a society already weakened by mass dislocation and damage from hundred-billion-dollar storms, wildfires and droughts.
I know how hard it is every day to stay in the light as we worry about the health or financial stability of those we love. I know the last thing we want to hear is that God is calling us to live as children of light in defiance of so much darkness so that the new world will be not ruled by fear, but by love.
We may not want what Jesus is opening our eyes to see, but there is far more good news than bad.
First, we do not have to do more than we can. Our task is to let the greatest force in the universe work through us, the love that created the earth and created us. The force we call God wants life to continue, the light wants the children of light to win, so all we have to do is dedicate our all to the cause of the light, and the Spirit will work through us.
The second piece of good news is that, as Ephesians says, “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Our job is to bear fruit, but any word or act that is good or right or true qualifies. We can do heroic actions on a national stage, but we also can be loving when we are feeling grumpy, we can think of others when we are afraid for ourselves, we can open our hands in generous hearted lovingkindness when our impulse is to cling for dear life. Every little fruit counts.
The third piece of good news is that living as children of light is its own reward. Think of the people making music together from balcony to balcony across Italian piazzas. Think of the joy when we deliver groceries to a shut-in. Think of the gratitude of a child we help feel secure or a little less bored. Think of the meaning life has when we serve the cause of love and light.
We are in a wilderness of transition. The world will not be the same, our lives will not be the same, but we can emerge like Jesus, full of the Spirit’s power. We can emerge into the Promised Land of God’s realm on earth, with a vision of how to change civilization so that we live by the Golden Rule and laws of love, compassion and neighborliness, so that we live as one with all humanity and all the earth.
Everything we do to live as children of the light will help bring that ancient ideal at last to fruition, but as Jesus knew, it has to begin with vision, with our eyes being opened to see as God can see, so that we will act as God would act.
Let us join together now in a moment of silent prayer, letting Jesus touch our eyes and our hearts…