This blog post is a sermon that I preached recently for our online church service. This was part of our Lent series, looking at different spiritual essentials for life. To see the video of this sermon, check out this video from our YouTube channel:
So, we are now on week three of our lent series, exploring our spiritual essentials for the journey! We have our compass, we have some nourishment, and this week we are grabbing a torch.
Now, I have actually had cause to use all three of these items on the same journey when doing night orienteering.
So, orienteering is basically cross country running but you have to navigate yourself around the course. And we did a lot of orienteering competitions growing up, and still do apart from Covid, and normally these events would take place during the day. But sometimes clubs would get a bit more adventurous and host night orienteering events.
One of these events, which took place each year was an overnight relay race that we took part in. So I would be woken up at 2 or 3 am, quickly grab some food to wake me up, and get ready to head out on a course into the pitch-black forest with my map, my compass, and my headtorch. And of course, this headtorch was incredibly important – it meant I could see the map and know where I needed to go; it meant I could see the path in front of me, and for the most part it stopped me from tripping over every tree root or clump of grass. This headtorch helped me to gain the knowledge I needed – knowledge of my surroundings, and knowledge of my route.
But the light we are talking about today isn’t quite like my headtorch. We’re not talking today about physical light, but about spiritual light. And that spiritual light is the truth.
A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus declare: “I am the way, the truth and the life”; and in the Gospel of John, he also declares: “I am the light of the World”. When Jesus came into the world, he brought truth into the world, a truth that could not be overcome by the spiritual darkness – as was made evident when Jesus defeated death and rose again.
But we’re not quite there yet! In our reading, we are introduced to two people: Jesus – the light, the truth; and John – not the light, but the lamp, a witness to the truth.
And as I mentioned before, Jesus isn’t a light like the light this headtorch produces. Or like other worldly light that we may think of – whether that’s our car headlights, the sun, or even the amazing, if slightly blinding Christmas lights that cover houses throughout December.
First, worldly light goes out. I can turn my headtorch off, the batteries can run out, even the sun disappears at night-time. But spiritual light, truth, cannot be turned off. In our reading, it said: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.
And the darkness has certainly tried to overcome, to destroy the light. Whilst many people did follow Jesus, many also did not like what he was doing. They didn’t like what he was saying. They didn’t like what he was revealing about them. They had him tried and killed – yet even that could not overcome the light, and he rose again three days later.
The second difference between worldly light, and spiritual light, is that not everyone can see worldly light. Some people are born without sight, others lose sight whether to illness or to injury. And there is a huge range in how much light different people are able to see.
But spiritual light is there for everyone, and it cannot be taken away by our circumstances. Verse 9 in our reading said: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world”. Spiritual light is light for everyone. Jesus came into the world for all people, as he demonstrated throughout his ministry, as well as in his death. Although, as we just looked at – not everyone was happy about that, and not everyone chose to accept that light. But that light forces everyone, all of us, to make a choice – to live in light, or to live in darkness.
The third difference between worldly light, and spiritual light, is that in the world light is not the only solution. With my headtorch, I can see the tree roots in front of me as I run, and that helps me to not fall over them, but if I were to fall over them, I would still gain the knowledge that there was in fact a tree root there. And there are also other much less painful ways for us to gain knowledge without light. Braille is a writing system that uses touch for example.
Spiritual light on the other hand is different. Jesus coming into the world, is the only way for us to know truth. Although the world may try to find alternative options, or decide to reject that truth, Jesus is the only way for us to know truth. And this was part of God’s plan since the fall. In Isaiah, we hear of Jesus’ coming being foretold: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”. We need Jesus, and Jesus alone, to know truth.
The fourth difference between worldly light, and spiritual light, is that humans block worldly light. If I place my hand in front of my headtorch as I’m running along, I won’t be able to see anything. If I stand in front of a light, I will create a shadow – darkness – behind me. But the second person we are introduced to in our reading, is John. And John did not block the light that Jesus brought into the world.
In fact, our reading tells us that John was a witness who testified about Jesus’ light. He told people about this light that was coming. And he makes sure to stress the fact that he himself is not the light. Chapter 5, verse 35 said: “John was a lamp that burned and gave light” and here again we see this distinction. John was not the light, Jesus was the light, John was a lamp.
John didn’t block Jesus’ light, he shared it, he testified about it, it was within him and it shone to those around him. And we too are called to be lamps, just like John.
Matthew 5:14-16 says: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” And this reading gives us some good advice as to how we are to be lamps too.
We aren’t to be hidden under a bowl, blocking other people from seeing Jesus. We aren’t to be hidden in a corner, trying to stay out of the way. We aren’t to be sharing our light with just a few people.
Instead, we are called to be uncovered – drawing attention to ourselves. We are called to be in the middle of the room – going out into the world, Covid-allowing, just like John went out to speak with people. We are called to be a lamp that shines for all people, so that everyone who meets us can see the light of Jesus in us. They should see us: see our actions, hear the words we speak, see the way we treat other people, see the choices we make, and they should know the truth of Jesus which brings glory to God the Father.
So, as we continue on our journey with our compass, our food, and now our light, we want to be sure that the light that guides our way is not worldly light like this headtorch, but the light and truth of Jesus. A light that cannot be overcome, a light that is for all people, a light that is our only source of truth, and a light that we are called to share with others.
Dear God, thank you that through you all of us can know truth. Please help us to share this truth with those around us, through all that we do and say. We ask that you will give us courage, wisdom and opportunity to shine like a lamp set upon a stand in the centre of the room. Amen.