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Sunlight is said to be the best bleach and streetlamps the most effective police officers…

Lectionary Readings:
  1. Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
  2. Luke 1:46b-55
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
  4. John 1:6-8; 19-28

Growing up here in Panama, I went to Boarding School in Chame. As a child, after playing games or skating on the basketball court, we’d head back to our dorms, taking the shortest way back straight across the soccer field.  Pitch dark – although probably only 7.30 or 8.00 p.m.  Not something I wanted to do alone!

I remember (probably on more than one occasion), walking back across that field, and my friend Marion would let out a screech or scream and take off running, and I would scream and bolt for the buildings and the lights.  In overtaking her I would notice she was doubled over with laughter, but that wouldn’t really sink in until I was safely standing, out of breath, on the porch under the lights.  She’d eventually show up, still laughing.  I was so predictable: waiting for those unseen snakes or ghouls or scary monsters to grab me out of the dark.

I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m just scared of what might be hiding in it.

Today I want to speak about the LIGHT.

Ever since mankind crawled out of the primordial slime, we’ve cried: “More light.”

Sunlight. Firelight. Candlelight. Torchlight. Neon, incandescent light that banishes the darkness from our caves, homes; lights that illuminate our roads, dangerous intersections and treacherous corners; and even lights that turn on when you open the door scaring the bogey man out from inside our refrigerators. Floodlights for our sports arenas. Tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.

Light is so much  more than watts and foot-candles. Light is metaphor: knowledge and truth (the age of enlightenment); light is life and growth (photosynthesis, vitamin D); light is energy and force; and light is light.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.   He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The Pharisees said to him: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”

He said “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

This is our third week of Advent, our celebration of the birth of Jesus: the way, the truth and the life.  The gospel of John starts with these words of Truth:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… Through Him all things were made… In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness…

Notice the connection with Genesis 1?

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep… And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…

And to Genesis 3?

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

I want to start today by quickly reviewing the dichotomy of light versus darkness, in all its metaphors. Take a moment to reflect on these contrasts. What images come to mind as I read these words of Light and Darkness?

Doubt Anxiety Nightmares Despair London winter Dimness Depression Fear Tiredness Lethargy Captivity Blindness Haunted  Sickness Grief Sadness Deception  Heavy-hearted Addicted Imprisoned Contaminated Hatred Ignorance Consumed Hungry Famine

Faith Peace Courage Energy Dreams Freedom Hope Health Sunshine Sight Brightness Pleasant Contentedness Truth Joy Happiness Light-heartedness  Free spirit  Pure Love Knowledge Rejuvenated  Plenty Satisfied

Light is a force and energy, whereas darkness is merely the absence of this force and energy.  So, when the Bible says that God is LIGHT, what are the author’s trying to communicate to us?  It doesn’t say that God is LIKE light, or God is “surrounded by” light, or “God has a great big electric generator so He can sit in the spotlight”, it says “God IS light”.

Light is the essence of God – the same way that man is flesh and blood.  This light is self-existent, God possesses this power in and of Himself.  It has no external source. God is pure light, not diluted or mixed in any way with evil, hatred, untruth, ignorance or hostility. God is light is not a theoretical assertion about the nature of God, but a statement that drives us to the heart of what God is like: God is pure light.

God is the source of all living things.  God is truth and enlightenment.

If we briefly look at some of man’s encounters with God in the Bible, we can see a little better this Light and its many meanings.

Think of Moses’ first encounter with God: the burning bush. The bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames.  God has his full attention – but didn’t have to destroy anything in order to do so.

The children of Israel got a glimpse of the glory of God at Mount Sinai:

under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself… but the cloud covered the mountain, and the glory of God looked like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain.

This was all a little much for the children of Israel, especially when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a radiant face, and they were afraid to come near him.  A little like Jesus’ transfiguration  on the mountain with Moses and Elijah.  A bright cloud enveloped them… and when Peter, James & John heard the voice, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.

On the other hand, think now of David, and his beautiful psalms. Here we find at least three metaphors:

  1. Picture God “clothed in garments of light”, symbolising the One who is pure, righteous and holy (there is no dirtiness, nothing to taint or contaminate God).
  2. God’s revelation through spoken and written word gives light: “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”; offering moral guidance and direction for how to live.
  3. Light symbolises also salvation: “God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Or how about Isaiah:

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

Did you ever notice that most of the prophets start with “The word of the Lord came to…”, except for Ezekiel. Have you noticed Ezekiel’s spaceship?

