In the Name...
It is sometimes said that if God made Man in His own image, then Man has returned the compliment. We may smile, but, it is the truth of that statement which lies at the root of most problems from personal to global. It is the human reluctance to let God be God as the Bible reveals Him.
Of course, almost everybody says they believe in God and that having God around is a good thing, but, what god? We hear things such as, "I like to think of god as...", or "Well, to me, god is...." and the descriptions usually come down to some sort of all-knowing, benevolent, indulgent, and not quite real character. Sort of like Mr. Carson on Downton Abbey. But, this is nothing new. In fact, the idea of a personal-pan god was just as popular in St. John's time as in our own. That's why he wrote as much as he did in his Gospel and letters about the nature of God and particularly that simple, but, powerful statement we heard this morning - God is light.
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible tells us a lot about God, what he does, what he thinks, what he says, but, only in a few does it tell us about what he's like and this is one of those places. "God is light and in him is no darkness at all."
Light. For John's audience this harkens back to the beginning of Genesis and the very first words God speaks. Fiat lux. Let there be light. This is the beginning of Creation and life. Without light there is no plant or animal life. The ancients may not have understood the chemistry of photosynthesis, but, they knew if you put a plant in a dark place it died. To say that God is light is to say that he is not only the life-giver. He is the life-sustainer, necessary every day, providing us with spiritual energy the way the sun provides our world with material energy.
Another reference John's audience would have understood would have been from the Book of Exodus, the pillar of fire which guided the Hebrews during the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. God is someone we can rely upon to always lead us in the right way, to provide direction in our lives. He is not distracted by things going on around us, or even things going on within us. He is like those other lights in the sky, which He also made, the stars. We navigate by Him or we end up on the rocks.
And St. John also uses the image of light to describe God's moral perfection. Physical light guides our bodies; moral light guides our souls. Just as light is pure and bright, so too is the truth of what God has said. St. John urges us to compare our thoughts and actions with those of God. And he effectively uses three little words to make his point, "If we say". If we say we have fellowship with God that means we have to be doing certain things and if we're not, then what we say doesn't count for much no matter how often we say it.
If we say we live by the light of God, but, it's obvious to others that we don't, then we're like the man who lived in a cave and said he was working on his suntan. And there are a lot of people in the world who are in that position.
Of course, those who say the pious words while living earthly lives are easy to spot. The fellow who boasts that he doesn't drink because that's a sin, but, fiddles his accounts. That disconnect is glaringly obvious. And we can catch ourselves when we fall into that trap. But, there's another trap we have to be on guard against which is harder to spot.
You may have seen the bumper sticker which reads, "Jesus, save me - from your followers." I think we all know people who come across a bit strong in matters of religion. They may have great faith and be sincere and well-meaning, but, in their zeal, the light they bring creates darkness because they don't illuminate - they blind. They overdo it to the point of out-god-ing God. And that's just as much a danger and a turn-off as good old-fashioned hypocrisy.
God is light and the purpose of light is to give warmth, energy, direction, and life. That light has been entrusted to us for the purpose of sharing it with others and we do it best when we remember the other great truth of which John reminded his audience. God is Love and a light which is tempered by love is a light which will show the way to God and reveal him as He really is, and show us to be what he wants us to be, in fellowship with Him and with all his people. All his people.
This is, to John, the greatest evidence whether we are in or out of the light. Fellowship with other believers. I was once asked by a funeral home to conduct a service for a man who had no church affiliation. When I arrived at the funeral home, I was surprised to see nobody else was there - no relatives or friends. Petrified that I had goofed big-time, the funeral director told me not to worry. I was in the right place at the right time. It's just that the deceased had left strict instructions that nobody, absolutely nobody, was allowed to attend his funeral. And so, I did the service in an empty room with only him in his casket. You think you see everything in this business. By the way, I will admit that I skipped all the responsive parts. Just in case.
My point is that this man felt he could have fellowship with God, but, not with anybody else and St. John would have said this was impossible.
In John's time, a great danger the Early Church faced was from people who were forming what we would call cults or sects. They and they alone were the one true church - everybody else was wrong. These groups treated all other Christians as infidels or heretics. They made much of the sins and shortcomings of others, but, failed to recognize the pride and arrogance among themselves and, as a result, were, in St. John's words, walking in darkness. They weren't preaching a light tempered by love. They had their own light, the light of self-love.
Walking in the light of Christ, on the other hand, means that we see our own shortcomings as clearly as we see those of others and realize that we're all in this together. We've all got problems. We're all prodigal sons and lost sheep and, for all that, we’re still beloved children of the Father.
So, it's not up to us to say who's in or who's out, or even with whom we're going to have fellowship. God has decided all that already.
We just have to decide; will we accept God as He is or remake him in our image? Will we walk in his light or our own?
In the Name...