Bob Woods, in Pulpit Digest, tells the story of a couple who took their son, 11, and daughter, 7 to Carlsbad Caverns. As always, when the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to dramatize how completely dark and silent it is below the earth’s surface. Have you ever been in that kind of complete darkness, darkness so complete you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. What was it like?
[take responses from the congregation]
You don’t have to go far to learn that our world can be a pretty dark place. All we have to do is check the news and we know. And yet in our passage for today, we are told that we “shine like stars in the universe.” How are we supposed to do that?
First, always focus on the truth. An old story tells of a desert nomad who woke up hungry in the middle of the night. He lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl beside his bed. He took a bite from one end and saw there was a worm in it, so he threw it out of the tent. He bit into the second date, found another worm, and threw it away also. He figured that if this went on, he wouldn’t have any dates left to eat, so he blew out the candle and quickly ate all the dates. Paul writes, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish...” If we are honest with ourselves, we usually know when we are doing things for the wrong reasons, and when we are doing them for the right ones. Then choose the right. Always focus on the truth.
Second, we can let the light change us. David Yarborough tells the story from one of Max Lucado’s books of a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the 20th century. She was quite wealthy, but also very frugal. As you might imagine, people were surprised, when she decided to be one of the first to have electricity installed in her home. Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?” “Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.” Yarborough goes on to say, “She tapped into the power but did not use it. Her house is connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake? We, too-with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged—are connected but not altered. Trusting Christ for salvation but resisting transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.” Paul says, “God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We want God’s light to change our hearts until we want what God wants.
Finally, shining in the darkness is something we do together. Paul writes, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As I noted when I was reading the passage, the verb for work out is plural in the Greek. Who does the work? God! But this working out our own salvation with fear and trembling is something we do together with each other and with God! When I asked Cynthia to marry me and she said, “Yes!” and we made promises to each other that was grace. Every day since then, we are working out our marriage—sometimes with fear and trembling! It’s the same with God, isn’t it? God says, “I love you!” and sent His Son Jesus to show us the Way, and to offer His life for ours on the cross. And that is grace so frighteningly wonderful we almost can’t believe our ears! And then God works with us every day, giving us of Jesus’ resurrection power, changing our hearts until we begin to want what God wants, until all we do has God’s fingerprints all over it.
What is it like to be plunged into complete darkness? The little girl, suddenly enveloped in the utter darkness of the Carlsbad Caverns, was frightened and began to cry. Immediately was heard the voice of her brother: “Don’t cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights.” We are the people who know God, and God knows how to turn on the Light! We are the ones who know God is truth, and when we focus on the truth found in love and grace, we reflect this light to the world. God knows how to turn on the Light! We are the people who try to live in the light, to let it seep into our pores, fill our hearts and change our lives. We are a people called together—young and old, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, regardless of race and ethnicity—called to shine like stars in the darkness. Jesus said of us, “You are the light of the world.” And here we are today—hungry for the Light, surrounded by others who are hungry for the Light, feeling the joy of the Lord welling up inside of us. Can you feel it? It is God who is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God’s good will. In partnership with God and each other, then, let us be the church on the hill, and in the darkness, let us shine like stars reflecting the grace of Jesus Christ.