I looked and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightening and surrounded by brilliant light.  The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures (with faces and wings – each of the four had the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of an ox and the face of an eagle) – so it didn’t matter which way they were facing, they were always facing forward.  The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches.  Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright and lightening flashed out of it.  The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightening.

Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome… Then there came a voice… Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.  I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.  Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.  When I saw it, I fell facedown…

I’m somewhat relieved I haven’t had THAT encounter with God!  And then sent out to preach against the injustice and evil of man…

And what about Paul? While breathing out murderous threats against the disciples, on the road to Damascus suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, sending him to the ground.  When he got up and opened his eyes, he couldn’t see.  And for three days he was blind.  Three days to sit in quiet and solitude, and meditate on the meaning of his life.  Three days to sit and think about what he’d been shown when he saw the light.  Three days to wonder if the light was going to be the last thing he ever saw.

And yet, without light, none of us can see.  Our eyes are useless in the pitch dark.  Our sense of hearing and smell and taste and touch are unaffected by the darkness – but take away the light, and we are all blind.  We need the reflection of light off objects to be able to see them.  Light = sight.

You know, and I know, we each need that encounter with the LIGHT.

Some of us will find that light burning within us, but like the burning bush, this light doesn’t consume us. It is the Light that sends us out to rescue those who are prisoners or slaves, whether they are addicts, those imprisoned by poverty, those bound by depression or those just in need of love.  This light from within feeds itself and gives us energy and light, but it doesn’t destroy us. It is the light of life!  The light of the Spirit! The light of joy and giving! This is the Light that we are called to share with our fellow man. Don’t hide this light under a bushel.  We are not to be mirrors of this light – this light is meant to burn inside each of us!

Some of us will fall on our faces, before the purity and power of the LIGHT, and simply worship.  And when we walk away, after being in God’s presence you will be radiant, transfigured.  Perhaps scary for others to see, but we will be RADIANT.

Some of us need to walk in the light, as David did: the light that guides each footstep and guides our path. We all need the words of truth.

Others will find in the Light that place of safety and security, the salvation that they so desperately need.  The light that lifts them out of depression or addiction.  The light that sets them free.

Some of us may be in that place where it seems that there is no light from the sun, and then we will hear, as Isaiah did “the LORD will be an everlasting light”.

Others of us will need to see the supernatural, like Ezekiel. That light that takes our breath away – and when it’s done, empowers and emblazons us to stand up and speak out against the injustices in the world.   That takes us to fight for the 13 million people in the Horn of Africa that are starving because of the drought; the drive and motivation to face the starving refugees of Somalia; the motivation to stand up in “occupy” and say I disagree with the financial powers that be, “this is wrong”; or whatever message is laid on our hearts regarding the injustices and inequality in this world.

We need that Light that moves us to pray for the family in England of the man who after losing his job went home and shot his wife and daughter and 2 other children and then turned the gun on himself, leaving 2 orphaned children in the hospital to deal with the horror of the future without a father or mother or sister.  And yet others will be called to minister directly to the grieving.

Some of us need that jolt of lightening like Paul, that stops us in our tracks, and makes us take time out from our endeavours and goals and plans, and the rat-race we call life, to make us rethink the direction that our life is heading in.

But more than anything, ALL of us need to be plugged into the LIGHT, the energy, the life-force.  We are all like stand-alone computers, that until we are plugged in to the electricity, we can’t do anything, and unless we’re connected to the network, there’s a limit to how much information or data we can access.  We all need to be plugged in and connected.

We read in first John 1: 5-7

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus… purifies us from all sin.

I ask each of you to take a moment right now, before we go on with this service, to meditate on what God’s Spirit reveals to you.  How are you called to respond this Christmas season?

Some of us will be called, like Isaiah to proclaim:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because I have been anointed by the LIGHT; the LIGHT has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; To proclaim the year of the LIGHT’s favour… to comfort all who mourn; … to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. For the LIGHT loves justice, and hates robbery and wrongdoing; the LIGHT will faithfully give them their recompense. … I will greatly rejoice in the LIGHT, my whole being shall exult in my God; for the LIGHT has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness…   For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the LIGHT will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Others, will, like Mary proclaim:

My soul magnifies the Lord, my LIGHT, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the LIGHT has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me…  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; the LIGHT and TRUTH has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. The Mighty One has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; the LIGHT has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. The Mighty One has helped his servant … in remembrance of His mercy.

