FEBRUARY 14th, 2018                                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

ASH WEDNESDAY                                                                         GEN 1:1-5; JOHN 1:1-9                  

JESUS – THE GREAT I AM                                                                        JOHN 3:19-21; 8:12;9:4-5                                                                                                                                                 /12:31-6, 44-6

                                                         “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD”


            We began tonight's worship being reminded that, in the beginning, there was utter darkness.   And with this darkness there was a vast...emptyness, a deep and dark void.  But then God's rich, loving voice broke the silence and dispensed the darkness: “Let there be light”, God said, “and there was light!  And God saw that it was good!”  (Genesis 1:3-4)

            The Light was good.  It was not only good that there was light to illuminate what God was to create, but the Light itself was good.  It reflected God's goodness. 


            Later John would clarify that Theos, (the Greek word for God) was not alone, for “In the be-ginning was the Logos, (the Word), and the Logos was with Theos, and was Theos.  The Logos was with Theos in the beginning.  In Him was life, and that life brought light to everyone!”  (John 1:1-4)


            Theos and Logos were distinct yet one – and they had company.   For “the Spirit of God, was hovering over the deep.”(Genesis 1:2) The three were connected, and holy – a Holy Trinity!  In His reflection we're created with an unquenchable longing for connection, and meaning, and light. 


            But all is not as it was meant to be – not only in the world around us, but within us.  If we're honest, we'd have to confess that we have an affinity to the darkness.  And just as it was back in the beginning, before God's voice broke the silence, there exists a void, an emptyness, in its absence. 


            As Paul wrote...: “(We) know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to us.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.  Through everything God made, we can see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature.  So we have no excuse for not knowing God.  Yes, we knew God, but we wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks.  We began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like.  As a result, our minds became dark...and confused.  We traded the truth about God for a lie. We worshiped and served things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen!” 

                                                                                                                                    (Romans 1:19-21, 25)

            Sound familiar?  Can you find yourself anywhere in Paul's description of the human condition, the tendency to let other pursuits take precedence over the pursuit of God and his goodness and light, to place on the altar of your time and affections, less emphasis on God than his creation?  The biblical un-derstanding of worship goes far beyond the singing of songs or the fulfillment of religious obligations – it is whatever has our heart, reflected in where we invest the most time and money! 


             Paul suggests that when anything takes precedent over the pursuit of God & seeking to glorify him, we are in great danger of having our hearts and minds get confused...and darkened. 


            Such darkness is not only a threat to those engaged in evil activities, but those who trade the truth for a lie, who pay more attention to what the world says then to what God says.  As the prophet Isaiah put it: “People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.  They go from one place to another, weary and hungry, and because they are hungry, they rage and curse their king and their God. They look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.  They'll find themselves as exiles, wandering in the darkness.”                                                                                                                                           (Isaiah 8:20-22)



            One of the ways our minds wander is when we begin to cave in to the fear that we are missing out, that Christianity is inhibiting – that such a life-style causes us to miss out on the better things of life.  For some its the party life, others, personal ambition, or family time, or entitlement, or recreation, or creation itself.  

            But a life lived increasingly oblivious to God's goodness and presence becomes empty and void of all that we were meant to be and become – children of the light. 


            Pastor Wurmbrand tells of a communist Russian soldier who showed up at an underground ser-vice after being invited by a young woman in a railroad station. The pastor asked, How can I help you?


            The young man answered, “I have come for light.”  After the pastor read from the gospel of John, the man put his hand upon the pastor's hand and asked in earnest: “I ask you with all of my heart, don't lead me astray.  I belong to a people kept in the dark. Tell me, please, is truly God's Word?”

            That night the communist Russian soldier walked into the light...!

