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Friday, 4 March 2016

Light that enables us to see ourselves and our world

Here is yesterday's sermon from the lunchtime Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

In today’s epistle (Ephesians 5. 8 - 14) we are told that we were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. So we are called to ‘live as children of light … and find out what pleases the Lord.’ What does this involve?

Jesus, our Lord, is the light of the world. We are given the image of Jesus as light to help us grasp the reality that he is the one by whom we come to see. Light is not something we can see directly but something that enables us to see ourselves and our world. This is what Jesus does for us through the incarnation; he is God fully revealed in human form, so shows us what God is actually like as well as revealing all that we, as humans, can become. For the very first time in the history of the world a human being lives a fully human life.

We come into the light of Christ by comparing our lives to his. As we do so, inevitably we find that we fall short; that our capacity to do what pleases him (by living out all goodness, righteousness and truth) is less than his capacity for these things. Our reality, as our Gospel reading (Luke 11. 14 - 26) makes clear, is that we are divided people. As St Paul states in Romans 7: ‘… what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

When we see ourselves and our world in the light of the life of Jesus, what we see is our failure and inability to be the people that we were created to become. In the light of the way that Jesus lived his life, we see our lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, remain in darkness, and there is no truth in us. But when we live in the light, seeing ourselves as we really are, then we become honest with ourselves and with God. By coming into that honesty we confess our sins and are purified; we make our humble confession to Almighty God truly and earnestly repenting of our sins.

But the light of Christ does not just expose and make visible our fallibilities. When we learn what pleases our Lord (which is all goodness, righteousness and truth; or, as our confession says, intending to lead a new life by following the commandments of God, walking in his holy ways and living in love and charity with our neighbours) we are then illuminated by him and become a light to others. This is what Jesus means when he tells us to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.

In business terms we would call this being transparent. One business dictionary definition of transparency is a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.” The true purpose of transparency is not simply to appease regulators, to increase profits, or to please shareholders. The true purpose of transparency is authenticity. This is the quality of being genuine, and ultimately of being trusted, which allows our message to be heard and believed. For this to happen – for us to ‘be a real agent for God to connect with [our] neighbour’ – we need self-awareness; ‘each of us needs to know the specific truth about himself or herself.’

Light enables us to see all that is around us. As a result, we can then also see others around us and when we do this, looking around us and see other people, creatures and objects, we can grow in understanding of ourselves by undertaking an exercise in comparing and contrasting; thinking to ourselves I’m similar to this and I’m different from that.

There is a South African word ‘Ubuntu’, which means ‘I am because you are’. It is only as we see others, in the light of Christ, that we truly come to know ourselves. Jean Vanier, creator of the L’Arche communities, also speaks about dependency being at the heart of community and our belonging to one another. 'We do not discover who we are, we do not reach true humanness,' he says, 'in a solitary state; we discover it through mutual dependency, in weakness, in learning through belonging.' Similarly, St Anthony the Great said ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour’ and, as a result Rowan Williams states that 'only in the relations we have with one another can the love and mercy of God appear and become effective.'

Once we were darkness, but now in the Lord we are light. So, live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ May it be so for each one of us. Amen.


John Tavener - Darkness Into Light.

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