By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 22, 2020
Ephesians 5:8–14 (ESV)
8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The past few weeks have been days that has thrown me for a real loop. I mentioned last week that I am not used to living in an era where March is without basketball. I would say without the madness, but I work in retail and the paper good aisles are still empty. I do not want to joke about that too much because things are serious. We are advised to stay home. Just yesterday the news advised that our schools will be closed for another month, and that any non-essential laborer is advised to stay home. And for the first time since 1918, the Meeting of Evangelical Friends Church in Mid America Yearly Meeting have advised meetings for worship be postponed. There is plenty of stress going around. There is plenty of anxiety. It is difficult for us to look at our communities and see anything positive to speak about.
But I work in one of those industries that is considered essential, so while others are working from home, or trying to keep young students focused I am at work. And while I am working, either at the store or delivering groceries I interact with people, using the advised social distancing.
Today I move away from my traditional sermon on a gospel reading and encourage us to engage with one of Paul’s letters, Ephesians. The city of Ephesus is important to the emerging church. It is one of those seven churches of Asia that John wrote the Revelation of Jesus to which we can read about in the last book of the Bible. In that letter to the church, well to the angel of the church in Ephesus, something is said that is very important. There is some debate as to what the angel of the church means, some say it is the guardian angel charged with protecting the church and others say that it is symbolic speech that indicates the bishop of the church. I personally think that it is to the leaders. But in that letter John writes, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” This is very profound. We know Ephesus to be true. They know what they believe, and they live by it. This is a testimony to their response to the teaching and encouragement that they had received from the moment they first heard the gospel to the closing of the apostolic age of the church.
They work, they toil, they endure, and they will not stand for evil. In today’s passage this is exactly what Paul encourages them to do. Some people believe that Ephesus was the central church of Asia at that time. Many believe that Paul set up a sort of primitive seminary in this city, so it became this preacher making and sending metropolis situated on the shores of great sea. They send these teachers and preachers throughout the Empire. It was in this city that Apollos was taught the truth of the gospel. It was in Ephesus that it is believed that the Last Apostle, John, lived out his life. It was in this city that we see a dramatic change.
Ephesus was once the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was the site of the Temple of Artemis, and as Paul preached in this city it threatened the economy, because people that listened to the Gospel of Jesus turned from idol worship and stopped buying the silver idols being sold to those visiting the Temple.
To speak out against Artemis in this region was as offensive to the people as not standing for the national anthem is here. Their lives revolved around, and their identity was found in this temple. When the message of Christ came into their land, the people had a hard decision to make. Would they turn not only from their family and nation and take on the lifestyle of Christ, or would they continue in the life and lifestyle they had always known. I think it important for us to think about this for a moment. When Paul writes these words, he is not just speaking about abstract theory, but tangible reality. To claim Christ in Ephesus, was to be unpatriotic. It was to leave nationalism behind to focus on something different and greater. When Paul speaks of darkness and light, we often think that he is speaking in spiritual language, but it is deeper. He is speaking of life and lifestyle; he is speaking about the very essence of who we are.
“[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” In scripture there is symbolic use of ideas of light and darkness. This symbolism goes to the very beginning of our human understanding, to our first parents Adam and Eve. In that narrative Adam and Eve were living in the garden of Eden. They had all that they could possibly need, and God walked with them in the cool of the evenings. We do not know how long Adam and Eve walked in the garden like this, but we know that eventually they turned from this lifestyle. I love this narrative, because there is so much that we can learn from it. The story is more than just a story of why the world is a mess, but it is a story of each of our lives. It is a story of the natural growth of a child into adulthood. It is a story of the decisions we make and how we make them.
Many of us think back to our childhood and have fond memories. Memories of an easy life. There were no worries, no bills to pay, and pretty much life was perfect. Then we became an adult. Once we become an adult, trouble begins. We make choices between food or pleasure, rent or entertainment. We quickly realize that we must work hard to simply get by. We did not have to do this as a child. We might help our parents with various income making projects, but our parents shielded us from the reality that those that do not work do not eat.
As we mature, we begin to make larger decision that affect our life and the lives of those around us. Will we follow the teachings of those that cared for us while we walked in the gardens of our youth or will we turn? Light and Darkness. God walked with the young Adam and Eve. I love going on walks. I particularly love going on walks on trails in the wilderness, but the best walks are with children because when we walk with children, they see things that we do not see. They remind us of the awe of the world around us. The picture that I have shared on the various slides is one that I took on one of my walks back home on the farm. As we walk with a child, we often use those moments to teach them many things. We look at flowers and we teach them. The teaching can go from how the flower makes a seed and the see become food for us and other animals, we might teach them about the bees and how the pollen from flowers become honey. We teach them how to great people we see; we teach them how to be safe and what we should and should not touch. We teach as we walk. And God taught our first parents just as we teach our children. They grew, they matured, and they came to a point in life that they had to make their own decision. They looked at all the fruit in the garden and realized that the fruit of the tree God told them to avoid looked just as good as the other fruit, so they ate it. They made a choice and as a result they turned away from their teaching, and as a result there was consequences to their actions.
As our first parents walked with God they were in the light. Light is symbolic of wisdom, and knowledge. It is the divinely inspired knowledge that is used to make our decisions. While Adam and Eve walked with God they were in the light. But the moment they decided to turn from that divine directive, they turned away from the light and found themselves immersed in shadow. And shadows often play tricks.
