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Loving the Light

John 3:14-21

April 3, 2015

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco for the CCU Good Friday Service

Now let’s be honest and tell the truth: don’t we sometimes really like the darkness? When we darken our bedroom, we can more easily fall asleep. And when you have people over for dinner, we dim down the lights to create a dining experience or may it really be so that your guests can’t see the cobwebs up in the corners. Joy says that I like keeping things dark to save on our PG&E bill.

Sometimes, darkness figuratively makes us feel good. Who among us doesn’t have certain things, or certain people, that we would like to hide from on a regular basis? Darkness is a good place to do that.

Who among us doesn’t have something in our past, or even in our present, that we profoundly hope stays hidden? Darkness is an immense help at hiding our sins.

Who among us doesn’t find that there are certain people, or certain kinds of people, or certain things that certain people do, that we really despise and have no desire to forgive or to love? Darkness is a great place to keep and to nurture those feelings.

Even those of us who are believers, and who very much want to be followers of the Light of the World, have those moments in which we love darkness rather than light; and in which we hide from light, so that our deeds may not be exposed. How do we learn—is it possible to learn—to love the light?

On this Good Friday night when it is truly dark outside regardless of how we try to light up the streets or light up this sanctuary, it is still dark.

Being in the Light

This message is like going into a restroom where the bright light is not very forgiving and it shows all of your age spots and wrinkles and you say to yourself, “Oh, my gosh!” Before we think about ourselves on how we would rather stay in the darkness, let’s look at times when being in the light feels good.

When you are given recognition, or an award, for volunteering hours you have spent quietly doing good, isn’t it a little fun to have the light shined on you in that moment? It can be a bit embarrassing, but isn’t it kind of nice to soak up the light, at least for a few moments?

When you receive a promotion or a raise at work, and your boss says something affirming about the work you’ve done, and what you contribute to the business, isn’t that brief moment in the spotlight nice? Some of you have shared success stories of your family members right here at church and the best wishes and congratulations are quite nice for a few moments.

When your kids, years later of course, happen to mention what a good job you did as a parent, don’t you just love the warmth and light of that acknowledgement even after you have calculated how much you spent to raise them?

Light is good when it highlights the things we have done well, when it spotlights the times we have worked hard and succeeded. The light of the world feels welcome, when it draws attention to good things—whether we did them, or someone else did them—when it rehearses for us news that is good rather than bad; when it illuminates for us signs of hope.

Isn’t this what we mean when we wish aloud that the newspaper and TV carry more stories of good news? While we do need to see an Amber Alert on our phones, we also want to hear about a stranger who helped a lost child find her way home. While we need to hear about corruption in city hall and deadlock in Washington, DC, we also want to hear stories of bureaucrats getting some good things done. We like to hear such stories because they show that light can defeat darkness.

When we talk about Jesus being the light of the world, he is not difficult to love…at least, most of the time. Sometimes, when Jesus rubs us the wrong way or demands of us more than we are ready to give or when he gets angry and we don’t really understand why, Jesus is a challenging person to love.

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But when we see and hear the whole story of his and God’s incredible love for us, we learn to love because he first loved us. Jesus may be hard to understand sometimes. He may be hard to follow. But Jesus is not particularly hard to love. Not until he shines his light on us.

John 3:16

Contained in today’s lesson is the most popular verse in the Bible: John 3:16. In all its familiarity, there are three aspects that are worth highlighting.

First, the truth is the declaration of God’s loving action. We don’t see why God loves the world, he just does. Our salvation is rooted in God’s love for the whole world, and that point is remarkable. The “world” in John designates humanity in rebellion against God. Rejecting the revelation that has come in Jesus, God still loves the world. We have a tendency to put up boundaries to define to whom God can love and therefore keeps us loving those we don’t want to love. God’s love is boundless.

Secondly, we are not just called to believe in Jesus but to believe “into” Jesus. This suggests a journey into an ever-expanding and unending relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and the love of God in which we are to abide. This means that we are always believing “into” Jesus, entering more and more deeply into his life, always being drawn into the endless love of the Father.

Thirdly, this relationship of faith is also what defines “eternal life.” Eternal life is a life that abides in Jesus, and therefore life with the Father whom Jesus reveals. Eternal life is not primarily a matter of time but a matter of life with God and because of Jesus; such life has begun for us. What transforms life into eternal life, then, is not the moment of our death, but faith in and into Jesus.

