Sermon: Becoming Lights in Shadowy Places
Scripture: Ephesians 5:8-14
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: March 22, 2020
A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Michael Christensen, wrote a thesis many years ago about the apocalypse. In his work, he describes two types of apocalypses. One type of apocalypse is the “Big A” Apocalypse when the culmination of time occurs and our world as we know it is no more. In our Christian tradition, it’s the time Jesus returns. But Michael said there is a second type of apocalypse, a “little a” apocalypse.
Little “a” apocalypses happen throughout the course of history. They do not necessarily portend the end of time as we know it; instead, they usher in a new time and way of living, experiencing life, relating with others. These little “a” apocalypses are the world events which cause cultural paradigm shifts in the way we see and relate with the world and one another. One apocalypse he cited as the example of forcing the world to sit up and change was his study on the Ukrainian community of Chernobyl. Chernobyl is a nuclear power plant near a small village that had a meltdown in 1986, some 33 years ago. It was an event that challenged our view of sustainable energy, the environment, and the fabric of community. The people in the Ukraine do not overlook the irony of it all. You see in Revelation 8:11, the scripture tells us the, “Waters will be turned into wormwood” in the last days. In Russian that verse reads, “And the waters will be turned into chernobyl.”
Friends let’s be bold and say that our country and the world we have known is undergoing a little “a” apocalypse. Everything we were certain of, confident about, and relied upon has been totally upended in the course of a few days. As yesterday’s article that appeared on the AP newswire declared, Taking Stock of Strange Days: The Week that America Changed.
It’s a week when reveling Spring Breakers on the beach were viewed as out of touch and selfish. It’s a week when UPS drivers, mail carriers, grocery store clerks were seen on the front line as being seen as courageous. Medical personnel are today’s super-heroes. The very way we do business is changing. How we relate to one another is changing. Cut off from those we love in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or even relatives from a different city or state, people all over the world are adjusting to a new way of life called Social Distancing or “lock downs.” Churches are scrambling to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of their parishioners as we learn to do ministry during this little “a” apocalyptic time. Communities are getting creative in how they respond to the needs of those in the hospitality industry who are losing their jobs as servers, cooks, and even corporate leaders at hotels like Marriott are getting furloughed.
The deal is this, beloved: God is sovereign. God’s got the whole world in his hands! This is not the first little “a” apocalypse humankind has experienced and it will not be the last. What these swirly times do provide, however, is an opportunity for Christ-Followers to step up their game and demonstrate to the culture we are not out of touch and irrelevant and that a vital spiritual relationship with God makes our lives joyful in the midst of turmoil. This is our time as Church to rise up and become once again a beacon of Light in a very shadowy world.
Today’s scripture is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We will be looking at chapter 5:8-14. Our reading comes from a section of the letter where Paul is talking about what it means to be in Christian community. He speaks of the necessity of the unity in the Body of Christ. He is comparing one’s old way of life with the new life found in Christ and grounded in God. Following today’s reading, Paul goes on to talk about how relationships in the family and in business should work. Today’s verses from Ephesians 5:8-14 is in the midst of the section Paul is talking about how you and I are to relate with the world around us. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Paul is speaking of a spiritual apocalypse in the life of a believer. When a person encounters Christ, he or she is dramatically changed and can no longer see, relate with, and experience the world and life the same way. Once we were in darkness. Now we are not only in the Light, Paul says we are Light! Everything has changed! Our old life has been turned on its head and we each become beacons of life-giving Light to those around us. People of Jesus are children of Light! Light stands out in darkness. Light gives direction when culture’s shadowy duskiness begins to fall. It reveals Truth, Beauty, Goodness and God’s Presence.
I received a text from a friend Friday that highlights this notion of revealed Light. It’s written by an older man with mobility issues. He writes, “Instead of standing in line at Publix, (I can’t stand that long )…I decided to have my breakfast at the Plantation Diner…and then go back to Publix…I sat at a table outside, and when they brought my food, the owner ( who I know) came outside to talk to me…We chatted and told him that I couldn’t stand in the Publix line…I was just going there for a quart of milk…He left and in a few minutes came back with a quart of milk and gave it to me.
Reflecting on this he says,
I was amazed …
What goes around…comes around…
There’s so much good in this world …
More positive energy is coming through …
I’m home and the mockingbirds are still singing.
This dear man encountered a child of Light! Friends, we are living in a time of crisis but crisis in and of itself is not a bad thing nor is it a good thing. A crisis is just what it is, i.e. an event that has disrupted the status quo and calm of our life. What determines the outcome of crisis on whether it is “good” or “bad” is how we each relate to it. For me, I personally choose to relate to this crisis the world is in, this little “a” apocalyptic moment, as a child of Light. My faith and trust in God tells me to look for good and the beauty and the truth in the midst of the swirliness. I invite you to embrace your relationship with God in Christ and intentionally live as a child of Light.
Let me share with you what some may call a cheesy way to remember how to live as a child of Light right now. Let’s use the anacronym, CARE. If we live in CARE, we will be dual-beam halogen lights shining radiance everywhere! So, what does CARE stand for?
C – is for calling. Friends now is the time to go old school and analog in our relationships. As a culture, we love our smart phones for texts and movies but now is the time to start using them to call and connect with people. In your mind, I want you to scan the seats of where you normally sit in worship and look at the faces of the people you normally see there. Who are those people you had dinner with on Wednesday nights in the church’s fellowship hall? Who are those people in our Bible studies, AA Groups, sports teams? Who are those folks you have not seen in a while? Pick up the phone and call them! See how they are doing! If C is for calling, then…
A – is for asking. It’s fine to have chit-chat and catch up on things but to be a child of Light means to look beyond ourselves and ask how others are doing. Do they need anything? How are they feeling? Are they scared about their job? We won’t know unless we ask. Children of Light show their love by asking how the other is doing. Children of Light demonstrate Jesus when we purposefully ask, “What would you like me to do for you?” C is for calling. A is for asking.
R – is for reading. Use this time, friends, to be reading the Scriptures. Sure, it’s fun to binge-watch Netflix but how is that going to shape you and me so our lives reflect a Christoform character of Light onto others? We say we are a Christian nation but we are a people of religion who do not know our Holy Scripture. Now is a wonderful time to begin doing that and learn the character of God by reading the Stories of God! C – Call others. A – Ask others their needs. R – Read the stories of God to yourself and to your children. And finally,
E – Extend grace. Children of Light extend grace to others. Have you gone to a grocery store lately? You try going to Wal-Mart or Target? It’s a reminder of the darkness we are living in! People are fighting over the last rolls of toilet paper or hand sanitizer. People are hording supplies. We are driving distractedly and all the stress is causing us to be sharp and annoyed with others. Those of us who are typically mild-natured have invented new ways to use the King’s English as we shout at people. Friends, we are children of Light. As children of Light we are to shine and extend grace onto others and into situations that are hurtful or stressful. Do we mimic the world and live in its frenetic frenzy of “me first” or do we slow down and shine light by showering grace in ungraceful situations?
Children of Light CARE for others. We call and reach out to others. We ask how they really are and what their needs are. We regain our habit of reading Scripture which will form our character into Jesus’. We extend grace to others as God has extended grace to us.
Let’s be shining Lights in shadowy places by being CARE-full! Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 Ted Anthony, Taking stock of strange days: The week that America changed, March 21, 2020. Located at https://apnews.com/a82294fc0723630d850603dd7b016ad5.
 See https://www.wsj.com/articles/marriott-to-furlough-thousands-of-corporate-jobs-in-u-s-and-abroad-in-response-to-travel-collapse-11584834631.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.