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  Sermon 25 MARCH 2012

Darkness or Light?

Presented by Rev Alastair Pritchard at Manningham Uniting Church, Westfield Drive, Doncaster, on 25th March 2012

Scripture: Jeremiah 31: 31-34; John 12:20-26, 32-36

Would you be surprised to hear that Christianity is not primarily about good and bad, right and wrong, religion, or even charity?

Would you be shocked if I said that the idea that Christianity is primarily about good and bad, right and wrong, religion and even charity is one of the worst corruptions of the faith that has occurred throughout history?

Would you rise up in protest if I said that the idea that Christianity is primarily about good and bad, right and wrong, religion and charity is evidence of the human condition and a human arrogance that sees everything purely through earthbound human eyes?

Would you withdraw your giving if I said that the bible contradicts this human misapprehension from start to finish?

Well go ahead then because that is what I am about to say.  From start to finish, the bible is primarily concerned about something else than right and wrong, good and bad, religion or even charity.

Take the Adam and Eve story for instance.  It is not primarily concerned with them doing wrong.   It’s more about being.  Their sin, if you like to call it that, and ours too really especially in this modern age, is that they are not content with their humanity.   They don’t know who they are!  It is really about human over-reaching and failure to accept authentic human identity and the limitations of human reality.  

In the story, Adam and Eve reached for knowledge of good and evil which is reserved for God alone.  Everything flows from that.  Found out, they hide, blame, and are guilty, ashamed and afraid.  They bring on themselves all sorts of problems and deny themselves the right to be in the garden.    Nonetheless, the last word is God’s saving grace in the knitting of garments for them to protect them.   Have another read of it.

Or the ancient story of Job for instance.  The all-righteous Job never gets an answer to his question of God to tell him why he should suffer so.  He is merely told to get back in his box as part of a creation full of wonderment.  Though he was without sin, he was reminded to be content to be human.

In the well known reading we had in listening groups two weeks ago about TIME from the very ancient book of Ecclesiastes, you remember it says there is a time for everything under heaven.  There was even a popular song about it.

But read the rest of the book.  It says that all these things we fit neatly and faithfully together in the time of a well organized life are not the last word.  This is not a list of what it means to be good, right, religious, or even charitable – as is so often implied when the passage is read in funeral services.

These works of human hands are “meaningless” the book says, “a chasing after the sun.” it says.  Harsh words.  Reality is something else.

Our Jeremiah reading today continues the theme, saying that the old law will pass away, and God will create a new covenant with God’s people.  Not the old law which is constantly broken, but a new way of right living, or being in God.  What is it?

Throughout the writings of St Paul, the difference between law and grace is constantly discussed as St Paul enshrines for all time the major tenet of a reformed faith: we are not saved by keeping the law.  We are saved by the forgiving grace of God - and living under that premise is quite different.

And of course the gospels abound with stories of Jesus associating with sinners, disregarding the purity laws of his time, rejecting religious authority, healing on the Sabbath, breaking with social etiquette, rebuking corrupt economic structures and disputing accepted theology.   He argued for a different view of reality to that of the religious laws of his day.  He was concerned for us to know and love our heavenly Father and our neighbours as ourselves.   The two great commandments.

And now in our reading this morning of John’s gospel, one of, if not the latest written book in the Canon, reality is turned upside down.

A grain of wheat must die to live.  God in Christ must be lifted up, meaning crucified, to save the world.  Those who covet their life will lose it.  Those who give their lives freely will keep their lives eternally.

John 12:  “If you walk in the darkness you do not know where you are going.  While you have the light, believe in it, so that you may become children of the light.” 

So here it is that theme again – “darkness and light” …  But what do these words mean.  Bad and good. Wrong and right.  Paganism or Christianity.  Mean-ness or generosity?

No!   The difference between darkness and light is evacuated if we reduce them to these human opposites.  But what is this difference?

Throughout John’s gospel the theme of light shines from every page.  “Jesus the light of the world” etc.  The word light occurs 21 times in John, almost as many times as in Job, where it occurs 28 times.