And finally, from Paul we are reminded:

Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; Give thanks in ALL circumstances, knowing that this is the LIGHT’s will for you. Don’t quench or put out the Spirit of Light by allowing darkness to take hold in your life; Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything that you are told and hold fast to what is good and true; abstaining from every form of evil.  And know that the God of peace Himself will sanctify you entirely; that your spirit and soul will be kept sound and blameless, no matter what happens or how crazy this world gets.  Because the one who is call THE LIGHT has called you, and the LIGHT is faithful and true, and will do this.

do you believe this, God is God, if God is God at all, God of All, I want more proof, faith in God, new heart, a new spirit, heart of stone, heart of flesh, breath in you, come to life, hear the word, just listen, word is enough, put my Spirit in you, lack of faith, look at the signs and miracles, pay attention to the Word, promises, at our hopes end, omnipresence, omni-present, self-pity, let there be light

Do you believe this?

The sermon I had all prepared for Sunday the 10th of April, and then I couldn’t be at church, because I was under “house arrest” by doctor’s orders!

If God is God at all, He is God of ALL. He CAN raise the dead. Do you believe this?

You may all recall that when I last spoke I quoted C.S. Lewis, who said: If we let Him -…for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a … dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God … His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.

So, today, I ask you “Do you believe this?” I mean… really? Do you believe that God is able to transform you, like He does in Ezekiel, from dry, brittle bones into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as you cannot now imagine?

In law, I check guarantees, pledges, letters of credit, and mortgages for my clients. When deciding whether or not a guarantee is any good, the question is not how good the document that I have drafted is, but how deep is the pocket of the person giving the guarantee? It’s not the same to have a letter of credit from HSBC, London as it is to have a letter of credit from Brokaw Credit Union, of outback, Australia. Whose word do I trust?

I trust the one that I know can make good on the guarantee. As a child, I jump off the swings into dad’s arms, because I KNOW he’s going to catch me. As I get older – I want more proof. I want to see that people will keep their promises and build on that trust. And with God – I want to know that the Word is true. That He will do what He says He will do.

Today, I want to talk about THIS faith in God. God asks Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?” To really understand this question, we need to go back to Ezekiel 36, where God presents Ezekiel with a prophecy to restore Israel: “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins … the ruins will be rebuilt. … I will gather you… I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. … and I will be your God. … I the Lord have spoken and I will do it…. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

And so, in Ezekiel 37 the Spirit of the Lord sets Ezekiel in a valley full on bones… dry & brittle bones, and He asks this pointed question: “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Now we all know what the right answer to this question is: “Yes, Lord, I know you can do this.”… how many of us REALLY believe that He can and will do it? Ezekiel hesitates seems to timidly say “O Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”

God, understanding Ezekiel’s hesitation gives him the solution: “prophesy to these bones: “I will put breath in you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (God doesn’t tell Ezekiel to find the best scientist and biologists, to build a genetic lab and see how he could do it by human strength – God says “Hear the Word of the Lord”. Just listen. Hear… You don’t actually have to go DO anything… the Word is enough. I the Lord have spoken and I will do it… )

When you say “our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”- God says “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back… I will put my Spirit in you and you will live… Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken and I have done it”… God wants us to believe, but he also understands our frailty and our lack of faith. He tells us – look at the signs and miracles, THEN you will know that I have spoken and I have done it.

Unfortunately, most of us have to be at the bottom of the pit, a valley of dry bones, before we pay attention to the Word… until we try to get to know God, until we finally have the time to spend studying what His promises are and what He will say.

It’s only when we find ourselves, like Mary and Martha, at our hopes end, that we find out what we really believe. We hear both Mary and Martha say to Jesus, when he finally comes to Bethany after holding back for an extra 2 days: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They both had absolute faith that Jesus could heal the sick and that if he had been present, Lazarus also would have been healed.

But Martha has even more faith and says: “but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She ventures a little further… she is desperate to ask Jesus to resurrect Lazarus. And Jesus responds “Your brother will rise again”. I wonder what the tone of Martha’s response was when she said “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day”. Was this a tone of frustration – don’t tell me what I already know… I also believe like all Pharisees in the resurrection? Or was this a kind of pleading with Jesus, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day, but if you could make it happen a little sooner…”

Mary and Martha are in dire straits here… they are 2 single women in a man’s world. The only man of the family has now died and they are likely to end up on the streets. They are like the dry bones of Ezekiel… “our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” Any day now, we’re going to find ourselves out in the streets begging…

The worst thing is that Jesus delayed two days before coming. He could have gotten there sooner. Lazarus has been in the grave 4 days by now… and if only Jesus had arrived sooner. It’s important to note that Jewish people believed that, after death, the spirit lingers in the tomb for two days before departing. You weren’t officially dead until the third day. So, arguably, if Jesus had arrived 2 days earlier and raised Lazarus, there would be those that would argue that Lazarus wasn’t really dead. In fact, Mary and Martha may not have been so distraught when Jesus arrived, because they would still have had hope. But no, Jesus shows up 4 days after he died… when all hope had gone.

