Bible Text: John 9:1-41, Ephesians 5:8-14 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Giving It Up | This morning we are moving along into the fourth week of our Lenten sermon series, “Giving It Up,” where we are looking beyond the kinds of things people tend to give up during this season, like coffee or soda or candy, and are looking more at the kinds of things that God wants us to give up. Now I want to be clear that there is value for many people in giving up some of these more common things, but it is important to also remember that God gives us other spiritual practices beyond just denial of ego or luxuries, including prayer and fasting.
Last week we talked about giving up superiority, and how when we do that, things like gossip, rumors, sabotage of ministry, and other negative actions will cease and we will truly see God’s kingdom in the world and God’s grace flow throughout creation. This morning we are going to be using our Scripture readings for today as we talk about giving up darkness.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Plato once wrote, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” In our world we often associate the light with good, and the dark with bad or evil. Even in the times of the events of Scripture this was still true.
In our reading from Ephesians we see evidence of this. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Here we are immediately told about how the light is good, it is from God, it is right and true. The light is the better thing, it is the preferred option between light and dark.
And this is further backed up as we continue to read on. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.” The darkness has unfruitful works, while the light has works that are fruitful. Again, all pretty straightforward that light is good, and dark is bad.
But is that always true? Is darkness always bad in every situation? Poet Mary Oliver once wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” And American author Og Mandino once penned, “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”
In her book “A Court of Mist and Fury,” author Sarah J. Maas wrote, “‘There are different kinds of darkness,’ Rhys said. I kept my eyes shut. ‘There is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful.’ I pictured each. ‘There is the darkness of lovers, and the darkness of assassins. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be. It is not wholly bad or good.'”
And if we think about it, darkness has its place in the world. Farmers benefit from the darkness as the seeds of most crops will start to grow in complete darkness, whereas the seeds of most weeds must be exposed to light for germination to begin. Humans and most animals need darkness to sleep. There are creatures that live in the depths of the ocean in complete darkness and thrive there. So, depending on how we think about and define darkness, it can be a good thing.
Let’s see what we find in our reading from the Gospel of John. We enter with Jesus and his disciples walking along and coming across a blind man. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Now this was the common understand of these kinds of situations in life. Someone born blind or handicapped or different was because of someone sinning, usually the parents or grandparents. That was how a lot of people understood this kind of thing.
But Jesus pushes back and tells them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him…As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus then makes some mud, puts it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash it off in a pool. When he does this suddenly his eyes are opened, and he can see!
When we look at this from a very high surface level, we could make the argument that this too reinforces the idea of the light being good and the dark being bad. The blind man had lived in literal darkness, but now was healed and could see the light. He could now see everything; he could live a normal life. He could now experience things in a whole new way – in the light!
But then later, we find an interaction between Jesus and some Pharisees that might contradict this idea. In verses forty and forty-one we read, “Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely, we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” This kind of sounds like being “blind” or “in the dark” might actually be ideal – “if you were blind, you would not have sin.”
These words from Jesus make the darkness sound not so bad, maybe even kind of good. So, what’s the deal? Is darkness good or bad? Should we strive for the light or the dark? We know the Jedi would tell us to go to the light side, and the Sith would say to embrace the dark side. But all joking aside, what really is the right answer here?
Well, I think this all goes back on how we understand and define light and dark. In terms of literal light and dark like daytime and nighttime, I think we can see benefits and good in both. We can also see negative in both. But when we talk about light and dark in other terms, maybe less literal and in more metaphorical terms, then we might have a different perspective on this debate.
What if, when we talk about giving up darkness, what if we were talking about giving up our own personal darkness? What if we were talking about giving up the darkness in our lives that brings us down, the darkness that leads us to sin, the darkness that prevents us from seeing the light and worth of all people and creation? What if we looked at it from that perspective?
What if we all turned away from the darkness in our hearts that prevents us from truly loving our neighbors – ALL our neighbors? What if we ran away from the darkness that leads us to avoiding the people in the world who need our help? Can you imagine just how much “brighter” the world could be? Think about how beautiful the world could look if the light of love could shine through everything.
Giving up darkness isn’t about always keep your lights on in the house or moving to the parts of the world that experience daylight for six months of the year. Giving up darkness is about giving up the attitudes, the habits, the ways we think about others that lead us to sin against them and God. Giving up darkness is about living into the light of God’s love and grace.
We find ourselves right now in a place with these restrictions around the coronavirus that can feel very, very, very dark. For some it’s the darkness of being isolated from friends and family. For some it’s the darkness of the uncertainty of what the future holds. For some it’s the darkness that comes from the fear of catching this virus, especially for those who are more susceptible to it. These can feel like very dark times.
But there is always light. There is always the light of God’s love and grace. There is always the light of those we love, who we can still keep in touch with, even if we cannot be together in-person. We can still talk on the phone, text message, email, heck – write someone a letter or a postcard! When life seems the darkest, we can always turn to God and the light of grace.
And if you find yourself caught in the darkness, don’t be afraid to reach out. Reach out to your family, your friends, your church, and ask for help. Ask for help in giving up the darkness and in embracing the light. Be the light for others, especially during these tough times. Be the light for yourself too. We will get through these dark times together, as sisters and brothers in Christ, as the body of Christ for the world, as beloved children of God. Amen.