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Light Of The World

John 1:29-42

The Rev. Jon Roberts

16 January

2011

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).

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Isaiah's Lips Anointed with Fire, Benjamin West, 1782
Bob Jones Univ. Museum & Gallery

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o'er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear. [1]

Last Sunday we celebrated the Epiphany with a tribute to the hymn, "We three kings of orient are", by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.; and were amused when he introduced us to the word, "yonder.” Like the magi we traveled east to west looking for yonder star only to discover that Christ has set it in the eastern sky of our own hearts. Today, we sing, "Christ, whose glory fills the skies", which is about Christ the true, the only light. Last week we followed the star and this week we are called to share its light with others.
Written by the English hymn writer, nearly a hundred years before Hopkins, the American, Charles Wesley crossed the big pond, to play this song for the faithful in the remote south in places like South Carolina and Georgia. He went yonder, from east to west, travelling to the Americas, playing out this hymn for the great crowds who came to be touched by the good news of Jesus Christ. Thousands came from all around just to sing this song. They knew about the rising and the setting of the sun and out of the darkness they sought the light of Christ.

A while ago there was a hotel company, The Red Roof Inn, that advertised a restful night stay in one of their rooms. To that effect they made every convenience for you, so that you felt you were coming home, and just to prove it, they promised to leave a light on for you. God has used the instrumentation of humanity for the song to be played over and over again, for a light to be left on for the world to see. In our readings today we hear about others who followed suit with the Hopkins and the Wesleys of the world. We go way back to the time of Isaiah the prophet. He served the Jewish kingdom under four kings, spanning over sixty-five years.

In a stunning painting by Benjamin West, we see Isaiah in his younger days, perhaps with the first king. One who favored the worship of several gods in the temple. The world was darkened because of this idolatrous nation. How was the young prophet to overcome? The painting shows him at his desk with scroll in hand and suddenly an angel descends with wings outstretched. In his right hand, a flame, as he touches the lips of Isaiah. Set on fire, he has a new commission, a determination to persevere. He held firm to the fact that Israel must speak out, in contrast to the world which was in spiritual darkness.
It would not be until the reign of Hezekiah, that his message took hold. Surrounded by the Assyrians from the north, all of Jerusalem was cut off. But Hezekiah believed in one god, the true god, Yahweh. He listened to the prophet whose light shined in the dim hallways. In the end, victory was theirs and the enemy turned back. You would think never to turn again, but one generation later, the old gods were reintroduced and the nation fell once more into darkness. When certain spiritual leaders fall, we begin to wonder who will ever take their place?

But God always sends others to carry the light. Those that go a long way back like Isaiah and many more today. It's like the children's song that goes, "This little light of mine. I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine. I'm gonna let it shine". Then, we become animated and with our finger as the flame, the other hand comes over, threatened to cover it, as we say, "Hide it under a bushel...No! I'm gonna let it shine.” When John the Baptist announced, "Behold the Son of Man appears" he was referring to the light that could not be extinguished, even by death.[2] The Messiah would be the light left on and the bushel of sin would not be able to hide it. We may be the instruments who hold the light, but Jesus teaches us we must share himself with all the nations because he is the instrument of our salvation. By sharing the Word and Sacrament we express the light. It is not to be contained exclusively in this room. It is intended to be housed in your very soul and seen by others in your words and actions of love.

The Presbyterian minister and Congregationalist, Charles Grandison Finney, rekindled the light of the world by leading the second great awakening in America. He taught four things.[3] That the world is in great spiritual darkness. That Christians under God are called to enlighten it. He taught they are to do this by sharing the spirit of the law of God, not simply the letter of the law. And finally, if the world is not enlightened it is the fault of Christians. Impenitent sinners, he said, "are universally ignorant of the true God and are in great darkness." We are to match self-denial vs. self-indulgence. Heavenly mindedness vs. worldly mindedness. Assuring others that our treasure is in heaven, not on earth. Conformity to correct principles vs. disregard of them. Conformity to the laws of our being vs. the shameless violations of them. Manifesting our faith in Christ vs. contrast of unbelief and sweet submission to God's providence vs. restlessness and rebellion.

On this day there are many who remember how the bushel of sin has covered over and darkened the clear sky of your heart. Times when your soul shut every door to God's entrance. Through God's Holy Word and Blessed Sacrament, he rekindles our love for him. He restores the promise and fulfillment of everlasting life in him. We must be like Isaiah, getting to our wits end and then turn to God. Letting him touch our tongue with a holy fire. We must be like good king Hezekiah, saying enough is enough. Turning out the idols from our temples. We must be like John the Baptizer, pointing to the Messiah, who’s light descended upon us like a dove. In such ways, by letting him touch us, by turning away our sin, and by pointing to our savior, we find...

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o'er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.

[1] Charles Wesley, "Christ, whose glory fills the skies", 1982 Hymnal #7.
[2] John 1:29-41
[3] http://www.gospeltruth.net/1840OE/400812_christians_light.html

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