Sermon – A Clear Conscience in the light (Ephesians 4 17-32)
Prayer: Lord, may these words be your words. May our minds and hearts be open to hear them. In Jesus name. Amen.
Good evening everyone – my name is Andy, and I am one of the Church Wardens here at St Peter’s. I hope you will all have been given a candle tonight – hold on to them because you’re going to need it later on.
We hear a lot these days about our multi-cultural society – about how we are a tolerant and generous people who can give a home to people of many different nationalities and faiths. That’s not to say that this policy doesn’t cause some tension. There have always been those who use minorities and perceived foreigners as a scapegoat for the ills of society. Clearly France at the moment is having to reassess how it deals with immigrants after the riots of the past few weeks.
In conjunction with our new multiculturalism, we are also told that we are a multi-faith society. All religions are seen to have equal validity, and the role of the Church of England as the established Church of this country is under question.
I found this quote from the vice President of the national secular society in a recent press article:
“ We find [belief] embarrassing as a country and it is time we accepted that," said Terry Sanderson. "People may say they believe in Christianity but if you question them even slightly it becomes clear that they cannot accept even the central tenets of it’s faith “
Sadly, there is a lot of truth in his words. Those of us who do come to church, who do have a faith that is real, who are seeking to be disciples of Jesus, are very much a minority these days.
But ironically the search for spirituality has become very fashionable. Movie stars and pop celebrities have publicly voiced their allegiance to various strange philosophies. Madonna is into Kabbalah. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist.
Recently an independent film called ‘What the bleep do we know’ became a surprise hit in America. The film is a mish-mash of the latest scientific theories and how these may lead to some kind of spiritual revolution. It’s confused and misleading, but much trendier than spending time with God in prayer or studying the Bible.
Of course there are also those who see no need for any kind of faith. I work in a small multi-faith team. I have both a Moslem and a Sikh colleague, and have an excellent relationship with them – we have respect for each other and our faith, and we have some interesting conversations. However, recently another of the team asked my Moslem colleague what he would be bringing in to celebrate Diwali. When he was informed that this was actually a Hindu festival, his response was – ‘well they’re all just fairy tales anyway’.
This guy has a bleak world view. He has rejected God – believes that this life is all there is, and that there is nothing beyond the rational or scientific. He, and so many others around us are in darkness. (LIGHTS OFF)
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, and separated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
Those words were written nearly 2,000 years ago, and several thousand miles away. They are absolutely as relevant here and now.
The darkness is despair, the darkness is bereft of hope, the darkness is a trap, a lie, and it is where Satan wants all humanity. (PAUSE) Lost. (PAUSE)
But we don’t have to be in the dark. (Light Candle) Jesus is our light – he is our hope, he is our truth, and we can bring that light to others. (Give light to ends of rows) Time to light those candles you have to hand – and as yours is lit, please us it to light the persons next to you. If the children can do it at the Christingle service next month, I see no reason why the adults shouldn’t too ! As we offer that light to one another – remember for a moment how God’s light came into your life. I suspect there are one or more Christians who were fundamental in bringing you into the light, or helping you grow in faith. As we share the light with each other it grows, and pushes back the darkness.
John 1 v5 “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” However dark it may seem – remember that the light Jesus brings can never be quenched.
Well at some point in our lives we were all in darkness, maybe for some of us there have been several dark times. The Bible tells us what living in the dark does to people:
From Ephesians 4 verse 18 – they are darkened in their understanding, they are separated from God, they are lost in ignorance, and have no sensitivity. In the darkness people seek out new experiences, new pleasures, but they are never satisfied. Whether this is money, possessions, career, sport, sex, fame. There is never enough, never real contentment. There will always be this sense of futility. They might even feel they are trying to live a good life – but deep inside they know that they have failed – their conscience will remind them.
And this is for good reason. God created us to live in a relationship with him. We can reject him, we can look for alternatives, but ultimately there is nothing that can replace him in our lives, and without him there will always be a void -always be something missing.
(LIGHTS ON) So if we have come to Jesus, we are living in the light. So that’s OK then isn’t it? Well it’s not that easy. Paul reminds us that we have to live differently every day. In verse 24 we are to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Now that is tough ! And of course we all face challenges in our daily lives don’t we ? How do we move away from our old ways, how do we act in ways which are true to our faith, and don’t open us up to the accusations of hypocrisy ?
