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The True Light Shines in Us

Sermon 1838 1 John 2.3-11 January 22, 2023

I am a big one for turning on the lights. Anyone who has used the Fellowship Hall—I’m looking at you Sewing Circle and lunch monitors, knows I come in and, having surveyed the room, walk over and turn on the second set of lights. “Don’t you want more light?” I invariably say. I grew up in the cold, dark North Country. Southern Nevada’s light is absolutely glorious.

As a Christian, I am also big on turning on the light inside each one of us. Oh, it’s not the enlightenment of many of the world religions which command people to turn their attention inward, look deeply inside yourself, tune out the distractions and find the inner light inside us all. At its most non-religious level it boils down to “be true to yourself.” Not a bad piece of advice, as long as you don’t identify as an axe murderer. There are too many phonies in the world. At its most spiritual level it is a force in all of us only those truly committed can discover, an interconnectedness with all life which, ironically, distances the enlightened from the grit and grime of daily problems. A guru on a mountain top. A monastic community nestled among the pinyons of New Mexico.

This is why I am big on the true light, and I encourage you not to skimp on the true light in your life.

The True Light Shines in Us

1. Jesus is our way (3-6).

2. Jesus is our light (7-8).

3. Jesus keeps our feet from stumbling (9-11).

The true light shines in us. Jesus is our way.

John was the last remaining disciple. He lived into the 90s AD, a full sixty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He had seen a lot. He had seen the spread of the Gospel, serving in his old age as pastor at Paul’s mission church, Ephesus before the Romans threw him into exile on an island nearby. He had seen it all. He had seen the spread of false teachers so captivated by the promises of Christianity that they wanted to imitate it like a chimpanzee can imitate its trainer’s behavior, while not having a clue what it is all about. That’s why John writes about the true light. There were lots of counterfeits floating around.

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (3-6).”

We know our faith is true when Jesus is our way. While it certainly means we will follow Jesus, this means more than simply following Jesus. Non-Christian cults believe in following Jesus, imitating his life in order to achieve godhead. Remember what John had said in his Gospel (written a decade before his epistles)? Jesus said, “I am the way (John 14.6).” “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10.9).” Jesus gets us to heaven. Jesus brings us to heaven. He does it through his holy precious life which was lived for us. He does it through his innocent sufferings and death which was in our place. We cannot follow Jesus if we do not already believe in him. John talks about his faith as “coming to know him.” To know Jesus is to believe in him, pure and simple.

Now, because we know Jesus, because we believe in Jesus, because Jesus is the way to heaven, we walk in that way, we keep believing in him. We also keep doing what he commands us to do. Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows you can jump up and down and swear on a stack of Bibles that you love someone, but every time you let them down in order to lie or cheat or steal for that next bottle of booze or that next needle, you show you do not love them. You love the drugs, you love the booze. In the same way, those who know Jesus do what he commands.

No, we are not perfect. But the whole point of knowing Jesus and following Jesus is to trust in his forgiveness of sins. Anybody who demands Christians be perfect, anyone who insists there is no forgiving and forgetting, they don’t know Jesus.

This is how God’s love is made complete. It makes room in our heart and produces good deeds. We are still wrestling with Christmas at our house. No, the tree is down—what do you take me for, a lay-about inviting spontaneous combustion? One of the presents Karen ordered for our son-in-law (backordered) never came! He knew he was getting something else from us, but it was never delivered. Now Karen has to track down the company who seems intent on never returning her emails or phone calls! That Christmas present is incomplete. It didn’t reach its desired goal.

God’s love is complete in our hearts. We have received it and are using it for the benefit of others and for our own joy and happiness. That’s because the true light is shining in us. Jesus is our way.

Jesus is also our light.

“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. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (7-8).”

The old command is to love. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10.27).” Even Jesus’ enemies knew that, though they didn’t want to follow it. But this old command became new in that it had a new role model—Jesus! “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13.34).”

In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that our neighbor, “one another,” is everyone. Family, friend, foe—it doesn’t matter. They are all to be objects of our love. The light of Jesus shows that. That light of Jesus is so bright that there are no shadows or hidden corners we can melt into and claim we didn’t notice it. The “darkness is passing,” John says. As more and more people come to Jesus and believe in him—“the true light is already shining”--the darkness of unbelief and counterfeit love is fading away. We may shake our heads in amazement over how some get into the situations they find themselves in, but that doesn’t mean they are undeserving of our help. Especially the undeserving call for our help, our love. While we were still undeserving sinners, Jesus died for us. The light of Jesus shows us that. Jesus is our light and he lightens us.

