Come to the Light
Worship in our sanctuary will be suspended until further notice due to Stay-at-Home restrictions imposed for public health and safety. Please find a transcript of the service below.
March 22, 2020
It is not enough to look; we need to see what is real.
Call to Worship
One: We come together to be God's hope:
Many: To live hopeful truth in the presence of lies,
One: To live hopeful compassion in the presence of violence,
Many: To live hopeful love in the presence of prejudice.
One: We come to shine together with the light of grace
Many: So that peace can unfold among us, becoming God's realm.
All: We come to be more faithful disciples right now, right here.
Hymn of the Day
Be Thou My Vision
This well-loved hymn is based on an eighth-century Irish poem translated into English my Mary E. Byrne. It was published in Eriú (1905), a journal of the School of Irish Learning. The versification of this translation, by Eleanor H. Hull, was first published in Poem Book of the Gael (1912). Slane is an Irish tune arranged by David Evans for the Revised Church Hymnary (1927). The tune was named in honor of the hill in County Meath where St. Patrick incurred the anger of the Irish king for igniting a fire on Easter Eve before the pagan king could light the "royal fires." A slight stress on the first beat of each measure will help give the presentation a Celtic lilt. The number of stanzas and their ordering varies in hymnals. Some hymnals also alter some of the archaic language.
Prayer of Confession
Pure Sight, we confess that too often we do not see what we don't want to see. We ask you to give us the courage and the desire to open our eyes and our hearts and our minds. Then we ask that you will forgive us:
for witnessing the needs of a sister, and ignoring them;
for glancing away from injustice;
for winking at dishonesty, at prejudice, or at violence;
for regarding a brother as beneath our notice;
and for expecting others to be blind to our blindness.
Grant us the yearning to look until we really see what you need us to see. Amen.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV2011) 1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV2011) 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
John 9:1-41 (NIV2011) 1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Ephesians 5:8-14 (NIV2011) 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
“Come to the Light”
We can view our journey through Lent as a process of coming to the light of Christ.
Come to the Light
Sometimes there’s no way to understand a passage from the Bible unless you first put yourselves in the shoes — or the sandals — of the people who wrote down those words. Surely this is true for today’s reading from Ephesians: “Live as children of light.”
Seems straightforward enough. The author’s setting up a contrast between light and darkness. Anybody can relate to that.
Or can we? Are we so sure, in this highly technological age, that we have a proper appreciation — a lived understanding — of what darkness is all about?
Apart from the occasional nighttime power failure, rarely do any of us experience total darkness. Unless we live in a remote, off-the-grid area, there’s always some ambient light around. Our cities are such massive engines of electrical generation that you have to travel hundreds of miles before you stop seeing that distant glow on the horizon.
Keeping night’s darkness at bay
That certainly wasn’t true for our colonial ancestors. Their primary sources of light after the sun went down were candles or primitive lamps that burned oil or grease.
Most of their candles were made from tallow — animal fat. The process of rendering fat into candles was dirty, smelly and time-consuming. Beeswax candles worked better: they burned more cleanly and reliably, but only the rich could afford them. Whether tallow or beeswax, candles were among the costliest items in a colonial pantry. Our ancestors used them sparingly. They never lit up the whole house. They carried a single candle from room to room.
Colonial lamps were shallow little dishes, filled with oil or grease in which a rag floated to serve as a wick. Such a device produced a little light and a lot of carbon.
Those candles and lamps would allow you to sit up for an hour or two beside the fire to read a book or do some embroidery. Apart from that, the only other thing to do after sundown was go to bed.
As for going out and about in the night, that was a rare thing. You tried to avoid it if you could. People who habitually walked the shadowy streets at night could not be trusted. They were probably up to no good.
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,” says Ephesians, “but instead, expose them.” That verse had a more vivid meaning for our colonial ancestors than it does for us today. In a world without electric light, it wasn’t hard to imagine what sort of nefarious deeds might go on in the all-encompassing darkness.
As the 19th century rolled along, better fuels became available — whale oil, coal oil and, eventually, kerosene — and the nighttime darkness could be staved off a bit longer. But still, the struggle against darkness in one’s home was not easy.
All that changed after the year 1882. In that year, in lower Manhattan, the Edison Illuminating Company established the Pearl Street Station, the first central electrical power plant in the United States. Its coal-fired steam engines turned the dynamos that generated electrical current — DC back in those early days, before the AC standard had been set. Initially, Pearl Street Station powered just 400 lamps in 85 households.
New York City, at the time — its streets as well as its homes — was lit at night by gas lamps. It soon became apparent that this was the technology of the past. Once a power plant had been built and insulated copper wires run throughout the neighborhood, a virtually unlimited supply of electricity could be provided cheaply and relatively cleanly. The new electric lights burned more brightly than the sputtering gaslights of generations past.
Over the next decades, electrification — what we now know as the power grid — was one of the great technological projects of the age. Starting in the urban centers, commercial electrical power spread to smaller and smaller communities. By 1930, 70 percent of the households in the country had been electrified. It took greater effort — and some government intervention during the New Deal — to bring electric power to farms and rural communities. By the time of the Second World War, the greater part of this work had been completed. In the space of a generation or two, the human experience of light and darkness had been changed forever.
To us today — barring a hurricane or other natural disaster that takes down the power grid — the setting of the sun is no obstacle to anything we want to do. Is it too dark to read? Reach over and turn on the lamp. It’s that easy. Even activities like high-school sports are no longer restricted to daylight hours. Athletic fields are illuminated by banks of powerful lights that can turn night into near-day at the flick of a switch.
