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Light for the Way

Updated: Mar 11



“LIGHT FOR THE WAY”

a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

March 10, 2024


John 3:14-21  NRSV

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


I’ve never been on a sailing ship that needed a lighthouse to find its way, thank goodness.  I would guess today ships have an incredible level of digital navigation systems.  Radar, sonar, depth finders and things I don’t even know about.  Yet I can’t help but remember that cruise ship that hit those rocks in Italy just a few years back.  It struck rocks and sank. More than 4,200 people were rescued.  32 people died in the disaster.  And I guess most of us remember the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.  I wonder if a lighthouse would have made a difference?


          This morning’s Scripture says, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”  Harsh words.  But not hard to believe when we look at virtually every level of today’s world.  Politically, economically, and religiously darkness seems to be overwhelming the light of goodness, compassion, and justice for all.  I don’t want to dwell on these things.  You already know and dread and probably already feel powerless about a lot of it.  What I want to do is talk about the power of light as a symbol or metaphor for God’s direction, guidance, and action for our lives and our world. 

 

I believe the light of God’s love can direct us to better lives, and toward working for a better world. The Scripture reading included the bright blessing of “for God so loved the world.”  We may wonder about the talk of snakes, and evil and the “us versus them” attitude here and in several parts of John’s Gospel.  One can chalk it up to simply good versus evil, but I think we should know the social and religious context of this writing to fully understand how it can guide us like a GPS from God.


One of the things the Living the Questions videos point out is that the Gospels written for specific congregations.  The writers did not conceive of them as a “universal book” deified thousands of years later.  They were written 30 to 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Scholars believe that at the point at which John’s Gospel was written there was a high level of conflict between the Jewish community and John’s Christian community.  The language of the Gospel suggests this.  It contains much “anti-Jewish” language.  The two faith communities were in a theological and perhaps even actual battle with one another about truth, the meaning of Jesus’ life, and the future.  In John’s Gospel the language repeatedly uses strong contrasts between those who “know” and those who “don’t know,” who Jesus really is.  There is a great deal of “good versus evil.”  And there are a number of contrasts between “light” and “darkness.”

         

I had a colleague who wrote something that helped me think about how fear can be like darkness, but with a light to guide us we can find our way [Michael Piazza, Liberating Word, Feb 22, 2024].  He wrote, “Ironically, that is often true of our fears. They have the power to destroy us, but they also might have the power to deliver us. People were afraid of Jesus some thinking him up to evil, but what he came to do was bring life.” Those who created the Underground Railroad and those who dared to risk their lives for freedom knew great fear but harnessed that energy to do what was needed.  Those who flew those first fragile planes in World War I must have been afraid, but imagine the fear in the heart of the farmers forced to jump from those planes in World War II. They did it to defeat tyranny.  The first women to defy their husbands to march for the right to vote surely were afraid to challenge everything they had been taught about their role in society.


There are certainly times in our lives when we struggle to see the light, let alone be the light of Christ in life.  “Abraham Lincoln struggled so badly with depression there was a time when his friends could not leave him alone. They removed all sharp objects from the house lest he harm himself. On one occasion, he wrote to a friend saying:


I am the most miserable man living. If what I am now feeling were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell. I fear I shall not.


Although he struggled all his life against depression, Lincoln did get better. In fact, his struggle gave him such great compassion that, at the end of the most violent and deadly war in American history, he was able to write with integrity those famous words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”  The depression he so feared shaped him into such a strong tender leader some historians suggested, if Lincoln had lived to lead us compassionately toward reconciliation, a century of racial hatred and bitter segregation might have been avoided.”


Think about today’s issues.  We are always being told we are bitterly divided – and race issues are one of the issues dividing us still.  But what light could come forth from us if we use the light in us to offer others light rather than darkness whether they agree with us on everything or not? 

         

John tells us, 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Knowing that and hearing the amount of condemnation from many voices these days, perhaps we can best bring light by not condemning but by seeking to bring the light of blessing.  That seems to me to be the meaning behind the words a few verses later that say, “21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

         

One of the speakers in the Living the Questions video for next week says, “Jews say ‘the light’ is the soul and spirit of every human being from the beginning of time to the end.”  So we all have that light in us.  Will we look for that light in others?  Will we let our light shine as the Scriptures urge us to?

         

If you are not sure I invite you to ponder these questions in the coming days and seek your own answers.  They may help you tune in to God’s GPS for your life. 

Where do you see God’s light in your life and in the life of others and in the world?  What [ or who ] light’s your way? How do you light the way for others?  How can you light the way for others in fresh ways?  I invite you to reflect on this, and how to act on these things once you see how and the light of Christ will shine through you.

         

So while I hope that as you sail along life’s seas you find fair winds and following seas, I hope even more you will use the GPS of God’s love to guide you.  But because most every life’s journey includes dark and stormy nights, and often dangerous rocks along the shoreline, I pray you see and follow the way lit by Jesus, the lighthouse whose light still shines, whose course on the chart still guides us, and whose love is still as bright as an uncloudy day.  AMEN.

 

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