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Sun, Apr 22, 2018

I am the Light of the World

Series:I am
Duration:17 mins 47 secs

Today is the second week of a preaching series that we will follow through the end of May. In a pivotal text in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the people say that I am?” They respond that some believe he is John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. Jesus continues, pressing them directly with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” It is still the question that all disciples of Jesus, that you and I, must answer for ourselves.

This series of sermons seeks to answer that question by first turning it around. Before we can truly declare who we say Jesus is, I want to suggest that we need to hear Jesus tell us who he is in his own words.

In the Gospel of John, seven times, we find Jesus say; “I am …” It is language reminiscent of God’s name given to Moses, YHWH: “I am who I am.” Yes, in these texts we find a glimpse of who Jesus really is in his own words. Last week we heard Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” Today we turn to the second saying as we hear this Word of God found in the Gospel of John, chapter 9, verses 1-12.

1 As he walked 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 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Do you remember how the entire story of scripture begins? All the way back in the book of Genesis? Yes, in the beginning when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while the Spirit of God swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light.

Now, I certainly was not there when all this creating and calling happened, but in my mind’s eye I suspect that this light God called into being was not just the flare of a match. Not just a spark. Not just a candle flicker in the wind. No, this was light! Overwhelming, awe inspiring, blind your eyes, take your breath away light!

In the Gospel of John, as he recounts Jesus life and ministry, John loves to employ the metaphor of light and its contrast with darkness. Perhaps you remember from the opening chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”

Perhaps because it is when I read that text every year, but when I hear these opening verses of the Gospel of John I imagine a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Can you picture that in your mind? The lights are dim, the Advent wreath flickers with five solitary candles. The light seems to push back the darkness ever so slightly. But the darkness threatens. Then the light begins to be shared. From one person to another, one pew after another, slowly the light spreads, the darkness retreats into the corners of the room, and it is replaced by a soft glow. It is nice and warm and comforting.

But what if John intends for us to think not of the nice and sweet candlelight of Christmas Eve, but instead of God calling forth light at the beginning of creation? In the beginning there was light! It was dramatic and powerful. It threw back the chaos, it banished the darkness, it shattered the deep. Suddenly, life is possible. What if that is what John has in mind? What has come into being was life and the life was the light of all people! Not just a flicker, not just a candle in the wind, but the light, the transformation, new creation of all people! The darkness is not just held at bay; it is defeated and banished for the light has come.

Yes, I wonder if that is what John had in mind. And if so, it changes how I hear our text for today as well. For this is not just a simple healing story. This is a revelation story – a glimpse into the creative power of God to make all things new. For this darkness transforming, status quo upsetting, light of the world has come and it has a name – Jesus.

Jesus is walking along and encounters a man who has been blind from birth. The disciples are interested in the cause and effect. Blindness must be the result of sin, right? So who sinned, him or his parents?

But Jesus is not interested in that question and we should not let it sidetrack us this morning either. As biblical scholar Lamar Williamson writes,

Jesus … changes the man’s blindness from a result to a possibility – an occasion for the revelation of God’s glorious work. Neither Jesus nor the evangelist is interested in speculations about where sin and darkness come from. The world is blind and God’s work is to heal it.

Yes, as Jesus tells the first disciples, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day … as long as I am in the world, “I am the light of the world.”

Jesus first made that claim, that he is the light of the world, back in chapter 8. But there it almost comes just in passing related to a festival with an emphasis on lights. But here, what it means to be the light of the world is enacted as a revelation, as a new creation.

Once again with echoes of the first chapters of Genesis, we find Jesus at work in the mud, crafting something new. In Genesis God created Adam, a creature of earth, and breathed life into him. Here, Jesus is creating something new – sight through new eyes we might say, by spitting into the mud, making a paste, putting it on the man’s eyes. He tells him to go and wash in the pool with the name “Sent.” The man does and once again, from the waters emerge a new creation. For “the man went and washed and came back able to see.”

Yes, this darkness transforming, status quo upsetting, light of the world enables the blind to see. And those who now see are not just those who have lost their sight through some act of the will or some accident. No, those who have never seen before get new eyes. The light brings a new creation enacted and envisioned by Jesus himself.

However, not everyone finds this new creation easy to understand or welcome. Most of the verses we read today and the vast majority of the rest of the chapter are the man’s friends and then the Pharisees and leaders trying to figure out if the man who now sees is the same man who had been born blind. The man repeatedly echoes the words of Jesus, declaring, “I am.” And yet, they still do not believe. They find every excuse possible not to believe – from the fact that the healing happened on the Sabbath to their belief that not since creation itself has someone born blind been healed. They refuse to see what the light of the world has been revealed to them. Despite the darkness transforming, status quo upsetting, light of the world new creation, people continue to love darkness.

And the darkness does not go down without a fight. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is moving quickly to Jerusalem and the cross that awaits. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus is the light that not just flickers, but transforms, that creates, and banishes the darkness. The darkness will threaten once again, but even on the cross the light still shines.

We had an experience like that here at Reid Memorial just over a year ago. At our Maundy Thursday service we used 120 small tea lights on a little table with a glass cover. We placed the lights on the table to create a marvelous cross. The tea lights were supposed to burn for four hours, much longer than we needed, so I decided that we would light all of the candles just before the service began. They would burn throughout the service and then at the conclusion, as everyone departed in silence, each person would come forward and extinguish a single candle.

It was a stunning display and visual image as the service progressed. The lit candles reflected off the glass, doubling the effect of the cross. However, as we reached communion, the candles having burned for about 45 minutes at this point, something happened. Either the Holy Spirit or the air conditioner – I can’t say for sure which one – kicked on. And the moving air caused those tea lights to flare up. Especially in the middle of the cross where there was a concentration of heat and built up wax, the candles began to overflow, joining their flames together. Suddenly we had a fire. It wasn’t what I’d call a blaze but it was on the way. Faithful elders on the worship committee at the time, Ben Kay and Dana Cook, stepped forward and with the small snuffers attempted to extinguish the growing flames. It appeared to be a losing battle as the heat grew hotter as the flames flickered higher.

Suddenly the glass table top cracked with a loud crash. I was in the midst of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and the shattered glass startled me, but I just kept praying. With perseverance and a little grace, the flames gradually were brought under control.

I share that story with you not because I intend to ever create such a cross out of tea lights again. No, we learned our lesson on that one. I share it with you because in an unexpected and yet powerful way it reminds us of the light that even the darkness of the cross cannot contain. For the darkness transforming, status quo upsetting, uncontrollable light of the world has come. And this light has a name – Jesus. In the healing of a man born blind he reveals that the same light and power that burst into the world on the very first day can touch even you and me.

My friends can you see him? Who do you say that Jesus is? Can you claim that he is the light of the world? Not just a spark or a candle in the wind, but the power and presence of a new creation that might heal even our blindness? Do you believe this?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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