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Let Your Light Shine

Lent 4: Let Your Light Shine

 

March 10, 2024

 

By Louse Burton

 

John 3:14-21

Numbers 21: 4 – 9

Ephesians 2: 1 - 10

 

 Let us pray:  let the words of my mouth, the meditations of all our hearts and the actions of all our lives be acceptable to you, O God.

 

Today’s scripture readings in Year B of our Lectionary trip through the bible offers an interesting look at some stories of the scriptures as they have put them together for today’s study. As you know they have an Old Testament reading, a psalm, and two readings from the New Testament, usually a gospel reading and another one – often a letter.

 

The Numbers reading is just the final of several stories of the trip that Moses and his huge travelling group were making their way to the “Promised Land”. We aren’t to the end of the trip yet, but it is the final of the grumbling stories. It was not a short, nor quick journey. And it wasn’t broken up with stops at nice places with lovely scenery. It was a long, difficult journey. And… people being what people are… the grumbling began. The people weren’t happy with the food, the lack of water or slow pace. Through each of the earlier stories, God had provided a daily serving of Manna or bread, and then had given Moses a staff with which he could hit certain rocks and drinkable water would be available to them. But the deprivations were wearing on them.

 

The people who were remembering their previous life and were starting to clamour for a return to Egypt where they were slaves, where at least some of their life was better. This movement was growing to the point where God sent a plague of snakes!  People were dying if they were bitten by these snakes, which caused even more complaining amongst the ranks. Moses spoke to God about this, as we heard in that story as read by Reg a few minutes ago. The story of the golden snake on a pole is carried through many years and books of the Bible, as it somehow became an idol and later had to be destroyed as it was becoming worshipped by generations descended from those who originally benefitted from its presence.

 

The psalm, which we didn’t read today, once again reminds us that God is always with us and celebrates this.

 

The book of Ephesians, a letter to the Ephesians from Paul is another of his teachings to a group of people who had become one of the early churches. Paul didn’t write his letters to only one person – but to a whole community – often challenging them to do better. In this reading today, he is reminding them that they are God’s by the grace of God – not by what they do. He goes on to remind them that their acts are performed as acts of gratitude for God’s saving grace, through the gift of his son. This discussion of whether we are God’s by what we do or what God does has continued through the ages. Here, the acts we carry out are seen as valuable gifts of gratitude to God. What are the gifts we perform?  Living the way Jesus asked by looking after the more vulnerable, looking after the earth and the crops it grows, sharing our resources so that nobody goes without. These and all the other ways Jesus asked everyone to live are those acts of gratitude. Yes, these actions are very important, because it demonstrates gratitude more than just saying that we are grateful.

 

Then I got reading more about darkness and light, time and days and night. After reading about Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus from the book by Ralph Milton, I got searching more. In biblical times, time zones weren’t even thought of because most people didn’t travel that far from home and those who did told time by the sun, not by a clock – which didn’t get developed for common use until the middle ages. It was at that time that days were divided into 24 hours.

 

In antiquity, light and dark were thought of quite differently than in the modern times. Light was “stuff”. It was an entity with no other source than itself. In the same way darkness was the presence of “dark” (also stuff) and not the absence of light as we now understand it to be.

 

The light in a being derived from the heart and emerged from the eyes in a seeing process. The eyes were made of fire, the stuff that causes light, and it was this light that emanated from the eyes and enabled a person to see. Aristotle said, “Vision is fire, sight is made from fire and hearing from the air”. 

 

Blind people were thought to be those people whose hearts were full of darkness, hence from whose eyes “dark” emanated.

 

When Jesus took on the task of healing a blind man, he was not only healing blindness, but addressing the whole idea that blind people were somehow bad and were being punished for their sins. He points out that neither the blind man not his parents were full of sin. The blindness was something that just happened and for which he could create a cure. 

 

Historically, in the culture of the middle East, which is based on honour and shame, the evil eye is a force to be reckoned with. Several years ago, at the Epiphany Explorations conference, we had speakers on this Honour/Shame culture and how it worked. Human spit is seen as being a useful potion in preventing the effects of evil eye. The addition of dirt to spit to make mud just adds to the curative powers and was often used by rabbis as a healing ointment for various ills. It was this cultural phenomenon of using mud of human spit and dirt which Jesus used to heal blindness.

 

It is also interesting to note that the toast “Here’s mud in your eye” is based on this same principle, but generally means “here’s to good health”. Spitting on the ground was a way of avoiding the evil effects of an opponent if you were forced to say their name. That has carried forward to the modern age and was seen on the TV program Corner Gas, where residents of Dog River always spit if they had to use the name of the town of Woolerton, their arch competition in sports and business. In some Mediterranean countries the smaller fishing boats have wide open eye painted on the bow of their boat – also to be a protective act.         

 

However, we know that good can occur in both light and dark. Both are essential. Plants grow mostly during the daylight hours, people mostly work during daylight hours – or at least used to until the invention of artificial lights changed that. But the rest and renewal which mostly occurs in the darkness is necessary in order for the daylight happenings to take place.

 

There are a number of Light Festivals all over the world – usually during the winter months. One I read about took place in Calgary for several years awhile ago. It was a poetry and art event which was called Toward the Light. They had notes about the historical thoughts about light and dark and then offered a modern thought that it is good to sit in darkness from time to time and pay attention. The when the fuse of light is ignited, something brilliant can be the result of this time of incubation. It was their opinion that staying in the dark or the light for too long causes stagnation. Neither is a permanent resting place, but rather, together they stimulate movement and growth. Balance is the goal.

            

When Paul wrote of light and dark in his letter to the Ephesians he was referring to life before knowing Christ as the darkness and life of knowing Christ as living in the light. In this case, he believed that the dark was not good, and should be left behind as they came into the light of the knowledge of Christ. The light was definitely a positive thing.

            

When I visited Ephesus, one of the things that impressed me was how wide open this ancient city was. Most other ancient cities had tiny houses and narrow streets which would have been very dark at night. In Ephesus the streets were very wide (wide enough for carts to drive down), and there was room for the moon to cast light on the streets between the houses. Maybe they just haven’t excavated the narrow parts of the city yet, but certainly the parts they have let the light in and allow the air to circulate throughout the city – which at the time Paul wrote this letter was a seaport. Ephesus is also built mostly of white marble which reflects the light very well, so this contrasting of light and dark is possibly a concept the Ephesians would understand on several different levels.

 

Paul’s letter is a call to action. It isn’t just nice philosophy – he is challenging them to step up and do the right thing – to live the way that Jesus called them to live – to live in the light.

            

“Singing a Song of Faith”, the expression of faith of the UCC, has a companion book called Daily Reflections for Lent, divided into each week of Lent with reflections contributed by a number of people. The actual Faith statement opens each week’s study. The Week Four section is titled “We Sing of Scripture and Worship” and I would like to read part of it to you now.

 

Reading…

 

What about us today? We are now at the fourth Sunday of Lent. Lent is traditionally the time we look inward and see how we do in comparing our lives to that which Christ set for us.  Our scripture readings for today and the selection from the Song of Faith now take us to the next step – challenging us to action.  We may have been looking at our lives and analyzing our place in the world since the beginning of Lent but now it is time to take action and continue on the journey to become the people God would have us be.

 

Jesus said “Let your light shine” This is the call to use our gifts in our community and the world.

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