Well Paul gives some guidance in Ephesians as to the sort of lifestyle that should be expected of Christians:
• V25 - Truthfulness - we need to people who can be trusted to tell it like it is. Lying should have no place in our lives.
• V26 – We need to avoid anger – it distorts our thinking and opens us up to further sin.
• V28 – We should be productive people – making a contribution to the body as best we can.
• V29 – We need to avoid gossip and negative talk about others.
• V31 – We should not display malice or bitterness towards others.
• V32 – We need to be kind, and we need to forgive.
Well let’s be clear – we’re going to fail. Yes – we will all do things, say things, or act in a way which we will regret later, and we know we are not living up to the standards God expects of us. I do it – you do it, it’s because we are not perfect, and none of us can truly be like God in righteousness and holiness.
Sin will never leave us in this life. But God knows the problem we face, and he’s given us the means to live a holy life.
Jesus’ mission was to deal with the problem of sin. He was a great teacher, a healer, full of wisdom and compassion. He worked miracles and he lit up the world around him, but the bottom line is he came to sacrifice himself for us. Sin is a fundamental problem for humanity, affecting every person throughout history, and it needed a radical resolution. So Jesus shed his blood, and died in the cruellest way imaginable, on that Roman Cross, to take on himself the burden of humanities sin throughout time, and to deal with it once and for all.
The price has been paid – nothing we do can now separate us from God as long as we acknowledge our failings and seek his forgiveness through Jesus. Of course that doesn’t mean that we should not try to avoid sin, but it does mean that every time we come to God in prayer, we have the means to come into his presence, free of guilt, and as if we had led a perfect life - because of Jesus.
But sin accumulates, and the longer we leave it, the more it piles up, and the more the darkness closes in. So we need to bring our sin to God to receive his forgiveness on a regular basis. As we share together the bread and the wine tonight we are remembering in this corporate way his sacrifice, and our need to be forgiven, to be made clean again.
Every time I ask for forgiveness I am aware of how little I deserve it, how little I have done to earn it: and yet I am also reminded of the depth of the love which freely offers that forgiveness each and every time I seek it.
But I also don’t believe that we are condemned to repeat the same sins time and again, as if we are trapped in a kind of spiritual ‘Groundhog Day’ – The reason for that is because of the other gift of God – his Holy Spirit.
In our first reading for today, John chapter 16, Jesus tells the disciples how he would send the Holy Spirit to them. It’s interesting to note that it is the Holy Spirit who exposes the guilt of a world that has rejected God. The Spirit guides people to the truth – he helps us to recognise our sin, and makes known Gods purposes.
It is Gods Spirit within us that alerts us when we are in the danger zone, when we need to curb our tongue, or refuse to get involved in something dubious, or to act in kindness, or to forgive, even when we don’t want to. It is the Spirit who makes us spiritually aware, and the Spirit who reminds us when we fall down.
So we are being changed – we do become more sensitive to the situations of our daily lives, and ways in which we should act. But it also needs us to be prepared to be obedient. It is no good being aware of the danger – we need to take action.
For me personally, along with the acknowledgment of my sin, and seeking forgiveness through Jesus, I also need to open myself to the Holy Spirit each time I come to God. I reiterate my invitation for the Spirit, in the words of the well-known song, to ‘break me, melt me, mould me, and fill me’.
So to sum up – we are living in a world of darkness, but we walk together in the light of Jesus. In order to be a people who spread that light, and if we want to live in a way which pleases God, then we have to remember three things:
• We need to confess our sin, ask for, and receive forgiveness through Jesus on a regular basis, so we can be free of guilt and the burden of sin.
• We need to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, let him work in our lives, prompting, guiding and changing us, so we become more like the people God designed us to be. The Holy Spirit is our conscience – our inner voice.
• Being Obedient to God – ready to obey when he makes his will known. We have been given a new start, we need to move forward in our new life, and leave behind the habits that kept us in darkness.
Father, thank you for rescuing us from the darkness, and leading us into the light. Thank you for your wonderful love for each one of us, that forgiveness that you offer to us, despite our failings and unworthiness. Please fill us with your spirit, guide us each day to do your will, and may we become more effective channels for your love and your light.
In Jesus Name.