Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: John 3:14-21
When I was a child I sometimes used to get up to mischief, as hard as that may be for many of you to believe. Ok, maybe I often used to get up to mischief. There where times when my mother used to find the zucchini she thought I had eaten for tea behind the fridge next to the dinner table, or find that someone had eaten a whole tin of milo with a spoon, or that someone had chopped the wooden spoon in half and then placed it back in the second drawer. When I was asked who was responsible, it was always tempting for me to lie about it.
It wasn’t me, it must have been my sister, or someone else. Perhaps it was an imaginary friend. There was some part of me that did not want my bad deeds to be brought out into the light of day. Mind you, I was the only one who thought that they were still shrouded in darkness. Every one else knew quite well. I thought that if I did not admit to my deeds, then I would not have to face the consequences. Why? Because I was guilty, I was ashamed, and I didn’t want to be punished.
It took me a few years to work out that the consequences were not nearly as bad if I did not lie about what I had done. My mother shamed me into telling the truth, and bringing my misdeeds out into the light, by telling me after I lied to her that she could not trust me any more, and that I had to gradually go about earning her trust back again. There was still a price to be paid for being naughty, a punishment of some sort, but if I tried to cover up what I had done, it was twice as bad. This was a hard lesson for a child of about 5 years old.
Some lessons do not get any easier as we get older.
The gospel lesson tells us that light came into the world, but those who do evil hate the light, and want to stay in the darkness, where their works can not be exposed. This is just like me not wanting my childhood escapades to be made known.
When sinful people who live in darkness saw the one who was pure light, they hid. They thought, “there is no way that my evil deeds can stand before one who is this holy. I will be undone, judged.”
This is just like the prophet Isaiah, when he was called, who instead of being overjoyed that he had seen the Lord in a vision said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”
He knew that his uncleanness, his sinfulness, could not stand before God’s holiness.
But we are told in the gospel lesson that Christ did not come to judge the world but to save it.
So why is the world so afraid of him? What cause would the world possibly have to fear the one who could save it, to turn their backs on him, to not want to know him?
We can only understand this when we first begin to understand the strength of shame.
Has it ever been your turn to write a letter to someone, or to phone them, and you have just forgotten? After a while you do want to write to them, but you don’t know how to start the letter.
“Sorry I haven’t written in so long but there were more important things to do” doesn’t sound all that good. So you put it off for even longer, because you don’t know what to say, and soon you realise that it has been so long that there is no way that you dare write to them any more. Shame stops you doing something that you want to do, that you know you should do. Shame is a powerful force, along with its partner, guilt.
The similarities between the Gospel and the Old Testament lessons today are clear.
Just as the snake was lifted up and all people had to do to be saved was to look to it, all that human beings need to do to be saved is to look to Christ, the one who was “lifted up” for them. It is so easy that you would think everyone would be saved, don’t you? Or you would think that at least a lot more would be saved than are now.
But those who live in sin, and in darkness, can only see the presence of Christ as law. They can only see the holiness of Christ as showing up how unholy they truly are, and the comparison is too much for them to bear. The more we talk about how wonderful Jesus is, the lower they feel, because he is not wonderful for them, he is terrifying.
This is because of their guilt and shame. They know where they stand before God, deep down. We don’t have to tell them.
What we need to do is to preach the Gospel boldly into people’s lives, to tell them that Jesus did not come into the world to show up how sinful they are, and to show how perfect he alone is, but he came to give that perfection to them. That is not an easy thing to hear, especially when you are in the depths of shame and guilt. Those who are used to living in the darkness learn to love the darkness after a while.
And if you have ever tried to wake someone up by just throwing open the curtains or turning the light on, you know how much the sudden glare of the light can hurt, when you are used to the darkness. We need to be gentle with people, yet not leave them in the dark.
The end of the text once again has a message for us that feel that we are alright in the face of all this as we live in the light. perhaps we should read them again.
But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
The light of truth points to the fact that the things that we do are only done in God.
This is exactly what the epistle lesson tells us in so many words. It is by grace that we have been saved, and this is a free gift of God.
Any of the things that we do in truth have been prepared in advance for us to do, so they are therefore not our works, but works of God! We can lay no claim to them. So we cannot boast. We are no better than anyone else. We have been brought out into the light and now the fight is on every day to not go back.
The darkness of the Lenten season will in two weeks be broken by the glorious light of the Easter Dawn. It’s not here yet, but the sky is starting to lighten. Let’s get ready to leave behind the darkness, leave all the things we are ashamed of at the cross, and step into that easter light.