Living in the Light When the World is Dark: Part I – Confession

**April 12, 2015 Sermon

God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out on us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that our hearts and minds may be opened. Amen.

1 John 1-2:2  Common English Bible (CEB)

Announcement about the word of life

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

The message: God is light

This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

Living in the light

2 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.

A few months ago I attended a photography exhibition by outdoor photographer Tim Ernst whom many of you know. In fact, he did the same program at Dover as well as Russellville, so some of you may have seen it too.  The program was about his nighttime photography.  The first thing he did was to ask us how many of us were from Arkansas, and we raised our hands.  We could see that almost everyone was from Arkansas.  Then he turned out all the lights and asked us to raise our hands again if we were from Arkansas. And guess what, it was so black in the room that we could hardly make out anyone around us.  And we just sat there in the dark, and he continued talking to us for about 10 minutes.  And a funny thing happened, the more we sat there, the easier it was for us to see.  Our eyes became accustomed to the darkness; we just kind of adjusted so that we could see what was around us.  And Tim Ernst told us that when he went out to do nighttime photography, he usually did not carry a flashlight and that his eyes adapted to his surroundings.  And in this darkness, he was able to take the most amazing photographs of the stars and the night sky.

But he talked to us, too, about the effects of light pollution.  I found a website called Globe at Night that is dedicated to raising awareness about light pollution.  I learned there that light pollution is defined as “excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial light (usually outdoor light).  The website says that too much light pollution has consequences: it washes out starlight in the night sky, interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems, has adverse health effects and wastes energy.”

The website says that, “A little more than 100 years ago, you could walk outside at night even in a city and see the Milky Way arch across the night sky.  Being able to see thousands of stars was part of everyday life, inspiring artists like Van Goh or musical composers like Holst or writers like Shakespeare.  With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities, 3 out of 4 people in cities have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies.”

Have you ever experienced “the wonderment of pristinely dark skies?” This photograph you see up here is Tim Ernst’s photo of the Milky Way over Piney Creek.  And during the program, he pointed out that the light shining in the background is the light pollution from Russellville.  Even the lights from a city as small as Russellville can have an effect on our ability to see the night skies.

I ask you today – have you experienced the wonderment of the light of God?  Today’s scripture tells us that God is light.  But we live in a world that seems so dark sometimes.  Did you ever think about the idea that sometimes the darkness of our world, comes from our own thoughts and actions?  From our own words and deeds?

Just like the light pollution that keeps us from really seeing the light of God’s Milky Way, we experience all kinds of pollution (all kinds of junk in our lives) that keep us far from God.  The message for today, is “God is light.”  Even though the world we live in seems full of darkness, caused by us and others, God is still light. I invite you to think about what might be keeping you from experiencing the light of God in your life.

For the next few weeks, we are going to look at the book of 1 John. It’s a short book at the back of your Bible.  You may not know a lot about this book, so I want to fill you in on the setting and the context.  This book was a letter written around 100 AD in Ephesus.  Jesus would have died about 70 years before this was written.   Many of the Christians to whom this letter were written would have been second or even third generation Christians.  One commentator said that “in the first days of Christianity there was a glory and a splendor, but now Christianity had become a thing of habit, traditional, half-hearted, nominal.  John was writing at a time when, for some at least, the first thrill was gone and the light of devotion had grown dim.”

And I couldn’t help thinking, it might be kind of like this day – the Sunday after Easter – low Sunday – the excitement is gone – and we are back to the nitty gritty of a normal life.  And so, the letter or the sermon in 1 John is written to the church in Ephesus to encourage them to persevere – to instruct them in the way of salvation and encourage them in living a holy life – as a way to brighten the dimming light of Christ in their hearts into a great light!

The big idea for 1 John – the message that is announced is – “God is light.”  God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

“The darkness stands for the chaos of life without God.  Without God’s light the world is chaos, in which life has neither order nor sense.”

So the first point I want to make today is that “God is light.” God is light and in him there is no darkness.  There are several things we can learn about God from this message of light:  We learn about God’s majesty and God’s glory.  There is nothing more stunning than witnessing God’s glory as a light shining in the darkness.  The golden sunrise breaking through a dark night – or a glorious sunset breaking through after an intense thunderstorm testify to the majesty and glory and the power, too, of our God.  Or imagine the power of the light of God shining into your life in the midst of a dark time.  God is a mighty God – he is surely able to shine his glorious light into any dark place.

This message also tells us that God is self-revealing.  Above all things – light is seen!  There is nothing secretive about God.  God wants to be seen by each of us.  God wants to be known by each of us.  The light shines every day in our lives, and God just hopes that we might notice today that he is calling us.  God yearns to draw us out of the chaos of the darkness and into his glorious light.

This message of light tells us that God is pure and holy. Light speaks to us of holiness and purity – of a lack of any hidden evil.

This message of light tells us about the guidance of God, too.  One of the great functions of light is to show the way, right? God offers the light that is the guidance for our path.

But the message of light also tells us about the revealing qualities of light.  If we want to examine something, we bring it up to the light, don’t we?  I sure do, with my poor eyes!  And in the light, all the flaws of a thing are obvious. In the light, we can see all the imperfections in any item.  And so it is with us.  The light of God reveals our imperfections.  Against the light of God, no one is worthy.

