††††††††††† Well, friends, seniors, is it just me or has this been an interesting, wild, intense semester?† Are we having fun yet?!† I know my Presbyterian friends have just finished their ordination exams.† Exegesis, I think, it must have been.† I kept finding all of these Colossians commentaries all over the library as I was mired, (I mean blessed) to be in my own exegetical encounter with our text today.† And several of my Methodist friends, who are HOPING to graduate, like me, returned from the seminary trip to Turkey, jet lagged, only to face their own Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, seeking probationary membership within the connectional system of the UMC.† These are tense and exciting times in our lives, donít you think?† I think this is supposed to be the fun part, right?† Nod your heads, ďYES!Ē† But, I want you to think about today just how you got to this point, in your life, in your call to ministryÖ..† Could you have done this on your own?† Iím not so sure that I could have.† I donít think any of us could have come this far without one another,† or without the love and support of our families, our professors, and the churches who have affirmed our call to ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. This is called being in community Ė a gathered community of faith in Christ who is our light, who gives us light, who shines through us into a broken world, as we are called to be with and for each other, just as Christ is with and for us. It seems I have been reminded at several points during this journey toward ordination, how important community is.† And if there are days I may have doubts, or that I might forget, I only need to open the e-mails entitled Community Message to be reminded that I am part of a very special community here at APTS.
††††††††††† We are an interesting mix, however, this community of faith, donít you think? There are all kinds of students who pass through these very doors Ė from Presbyterians and Baptists to Methodists and Roman CatholicsÖ.† When I made a comment to one student that began, ďI know you must be a good Presbyterian,Ē she stopped me and said, ďOh no, Iím a heretic!Ē† Ellen would have loved that, knowing that fine line between orthodoxy and heresy.† This place, this community of faith, is definitely an interesting mix of people. Yet, we are all here attempting the same thing: to learn to speak words that are faithful of God, of Godís character, of Godís love for us, of Godís gift to humanity in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.† And I would say that the community to which Paul, or whoever it was that wrote the letter of Ephesians, was also an interesting mix of people attempting to live together in community.† Ephesus.† Been there.† Or, at least, to what is left of it.†
††††††††††† Itís an amazing site, a huge city of marble and columns and of wide streetsÖ It was a center of learning and of commerce, a city of athletic events, of theater, and politics, a very prosperous, harbor city in its day of glory.† Ephesus is said to have become the greatest city in all of Asia by the time that Jesus of Nazareth was born, and remained in its glory well beyond the establishment of the early church.† But this community to which the letter of Ephesians is written is a site known also for its active paganism. The temple to Artemis, located here, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, truly a beautiful site in its day.† The temple was a temple to the fertility goddess, Artemis, which implies, in all likelihood, that the worship practiced there included cultic prostitution Ė practices incongruent to living the kind of life intended for humanity by the One true God as revealed in Jesus the Christ.† The one writing to the Ephesians certainly faced a challenge in reminding this Christian community of who and whose they areÖ of what they once were and what they are now to be in and for the world, through Godís gift of light in Christ Jesus.
††††††††††† This letter to the church at Ephesus is a letter that speaks from the heart.† In context, this letter is to a community that might be having issues, just like any other community or church in the world.† Paul, Iím going to say Paul, OK?† Paul knows this community to whom he is writing to be one professing the Christian faith, and yet who also knows what life looks like in the big city.† Itís a scary world out there.† And just like any other community, when life gets hard and messy, we tend to seek anything that promises us comfort, or peace, or what we may think is a fix to our problems.† We want the good life, and we want it now.