We regularly use John 3:16 to say that God loves us. That is true, but then too often we simply turn to go back to the way things have always been, thinking that the cross is a very nice illustration of God’s love but that nothing has to change, and that nothing has been changed.

This is not the gospel. This would be no good news. God’s salvation judges our darkness, our sin, and our rebellion.

Exposes Sin

It makes perfect sense that God would want to save the world God created by offering us a second chance to put right what we have done wrong. The only appropriate response to God’s goodness and generosity and redemptive work on our behalf is belief and the desire to live as people who have “come to the light” in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the the light that exposes the darkness remaining in our world.

Jesus brings light into the world that exposes evil deeds…whether they were done by someone else, or by us individually, or by us corporately. But don’t we wish, at some level, that Jesus would shine harsh light on other people’s evil deeds and leave ours alone in the darkness?

Highlight the illegal immigrants crossing the border, but let us hide in the shadows of our own economic policies that have cost them their land and jobs? Highlight the Catholic priests who have molested young boys, but sweep under the rug the number of Protestant clergy who have molested young girls, and been quietly moved to another congregation? Get mad at Syria, Iran, or North Korea, for wanting nuclear weapons, while trying to keep in the dark the thousands that we already have?

Isn’t there a parable about seeing the specks in other people’s eyes, while somehow missing the log in our own? How do we learn to love the light, when it exposes not only our enemies’ evil, but also the evil that is within us? How do we love the light that shines not only on the good we have done, but also on the bad we have managed to hide along the way?  How do we learn to come to the light, even though it means that all our deeds will be exposed?

Part of the challenge that we face is that we fear God to be judgmental and unforgiving as we humans tend to be. How could we possibly, willingly, let God see what we’ve been up to, knowing what we know about God being just, and having laws, and rules, and all of that? We know that we ourselves can be pretty unforgiving at times, at least of certain people, and of certain particular sins…and so we expect pretty much the same from God.

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It seems to me that the only way we can really learn to love the light and to lose our fear of it is to experience it from one another. To find our way into a community of faith where we learn that it is safe to bring our deeds into the light, even the ones that shock or embarrass us the most, and to find that we are still loved. That’s the kind of place a church ought to be. But it’s not the kind of place that most churches are.

Can you imagine at FCBC or in your church in which it would be safe to share our most hidden sins? Can you imagine a place where you would say things from the darkest places are in your life? Can you imagine being the kind of person that others would trust with that sort of information about themselves? Can we imagine being a community in which people love the light so much that we lose our fear of darkness?

I think on the whole in our Asian American context, we do as much as we can especially with our closest friends in small group settings. I suspect that most if not all of us will always have a few things in our lives that we choose to keep in the darkness, even though they probably ought to be brought to the light. Of course, the whole notion that we could really keep anything secret from God is pretty ludicrous, anyway! But that doesn’t keep us from trying! We think we can keep it from one another. But what if we didn’t have to?

The light has come into the world, and we can welcome it, or we can hide from it. We can hate it for what it shows us about ourselves, or we can love it because it highlights what is good about us, and offers the opportunity for healing what is not. We can hide from it, hoping to keep our secrets secret, or we can come out into it, and work to reflect it out into the rest of the world. We can be hiders from the light, or we can be bearers of the light…for each other, for our community…for the world that sits mostly in darkness, and needs illumination.

This lesson reminds us on this Good Friday and always that we are called to persist in exhibiting God’s grace and light in the world, knowing that, as John’s gospel states at the opening, the darkness can never overcome the light.

God sent Christ into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it; to shed light on us; not to condemn us, but to save us. May we trust in that love. May we share it with those who are still in darkness?

Let us pray.

Down through the ages, Lord Jesus, we wondered how much God loved us. In our moments of honesty we had to admit that our sin and evil cast us far from the righteousness of God. Our history is one long tale of disobedience. What would God do to us? And what would God do with us? Then you came to us. You called us, reached out and healed us, encouraged us, and told us to walk your way. More than any of that, you allowed yourself to be lifted up on the cross, as if to say, “This is how much God loves you. This is what God does for you.”

Therefore we pray during this time of worship that we might turn our gaze away from ourselves, away from our presumed righteousness, even away from our terrible sin hidden in the darkness and look upon you, high and lifted up before us, the summit of divine love, our salvation. Amen.

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