Like the dry bones in Ezekiel. How do you revive them? There’s nothing left here. And so we have Mary and Martha both running to Jesus: “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Helpless and hopeless is exactly how Mary and Martha were feeling after Lazarus’ death, with more than 3 days gone by, no hope of his spirit being put back into his body… hope has died.

We all have the benefit of knowing how this part of the story ends: and so can understand Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ illness: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”. Do you believe this?

When we’re at the bottom of the abyss and all hope is gone, the human in us is not thinking “God be glorified”.

• Most of us are thinking “how do I stop this pain? Just please make it stop.”

• We dare to call into question God’s wisdom “Why God?” “If he could open the eyes of the blind man, couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” Could he have prevented all this horrible pain and heartache?

• We forget that God is omni-present “Where are you God when I need you?”

• We feel self-pity – “Why does this have to happen to me?”

• We recriminate – “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And yet, some of us have had the wondrous experience of having Jesus walk up to us, when we are at the bottom of that abyss, in the valley of dry bones, and say to us “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The psalmist reminds us in Psalms 130: Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his Word I put my hope. …

So, when you’re at the bottom of the abyss, when you’re standing in the valley of the dry bones, when Jesus says to you “Do you believe this?”

Do you respond like Martha “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

or Ezekiel “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” I’m really not sure – I’d like to believe, but I need a sign (or two or three).

As the Centurion (Matthew 8) that asks Christ to heal his servant, and tells Jesus “I don’t need you to come to my house to heal him, Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Or do you respond like demon-possessed boy’s father “I do believe, help my unbelief”. I the Lord have spoken and I will do it…. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Or am I like the disciples, watching Christ daily: performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting our demons, and earning His chiding: “Oh ye of little faith”?

1. Matthew 6:30: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… or about your body, what you will wear. … will He not much more clothe you, Oh ye of little faith…

2. Matthew 8:26 – when faced with a storm, and the boat is sinking “Lord, save us!”, and he replies “O ye of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

3. Matthew 14:31 – when Peter walks on water, he takes his eyes off Jesus, looks at the storm, is afraid, and starts sinking: Jesus says “Ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”

4. Matthew 16:8 – the disciples have come out with Christ and forgotten to pack a lunch. “Ye of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the 5 loaves and fishes for 5000? Or the 7 loaves for 4000?

Matthew 17 recounts how the disciples were trying to drive out the demon, and were not able to… and when they ask Jesus why he responds “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”.

So, coming back to our reading in John, we have Martha saying to Christ “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Just say the word…

After an emotional encounter with Mary, where Jesus empathises with her pain and suffering, cries with her, he then goes with Mary and Martha to the tomb where Lazarus is buried.

When Jesus asks them to roll away the stone, practical Martha, (like most of us, seeing the reality of this material world and the impossibility of what she has asked), totally forgets her professions of faith “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” And “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world”, and blurts out “by this time there is a bad odour, for her has been there 4 days”. Jesus chides her “did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

If only we believed… If only we had a little more faith, the size of a mustard seed…

If God is God at all, He is God of ALL.

Elohim – the One that said “Let there be light”… the One that formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; the Almighty God that turned rivers into blood, that parted the Red Sea; that made one day longer for Israel to win a war, that said to Job “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. On what were the earth’s footing set, or who laid its cornerstone?… Who shut up the sea behind the doors… Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Tell me, if you know all this. Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons…? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? And to whom we, like Job, can only reply: “I am unworthy, how can I reply to you?… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … My ears had heard OF you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

For many of us, it’s only when we are in the valley of the dry bones, to whom God prophecies “hear the Word of the Lord”, that we come to know that He is God and HE has saved us from death.

Do you believe this?

We need that personal encounter with the only One who can say: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. … and I will be your God.”

We’ve been commissioned by Christ: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. … Do not be afraid…”

And we can only do this because our God is GOD OF ALL. He can raise the dead. We need, as Romans 8 tells us to have our mind controlled by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life and peace; the Spirit that lives in us, the Spirit of righteousness and holiness. Because if the Spirit of Him that raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life through His Spirit…

and so If we let Him … El-Shaddai will take this Church, today filled with a small group that may include the feeblest of faith and those hoping to find the truth (those dry, brittle bones in a valley of death) and transform Balboa Union Church into a church bursting at the seams with dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects God’s boundless power and delight and goodness: A Church that brings glory to God. The process may long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.

Do you believe this?