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Epiphany - Let Your Light Shine

God's love is also completely given over to us through Jesus. So we have this dark and we have this light and this light is not a light that we can obtain ourselves. It is a light that God has to give us.

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
15 min read
Epiphany - Let Your Light Shine
Photo by Rohan Makhecha / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the raw, unedited transcript from a sermon given on Jan. 29th, 2023. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! :-)

The opening acclamation this morning, Where did you go? The we said that I will make you a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Light and darkness. Sometimes we can forget what darkness is, which means that sometimes we can forget what light means and how important it is.

In the some of the readings this morning, God brings an argument to Israel and saying, what is the big deal? What was the heavy thing that I laid on you? What did I expect of you? And even in the psalm it was, God doesn't require all of these sacrifices. He requires this of us. In the gospel, Jesus gives this sort of upside down view of what it means to be blessed compared to what society said what culture said. And even Paul says, you know what the Gospels kind of crazy the world does not get it and they're not supposed to get it because they don't have God's spirit in them yet. But when they do, that's when God's power is expressed.

Where do sin and darkness come from?

So I want to take a little bit of time and review darkness. Review sin so that we can have a better appreciation for what the light is. In Genesis, yes, it goes all the way back to genesis. We're all familiar with the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve in the serpents and I want to talk about that for a moment in a way that maybe you haven't heard before. It's a it's a way that I haven't heard very often, but it makes much more sense to me.

It's usually painted in such a way that Adam and Eve's sin, they blame each other, they blame the serpent. God is angry so he kicks them out of the garden of Eden. I don't think that's what happened. I think those events happened. I don't think it happened in quite those ways. Let's let's talk about this for a minute when the serpent comes to Eve and says God doesn't want you to eat this because he knows that when you'll eat it, you'll be like him knowing good and evil and you know what God said the same thing after they ate, he said they have become like me knowing good and evil.

Well what does that mean? How does God know good and evil does that has God sin? The answer is no. So that can't, it can't just mean they have sins to know good and evil. It means this when if I say to you, I know what's best for me or if you say I know what's best for my family. Another way of saying that is I decide what's best for me, I decide what's best for my family, right? I know what's best for me. You can't tell me.

That's what to know means here to know good and evil means to decide what is good and evil. So God is the one who established good and evil anything else you want, but don't eat of the street. And satan says you'll be like God deciding good and evil and God himself says they're like us deciding good and evil except they don't really decide for creation. They're deciding for themselves. So sin when it is enacted is me deciding for myself compared to what God has decided for me, what is good and what is evil?

Or as I've heard it summarized elsewhere, I'm boss. That is the root of what sin is it? Is that simple? Sometimes we like to think, okay sure I'm a sinner, but I'm not as bad as whatever. Yes, I've seen but I haven't done X. Y. Z. That sin does, God does not see sin on a scale. It's pretty much really black and white. Either you have and you have it or you haven't and the bible tells us that all have sinned, right? All all, how many is all all all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have all at some point in our lives said God, I'm boss, if that's that's what it comes down to now. The consequence of that is separation from God. When you go back and read genesis, God says we're gonna put the man and the woman out of the garden unless they eat from the tree of life and live forever. I think we can speculate what would have happened if they had eaten from the tree of life and live forever. They would have lived forever in a state separated from God never able to be redeemed.

So God removing them from the garden was not him being angry and punishing them. It was him protecting them from themselves. So let that sink in for a minute. It was not God punishing them, He was protecting them from themselves. That paints that whole story in a very different light for me anyway. It's one of a loving, merciful protective god, not an angry from like almost day one vengeful ticked off God. God has a plan for how to redeem them though. And this plan involves death because the wages of sin is death if sin separates us from God.

The only way to make up for that is for someone to die, which is why when we die, apart from christ bible's pretty clear, we do not go to heaven, we go to the other place, H. E double hockey sticks and we like to say it that way and make light of it because no one likes to say we go to hell without Jesus, but we do and we are, death does not pay for our own sins. Somebody else's death has to pay for our sin. That's the heart of the gospel isn't it?

That's the root of the gospel that Jesus's death. The son of God's death pays the price for anyone's sin who comes to him, that's the good news. It's not something we can do ourselves. It's something Jesus has done for us. So the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life through christ, Jesus, Our Lord. That this is all in romans. So what do I have to, what does it cost me to be saved then? If it's a free gift, nothing, but it costs me everything to keep on following him.

It doesn't cost me a thing to be saved, but it costs me everything to keep on following Him. Because in christ we all died itself, Paul says in Galatians. Oh, it's my favorite verse. And every time I try to quote it, it leaves my brain. Galatians 2:20 I had just before I turned it, I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but christ lives in me. I have been crucified with christ. I no longer live. But christ lives in me in the life that I live in this flesh. I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. That's where it comes from.

What is love?