††††††††††† Perhaps these Ephesians, as Gentile Christians, sought to cling to their previous pagan cultic rituals.† Perhaps they had forgotten that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they were now a part of something larger that life itself.† They were now tied to Godís salvific will and plan for humanity. Theyíd received the opportunity, just as we have, to live into the light of Christ.† And Paul takes his role as apostle very seriously in this attempt to reel the community back into being the body of Christ, the gathered community of faith, the visible hope of salvation in a troubled world.† And he is praying, PRAYING, for their unity in this body of Christ.†† Paul has come to understand that this community, this church of Jesus the Christ, has been preordained from the beginning of time, ďbefore the foundation of the world,Ē indeed before God spoke and called everything into being!† This church, this community, was chosen, chosen by God in and through Christ, that we ďshould be holy and blameless before [God.Ē† †††††††† Does this seem to be paradoxical to you?† God so loves us that God chose us to be holy and blameless - before God.† Do you think God knows who or what God is talking about?!†††
God, as Paulís letter tells us, is talking about this community in Ephesus, and God is talking about you and about me.† I like that chosen part, you know, it makes me loved, and cared about, and embracedÖ.† Itís that ďholyĒ and ďblamelessĒ clause, I think, that gets to us.† But hear this, itís not a paradox!† God does indeed know us and love us so much so that God, in and through Jesus Christ, brought light and life into our lives. Itís a gift.† Itís a gift!† And in accepting this gift of light and life in Jesus Christ, God has equipped the church at Ephesus, and God is equipping us, to take that light of Christ and to actually be light to one another.† We find in this letter, that there are expectations of living life well and abundantly within community.† It is called being holy.† Itís being gathered by the power of God into a community that is set apart and that strives to show the world a better way of being.
The broader text moves from what God has done for humanity through Christ, to what we are to be; that is,††† to and for each other in this journey of life.† And the verses just preceding our text, we are told what we are not to accept as good, or right, or true.† We are being equipped to say no to the porneia that seems to engulf our culture:† sexual immorality and extra-marital sexual encounters that adulterates Godís good intention for living in relationship.† Itís saying no to anything impure, and no to any selfishness or greed.† Itís steering clear of language that is hurtful or is empty.††††† Letís listen, once again to what Paul says in our text today.† It is so rich, and so important to living the good life in community:
8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of lightó
9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
10 Try to find out 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 mention what such people do secretly;
13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
The Scripture comes down to living life well in community; of being light in the Lord in the midst of a corrupted creation. We are reminded in the closing verse, that it is Christ that will give us light and enable us to walk as children of lightÖ to awaken and become aware of our darkness, both within ourselves and in the world.† When we reach this level of understanding in our heads and in our hearts, we are issued an invitation to walk on a different path.† We are invited to walk with Christ into a better way life, a life that gives us light and meaning, a life that is to be lived in community rather than in loneliness and isolation.† It is Christ who offers the invitation.† It is Christ who redeems our darkness and makes us light so that we might shine Godís love on those that surround us.
††††††††††† We are now wandering into our fourth Sunday of Lent and continue to sift through what it means to human, and sinful, and finite beings.† We search our souls and seek forgiveness when we are confronted by our sin. And we come to a place of thanksgiving when we realize the extent of Godís love of us.† Yet we wonder, with so much pain and suffering and sin in the world, how can we even pretend to make even the slightest difference toward goodness, and righteousness, and truth?† But, God gathers us into this imperfect, yet glorious kingdom of God on earth that we call the Church, the body of Christ.† God gathers us and empowers us so that we me may be light to and for each other, so that our light might shine in the broken and sinful places that surround our daily lives.† And we can do this, because in our lesson today, we are told that we are light in the Lord, that it is Christ who will give us that light.† We have been called into community and are supported by community, as we attempt to walk as children of light.
††††††††††† In her senior sermon a couple of weeks ago, Barbara Dyke, while reminding us that God values us, took us on a reminiscent journey of what life in the seminary community looks like.† I certainly could resonate with what it looked like to enter as a junior and spend most waking hours in a blur as we began this journey into ordained ministry.† It was such an effort just to gain the vocabulary of theology so that we could understand what we were reading and be able to be in conversation with those a little further down the path.† Trust me juniors, it will come with time!† I actually wrote a thank you note to one professor after I finished my Commissioning Package for ordination because I was able so thankful that I was able to articulate, hopefully with some degree of intelligence, my own theological understandings of God and Godís relationship to humanity.† And I was thankful that I was also able to throw in some John Wesley in the mix as well.
