Images of Christ (series)
Light of the World
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 2-24-2013
Based on John 1-1-5 and John 8: 15-20 and Colossians 1:15
How many of you can recall your first nightmare? I am talking about that first time that you woke up, screaming in terror? Or possibly walked into a darkened room and become overtaken with fear with no particular provocation?
For me, the first time that I can recall being totally terrified by the darkness was at age 5yrs old. It was in the Fall and the movie “Wizard of Oz” had its premiere on T.V. My dad insisted that as a family we watch this classic movie from his childhood, assuring us that we would really enjoy it. What was supposed to be an evening of family entertainment ended up becoming a night of terror for me!
My mind was so stimulated with the image of the wicked old witch of the West and her flying monkeys, I found it hard to settle into the security of my bed and just fall asleep. As I laid there in the darkness of my room, I suddenly realized that the wicked witch of the West was hiding in my bedroom closet. As I screamed in terror mother came in, turning on the light and assured me that this mean old person was not hiding in my closet. After being shown that indeed there was nothing in my closet other than my cloths, mom turned off the light and went back to bed.
Within minutes, that crafty old witch was back in my closet, ready to do harm to me. Once again I screamed out in terror, bringing mom back to my bedroom. This happened several more times until my father’s patience had worn thin and I was told, “One more outburst, your father would come and do what was necessary to convince me that there was no witch in my closet. [In reality, I would have rather had an encounter with that wicked old witch than with my dad.] So once the light went back off and mom had left my room, I convinced myself that the witch no longer was there. And you know what? She wasn’t! She had been replaced by a man waving a gun at me! Instead of crying out in terror again, I decided it was better to just hide under my covers and hope for the best, because I didn’t want to have to deal with dad.
Darkness in a real sense has a quality about it that can heighten ones fears. Darkness allows for real or perceived danger. I recall one back-packing trip in the Cascade Mountains where a companion and I had set up camp. There was a burn ban in place, so the only light that we had was a small lantern, which was turned off as we retired to our tents for the night. About five minutes after turning off the lantern, there was a blood-curdling scream from somewhere around the lake. After that scream, you could hear the sound of feet running alongside the hillside. Our fear of being in the dark was so great that we broke the law and built a fire in front our tents providing light to ward off any animal predators as well as giving us the security that comes with light.
Those two examples talk about the physical realities between darkness and light. In scripture we read not only about physical realities that come in darkness and light, but also about theological implications. Darkness refers to evil or lack of knowledge, where as light speaks about knowledge, safety, goodness. As we study the variety of “images” that are attributed to Jesus, the writer of the Gospel of John, shows Jesus as “light of the World”. John begins his Gospel by tying God and Jesus together: John 1:” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”
John then picks this theme up again in chapter 8 as he writes of Jesus saying, “I am the world’s Light.” Then Jesus goes on to explain what this “light” means. “No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” Jesus is saying that because of his relationship to God, Jesus is illuminating God. God is the giver, the creator of all life, so by Jesus being with God prior to creation, Jesus then is a part of the “life” giving entity. The implication is, Jesus understands God and thereby contains the knowledge of the Divine.
As I was searching through the scriptures dealing with Jesus as the light of the world, I found a very similar understanding from the author of Colossians in the first chapter, starting with verse 15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…” This letter to the church was written 20-30 years prior to the Gospel of John.
Within these two books we then can see how the early church understood Jesus. What I found intriguing with the Colossians writing was the very first verse: The Son is the image of the invisible God. Jesus is understood as the image of God, this is the light that God gave to humankind, this physical reflection of our creator parent. So, if the church is supposed to be the “image” of Christ, what does that look like for us? So for me the question is “how does one ‘image’ the invisible?” How are we to be “the light of the world?”
We are in the midst of a new awakening, that started back in the 1960’s and then stalled in the 1980’s, but has once again emerged in the late 1990’s. What do I mean by “an awakening”? The definition of an awakening is the realization within a culture that what has been working no longer works and a shift is made at a cultural level. There is a new way of thinking and then of action. An awakening affects the three basic levels of society, the Political, the Financial, and the Religious. All are institutions that run on agreed upon rules of behavior. When these institutions no longer are effective, then the status quote is examined, there is exploration of new possibilities, and then integration of a new order. We see this today as no confidence in our Government, the implosion of our financial system, and the shrinking numbers of Americans who attend church on a regular basis.
So again, how does one “image” the invisible? Through Jesus’ ministry, we have a pretty good idea of what God is? We can learn through the “light” that Jesus brought to his generation that to image the invisible is to care for the needy, to provide a voice for those who have no voice, and to see that every person has the basics needed to live.
The church has been asking for forty plus years, “Where are the people?” If we are in this new spiritual awakening, then shouldn’t our churches be filling up instead of becoming empty tombs? Remember what happens in an awakening? What isn’t working is dropped, exploration of new ways, and then integration of a new order. The church over the past 40 years has ceased being the image of the invisible within our social structure. People are “spiritual” and not “religious” because they have seen the institutional church not reflecting the essence of God.
You might disagree with me, but how did the average religious institution react to the outbreak of A.I.D.S? They condemned victims instead of standing by them. Christians say “we” represent the “light of the world”, yet we are viewed by the general public as having a message of condemnation and hateful actions. The church is seen as darkness.
I had the opportunity this week to help a cousin of mine of whom I had not seen since he was about 4 yrs old. At the request of his mother, I stepped up to the plate to help him. When she was telling her son who I was and how we were related she shared that I was a minister. His first response was, “Mom, you know I don’t like to be around ministers. I don’t like to be preached at and made to feel that I am no good unless I go to church.” This my friends is how the church is perceived by millions in our country. To be the light of the world, we need to image the invisible. How does one “image” the invisible? That is the question. This is also the challenge, to image ourselves after Jesus, who is the image of the invisible. “When I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was a stranger you welcomed me…” Amen