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Living in the Light

March 25, 2017


When I lived along the Gulf Coast (2008-2015), we would often see some extraordinary sunsets. My picture files are filled with sunset pictures from the beach. Often our sunsets in the Rockies don’t last as long or even really appear like they did on the coast. But when they do (like shown above right outside of our home), it is like, in the words of John Denver, “Fire in the Sky”!

Another significant difference between the Gulf Coast and the Rocky Mountain National Park (besides the obvious 7,500 to 12,000 difference in elevation!) is the amount of light pollution. Normally on the Gulf Coast where we lived, the light pollution was pretty incredible and you only saw a portion of all that the night sky offers. Up here in the Rockies, even in our small mountain town, the light pollution is significantly less. One night, Denise and I were in the park trying out a new lens for my camera and experimenting with night photography. No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t get a decent picture. All of a sudden, I realized that the problem was the moonlight! The moon was actually the “light pollution” that was keeping me from getting good star shots!

This took me back a few years as I remembered teaching at the USAF Air Combat Command’s Desert Warfare Training Center near Indian Springs, Nevada. The capstone of the two week course was the 100 hour Wartime Scenario out on one of the desert ranges we had. It was amazing to see the difference between a night with no moon or clouds and a full moon when it came to base defense and offensive/defensive operations. It was also amazing just how much of a difference it made for a certain Padre who was an instructor and had to make his way around the area to find his Chaplains, Chaplain Assistants, and the people they were providing spiritual care to. On a truly dark night with zero illumination from the moon and/or cloud cover, it made it difficult. On nights with 100% illumination by the moon, it as almost like walking in daylight. Light made a huge difference as I maneuvered around the desert.

Light is important for so many reasons beyond the base defense and operations in times of war. Two tours (six years) in England and one tour (three years) in Grand Forks, North Dakota reminded me just how important sunlight is to people. When the Northern Hemisphere was at its darkest, I would find myself driving, walking, or bicycling to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. If we were lucky, during the day the sun would peek out from behind the clouds. Most of the time the sun stayed hidden and the days were gray and dreary. Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder were very real companions for me personally as well as for the people I cared for. Once the days got longer (and warmer and sunnier too!) moods shifted from down to much healthier!

So, what does this have to do with the Scripture readings for this Sunday, Padre? Not to worry, all will be clear and illuminated! I have been talking thus far about the physical light of the sun and the moon and the effects it has on us in multiple realms. The readings from John 9 and Ephesians 5 talk about light in the spiritual sense.

In John’s Gospel we read about the man who was blind from birth whom Jesus healed. Speaking of wandering in the darkness, the response of the disciples and the Pharisees were both pretty incredible. Now back in those times (and sadly still true today) people often looked for someone or something to blame for something like blindness or death or ill health or disaster… the disciples wondered who had sinned… the Pharisees were ticked off that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath… Seriously? A guy who has been blind from birth now gets to not only feel the warmth of the sun on his face but actually will be able to see the sun and the moon and the stars and his family for the first time… and you are quibbling over minutia?

I have preached on the Gospel passage countless times throughout the years… this year what struck me was Ephesians 5. Perhaps it is because we are living in such challenging times that I needed to hear Paul’s admonition? “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.” (Ephesians 5:8-8)

I believe that this is a message needed for today. In an era of 24 hour news where bad and darkness sell, we need some light. Now this isn’t the sort of light that ignores the darkness. It is the sort of light that shines and offers an alternative to the darkness. The light that Paul talks about does reveal the hopelessness and unfruitful darkness. But it doesn’t shine the light in order to point fingers and laugh or cry or scream. It shines the light in order to transform the darkness. Just like the difference between zero lunar illumination in the desert and full illumination, the light of Christ transforms us. No longer do we face the darkness in fear, we conquer the darkness and our hearts our transformed. As we share that light with others, their own darkness can and will be transformed by the grace of God.

Dear reader, isn’t it time for us to shine the light of Christ? Isn’t it time for us to stop acting like Pharisees and act like the one who loves us, transforms us, saves us? Jesus, in John 8:12 says the following: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Will you join with me as I strive to walk and live in the light of Christ’s love? Will you join with me as I seek to share the light of Christ’s love in a time of hatred, fear, despair, and violence?

As St Teresa of Avila once said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Will you join me? May our light shine in the darkness!

  1. ” It shines the light in order to transform the darkness” -oh yes, how often we forget and try to hide away in our darkness, conceal our sin, fearing the light of revelation. Yet once we’re willing to face up to who we are and what we’ve done, we soon discover God’s laser light is one of searing love, all consuming compassion and infinite grace! Thank you for this insightful word, Michael. I’ve actually touched on this topic myself recently on my other blog but didn’t conclude quite as you have done here. Beautiful post, gorgeous fiery sunset and a profound word! Bless you, friend. 🙂 x

  2. You know I totally agree with this one.

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