That's love in john 3 16, which I believe we quote later on in the service for God, so loved the world. And this is another passage I'd like to harp on. It does not mean God loved us so much. Although God's the quantity of God's love for us cannot be measured. There's not height or depth or width or length that can contain the love of God for us, it means this is how God loved us. For God in this way loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

This love, this kind of love means a love that is completely given over to. God's love for us is completely given over to us and that's evidenced in Jesus on the cross and the resurrection. Now, interestingly later on, in that same context, Jesus says that men have loved darkness rather than light, same exact word, we are love for darkness is a love that is completely given over to apart from christ. I was raised by, you would, I think you could fairly say two drug addicts, but they didn't remain addicts their whole life, thankfully, they eventually did come to the Lord and eventually helped me come to the Lord.

But growing up, they were very much into drugs and someone who is addicted to something can be completely given over to that thing. They will give up everything in their life to let's call it worship that thing to obtain that thing to participate in that thing. That is what I love, that is completely given over to. So when Jesus himself says that we have a we have loved darkness rather than light, that's what it means, I'm gonna do my own thing, I'm gonna be completely given over to this, I'm boss.

But God's love is also completely given over to us through Jesus. So we have this dark and we have this light and this light is not a light that we can obtain ourselves. It is a light that God has to do for us. Now there's all I think people debate this to a ridiculous degree. I don't, I myself don't need every little possible thread of theology to be tied up and neatly put in a little box and with a bow on it. There are some things that are supposed to be a mystery because God is bigger than us. Salvation is bigger than us. You know, if I could understand everything about God, then God would fit in a box and he just doesn't.

God's flashlight

What God does is he shines this light into people's hearts and they, whether they know it or not come to realize I need the Lord, I don't know what I need. I need something, There's this, this, there's I there's this recognition of sin, the spirit convicts the world of, of sin. Oh my gosh, I can't believe I remember part of this, but not the whole thing. It's in john sin, righteousness and judgment. That's what the spirit does. It illuminates our darkness, if that makes any sense, it shows us where the darkness is and we feel like, oh, I I need something for that. And that's where Jesus comes in? That's where the gospel comes in. That's where you and I as people who have this light hopefully are used of God. I think I said last time that God reaches people through people, right? That's that is what we do. The Holy Spirit shines the light and he orchestrates it so that we can come alongside these people and show them what it means. Tell them, fill in the blanks. Talk about Jesus.

So it costs me nothing to get saved to become a follower of Jesus, but it costs me everything to follow him. What, what does that mean? What does that look like? I think we saw some of what it looks like in these, in these passages today in Micah 6 is one of those. In the 60s and 70s, there was a lot of fun with turning scriptures into song. I'm not even going to try to sing this. It's a very singsong thing and it does get stuck in one's head about what the Lord requires of us. Oh man, I knew it, Micah is one of the little guys, the minor prophets in the old testament and it's so small that it's hard to find minor doesn't mean like less important by the way. It just means it's a shorter book, than the major profits. There it is. I could probably start seeing it, but I'll mess it up, awkward silence? That's not Micah, that's Malachi.

What does God want from me?

Does somebody have it? Read it out loud, please the last 6-8 please. You want to find it? What does the Lord? But what shall I come before the Lord and follow myself before the Lord on high. Shall I come before you with your offerings with year old? Will the lord be pleased with thousands of rounds with 10,000 rivers of oil? Shall I give my first word for my transgression? My body for the sin of my soul. He has told you o man what is good and what does the Lord require? But to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. This is one of a handful of summaries of what does God want from us. I mean in earlier in our, in our liturgy we read, Jesus reminding us about that to love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two greatest commandments. You can summarize all of what God wants into those commandments. But there's some other places like this where there's also just sort of this great little nugget, this little summary and he, he opens up with how burdensome is.

This, this is what I want of you. Okay, love justice. Love kindness to I'm sorry do justice love kindness and walk humbly with your God. That's actually harder than it sounds, isn't it? It could be like, that's all God wants just just to do. I have the song stuck in my head, so it's two to do justly to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. We all want justice. We want mercy and kindness. It's that walk humbly with your God part that can be difficult.

God's idea of blessed is not our idea of blessed

Another place, this sort of summary of what God wants from us, but also for us was in our gospel reading in Matthew chapter five. The be attitudes and maybe you've heard the to me the kind of cheesy, the be-attitudes, be these things have these attitudes, it's like, okay, calm down skippy. It's not that easy. The beatitudes, it's, they still start with blessed. It's it's another way to say this is oh how happy is the person, oh how happy is the man blessed is the man who or the person who has, who does these things.

The poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And again, these were all these are even contrary to our modern christian culture, I think because we like to have it all together, we like to appear like everything's great. My wife and I had some dinner with some amazing folks who will remain anonymous who are in this room. I'm just kidding And after we, after we hung out with these folks and some other people just said something to the effect of yes, she's probably watching and I'm totally calling you out on this.

She said it's so easy to be around Anglicans. And what she meant was that around some of the other traditions that we grew up in and around, you had to be on, like you had to be kind of dressed a certain way, you had to talk about certain things in a certain way. Everything was good, everything was successful, everything was great. But for whatever reason, at least around the Anglicans that we hang around with, you can just talk about stuff like real stuff, not even like we're gonna get together and we're gonna pour our guts out and we're gonna cry and we're gonna drink all the wine that we can. Maybe the last one.

