candle 19833acMessage for Lent 4 on John 3:14-21, Romans 12:9,17-21 given on March 10, 2024 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Maybe you’re like me and some days you struggle with how to continually be a person of love and light in what feels an increasingly divisive, difficult and dare I say, evil world.

I’m not just talking about the big stuff—you know wars and rumors of wars, although these issues do weigh on all of us. We have eight months to go in this election year and we cannot seem to have a real exchange of ideas without accusations, fearmongering, and us-versus-them on all sides.

It is a hard world in so many arenas, especially raising children and grandchildren—where we struggle against many evils.
• The fentanyl crisis with so many overdoses is really scary
• Getting health insurance and accessing care is becoming more difficult—I know several folks without insurance
• “Affordable housing” has become an oxymoron—there isn’t any for low income and homeless people we have discovered working with some of our members
• On-line harassment and bullying continue, and scammers are more creative than ever
• Intolerance and discrimination are still struggles, especially around gender and sexuality

It’s not just that I find these issues challenging, but sometimes I do not like who I become –
• I do not like how angry I get when I see inaction on these issues;
• How self-righteous I can be when I disagree on political solutions or the lack thereof.
• I am surprised at how judgmental I can be of others who see things differently than I do.
• I realize the evil is not just out there—it’s in here, too, and that’s the really hard part about it.

I want to say—"shine your light over there Jesus and do not look too closely at my mind and heart today—maybe check back in again tomorrow!"

Perhaps you find this to be true about yourself, wondering how to continually be a person of love and light when we see evil and endless issues everywhere.

Maybe you too, come face to face with yourself and find
• it’s hard not to judge people based on their politics,
• Or you’ve discovered how easy it is to become angry when inaction and injustice seem to go unchecked,
• Or self-righteous when others are not acting or thinking the way you think they should.
• Or maybe you just to become too discouraged and withdraw

What are those moments or issues for you when you want to say, “shine your light over there, Jesus and do not look too closely at my mind and heart today—maybe check back in again tomorrow!”

But in our Gospel reading from John, Jesus calls us to come into the light because we are of God and have been saved by Jesus Christ. God calls us to be light-bearers as ones saved by his Son.

It starts with the most famous passage of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I love the King James translation—which instead of “everyone” says, “whosoever!”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that “whosoever!” believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

That means that all the whosoevers!—

  • The whosoevers who were doing evil yesterday can believe in Jesus today!
    The whosoevers who are brown, black, white—any color, any race, tribe—can be saved by Jesus!
    The whosoevers who are gay, straight and somewhere in between can believe in Jesus!
    The whosoevers who were bullies and scammers yesterday can start a new life in Christ today!
    The whosovers include you and me!

Evil is never more powerful than the saving power of Jesus Christ and his eternal light –which covers the whole world and dwells inside of us. We always focus on John 3:16 and then we forget John 3:17—

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God sent Jesus to save not to condemn. It makes you wonder why so many people’s experience of Christians is condemnation and judgment. But the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better—and that’s what we are about at St. Luke’s!

We do not need to do any judging—the light exposes darkness—the truth exposes evil—that’s what the text says right here.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

Of course, we are forgiven for when we get caught up in judging others, and then Jesus Christ fills us with the power of his love to be light-bearers in the world.

But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

Our job is to do the deeds of God.

Once evil is exposed by the light of Christ, by truth—we as light-bearers work to make sure such things do not continue. It’s why we have progressed toward laws that protect minors from harmful substances and seatbelt laws—we all work for human flourishing and the end of evil. It is why being a welcoming church where God loves everybody matters. The world needs to hear about a loving God.

So the question is, how do we continue to shine light in the face of hardship, challenges or just plain evil? The light has come, but is not yet come to its complete fulfillment in Christ’s return, so how do we shine light in the midst of darkness?

There are many ways—today we’ll talk about 4: I invite you to pick one this week and practice it as a family or with a friend.
1. Rooted in Prayer- Start out your day in prayer no matter how brief. If this is new, you can start out with 5 minutes--pray for 2 ½ minutes and listen for 2 ½. Pick a place, even if it’s in your car before you go into work, or in the bathroom with the door closed. On St. Luke’s YouTube page, I have a morning meditation that lasts about 5 minutes and it includes asking for the light of Christ to fill you. If prayer is hard, that’s one way to start.

When we are rooted in prayer, we are reminded that we have a Godly purpose no matter what our tasks—we are filled with light of Christ and here to share love and hope with others. Who will God put in our path today that needs Christ’s light through me?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

2. Rely on the Power of Jesus- I can’t tell you how many times I have been in situations of conflict or crisis, and I did not know what to do. In the back of my mind I pray, "Please Jesus, help me, what do you want me to do here? How do you want me to help this situation or person? Or, the all important good boundaries-question: Is this mine to do?"

I listen internally for guidance, and observe, and almost always an idea comes to me, or the situation shifts, and something happens to help.

When I pray for an answer I get absolute silence, then I know there is no action to be taken, it’s not mined to do, or it’s just time to wait. When we are Rooted in Prayer (#1)—we can Rely on the power of Jesus because we become accustomed to hearing his urging, direction, and intuition about how to respond to situations of evil or need.

Proverbs 3:5-6, says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

3. Remember what God has done for you- What would your life be like without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ? Without this community? Without the love of God that has seen through the troubles of the past? When we remember what God has done for us, we are ready to serve God when the moment arises.

When I was in the hospital in Lahore, all of my excellent nurses were Muslim, but on my last day, my nurse was a Christian. She asked me to pray for her since she wanted to have a baby. I said I would.

I was released that afternoon and before we left, Dan and I laid on hands and prayed for Usmah, my nurse. I was so grateful I was better—I knew what God had done for me through all of your prayers! The time to pray it forward is now!

Psalm 103:2-4 says, Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.

4. Reach out in love. Mother Teresa once said, "Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love." If big actions or the whole darn thing of life feels overwhelming, focus on small actions where we can let love be genuine.

When my mom died, the two little boys next door came over and drew pictures with sidewalk chalk on my dad’s walkway to cheer him up. It was the most precious thing. Another day they were painting rocks, and he still has 2 ladybug rocks on his front porch.

You do not have to agree with anyone’s ideas or politics to do a small thing with great love. Help your teen or a friend pick up a bag of "grief groceries" for someone who’s family member has died—you know frozen pizza, ravioli and tomato sauce, ice cream, and Oreos—quick dinners and comfort food.

Bridge a gap, start a conversation with a small act of love—mail a card, cut a sick neighbor’s grass, write a note and tell someone you added them to our church prayer list, bake some bars for the Dover Elementary teachers, or take someone a bag of breakfast burritos this Saturday after our free breakfast.

This is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Romans when he says, overcome evil with good. When there is sad news, remind yourself and your children what Mr. Rogers taught all of us—God always shows up the helpers, big and small. We are some of those helpers.

Matthew 5:14-16, extols us, You are the light of the world... Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When we all remain
• rooted in prayer,
• relying on the power of Jesus,
• remembering what God has done for us
• and reaching out in love—

we will continually be mindful of the light of Christ that fills us from head to toe! Then we will see much more love, much more good, much more light, much more power and much more Christ in people working toward unity than we do evil because we are joining God in expanding the kingdom around us!

That is a world worth shining for! Amen.

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