Right at the beginning of John’s gospel, you will remember the word light:  “What has come into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.  The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”

And throughout John’s gospel there are plays on the word “seeing” which of course relies on light.  “You see but you don’t see” – Jesus complains many times – meaning you perceive something as a miracle but you don’t really “get it.”   You see only the darkness, not the light.

The opposites, namely good and bad, right and wrong, religious or not etc, are not really IT.   These are just ways of seeing in the dark.

What really is IT is the life we see in Christ – the light of the world, the life not just of Jesus, nor even Jesus Christ, but that to whom Jesus Christ points – life in the Spirit of God.

Light is the way God sees things, darkness is the world’s way.   God is light – the light that was commanded by God in the creation story and the light that is given by God in Christ that will not be overcome by the darkness of the world.   God continually brings light into the world – not mere law and order, but grace and truth – life and reality as opposed to death and nothingness.

And we might add to a list of the characteristics of life in the Spirit -

love and beauty,                          trust and openness,

generosity and magnanimity,           steadfastness and perseverance,

tolerance and forgiveness,              restraint and contrition,

generosity and gratefulness,           wonder and awe,

creativity and imagination!

These are what the light is about throughout the bible.   Not the opposites of good and bad, right and wrong, etc,   These opposites are merely pictures of the darkness of the world for which God gave life in Christ, the light of the world.

We too easily shy away from the light and kid ourselves that living by the laws of right and wrong, good and bad, religion and even charity is what constitutes faithfulness.

Don’t get me wrong, we need law as a way of coping – indeed the law is a gift of God in the first place as we know.  But as the Jeremiah reading reminded us, God has given us a new covenant – that of life as known in Christ, the light of the world.   God is giver, not judge.

When we talk like this, we are not making religious claims.  We are making a claim about qualities of life that transcend the darkness of the world and which are entirely different categories and values from those of law.

As St Paul warns us we can make any of our human ways of coping into laws which are part of the darkness rather than the light.  We can make our human ideas into works of the law that if relied on to justify ourselves end up with us walking in darkness.

Some of these things that we can make into false gods are:

Laws of the land;

Theology and dogma;

Piety and religious practices;

Moral laws and mores;

Social etiquette;

Scientific laws;

Economic laws;


All forms of human knowledge including fundamentalisms of all kinds

Organizations and institutions, including the church;

Organization as such, including programs, numbers, budgets, plans, goals, money, and living by the clock;

Even charity and good deeds can be living by works by which we hope to justify ourselves.

But living by the light is something quite different, not under the strictures of law but redeemed by the grace of God.

Living in the light has big implications in our private lives, but even bigger for our church life.  It means an entirely different set of primary values rather than good organization, lawfulness, human wisdom, religiosity and even charity.

It means living in the life and light of the Spirit of God which will in turn mean:

Truth, love and beauty,             trust and openness,

generosity and magnanimity,      steadfastness and perseverance,

tolerance and forgiveness,         restraint and contrition,

generosity and gratefulness,      wonder and awe,

creativity and imagination!

God in Christ gives life to the world to live in the Spirit and this light and life is what we as church have to share with the world.   These values are absolutely different to the values of the world.   That makes the faithful church a counter cultural force in society, which will cause it to be vulnerable.   It will feel like ‘crucifixion’ sometimes.   But unless the church is prepared to give its life freely by living in the Spirit in our dark and sorry world as God the giver has shown us in Christ, who will do it?

And what will it profit the church if it gain the whole world, but lose its soul.   You might say Christianity in the West gained the world in the time of Christendom and is now paying for it in its current loss of soul.  

Let’s reverse that at least in Manningham, and risk losing the life of our church for God’s sake.  And if we risk that, we have the promise of new life in the Spirit, for our church, for ourselves, and for the world.

The freedom of life in the Spirit will be messy and unpredictable – plans will change as we go with the flow – listening for God and each other.   But the rewards are ‘heavenly’!   May God give us insight, strength, endurance and Grace to live in the light of the Spirit, and so fulfil the law of Christ.                                                                                          




Presented by Rev Alastair Pritchard at
Manningham Uniting Church, Westfield Drive, Doncaster
20 Westfield Drive Doncaster 3108.

  Enquiries about the Christian faith are always welcome.

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