Worship Theme: Jesus Appears as the Light Amid the Darkness

Sermon Theme: Live in Love’s Light

How can we experience a taste of heaven while we’re still here on earth? The apostle John answers that in a couple power-packed paragraphs from his first letter, 1 John 2:3-11. He describes what it means to “Live in Love’s Light.” January 22, 2023.

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I could hardly believe my ears. I was in a kitchen with one of our elders, sitting at the kitchen table of a man who was listed on our church records but whom I had never met during the short time I had been the pastor here (this was four decades ago). He had no interest in Jesus, actually blasphemed our precious Savior, and verbalized that he’d rather end up in hell with his friends even if the thermostat was set a tad higher. After a final warning, I said, “We need to leave. I don’t want to get hit with the fall-out from the lightning bolt which might crash through the window any second.”

By one definition hell is being unloved and incapable of loving. That isn’t fun. It isn’t funny. If that’s what hell is, then heaven is being loved and capable of loving and all of that without end. Are you looking forward to that as much as I am? In the meantime, we’re still here where it is possible to experience a taste of hell but also a taste of heaven. Our desire is for none of the former and all of the latter. How can that happen? The apostle John answers that in a couple power-packed paragraphs from his first letter. He describes what it means to: “Live in Love’s Light.”

 It begins with God’s connection to us

When God designed and created the universe, he wanted the seas to be breathtaking, the land to produce abundant harvests, flowers to scent the air and color the horizon, trees to bear fruit, animals to serve humans. But most of all, God wanted to have a close, caring connection with human beings. God did not design humans to be robots incapable of responding to that love. That would be like saying to a door, “I love you,” and expecting it to give you a hug. So, God built into people a desire, a longing, to connect with him, the basis for, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). At the same time God built into people a desire, a longing, to connect with each other, giving us a way to express our gratitude for his love, the basis for, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

But Satan had another plan. Because he had lost and can never have a close connection with God, he bent over backward to blow up the connection people had with God. It worked! He got Adam and Eve to buy into his lie that God’s love was not enough, that the connection they had with God was not all that important, and that on their own they were capable of rising to God’s level. Their rebellion ripped apart their connection with God worse than a marriage license in a paper shredder and took them into the darkness of disobedience and disconnect, and darkness brings fear. Sure, the fear of being caught and punished! But it’s what the punishment is that’s really scary, being all alone. Why do you think they made fig-leaf coverings for themselves and tried to hide from God? Because of what happened in Eden we are all born with an evil desire that swallows whole our desire to connect with God and with others. It is a force so powerful that it leads us to want to go away from God, do the opposite of what he commands, and go after relationships with others for our own gain and pleasure which ends up hurting instead of helping.

The apostle John had lived through dark days and had personally experienced exile on a lonely island just for being a follower and proclaimer of Jesus. On top of that, his heart ached for the Christians he had been serving along the left coast of Asia Minor because he saw how Satan was using lies like a big tarp to block out the light of God’s love and leave them in the dark about how to heal broken connections God and with each other. John knew what it felt like. Disconnect from God and then from others brings the darkness of the fear of being alone. Imagine a three-year-old shoved into a room at night with no tucking in, no kiss “Good night,” no Bible story, no little night light, and then someone locks the door from the outside. Terrifying! So, John wrote, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.” We deserve to be unloved because we are unlovable and incapable of loving. By all rights God should have given up on Adam and Eve, and he should give up on us because there is no way we can patch up our connection with him any more than an aircraft carrier can turn itself around in the Panama Canal. That is hell.

Yet, God’s desire to connect with us is like the love from the father in the story Jesus told about the wayward son, enveloping him, shushing his lame excuses, covering his tattered clothes, healing his oozing sores, and glues us to him with a new connection. That’s what flicks on the light when we are shivering and quivering, whimpering and sometimes whining like the three-year-old all alone in the dark, thinking, “I can’t make it through this friend-shunning, this job loss, this illness, this loneliness.” That’s when God comes and envelopes us in Jesus. I am writing you a new command; its truth is in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. How “epiphanic” can you get? I think I just made up a word. This is the Epiphany season, a time of the church year when we hear, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). With our physical ears and eyes we may hear and see dark alleys and dirty streets, dark clouds and dirty lies, dark news about a loved one’s health and dirty, underhanded wheeling and dealing at work. But Jesus flipped on the switch. The true light is already shining. Later in this same letter John wrote, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). That’s what it means to live in love’s light. It begins with God’s connection to us.

It brightens with our connection to others

The churches John was writing to were being torn apart by division and dissension. It was bad enough that some of the former members were denying that Jesus is truly God’s Messiah, but those who remained in the churches started fighting and criticizing each other. How could they survive the onslaught of darkness from outside when they kept turning off God’s light on the inside? The apostle knew that there’s no such thing as being in between darkness and light. There are no shadows. We are either living in God’s light and shining that out to others, or we are in darkness and stuck all alone with our dislikes, disregard, backbiting, bias, and bigotry.

Loving the lovable? “Love your spouse, your kids, your friends!” Anyone can do that. Yet sometimes we blow that, too. Lord, have mercy on us! But loving the unlovable? That’s a miracle. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. Living in the light of God’s love pivots love-spotlight from over our heads to people I find irritating, to people I think are weird, or to people who grate me the wrong way, to the spouse who lets you down, to the child who goofs up, to a friend who betrays your trust. That love begins with God’s connection to us and brightens in our connection to others. The brightness of that love doesn’t depend on what someone does for you but is in direct proportion to what you do for others.

One night at 11:30pm, an elderly African-Americ.an woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway next to her disabled car, trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict filled 1960’s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance, and put her in a taxi. She seemed to be in a big hurry! She wrote down his address, thanked him, and drove away. Seven days went by, and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read, “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.” For the young people, he was a famous singer in the ’60s.

Last Monday through Wednesday, we called workers at Grace were privileged to participate in our Lutheran church body’s National Leadership Conference in Chicago. Besides the well-done keynote addresses and break-out sessions, worshiping and communing with thirteen hundred fellow Christians in the hotel’s grand ballroom was a taste of heaven. But so is your kindness, care, and friendship to people you know are going through a dark time. Think of how that happens in our small group Bible studies where you can take time to build connections in Jesus’ love and really listen to a friend’s response to, “How are you doing, I mean really doing?” Think of how we’ll be able to share the light of that love as we build connections with each other and people of our community when we have space for that in the Broadway Building. Being alone, loaded with guilt and fears, is hell. Connect to others with an open heart, open ears, and open arms. Share the story of Jesus taking their guilt and fears to his cross and leaving them in his tomb. You will be living in love’s light, God’s forgiving light, and brightening their day with a taste of heaven. Amen.

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