Sermon: Being a Proper Conduit for God’s Light and Love.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2 Corinthians 4:6]
I am a great fan of Monty Python. One of their most irreverent films was The Life of Brian. Now, in defense of Monty Python, although the Pope condemned the film, it never made fun of Jesus Christ. It DID, however, make fun of organized religion, and, I think, Protestantism. But, I also think its most scathing attack was on Gnosticism and human nature.
Well, there is a scene where Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount. The camera pulls farther and farther back until it reaches a group trying to listen. But they are so far away, they cannot hear well. They end up getting the message wrong. And the result is hilarious.
Someone asks what Christ has just said. The person’s response is, “He says, ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers.” Well one pretentious person butts in to say, “I don’t think he is speaking of just people who make cheese, but everyone in the dairy industry.”
We humans often get things wrong. We hear it wrong; we get distracted; we come in with our own preconceived notions and assume one thing when something completely different is meant. And this human nature is revealed throughout Scripture and shown time and time again in men in the Bible that we admire.
Philip saith unto him, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
This translation is a little stilted for our modern ears. This same passage is translated in the New American Standard Bible as:
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Now, this statement in and of itself seems quite reasonable. The problem is that Jesus has been talking about this for ages, and His disciples, God love them, just don’t seem to get it!
Jesus saith unto him, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, ‘Shew us the Father?’ Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?”
Don’t you think Christ got a little frustrated with His disciples now and again?
In our Christianity Explored class, as we examine the Gospel according to Saint Mark, we have looked at several passages just like this. Jesus tells His disciples that He has to die and be raised from the dead, and then the next moment all the Apostles seem to have forgotten this statement. I am sure Christ DID get a little frustrated!
But before we get too carried away and start thinking we are better than these twelve men, I would stress that we are the same.
Last week, we had a wonderful Easter celebration. The flowers on the altar were arranged by a professional florist. I thought they were so beautiful that I wanted to send the owner of the store a “Thank you” card, but I could not remember his name. I decided to give him a call. So, I took the number on the delivery card and called using my land line. Just then, someone called on my cell phone. I noticed it was a restricted number, but just as I answered, the person hung up.
Figuring it was a wrong number, I called the store again, and just then the person called back again. But before I could answer, they hung up again. So, I decided to call a third time. As I looked at the number listed on the card that came with the flowers, I suddenly realized – I was calling MY OWN cell number!
I never once recognized it as my own number, which is not so surprising given the fact that I often do not even remembering my number. But I gave it to the florist in case they needed to call me on the day of delivery.
Saint Philip didn’t get it either, which frustrated Christ. However, being just as bad as Saint Philip in this regard, I have great sympathy for him.
We humans often do not get it when God tells us something, and this is for several reasons. First, sometimes what we are told is so completely different than what we think makes sense, that we have a hard time grasping it. “Forgive thy enemy.” “Love those who persecute you and despitefully use you.” These are commandments that are counterintuitive. None of us, I would venture to guess, will ever fully understand these commandments until we get to Paradise.
Second, sometimes what we are told is so different from our preconceived notions that we cannot wrap our minds around what is being said. This is what happened to poor Saint Philip.
Up, until this time, Philip, like most Jewish people, assumed that the Messiah would come in power, defeating the Romans, and re-establishing the Davidic Kingdom. They did not expect a “suffering servant,” which is how Christ came the first time. It was so hard to grasp that, even after His death and resurrection, Christ had to explain to the two walking to Emmaus why He had to suffer and die.
Philip was not thinking that Jesus’ Father is God. He did not get it; and that is why his question seems so naïve to us.
Finally, we are sometimes so distracted with things in our lives that we really aren’t listening. My mother was a wonderful woman, but she often would talk to me while I was trying to read or study. As a result, I learned how to respond while not even listening – which as you can imagine got me into and still gets me into quite a bit of trouble!
Remember to parable of the Sower? Christ said that we are like seed that is scattered on the ground. The explanation as to what these images represent is very telling:
“Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
We all are to be the seed that falls on good ground. We need to hear it, AND we are to UNDERSTAND it. This is why our selection from the Psalter for today is so powerful:
TEACH me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes, * and I shall keep it unto the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; * yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart.
We all must hear what God wants us to learn, but we also need to understand it. Understanding gives us an ability to fully comprehend. And this, in turn, gives us a better ability to follow God’s commandments.
It is our duty to understand. It is our duty to listen when Christ speaks. And we must know that when Christ speaks, it is God that speaks. This is PRECISELY what Christ is telling us in our Gospel lesson for today.
But there is more:
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is our duty to understand. It is also our duty to let Christ work through us to reach others in the world. We are NOT to get in the way, and we are NOT to assume that we are doing it. Rather, we are to get out of the way so that Christ’s light may shine, through us, into a dark and unbelieving world.
Therefore, I ask all of us to pray the prayer contained in our Psalm for today. Let us pray that the Lord teach us. Let us pray that the Lord give us understanding. And let us pray that we be given the wisdom to step aside and let Christ do the preaching. If we do this, then Christ’s light WILL shine, through us, to others. Then and only then will we be a proper conduits for God’s Light and Love.