John 8:12 – 20, John 9:1-6
As we continue our sermon series on the 7 ‘I am’ statements made by Jesus, I wanted to discuss a very important topic – vampires. Not what you expected is it? Vampires have a long history as legends go, and evolved considerably over time. At first vampires were noted as demons, often bloated with dark skin coloring, and often wearing their burial shroud as they preyed on the living. After the 18th century, vampires became a more sophisticated lot, charming their unsuspecting prey with their charisma and appeal. They are seen as beautiful or handsome, with pale skin and strange eyes that demand attention. They are often synonymous with evil and death yet we are drawn to them like moths to a flame. They thrive in darkness. One major sensitivity of vampires, however, is their inability to exist in the light.
Now that you have been reeducated about vampires, perhaps we should look at Jesus’ ‘I am’ statement for this week – “I am the light of the world.” Jesus presents himself as the ultimate light that will overcome all darkness. Evil cannot exist in the presence of the light of Jesus. We spoke last week about Jesus using a familiar term in referring to himself as ‘I am,’ thus noting that he was in fact God in the flesh. Jesus was also using the imagery of light that was so powerful during this particular time. According to John’s gospel, Jesus made this statement on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles. On the first day of this celebration, large candelabras are lit which are capable of lighting the entire temple. There is brightness everywhere as Jewish homes were also illumined using candles. The goal is to have no dark corners anywhere – streets, buildings are all basked in a beautiful array of light. But on the final day of this feast, all light is extinguished. There is utter darkness throughout Jerusalem, symbolizing the absence of God. And in this context, Jesus presents himself as the light of the world.
Jesus often used imagery to describe heavenly principles. This powerful image of light in the midst of darkness was both literal and spiritual Jesus saw the closed minds of the Jewish leaders as spiritual darkness. Jesus referred to those who were leading the church as a people spiritually blinded to the works of God. Jesus made it clear that doing church and being church are two very different things – as different as darkness and light. Our Jewish leaders were diligent in trying to maintain themselves and the Jewish nation as a holy and separated people. Remember Jerusalem was an occupied territory. The Hebrew Bible is full of accounts of God supporting God’s people when they followed the law, and allowing them to fall to their own devises when they chose to push God aside. These leaders wanted the Romans out of their land, and saw that God would only make that happen if they were pleasing to God.
Jesus was messing with their plans. Jesus was presenting a message of grace not works. Jesus was saying in essence ‘be my follower, regardless of your nationality, station in life, status, education level, gender, occupation.’ Jesus was saying that we cannot earn God’s grace because it is given to us freely without price. Our natural tendency is to head toward the darkness, but Jesus shows us the real joy of walking as the people of light when we follow the one who gave everything for us.
But what does it mean to walk in the light? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Why should we care about anything other than ourselves? If we are walking in darkness, why does it matter? We had an amazing event this week here at Mayo. Our VBS program reached out to many families in our community and if you are visiting with us today we welcome you. Our children learned about the promises of God. They learned that God is always with us even when we do not recognize God’s presence. They learned that God cares about each of us, both children and adults. They learned there is nothing they could do that would make God not love them. They learned that as much as you love your children, God loves them even more. They learned that as we tune into God and realize God’s welcoming presence we are in fact walking in the light.
I always love to see how Hollywood takes Biblical principles and puts them on the screen for all to see. Numerous movies and shows use the imagery of darkness and light to depict evil as darkness and ultimate good as the light. Think of epic films such as The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars and you see a lot of uses of light as good and ‘dark’ as bad. There’s a particular scene during one of The Lord of the Rings films where just as darkness and evil seem to take over, there is the dawn of a new day and our hero Gandalf appears atop a mountain with a legion of soldiers who come charging down the hill just as the sun, the light of day, is cresting over the hill. Any of you who have experienced Star Wars will automatically link Darth Vader with the dark side.
We know how enticing the dark side can be. We know that sin is appealing, and certain things we do we would prefer would never see the light of day. But Jesus sets our fears aside, welcoming us regardless of our past. Most of the time, when we are tuned in to our moral center, we recognize when we are doing something wrong. I’m sure I am not the only one to look down at the speedometer, realize just how fast I’m going, and quickly look around for a police officer! We feel the pull of the dark side all the time. When the gossip mill at work gets fired up, we are tempted to join in. When someone wrongs us in some way, our anger can take hold of us. Yet when we can tune in to the light, Jesus – the light of the world, perhaps the darkness does not have to consume our very being. Perhaps we realize that God was there with us all the time, strengthening us in the tough times, lifting us up when we stumble, encouraging us like a supportive parent on the sidelines of every game, loving us unconditionally. That is what our children learned this week, and it was a great week!
God continues to call us to be better today than we were yesterday. Jesus as our light presents hope even when we feel hopeless. When we are able to walk in the light of hope for a better world, we can experience the true and unspeakable joy of God’s unshakeable love.
Those of you who are parents or grandparents know just how hard it is to find anything today that completely supports our families. It is hard to sit down and watch a television show or movie with our kids without feeling some embarrassment as to what our children are constantly viewing and experiencing. It is my prayer that those of you who participated in VBS this week, experienced the ministries of this church, and are worshipping here today feel loved and supported by God and this congregation. It is my prayer that if you are seeking a church home you may find comfort and rest in God here or in any other church where you find a strengthening for yourselves and for your families.
There are a lot of challenges facing families today. You will note in our mission statement that a major part of who we are and why we are here as a congregation is to help raise up the next generation of believers in Jesus Christ. Our purpose is to help better our community while supporting physical, mental, and spiritual health in all ways and for all people. Jesus as our light and beacon of hope, has prepared a way for us to experience God’s presence in our lives. When we turn away from the allure of the darkness, we can experience real joy in the presence of God. But our joy is only expanded when we share the love of God with others through our words and our actions. Putting our faith in God into action ensures that we are growing in our faith while caring for others. Our community needs a message of hope. Our nation is desperate for a message of peace. Our world is seeking unconditional love. Let us find hope, peace, and love in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.