And that is my second point for you to consider.  Sin keeps us away from the light of God.  The idea that there is a lot of pollution in our lives that keeps us from seeing the light of God.  The pollution that we face is sin.  Sin keeps us apart from God.  Sin is like that light pollution – it distracts us so much from the bright light of God that we might totally miss out on the glorious splendor of God’s light.

The Hebrew and Greek words most often used for the English word sin mean “to stray from the path” or to “miss the mark.”  The path is the path that God has set out for us. And so, sin would be straying from God’s path.  Any time we step off the pathway that God wants us on, we are sinful.  Any time, we are not the person God wants us to be, we have stepped off the path; we have missed the mark.  Anytime, we fail to love God or people, we are off the path that God wants for us.  And don’t we quite often find ourselves drawn to do things in our own selfish interests.  We find ourselves doing those things that will bring ourselves or others pain – we are tempted to stray from God’s path.  The apostle Paul said in Romans 7 that sin causes him to do the very thing he hates.

We are studying the book “why” by Adam Hamilton.  And he talks about this tendency toward sin and say this:

It leads to dictators and tyrants abusing their people.  It leads to men and women violating their marriage covenants. It results in people worshiping idols like money, sex and power.  In the end, straying from God’s path leads to pain for us and for those affected by our actions.

When we put other things or people before God, when we sin, we create pollution in our lives. My all-time favorite study is by a man named Kyle Idlemann called H20.  And when he writes about sin, Kyle said something that has stuck with me for years:

If a person did something wrong just five times a day – tell a white lie, gossip about a coworker, blow up at the kids, ignore the nudge to do something good, like call mom or encourage a friend – in fifty years this person would have accumulated 90,000 offenses!

That’s a lot of pollution – 90,000 offenses.  And honestly, I probably mess up a lot more than 5 times a day.  Sometimes we have so much pollution, that the light of God is hard to see.  God’s light is always there, but it shines so much brighter when we can clear out some of that pollution.

And that is where the good news of Jesus Christ comes in.  That is the third point I want to make to you.  1 John 1:7 reminds us of this:

The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.

And 1 John 2 says:

2 My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.

We no longer have to go the temple and sacrifice a lamb for our sins – the blood of Jesus was shed for you – for the forgiveness of your sins and the sins of the whole world.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven when we confess with our whole hearts.  1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.”

The third point: if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from what we have done wrong. All 90,000 offenses, forgiven, just with the asking.

“Confession clears the pollution, and trust in Christ heals the decay.”

It sounds amazingly simple, but actually it is agonizing because here is the thing with confession.  It has to be true and meaningful confession. We have to admit that we have a problem to confess.  We have to admit that we are sinful, and we have to say that we are sorry.  And we have to mean it.  That’s the thing – we have to mean that we are sorry – because if we mean that we are sorry for the thing that we have done, we are going to have to change our ways because we know that we are straying from the path that God wants us on.  And I’m not sure that we always want to be on God’s path.  Because our own path looks so much better – it seems so much easier.

As I was finishing writing this sermon, I looked once more at the words from 1 John.  And at the bottom of the page in my study Bible in a little box in the corner I read these words:

How can we say that we love God when we live in and love the darkness? How can we say that we love God when we are leading others into darkness and enabling them to take up permanent residency there? How can we say that we love God when we refuse to confess our sins, refuse to forgive others, or refuse to be in fellowship with them because they have sinned against us? Are we afraid of the dark or afraid of the light? Before we can be the light, we must see the light. God’s light saves, heals, cleanses, and restores us, despite our brokenness.

Are we afraid of the dark or are we afraid of the light?  Before we can be the light, we have to see the light.  God’s light saves, heals, cleanses, and restores us, despite our brokenness.

Confession involves examining our actions and our conscience.  Confession involves thinking about whom we’ve hurt with our words and deeds.  Confession involves asking God to examine our hearts and to reveal areas in need of attention.  And believe me, if you ask God to examine your heart, God will reveal areas demanding confession.

All that pollution, all that separates us from the love of God can be wiped away.  He is faithful and just to cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.  And once we confess and ask for forgiveness, it is done. After confession, we must trust God.  We must trust God to heal the decay and the injury.  Psalm 103:12 says it this way: As far as east is from west—that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.  Let me say the words from 1 John again: if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.

We are not worthy to approach God with our sin – no one is.  But God is worthy – and we are cleansed of all that pollutes our lives – we are given this amazing ability to see the light of God shining into our world – into our very lives.  And when we live in the light, when we are so full of the light of God, there will be no sin in us— we will not want to continue sinning against God.  And when this light is shining in us, others can’t help but notice.

Jesus told his disciples, “let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5.  When we are living in the light of God, we are living out the very purposes that God created us for.

Do you remember my story about Tim Ernst turning the lights out and making us sit in the dark for 10 minutes and how our eyes became accustomed to the dark.  Well, I’m praying that we won’t sit around in the dark – I’m praying that we won’t get accustomed to the dark.  I’m praying that in the chaos of life, we will seek the light of God.  It is shining brightly, God is trying to get our attention, through all of our junk – all of the pollution that might take priority – all those things that come before God in our lives – God yearns for the day that God’s light is so bright in us that it bursts out onto all of those around us.

So, don’t remain in the dark.  Seek the light of God – with God’s help, clear away any pollution that separates you from God.  Let the light of God within you shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secretes are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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