But it's it's the intent is not to get together to burden, to bare your souls, but it is, you can just be real with some believers and there are some that you can't it was just a very, very nice thing to be able to do that. So I guess I brought that up because it's it's a flip flop from what even what Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because if you present yourself as hungering and thirsting for righteousness, you must not have it and therefore you must be a bad believer.

Merciful yeah, the merciful. These are not strong things. The pure in heart peacemakers, those who are persecuted, who wants to be persecuted, right goes on blessed are you? When others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you, falsely sign me up. Who wants that. But that's what it is, partially to follow Jesus. That's partly what it means to. The cost of following him means you give over everything, your reputation, your credibility, your social status, your whatever it means.

Sin is a matter of the heart

Now, that doesn't mean, I'm not saying that that means you have to be this obnoxious loudmouth christian who's always pointing out everybody else's sin, because that's also the opposite of what Jesus is talking about. Somebody who was like, that does not do justly or love mercy or walk humbly with their god, He wants sincerity, because sin is a matter of the heart, isn't it? This darkness is a matter of the heart, Jesus. In one particular scene says, You know, talking about adultery, said you've already committed adultery in your heart, it's not about what you it's not about lusting after somebody visually, it's it's already happened in your heart, hating someone having this anger towards someone is murder committed in your heart, that the sins already taken place, even though you haven't done the deed because that that I'm boss comes from the heart and I think one of the places we're seeing this today.

I want to say this with all the compassion and understanding in my heart is those who use the phrase "I identify as" that's another way of saying I'm boss and I am not saying that judgmentally. I'm simply pointing out that that's what that is. That's another way of saying I'm boss. I get to decide what I am and who I am. And it is that attitude that separates us from God.

Did you know that God has your best in mind? And I don't mean I don't mean when people say living your best life now, because that's all about you. God has his best in mind for you. That's what the law was at that time. His best, his best heart, his best mind, his best desire for his people was laid out in the law, the way the path. And if they lived that way, they would experience God's best. Something happens when you live God's way instead of your way or my way where we can begin to experience God's best while at the same time experiencing the world's worst because God's best for you does not mean you will always be peaceful and happy and nothing will ever go wrong. That is not what that means. Clearly we see that in scripture and this is where it starts to sound kind of crazy.

The counterintuitive Gospel

This is where Paul in first Corinthians says, by the way Corinth, Corinth was a messed up place, you've heard the expression of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That was Corinth. What happened in Corinth probably became an STD and didn't stay in Corinth. It was probably kind of gross. But that's what Corinth was like and that's who he's talking to is this city, this port town where all kinds of just garbage happened. And he says to them to the jewish people and to the gentile people who became believers, to the jewish people who don't believe Jesus, a crucified christ is weakness. You worship somebody who died on a cross. There's no strength in that, he said, Jews seek after a sign.

What's the sign A dead man on a cross. What is that? To them? That's weakness to the gentile. To those who sought the wisdom of the world. That sounds stupid. That's that's that's who you follow, that's who saved you. Is this dead person who died on a cross? That's foolishness. That doesn't make any sense. So, to the jew, its weakness to the gentile, it's foolishness, but it is the power of God unto salvation. So as we seek to be lights that we talked about earlier, as we seek to be light in the world, Keep those things in mind, remember what darkness is.

And and and it can be easy to judge those who are in darkness for their darkness and say how gross, what? How can you possibly? That's the see them with compassion because you were once there yourself, I was once there myself. Maybe not in the same way, but in the same position of sin and separation from God, see them as divine appointments. The holy spirit is trying to shine his light in them and he wants to use us as beacons for them to follow to get to the true light, which is Jesus of course.

So as you watch the news, as you see people on the streets, remember who you are in christ, you're a little light were little christ's little representations of Jesus. And you know sometimes the Sunday school gets it right, this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, Jesus says, what, who who lights a candle and then puts a basket over the top of it, so it can't be seen. I think we all kind of do, I'm a christian, I'm sorry, I'm gonna go off in a lot of tangents.

I find it funny that the churches that I happen to come from the altar call was the big deal at the end of the service. It was kind of like closing the deal and it was, it never made sense to me and I did this myself because that's just what I was taught that it's, it's at the end of the service with our, with our heads bowed and her eyes closed, right? If you want to follow Jesus, you stand up and like I see that hand, isn't this supposed to be a public thing? Why are all of the christians eyes closed? Why aren't we seeing these new brothers and sisters and going new light instead? Let's not embarrass them. I just find that amusing. It's something to celebrate. It's something to rejoice in and it's something to participate in.

So as as we go out into this community of Olympia or wherever you're from, be that light, recognize that light, recognize that God's heart for you and commandments for us or not burdens. It's to love mercy to do justly and to walk humbly with our God.

It's it's God doesn't want I'm gonna sacrifice everything ahead for you God and please take it enjoy it. He wants our hearts right? He wants our hearts focused on giving that to him rather than the other things you think God owes you for that you gave up to for him. It came out a little Yoda like, but you know what I'm saying? You know what I'm saying.



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