You might have noticed that when the lights go off, the things in our rooms change shape. The artwork that my son has drawn that we have put on display look amazing when the lights are on, but when the lights go off those same drawings become the things of nightmares. I simple sheet of paper can cast a shadow on the wall that our eyes interpret as a giant spider or a bat. And when the air moves through the vents, those shadow move and suddenly fear grabs hold and you scream. Then all at once the light comes on and you sit in confusion because where you were thought for sure a bat once was, is now only a page with a drawing.
This is the difference between light and darkness. Darkness draws on our fears and ignorance. When we make decisions in darkness, we respond in the short-term frame of mind. We might call it the instinctual responses; fight or flight, eat or be eaten. We look at what is before us and we respond immediately. Our adrenaline is pumping, the stress is high. But if we meet that decision and are unaware, we will often make a decision that will cost us in the long run. Adam and Eve were hungry, and they saw fruit and they ate it, now the world sucks.
“But now you are light in the Lord,” Paul says, “Walk as children of light.”
Do you know a person that is cool under pressure? The world around them seems to be chaotic yet they seem at peace. Your mind is frantic, yet they are calm. What is the difference? Light and dark.
If darkness is ignorance, light is wisdom. Imagine someone you love has fallen and broken their arm, what will you do. The tears are falling, and you cannot tell if the screams are yours or theirs. You are in the darkness, you do not know what to do, but there is a nurse in the ER that softly speaks to you and the screaming ceases. Their gentle hands and voice examine the limb and they take you to see the doctor. The doctor is confident and sets your heart at ease, she knows exactly what to do and you bravely face the pain and all at once there is a cast on the arm and you have a piece of candy and a large bill. In that situation you were in the dark, and the doctor and nurse were in the light. You were ignorant or without knowledge, and they had the wisdom or ability to apply knowledge.
“[F]or the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” If we go back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, they were hungry, and they ate fruit from the tree that God commanded them not to eat. They turned from God’s teaching and in the short term they were full, but the long-term results of that action left them struggling. People that live in darkness are often reactionary. They come to a quick decision and alleviate one problem, but because they were making the decision under duress, they failed to consider other possible issues that might result from their action. And due to that ignorance, they now have two other problems caused by the solution of first. It is often a story we see played out on the news, especially during campaigns. Everyone has a solution to the problem. The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.
The doctor knows that a broken arm needs to be properly set, or the bone will heal improperly causing more problems in the future. If I was ignorant of the broken bone, and only treated the pain I would only cause greater pain in the future. Those that live in the light can approach the problem in a way that they can see the possibilities before them. They are aware of these possibilities because they taken the time to learn what might happen in each situation, or maybe they have seen it before and know what does not work. They know what is good and they know what could be better and they strive to make an environment for the best-case scenario to occur. But the most important statement in this section of verses is found in the tenth verse, “ant try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Discernment a powerful trait to possess. To discern is to test and found genuine, valuable, and approved. To discern takes time, but when we take the time to allow the process to move forward the long-term results are often better. Those that walk in the light, do not let the energy, emotion or stress pushing in on them, turn their attention. They remain focused. They remain calm. They look at what is presented, and they consider various solutions, and as they take the time to process, they find the one way forward that is best for all involved.
Ephesus learned how to discern. They had knowledge and implemented that knowledge effectively. And they should because that was the lifestyle they were taught. But there is more to the letter that John wrote to their angel. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.”
I mentioned before that the Temple of Artemis was the national identity of the people prior to their coming to Christ. Anything that spoke out against that was perceived as a threat to the very nation. Paul says that that lifestyle was darkness, but why? Because it was often a lifestyle that dwelt on the darkness of life. It focused on ignorance and alleviating the short-term problem at the expense of the long-term solution. When Jesus speaks against the angel of the church of Ephesus, he is saying you have done so much right, but you have turned something good into the very thing you left.
The temple of the idol was replaced with the pillars of faith, but they constructed a religious framework at the expense of life with God and others. Their quest for holy knowledge, prevented them to bear fruit of light that is found in all that is good and right and true. Their quest for having the right doctrine did not take them to walking or living that truth in their lives. They had knowledge but they were unable to implement the knowledge, so they were left in ignorance. And if they are left in ignorance, they are not in the light but darkness. They traded one form of darkness, for another. They turn to walk toward the light only to walk beyond it and back into the shadows.
This week as I spent time at work, I saw the fruit of ignorance and that of light. I have seen people driven by fear and people doing all that they could to bear fruit of light. There were people whose were driven by such fear that when they were told they could only purchase one package of toilet paper, they were unable to see that by throwing the other packages at the cashier they could have found themselves charged with assault. Darkness does surround us, but there is also light. I work in security and I also deliver groceries. This week I delivered several orders for people that recognized that they should not get out for various reasons. And as I gathered the supplies, they requested very few got upset that something was not found. And when presented with options we usually found solutions together. And this week several people have tried plant-based protein sources because someone took the time to tell them exactly what it was and how it can be prepared.
We can be driven by fear or darkness, or we can be discerning people walking in light. We can focus on the short-term or work together to find long-term solutions. Paul began this chapter by saying, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” To walk in light, we must take on the lifestyle of Christ: Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. We participate in this lifestyle when we come together to worship, when we withdraw to pray in an isolated place, and when we help others in various ways. We participate in this lifestyle when we stop looking at our own short-term benefits and instead look for ways to become a blessing for others.
As you take some time to center on Christ in centered worship, or communion in the manner of Friends. I encourage you to look at how you have approached your life over the past week and ask if you have been living in darkness or light. Have your actions reflected the life of Christ? And as we approach the week ahead of us, how can be bear fruit of light.