Living in the Light When the World is Dark: Part II – Reflection

**April 19, 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 3:1-7 The message

3 What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

4-6 All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah.

IMG_0966In my family and most families, my children are reflections of me and my husband, Ed.  On Easter Sunday, I took this picture of my two sons Jonathan and Mark and Mark’s fiancée, Stephanie.  People always recognize that Jonathan looks like Ed.  This time, several people commented that they hadn’t noticed that Mark looked a lot like Ed, too. But EVERYONE would notice that Stephanie looks very different!  She is a reflection of her parents – her dad has red hair like she does and she talks just like her mother.  And, I’m pretty sure that no one would think Stephanie is one our children.

A lot of you know that I am a lawyer and Ed is a coach.  Well our kids, didn’t get very creative – I guess we influenced them more than we thought because Jonathan is a lawyer and Mark is a coach.  In many ways children are reflections of their parents –certainly not in all ways – but in their looks, their mannerisms, their beliefs, their interests, and sometimes even their career choices.

This scripture from 1 John calls us children of God.  And as we grow as disciples, the light of God shining in us begins to be reflected back into the world – we become a reflection of God in a dark world.  Just like the reflection of the bridge over the Piney in this beautiful photograph reflects the real image in the creek, we can reflect God’s image into a dark world.  Just like children are a reflection of their earthly parents, we are reflections of God.

Today, we are continuing our study of 1 John.  Last week, we talked about the idea that God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.  We talked about the idea that the world and our lives are full of pollution – things that keep us apart from God – sin that keeps us separated from God.  Today’s scripture talks about the harmful effects of sin in our life as well saying “sin is a major disruption of God’s order” and that we are called to “stay ready [for the coming of Christ], with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.”

The scripture last week told us that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and that the sin is forgotten immediately by God – that it is as far as the east is from the west.  (See 1 John 1 and Psalm 102).

And today I want to explore what it means to be a child of God and what the process of reflecting God’s light into the world might look like.

To me the most amazing part of this scripture is to think that God would even want to call us his very own – that we are God’s own children – and that we are beloved children – that we are holy and precious in God’s eyes.

1 John says:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are…. that’s exactly who we are: children of God.

It’s a love that surpasses the greatest human love – we really can’t even comprehend God’s love for us because there are no strings attached to God’s love.  We can’t earn it and we don’t have to be good enough for God.

And we are a part of God’s family!  It’s not just that we are merely called God’s children, but we actually are God’s children.  That idea takes a little bit of work to understand.  Commentator William Barclay said that “by nature a [person] is the creature of God, but it is by grace that he becomes the child of God.”  In other words, it is God’s gift that we were created by Him and born of him.  But we truly become a member of God’s family at the time that our hearts and minds respond to him and accept the relationship that God offers to us – to become a member of God’s family.

Barclay explains this more by describing the meanings of two closely related words: “paternity” and “fatherhood.”  Although the words are related, the meanings are very different.  Paternity describes the relationship in which a man is responsible for the physical existence of a child.  We have paternity cases all the time, where DNA testing is done to determine who the father of the child is – that establishes paternity.  But “fatherhood” on the other hand is more than just the person who physically created the child.  Fatherhood describes an intimate, caring and loving relationship.  Unfortunately, we have many examples of men whose paternity is established, but who are not fathers in their children’s lives.

Barclay points out that in the sense of paternity, “all people are children of God; but in the sense of fatherhood people are children of God only when God makes his gracious approach to us and we respond.” (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, The Letters of John, page 73.

We are all God’s children because God created us.  But when we say “yes” to God, that is when we are truly God’s children.  We are adopted into God’s family when we say “yes” to this relationship with God.

I learned this week that in the Roman world during which the book of 1 John was written, adoptions did take place even in 100 AD, but not out of compassion for orphans.  In fact, many people were adopted as young adults or even grown adults.  Adoption for the Romans was about inheritance and name.  Sometimes a man was adopted to carry on the name of a couple with no children.  The adopted son severed ties to the old family including the relief of any debt owed under the name of the old family.  He would become a whole new person, in a new family, with a new inheritance and a new name.  It was a new beginning.

And so it is with us.  When we accept this new relationship with Christ, as we grow closer to Christ, we become whole new persons, we are transformed, and the light of God begins to shine in and through us.  We become a reflection of God.

Being transformed into the image of Jesus is what becoming a disciple is all about – and when that happens, we are a reflection of a whole new family.

But unfortunately, when we say “yes” to God, we are not instantly transformed into Christ-like people are we? It would be such a wonderful world if we could pray a prayer and say, “Jesus, I love you, and I want to be your disciple” and then we magically became Christ-like.

