August 12, 2012

Live As Children Of Light

Passage: Ephesians 3:8-9

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.

In April of this year a news story appeared in the Los Angeles Times detailing the arrest of five people for their alleged involvement in the removal and selling of a teenager’s kidney for transplant.  Apparently, a 17-year-old student gave up his kidney for money some of which he used to buy an iPad and an iPhone.  The fact that this story made it into a newspaper and was cast in a negative light indicates that a general perception still exists that purchasing a vital organ from another human is reprehensible.  It is a violation of the value of human life; to put a price on what is priceless demeans life.  It is telling that prostitution is not similarly regarded.

In September 2010, Ontario Judge Susan Himel ruled that Canada’s criminal laws regarding prostitution violate Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects security of the person.  In March of this year the judge’s ruling was largely upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Father Raymond de Souza rightly pointed out that the naïveté of the Court of Appeal is astonishing.  Prostitution was spoken of as some sort of career choice; in actuality many women are forced into it by drug dealers, the violent gang culture of the streets, or even abusive boyfriends.

Prostitution is tragic under any circumstances. Prostitution is demeaning. Prostitution, however, that is enjoined as a religious act and defended by a religious argument is more than tragic and demeaning: it's disgusting.

1. In the city of Corinth one thousand women were attached as religious prostitutes to the temple of Aphrodite.  Needless to say the Christian congregation in Corinth stood out starkly against the backdrop of the temple and its sordid traffic in devotees who did obeisance to Aphrodite and all that the goddess represented.  We know, however, that the spirit of Aphrodite always lapped at the Christian congregation and occasionally infected a member or two of it.

In Ephesus the goddess Artemis, a goddess of fertility, was worshipped.  Throughout the history of humankind goddess-worship (Mother-god-worship) has been associated with the worship of fertility.  The worship of fertility includes fertility of all kinds: agricultural fertility, animal fertility, human fertility.  A key element in such worship, a key element in the chain of events, has been "sympathic magic".  Sympathic magic means that when humans are sexually active the god and goddess are sexually active too.  The sexual activity of god and goddess in turn ensures the fertility of animals and crops.

You can imagine how human sexuality would come to be regarded in a culture whose imagination about the nature of human life is seeded by worship of a goddess of fertility.  We can understand then, that the Apostle Paul’s admonition with regard to practises of human sexuality would stand out starkly against that backdrop. “But fornication (sexual immorality) and impurity of any kind, or greed (the insatiable desire to acquire), must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among the saints.”

The ideas that seeded the Ephesian imagination gave rise to a culture that Paul described as “greedy to practise every kind of impurity”.  We live in a post Christian era; the secularist ideas that seed the imagination of our world give rise to a cultural that we experience to be increasingly anti-gospel.  I think Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians is very helpful for us because we find ourselves increasingly in a situation comparable to the Ephesian church.  Note that Paul focuses on how Christ’s people are to live in the midst of such darkness.  Now, I am grateful for Christian people who endeavour to thoughtfully engage our government on what is good for the governance of society; people who endeavour to be the salt that will add gospel preservative. Still, there is something appealing to me in Paul’s approach that focuses on how Christians live so that we might be a witness to the love of God.

What is it that should seed the believer’s imagination as she endeavours to navigate in how to live in the world?  Paul answers this question in a sentence that immediately precedes our text; a word that is the context for his admonition about what is proper for our lives.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  It is the self-giving, self-forgetful love of Christ that is to fill our imaginations as we consider how to live with respect to one another.    If Christ gave up his life for me and my neighbour then I am called to live towards my neighbour with the regard Christ has for them.  Would this not certainly preclude any exploitation of them sexually or otherwise? The love of Christ shows us love’s counterfeits for what they are: counterfeits.

Paul states the same principle for the preoccupation of the believer’s imagination another way when he says “live as children of light”.  “Live in love” and “live as children of light” are two angles of vision that speak of Christ in our lives.  Jesus said “I am the light of the world” and so Paul could extrapolate “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.”

In May of this year a federal judge in US state of Virginia proposed that two parties involved in a dispute over the display of the Ten Commandments at a public high school should consider modifying the display by removing the four Commandments that mention God.  Is that not the very gospel definition of fallen humanity—living life without reference to God?  From a Christian perspective this is set aside the one who is the light of life and the definition of love.

