March 27, 2011

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Grace Makes the Difference
Ephesians 5:1-14
Third Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2011
Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church
Powhatan, Virginia

            There is a difference between Christians and non-Christians.  Everyone recognises that the religious beliefs and practices of Christians are different from those of others.  But that is not the difference I am talking about.  The difference I am talking about encompasses the entire being of the Christian, and it is so deep, so profound, and so complete that the Bible uses radical language to describe it.  The Bible describes it as being born again, as dying to one life and being resurrected to a new life, and as being remade into a new kind of creature.  In Ephesians 5 the Bible describes it as being light instead of darkness. "Ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."  That's radical language.

            Ye were darkness.  Notice the Bible does not say we were in darkness; it says we were darkness.  Yes, I know there are other verses in the Bible that tell us we were in darkness.  1 John 2: 9, for example, tells us those who hate their brother are in darkness.  But, I think a fair and honest look at such verses shows that they mean darkness is a part of the being and nature of people.  They are not just in darkness, the darkness is in them.  They are part of darkness, and darkness is part of them.

            We see an illustration of this truth in the relationship of our physical bodies to the earth.  We are made of chemicals, but where do the chemicals come from?  The earth.  That's why we need our vitamins and minerals, isn't it?  So, we do not simply live on the earth, we are part of it, and it is part of us.  We are on the earth and of the earth.  Surely this is part of the meaning of Genesis 2:7; "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground."

            Darkness, of course, is a spiritual word in the Bible, and it is a symbol of evil.  It means to be out of God, or away from God in your heart.  It means to be in opposition to God and goodness.  It means, sin.

            This teaching of the darkness of man is the key to understanding all of mankind and all of our endeavours.  It is the key to understanding history, art, psychology, philosophy, politics, economics, and, even religion.  Take the field of economics, for example.  Capitalism is the best economic system on earth.  Capitalism is taught in the Bible, and is, therefore, the way God intends the economies of all nations to operate.  But in no place or time in history has capitalism ever produced universal prosperity and happiness.  Why?  Many assume it is because there is a flaw in capitalism as a system.  They say capitalism panders to greed and creates a class system of the haves and the have nots.  But this argument contains its own refutation, for it admits that the problem is not capitalism, but human greed.  If people were not greedy, if people were not willing to corrupt and abuse the system, capitalism would have no problems.  But people are greedy, or, in a more Biblical term, people are sinners.  Therefore, capitalism must never be unbridled.  It must always be administered under a system of just laws, the purpose of which is to protect the rights of all people to go as far and high as their talents and legitimate hard work will take them.

            When we apply the Biblical teaching of the darkness of man to education, we easily see that education alone cannot change sinners; it only makes sinners more literate.  When we apply it to politics we see that political parties and platforms cannot end the crime and poverty and wars that plague us.  Even religion, for even religion is often corrupted and misused by people.  In fact, any hope that man can build a perfect home, community, nation, or world without first changing the nature of man himself is nothing more than a Tower of Babel.

            Now ye are light.  There was a time when we were just as foolish, just as misguided, and just as dark in our souls as the rest of them.  Maybe we didn't do the same things some of them do, and maybe we didn't believe the same things some of them believe, but we were just as out of fellowship with God, and just as ignorant of His ways as they are now.  But for those who are in Christ, all of that has changed.  "Ye were sometime darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord."  There has been a change in you.  You are different, and the difference is that now you want to know God, and exist in fellowship and unity with Him.  It is not simply that you want to be a good capitalist, or a good citizen, or even a good church member.  It is that now you want to be Godly.  Something inside of you has changed so that you now seek to live God's way.  Your "heart" has been changed.  Your desires have been changed.  You have become light.

            Light is a spiritual word too.  And if darkness means to be away from God, light means to be united to Him.  If darkness means to be in opposition to God, light means to be in accord with Him and on His side.  If being darkness means evil and sin are a part of you, being light means that righteousness and goodness are now a part of you.  If being darkness means you are in the darkness and the darkness is in you, then being light means you are in the light and the light is in you.  And the Light is God.

            What causes this change that brings us out of the darkness and into the Light?  It is a long and somewhat complicated process, as we have been seeing in our studies in the Book of Romans.  Suffice it to say for now that it is a change wrought in us by God Himself.  He works in us, by His Word and Spirit, bringing us to realise that we need Him as Lord and Saviour.  By His Spirit, He enables us to believe in Christ, as He is offered to us in the Gospel, and those who believe are forgiven of their sin and have eternal peace with God.  And, by His Word and Spirit this transformation from darkness to light takes place in our souls.  We are radically re-oriented.  The course of our lives is changed.  We become more and more concerned about living God's way, and less and less about living our way.  We learn to love God more and more, and we learn to love His ways more and the ways of sin less.  This is called growing in Christ. It is also called growing in holiness.  It is what Peter meant when he wrote, "desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2), and it is what Paul meant when he wrote, "We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1).  What we are talking about in this sermon, and what the Apostle was writing about in our reading from Ephesians is grace.  It's all about grace.  The Apostle wrote some very intense and very hard words in this passage.  He wrote, "no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience."  We don't live in isolation; we see the rampant sexual immorality and the sorrows of life lived in the gutter.  We see the results of drug abuse and people abuse, and alcohol abuse.  We see the greed and the almost absolute lack of concern for God in the lives of people around us, and we can sometimes become proud and judgmental of them.  But we need to remember it is only by the grace of God that we're not just like them.  It isn't our superior wisdom that brought us out of sin and into God.  It isn't our superior goodness that keeps us away from the destructive ways of sin.   The grace of God has placed us in the Light and the Light in us.  Thanks be to God.

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