Friday, August 21, 2015

Proper 15 of Series B (Ephesians 5:6-21)

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Ephesus. Dear friends in Christ: you were dead in your trespasses and sins, sleeping the self-satisfied sleep of the damned, dwelling in the midst of darkness. A corpse you were, as you were carried to the font by your parents; or maybe you sleep-walked, an animated corpse, the walking dead. But then a man of God, the pastor sent by God to do this very task, thrust your head into the font; he poured, he sprinkled, he dunked—the method didn’t matter, the result was the same: you are baptized. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The voice of Christ calls the sleeping to awake, the dead to rise, the one who dwells in darkness to bask in the light. He has brought you over the border, He has taken you from one state to another, from one place to another. The slave has become free, the ignorant has been made wise, the alien has been given citizenship. Drowning has made you alive. The voice of Jesus, who said to Jairus’ daughter, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” and to His dear friend, “Lazarus come out!” says to you, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Awake, arise, stand in the Light of Christ. Come out of the darkness, for darkness has no fellowship with Light. Darkness and Light cannot coexist, for the darkness cannot tolerate the Light. It is constantly striving to overwhelm the Light, to drive it away, to extinguish it. Twilight is not a mixture of light and darkness, but the battle of light and darkness joined once more. Every day in this fallen world ends with the darkness overcoming the light, and in the night, under the cover of this darkness, the fallen world pursues its evil ends. It has always been this way; sinful man foolishly thinks that if his evil deeds are covered by the cloak of night, of darkness, then God cannot see them.

You lived in darkness from the moment of your conception; you too, with all the rest of the world, were cloaked in night. The deeds of darkness were the only deeds you knew; you could do nothing but sin, selfishly serving as the slave of your own desires. The deeds of darkness are fruitless; they do not serve the good of the neighbor, but only the pleasure of the self. They simply beget more darkness, more night; the thick choking, belching darkness of sin that covers our world like a suffocating cloud. Drunkenness, drug use, sexual immorality, rebellion against authority, filthy language, gossiping, covetousness, these are the deeds of darkness, whether they happen in broad daylight, or, more often, under the cover of night, hidden from sight, because these deeds are evil, and we know it. Darkness wants nothing to do with the Light, because the Light exposes, the Light reveals, the Light shines its harsh rays and the evil of man is laid bare for all to see. Darkness hides from the Light, darkness flees to the shadows, darkness makes excuses, and finally darkness goes to war against the Light, seeking to smother it forever.

But the darkness cannot overcome the Light, it cannot extinguish its powerful rays. If every evening is a reminder of the overwhelming darkness of this sinful world, every morning is a reminder that darkness doesn’t have free reign, it doesn’t have the victory, it will be driven away. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” The Light of Christ shone in the darkness of this world, and it was not overcome. It revealed the sin and hypocrisy of the inhabitants of this earth; it shone on every nook and cranny of depraved humanity, every place where we had thought we could safely hide our sin. Christ exposed it all, and for that, the darkness went to war against the Light. It tried to extinguish the Light, and in the smothering gloom of Good Friday, it seemed that the darkness had succeeded. But the rays of Easter morning drove away the darkness, revealing an empty tomb, with the Light of Christ still shining, in victory over the darkness. He rose, and the darkness was conquered; the night will end, the eternal Day is coming.

That Light then shone in the darkness of your heart, driving away the night which dwelt within you. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He exposed your sin, and the sin of the world, so that He could overcome it, doing battle against the darkness by taking it into Himself and putting it to death upon the tree. In killing Him, the darkness found itself defeated, and Christ brought that victory home to you in the waters of the font. The powerful words of the One who has overcome death and the grave call you forth to a new life; His Word, joined with water, makes your heart, the dwelling of darkness, into a domain of Light.

And Light has no fellowship with darkness. You have been brought through the sea from slavery to freedom, from death to life, from darkness to Light; why go back? Darkness and Light cannot coexist, the Light cannot tolerate the darkness, but must drive it away. You have been awakened; do not go back to sleep. You have risen; do not return to the life of the walking dead. You are in the Light, you are Light in the Lord, do not return to the darkness. “Do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” You are the Body of Christ; do not drag that Body with you into sin and depravity. Your lips have touched the Body and Blood of your Lord; do not use them to speak ill of your neighbor, to gossip or lie. You bear the Name of Christ; do not take that Name into the haunts of darkness, where “it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”

You are in fellowship with Christ, you take Christ with you, when you surf the internet, or go to the bar, or take someone out on a date; in everything you do, wherever you are. Live, then, as children of light; do not have fellowship with the darkness. You have been delivered from that fellowship, you have been placed into a new fellowship, the fellowship of the baptized, the fellowship of Light. The deeds of darkness are selfish, they focus only on pleasure and desire, they are controlled by the passions. The deeds of the Light, on the other hand, are oriented toward the other, toward your neighbors and their good. “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” The children of Light seek the good of their neighbor; they are not controlled by their passions. They seek what is good and right and true; what God says is good and right and true.

The Word of God is their guide, as the children of Light “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” They have an unchangeable, objective standard, God’s eternal Word, and they shine this Light on their darkened world. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” You are of the Light, enlightened by your Baptism; do not return to the darkness in which you once dwelt, but expose those deeds, shine the Light on them. Shine the Light of the Law that exposes sin, and then shine the Light of the Gospel that forgives it. Call your neighbor away from the deeds of darkness into the Light; love him enough to tell him of his sin. It is not love to leave a man in darkness, trapped in slavery, walking in death. The love that Christ showed you is the love you show to others; the Light that shone in your heart to expose your sin and drive it away, that same Light you shine into the lives of others.

But you do not shine the Light on others without first shining it on yourself. The Light of God’s Word exposes the dark recesses of your own heart, revealing the sin that dwells therein. The standard you apply to this world of darkness, God’s Word, you apply also to your heart, where darkness is ever trying to encroach again and again. The Light exposes the dangers of the old life, the temptations of darkness that entice us again and again. The Light reveals where we have fallen back into the old ways, where we, who have fellowship with Christ in the waters of our baptism, have had fellowship with the deeds of darkness. The Light shows us where we have been unfruitful, selfishly pursuing the desires of the flesh instead of fruitfully serving our neighbors. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”

Our sin is laid bare, to our shame; it stands exposed in the harsh Light of the Law. The Light reveals where we have tried to go back to slavery, to death, to darkness. But the Light does not leave us in despair. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” You heard these words long ago, on the day when you were awakened at the font, called forth from the dead, and this day you hear them again, the words that have the power to wake the sleeping and raise the dead. He who has baptized you into His name, who raised you from the death of your sins at the font, now raises you up again in repentance and faith. You hear His voice in the Absolution, you hear His voice in His Word, you hear His voice when you receive His Body and Blood, and that voice, that powerful voice, says to you, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He brings you over the border, through the sea; He carries you into the Promised Land alive and renewed by the life that He gives, the Light that He shines. He who has baptized you into His Name forgives every sin; He continually, each and every day, shines the Light in your heart to drive the darkness away. His Light doesn’t just expose sin, it does away with it, forever.

There is a day that is coming, when the darkness will be no more, when your struggle with the temptations of this darkened world will end, where there will be only light, even if the sun and the moon shall pass away. On that Day, the voice of Jesus will ring out again, as it did on the day of your Baptism, and His Word will do what it says, raising you up from your grave as He rose you up out of the font. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” No more night; only the Light, no more death, only life; no more sleep, only the Sabbath rest, forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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