Another thing I note about Paul’s admonition is that he is focused on what to do—live in love, live as children of light, try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord, let there be thanksgiving—rather than on a detailed exploration of what not to do.  I often find that an exploration of the wrongfulness of wrong has our attention focussed in an unhelpful direction; exploration of the lurid details of depravity wraps us in its vortex.  If I argue, for example, against prostitution on the grounds that it is unhealthy I have unwittingly agreed that health is the deciding factor. So what constitutes healthy?  “Live as children of light” guides the heart of the believer in an all encompassing approach to living.
I would not want to leave you with the impression that sexual sins are singled out by the New Testament as worse that other offences against God.  Still, it is important to note that everywhere in the Bible where it is addressed sexual sin is never regarded lightly and where discussed it is clear that God opposes such things.

2.  Live as children of light; as the Apostle unpacks some of what that means I note that there is an implied importance for the spoken word in what he says. “Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk”, writes Paul, “but instead, let there be thanksgiving.” “Let no one deceive you with empty words.”  Sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves.”  Note what is implied; the power and importance of the spoken (or sung) word.

Do you know what it is that makes you human; that is Biblically speaking?  Do you know what it is that distinguishes we humans from our cousins the animals—for we are equally God’s creatures having been created on the same day.  I see articles from time to time that marvel at the cognitive abilities of some animals.  A recent Associated Press story reported on studies that show that baboons can distinguish between written words and gibberish and that monkeys seem to be able to do multiplication. We should not be surprised by the wonder of God’s creation.  Biblically speaking the thing that distinguishes humans from the rest is that God speaks to the humans.  This implies that we are response-able and can (must) speak to God.  We are made for a speaking relationship with God.  This is one of the reasons that in the Hebrew imagination words are so very important.

Another reason is that when God speaks and things happen; galaxies are formed; day and night appear; life is created. The spoken word in the Hebrew mind is an event so words were to be used carefully.  At the time of writing of the Bible the Hebrew language consisted of an approximately 10,000 word vocabulary: by comparison the Greek language had a vocabulary of over 200,000 words.

No doubt you have heard the saying that sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me; you also know it isn’t true—words can do great harm.  Consider the recent story (June 2012) of verbal abuse captured on a video showing New York schoolboys taunting a 68-year-old school bus monitor; it was watched more than 1.65 million times in three days. It led many people to decry a new low in what seems to many an increasingly coarse culture. Frank Clark who was the writer behind The Country Parson cartoon once wrote “Gossip needn’t be false to be evil—there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around.”  It may well be true that a person has done regrettable things in their life; it is not good to pass that around simply because it is the truth.  The Apostle James agrees with Paul that the spoken word is important; is not to be treated trivially.  James gives a lengthy discourse in his letter on the importance of taming of the tongue.

English writer Lady Dorothy Nevill wrote: “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment”.  Nevill’s advice paralleled an anonymous bit I once read that said, “wisdom is divided into two parts: 1) having a great deal to say, and 2) not saying it.”  Living as children of light leads us to regard the importance of the spoken word; as our Lord once noted let your yes be yes and your no, no.  Clearly our Lord implies that we should not use words to deceive.

May our speech be such that it promotes the good, lifts life, and blesses others.

In his discussion of living as children of light the Apostle commends the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; singing aloud, Paul thought, was a good way of practicing the faith.  If you don’t want your garden to grow weeds, one of the best ways us to keep it well stocked with strong, sturdy plants and shrubs.  If you don`t want your mind to go wandering off into realms of darkness, one of the best ways is to keep them well stocked with wise and thankful themes, so that words of comfort, guidance and good judgement come bubbling up unbidden from the memory and subconscious.

3. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition politician who is the chairperson for Burma’s National League for Democracy.  She lived under house arrest for nearly 15 years; in 1991 she was awarded a Noble Peace Prize among other awards.  She wrote: "Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men and women are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society."

When I consider the world in which the Ephesian Christians lived, clearly their discipleship—living as children of light—set them at odds with that world.  They were a miniscule blip on the screen in a society that was rushing headlong in the opposite direction.  In the gospel freedom from sin has been announced; freedom from the penalty and power of its hold on people; liberty over sins’ life destroying direction.  Living as children of light renders us able to know life as God intended for us; it opens our lives to the possibilities embedded in the promises of God—and indeed they are rich and add no sorrow.  Never underestimate what God can do to bless many through the few who put their hand to live as children of light; it seems to me that the gospel enjoins the very disciplines which maintain a free society.

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.