Sermon delivered December 10, 2006.
A little girl was reciting scripture in front of the entire church. The great crowd made her nervous and her mind went blank. In the front row, her mother was almost as nervous as her daughter. The mother gestured, moving her lips, trying to form the words to help the girl but it did no good. Finally, in desperation, the mother whispered the opening phrase of the memorized Scripture passage: "I am the light of the world." Immediately, the child's face lit up and relaxed and a smile appeared on her face as she began with supreme confidence: "My mother is light of the world!"
The words the girl was trying to remember were Jesus' words in the Gospel of John: "I am the Light of the world" (John 8:12). Jesus is the light of the world. When we are baptized into Christ, we become adopted sons of God and therefore children of the Light. In today's epistle reading St. Paul tells us to walk as children of light (Ephesians 5:8-19). Note that St. Paul offers an exhortation; a directive on how we ought to live as adopted sons of God. Note too his implication that baptism is no guarantee that we will live out our adoption in a way pleasing to God.
Baptism sets on the right road. And while God created that road and guides us along it, we won't reach the place where it leads unless we walk it. Look at it this way: we are all citizens of the United States but our citizenship still requires us to be law abiding and patriotic. Merely calling ourselves American does not make us a good Americans. In the same way, merely calling ourselves baptized Orthodox Christians does not guarantee our lives are pleasing to God.
How do we walk as children of the Light in the way that St. Paul exhorts us? He provides some instruction in the verses immediately following.
- Discover what is pleasing to the Lord (v.10).
The Christian life requires both intellectual and physical effort. To get a degree we have to read books. To get in shape we have to get to the gym and start running, jogging, and lifting. We must exert ourselves till we feel a little pain, work up a sweat and breathe hard. We need to feel a little tired afterwards. Similarly, in order for our spirit and soul to be in sound condition, we must strive to do good, to do justice, to be honest and true (v.9).
- Do not take part in unfruitful works of darkness (v.11).
We must avoid sin. Avoiding sin requires effort and action laced with purpose. We live in an imperfect and fallen world. Temptation and sin are all around us. Satan is constantly trying to trip us up. How do we know and identify sin in our life? A good rule of thumb is that anything we would want to hide from someone else is probably sinful. Ask yourself: would I be ashamed and feel guilty if someone else saw what I was doing? Actions that are good, right, and true are those that we would not be ashamed to show other people. For many of us, avoiding sin means avoiding arguments, gossip, and lying. It also means avoiding stealing and lustful actions.
- Expose the unfruitful works of darkness (v.11).
Christians are called to bring light into the darkness. This begins with ourselves particularly through the confession of sins. Once a sin is committed it should not remain hidden. The sad reality is that most Orthodox Christians do not actively partake of the Sacrament of Holy Confession. We continue to hide our sins and carry the heavy burden of guilt and shame which makes it more difficult for us to be good, righteous, and honest.
When we confess our sins, we allow the light of Christ to penetrate our heart, mind, and soul. It's like turning on the light in a squalid apartment and watching the mice and cockroaches flee. Once the light of Christ shines in our hearts, the demons flee and we can begin to clean up the filth that they have left behind or the filth that attracted them in the first place. The scriptures and the Church Fathers say that once sin has been exposed to the light of Christ, it becomes light in the sense that we see it in a way that can help others to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
To walk the Christian road we must obey the commandments of the Lord. This means that we must stay clear of sin and temptation, and when we do sin to confess it. If our eyes our set on Christ, then we will naturally fulfill St. Paul's other directives further on in the passage including "... be careful how we live" (v.15), and to "... make the most of the time" (v.16).
This new life is possible only through the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit given to us at baptism when God set us on the road that leads to Him. The Holy Spirit gives us life. It is nothing less than God's life given to us including the power not to sin but to walk in ways pleasing to Him.
"Do not get drunk with wine ... but be filled with the Spirit" St. Paul concludes (v.19). Drink the water of the Spirit and bathe in the light of Christ so that we may become sober and clean and fulfill our divine calling to be children of the Light. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.