††††††††††† But the community you see here is different than my experience of this community, not that thatís a bad thing.† Itís just the way things are.† Most of you live on campus, you study together, you pray and play together.† You come to know the details of each othersí lives, you come to know your professors.† Many of you have left husbands or wives, family and friends to be in this place.† Some of you have traveled a world away to be a part of this very special community.†
††††††††††† This is not my experience of Austin Seminary, at least, not to the same degree as most of you.† I am one of those who commutes back and forth to campus.† I donít hang around often to study unless Iím doing research or am in between classes.† I donít know what life in the dorm is like as a middle-aged woman.† I spend my days driving kids to and from their activities and ministering to the Older Adults in my congregation. Iím able to read and write usually only when life in the house settles down, that is, if I can stay awake.
††††††††††† Yet I know this community to be a caring community, of providing the light of Christ to its family on campus and to its family beyond.† I am thankful that Ann Fields and others send out the community messages.† It brings the outsiders in.† It gives us commuters a way to hold up in prayer those people and events we may not otherwise be aware of.† And I am thankful for the professors who take the time to acknowledge those of us driving back and forth to other communities, and other lives, who ask how we are, how our churches are, how our families areÖ.† I can now actually smile somewhat with relief at Barbaraís comments of how we seniors survived Hebrew in our first year.† That was a tough year for me.† I remember that January term coming completely unglued.† A friend and mentor of mine had become extremely sick in that first Fall and had subsequently been earlier diagnosed with leukemia.† And, though she was stable at the time, the thought of her loss and how would handle it, was always in the back of my mind.† Then, early in the second week of Hebrew, my father-in-law, another mentor in my life, became suddenly very ill.† We were told that he was really sick, but that he would not die.† But, he did die, right before mid-terms and I was a basket case.† Steve Reid, whom I had known for maybe seven days, took the time to stop me on the stairs and ask if I was OK.† He probably doesnít know it, but that meant a lot to me.† That was a gift.† That was healing.† That was being the light of Christ to someone not feeling very bright, so to speak, at the time.† Do you know what Iím talking about?
††††††††††† This is what Paul is telling us in this passage.† We are light in the Lord.† Therefore it
is said, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."† Isnít that a great ending to this passage?† Itís celebration, itís a joyful remembrance of our baptismal vows, itís that doxology, that glory given to God in the name of Jesus Christ.† We are brought from being dead, from our being unaware to being aware of our human nature nature, and we brought into new life in and through Jesus Christ.† Today.† And now.† Itís Godís abundant gift to us.† And this is what we, the church, the gathered community of faith, teach during Lent.† In remembering our own baptismal vows, we remember that inward, painful, soul searching that convicts us that are not living the good life.† It is about confessing our sin before God, and walking into new life, as children of light for a broken world.
Last weekend, one of my sons and my husband, Russell, attended the resurrection mass† of a family friend, a young man, a father of five.† And as I walked down the corridor toward the sanctuary, I noticed a poster with the pictures of about thirty catechumens on it, those preparing for baptism for their own initiation into the body of Christ, and for the celebration to follow in partaking of the Lordís feast.† On the poster were the words, ďPlease pray for those preparing for baptism.Ē† On that journey down the hallway† Godís gift of light in Christ became real again to me in this Lenten season.† As Russell went to pay his respects to the wife, he told her that he was there if she needed anything.† And from behind I hear the whisper of her response, ďKeep my boy in Scouts.Ē† Keep him active in community.† As a role model, a mentor, and a leader to young men, she was asking Russell to be light for her son who now faces growing into manhood without a father.† She is relying on the light of Christ in her church and community for facing the days ahead. Paul reminds us in this letter to the church at Ephesus that, as the body of Christ, as a community of faith, we are to be light to those around us, just as Christ Jesus is our light, and who is with and for us in this journey of life.† Amen.
Friends, letís pray:
Gracious God, we thank you for this gift of light in Jesus Christ.† Help us to awaken and accept this gift that you so freely give.† Help us to know that being light in a broken world requires us to seek what is pleasing to you.† Be with us, as we walk as children of light, that we may give you glory in all that we do.†