The first and second sleep
There’s a fascinating book called At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.1 It’s based on research done by the author, Roger Ekirch, into the everyday life of our ancestors before electrification.
Astronomical night, of course, lasts for 12 hours on the average: longer in winter, shorter in summer. But that’s a good deal longer than most people — then or now — typically sleep. Most people in earlier times, reluctant to burn those expensive candles, just went to bed. But they didn’t sleep straight through the night. Ekirch has learned that, typically, they would sleep for several hours, then awaken around midnight. They would then endure a period of wakefulness for an hour or two, after which they’d fall asleep again until morning.
Ekirch read a lot of diaries from that era. They often refer to “the first sleep” and “the second sleep.” Some people would use that period of midnight sleeplessness to do a bit of reading or writing by candlelight. Others would simply lie awake in their beds, listening to the howl of wolves, or the scuttling-about of mice — fearing whatever terrors might be lurking in the darkness.
According to legend, midnight was “the witching hour,” when supernatural forces of evil could emerge to do their worst. Washington Irving mentions the witching hour a couple times in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. That’s when the Headless Horseman shows up. Whenever Shakespeare, in one of his plays, has a ghost appear — as in Hamlet or Julius Caesar — it’s on or around the stroke of midnight.
This is no accident. It corresponds with that period of wakefulness between the two sleeps.
It was such a common experience that everyone was aware of it. But today we have no concept of it. The two stages of sleep have all but disappeared from the human experience. Our well-lit evenings have temporarily changed our physiology.
But the pattern is still there, underneath it all. Sleep scientists have experimented with volunteers who go without artificial lights for an extended period. What they’ve discovered is that, without electric lights, most of us revert to this pattern of first and second sleep. It’s hard-wired into our brains. The pattern is waiting to reassert itself, should our lighting systems ever fail completely.
The cloak of anonymity
What was true of night in early America was even truer of night in biblical times. Candles — that lighting technology that seems so old-fashioned today — had not yet been invented. The only artificial light the apostles had were torches and oil lamps. These devices threw even less light than candles.
When the letter to the Ephesians says, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light,” that notion of darkness recalls what could have been going on out there, in the dark streets, in the interval between first and second sleep. The works of darkness are literally the things you don’t want others to see you doing, things you’d be ashamed of if you did them in the light of day.
Sin loves darkness. The cloak of anonymity is essential. We don’t live in that sort of all-encompassing darkness anymore, but isn’t there much, in our obsession with personal privacy, that provides cover for sin?
Nobody sees the numbers we report on our income-tax returns. Just us and the IRS. Most of us are very content to have those numbers continue to dwell in darkness.
The same is true of our online activity. Scrub the browser history, and nobody knows where we’ve been (or so we’d like to believe).
Many of us erect walls of privacy around our home life. How many parents say to their kids, “What happens between the four walls of our house is nobody’s business but our own”? That’s fine as a general principle, but it’s also true that such darkness is the best friend of those who abuse family members.
See that you don’t number yourself in the company of evildoers, this letter is saying. This new kind of faith calls you to a higher way of living. In order to follow the way of Christ, you must leave behind all patterns of thinking that could cause you to slip back into darkness. It can only happen by intentionally moving from darkness into light.
The Son and the sun
How would anyone have literally moved from darkness into light in biblical times? It wasn’t a matter of throwing an electrical switch. Maybe if you walked from a dark street into a house lit by oil lamps, you’d have something of that experience. But still, those lamps didn’t exactly light up a room. And if you ventured out into the street with an oil lamp in hand, its feeble flame wouldn’t do much to push back the darkness.
To people of biblical times — including those struggling Christians of Ephesus — the only truly reliable sources of light were the heavenly bodies of sun, moon and stars. Grandest of all, of course — and the only one that could vanquish the night — was the sun. The prophet Malachi bears witness to this truth, as he refers to the coming messiah as “the sun of righteousness” (that’s s-u-n).2 We Christians, of course, identify the messiah as God’s Son, Jesus (that’s s-o-n). It’s only Christ’s light that saves us.
Our individual lights are no match for his. Still, the author of this ancient letter is encouraging us to raise our feeble lamps high, all the same: to challenge the darkness. But then we need to do something else. We need to wait. We await the coming of the one force in the universe powerful enough to vanquish darkness. That, of course, is the dawn: the sun (s-u-n) of righteousness himself.
See, the soft streaks of light are starting to appear in the eastern sky. Come to the light. Let your small light become lost in the greater light of God’s glory. Come to the light, and be saved!
As Charles Wesley put it in his hymn “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies,” written in 1740, long before electric light:
Visit then this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief.
Fill me, radiancy divine;
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.
These days of Lent are an excellent time to examine our lives, to discern the ways in which we still prefer the darkness of sin over the light of righteousness. May we all have the courage, and the faith, to turn to the light of Jesus Christ, and find new life in him!
1 Roger Ekirch, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (New York: Norton, 2006).
2 Malachi 4:2.
Vision-Beyond-Sight, inspire us with the courage to let go of our narrow assumptions and simplistic explanations and self-important doctrines, and accept the infinite expansiveness of your wildly improbable desire for creation. Invite us to leave the safe cloud of not knowing, the comfortable cloud of ignorance, the familiar cloud of apathy, those clouds that protect us from reality, and to stand with hearts wide open, leaning into the brilliant epiphany of your truth. Dawn in us to become the living vision of shalom you desire. May it so be.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen!
May the LORD watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other. Amen
Thought for the Day
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.