When we profess our faith, we don’t suddenly begin living our lives loving God and loving people.  God gave us a little thing called free will, and we are always battling with our free-will.  We tend to love ourselves more than we love God and others.  So, it is a constant struggle.  This transformation is a slow journey – maybe even a painful journey — we slowly change from being self-centered to being God centered.

Our actions really do matter.  Because our actions are what reveal the light of God in the world.

Pastor Roy Smith tells the story of taking a walk with a five year old.  And they walked by an apple tree, and Roy asked the little girl what kind of tree it was.  And she said, “Well, an apple tree, of course.  Don’t you see the apples?”

We are identified by our fruit.  An apple tree isn’t going to have bananas hanging off of it.  And we bear certain fruit if we have been transformed into the image of Christ.

In the book of Galatians the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit that transformed people will bear.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

The Message version of the Bible says it this way:

 22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

You probably know a few people who bear fruit like this.  Honestly, we don’t run in to all that many people over the course of a day who bear these qualities.  But wow, when you do know these people, they really are a light in our days!  There is something a little different about someone who is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control!

But I can’t just preach that you should go out and bear fruit.  What does that mean? How do you do that?  How do we go out into the world and reflect the light of God where there is darkness?  How do we become filled with God so much that we show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control?  How does that happen?  Well, I encourage you to ask that person you know, ask that person whom you think is most filled with God’s spirit in his life – ask that person her secret – ask him why they are so full of love and joy and patience and self-control. I think you will find that in some way they are seeking God.  My experience is that people who are the most filled with the light of God are those who take the time on a regular basis to be filled with that light.

I think that we become a reflection of God by reflecting on God.  The closer we draw to God, the more like God we are.  My children are like me and Ed– our DNA is in them.  But more than that, we raised them.  We taught them how to eat, and how to get dressed, and how to pick up their toys.  All those things your parents teach you, all that time with your parents, helped to make you who you are.  We use the same toothpaste and like pretty much the same foods.  All that time spent with our kids helped to mold them into who they are!

And I realized that if we want to be transformed – if we want to look more like Christ- if we want to reflect God back into the world, we have to reflect on God.

To reflect God, we have to reflect on God.

We have to spend time with God, to become like God.  Like a parent and a child, time spent with the person is what make us a reflection of our parents.

Once children leave their parents’ sides, and they are out in the world, they face all kinds of influences – they are out there in a dark world and away from parental influence.  And the less time we spend with our parents, the less they influence us.  If we are not spending time with God, the dark world, instead of the light, is likely to influence us.  Spending time with God helps us to realize how God wants us to live – not living in selfishness but giving ourselves to God and to others.

William Barclay shares a beautiful old story that goes like this:

A simple man would often go into a cathedral to pray and kneel before the crucifix which of course is a cross having the image of Christ on it.  And someone noticed that although he knelt in attitude of prayer, his lips never moved, and he never seemed to say anything, but he just looked at the crucifix.  The person asked the man what he was doing kneeling like that and not bowing his head or saying a word, and the man answered:

“I look at him and he looks at me.”

William Barclay says that is the vision of God in Christ that all of us can have.  And that “he who looks long enough at Jesus Christ must become like him.” (Barclay p. 75).

I look at him and he looks at me.  Whoever looks long enough at Jesus Christ must become like him.

And so part of your challenge this week is to think about what that means in your life.  How can you look at Jesus?  Now today’s scripture tells us that one day we will meet Jesus face to face, and we will become like him.   But until the time that you literally see Jesus, how can you seek the face of Jesus here and now.  What routine can you begin to actively see Jesus?

When we become like Jesus – even a little bit – we are reflecting God.  When we become like Jesus – we are shouting into the dark world who we are and whose we are – when we become like Jesus – we really are children of God – adopted into a whole new family with a whole new inheritance and a light that reveals to others the marvelous love that God has for us.

So, listen once more:

1 John 3:1-7

3 What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

4-6 All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah.

Let us pray.

Loving God, we are amazed by your great love for us.  You are so powerful that you can bring light into the darkest places.  You are so good to us that your spirit can transform us into a reflection of you – reflecting back into the world love and joy and peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

So, God we are so thankful to be children of God.  You created us and you made us, yes.  But today, God we want to truly be your children.  We are drawn to your light, and we want more of you in our lives, in our families, in our church, and in our world.  And so, open our hearts and minds to be transformed into the image of Jesus.  Teach us to look at Jesus.  And let us become more like him.  Amen.

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