            The enemy's lies, and our inclination to buy into them, brought a curse, the curse that sin brings death – not only physical death but worse, spiritual death.  That's the kind of death in which our minds go dark, in which we forget who we are and whose we are, that we were created to reflect light not to pursue personal gratification but to pursue God and his kingdom, his reign among all peoples, evident in lives lived to his glory and in service and compassion to one another.  The enemy's lies bring on the curse of forgetting all that and risking being separated from the one who thought us up.  Jesus points to that curse in several of his parables in which a deceived person winds up in the darkness all alone, shivering, their teeth a-chattering, because they lost sight of what really matters – life with God! 


            But the Lord of lies and darkness does not get the last word.  As promised long ago: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.  For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine..., for the time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.”  (Isaiah 9:1-2) Skip to the end of the book, where we read about the redemption of all that God has created, and we glimpse this vision:  “No longer will there be a curse upon anything, for the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship him.  And they will see his face..., and there will be no night there, no darkness – no need for lamps or the sun – for the Lord will shine on them...forever!” 

                                                                                                                        (Revelation 22:3-4)

            So how do we get there?  How can we overcome the deception and darkness of the enemy?  How do we prevail over our selfish impulses, our carnal desires and fears of missing out?  We begin by realizing this light is no mere mystical force, but the the flesh, and we let him in!   


            “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth!”  (John 1:14)  As Jesus said, “I am the light of the world!  If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life!”  (John 8:12)


            So pursuing Jesus, obeying his teachings and following his example, brings us true life – the kind of life that is full of his light.  He goes on to say that there is great urgency to this.  Time is short.

As he puts it: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent me!” (John 9:4)    


            And again, he reiterates, “Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you.  Those who walk in darkness cannot see where they are going.  Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”               (John 12:35-36)




            I read an article in C.T. by a young woman who wrote about how her struggles with depression led her down a path of spiritual uncertainty.  Though she'd been raised in the church, the dark thoughts that plagued her tempted her to doubt that God is loving and just.  She also saw evidence of hypocrisy in the church she was raised in and so decided Jesus must be a myth, as she'd been told in school.  She chose an alternative lifestyle, dappled in new age spirituality, but the darkness within never abated. 


            At one point she felt an inner pull, a longing, to rediscover the God of her youth.  Her search led her to a church that focused on discipleship, on not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Convict-ed of her rebellious ways, she sought out Jesus anew, asking his help to let go...and let God.  She found that instead of it inhibiting her freedom he actually liberated her from the dark places she tended to go – both physically and mentally.  She shares this in an article entitled, 'Defeating Darkness Inside'.


            At one point Jesus further clarified what he was about when he said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” 

                                                                                                                                    (John 12:46)

            That's a clear articulation of his sense of purpose and mission.  He tells us in no uncertain terms, why he came – to shed light in this dark world so we can escape the dark!  In his light-filled statements we read tonight, it becomes clear that he shines this light upon and within us is so that we don't have to hide or fear exposure, nor pretend or distrust, living a lie or in fear that we are missing out somehow...  


            Jesus didn't come to restrict us but so that we may live joy-filled and abundant lives.  He comes to reveal the truth, as the embodiment of truth, that he truly is enough!  “I am...the great I am!” he declares, “and I am enough!  Let me show you!  Let me illuminate what the Father of lies and all those deceived by his lies, can never understand, overcome or snuff out!  I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that you never need to grapple to find your way!  So my friends, let the light in!” 


            How so?  Consider what John wrote in his letters to the early church: “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there's no darkness in him at all!  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but just go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellow-ship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 


            If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all darkness.” 

                                                                                                                                    (1 John 1:5-9)

            I read of a 19th century German church in which a woman was delivered of a dark spirit.  Her healing was so dramatic that it prompted the people in her church to recognize their own affinity to dark thoughts and deeds.  Soon the pastor and his staff were busy hearing confessions – and no, it was not a Catholic church!  Before long reports of the Spirit hovering over the place began to spread and people began to be healed of illnesses and injuries and the light of God broke in! 


            What that might look like here, I wonder?   What if we were to confess a sin that's had a hold of us with a friend here tonight.  My friends, let it go and let God cleanse you from all darkness...and let the light in!  Then come up, remembering your baptism..., and be marked with the sign of the cross....!