The true light shines in us. Jesus keeps our feet from stumbling.

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him (9-11).”

One of the things Bible scholars tell us is that John has a tendency to talk in circles. Oh, it’s not like he is beating around the bush. It’s more like a battleship or an Army artillery crew framing a target in the old days. One shot falls short. One shot deliberately is long. Now they know where the target is—BOOM! John covers material—all the material in our case—he has treated before, but he is zeroing in on the target. What worries do those with the true light shining in them have? Jesus is their way—they are saved! Jesus is their light—they see their way in Jesus to love one another, love everybody. The worry is that we will stumble, that we won’t live up to our calling as Christians, that we will turn off the light within us.

So John warns us again. Hate your brother and you are a liar, controlled by the darkness of sin, death and the devil, rather than the light of Jesus. Hate your brother, and the darkness is so dangerous it steals your sight. You cannot see your way clear. You cannot see the way to heaven. You cannot see how to live and love. You don’t know where you are going. You have as much true progress in your life as a bunch of lottery balls being blown about in the bowl before the drawing.

Jesus keeps our feet from stumbling. I like to see where I am going. That’s pretty important in the middle of the night when, well, you don’t have to know why. I get up in the middle of the night and there is so much light pollution in our town, it never is dark, even in my bedroom. And the neighbor installed some sort of light, surplus from a federal prison yard maybe, that shines through my bathroom window. I almost have to put on sunscreen at night there’s so much light flooding in! I can see where I am going even before I turn on the lights. The light is already there. But if there were no light. I fear I would fall on my face. Since most of me is not made of cartilage (like the good old toddler years when we just bounced when we fell), I might break something or have the dickens of a time getting up off the floor. The light is my protection.

The same thing applies in daylight. When I am talking a walk or hiking, I watch where I am going. The glorious Southern Nevada sunshine never lets me down. It is so brilliant I can even see the shadows cast by an uneven walkway. I can see curbs and drop-offs on the side with my peripheral vision. Life in the sun here is like having X-Ray vision. How different the North Country with is constantly overcast skies, heavy cloud cover, late mornings and early sunsets. Even the white snow looks dark.

Jesus is like that Southern Nevada sunlight. He keeps us from stumbling over obstacles. He makes us see them, no matter what the circumstances. His light is not a light that rises in the east and sets in the west, leaving us to hours of darkness before the next dawn. His light shines in us, a constant beacon, an everlasting signal.

But the light of Jesus does even more than that. The light of Jesus keeps us from stumbling. My few words before this talked about things that helped us not to stumble. We were still doing the walking. We were looking about for obstacles. Those words are true. God wants us to participate in our Christian life. We are his co-workers in spreading the light of the Gospel into our world. We are also his hands in doing the good works of God in this world.

But we are selling Jesus short if that is where this sermon ends. The true light within us is shining so wonderfully, it keeps us from stumbling. It is the force in our life that keeps us in the faith.

We see it over and over in the Psalms. “He keeps my feet from stumbling.” He “makes my feet stand firm.” In the Lord we have “a firm place to stand.” And then there’s my favorite from Isaiah, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way (Isaiah 35.3).” It is obvious Jesus is strengthening us. Jesus is keeping us from falling. Jesus is increasing our love for one another. Jesus is warming our heart with his love so that we love him even more. It is not us. It’s him. We are not getting ourselves psyched up, like a group of high school football players in the locker room riling each other up before a big rivalry game. It is Jesus. It is not us. He keeps our feet from stumbling. He keeps us in the faith. He keeps our love going. He prospers. He blesses. He hears and answers. He saves.

The True Light Shines in Us

1. Jesus is our way (3-6).

2. Jesus is our light (7-8).

3. Jesus keeps our feet from stumbling (9-11).

So now you know why all the lights are turned on when you come into church on a Sunday and most of the other days as well. I want to see. Everything. The light makes me happy, more invigorated. The more light the better.

In a way, it makes perfect sense I became an Evangelical Lutheran preacher. The more Jesus, the more light. For me. For you. And with Jesus in our hearts, we will never walk in darkness.

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