Sunday Sermon: "More by Its Openness than Its Opaqueness”

 |  Sunday Sermon

Text: Luke 11:33-36; 12:2-3
Series: “The Church Your New Pastor Deserves” 

This evening children from all over Mountain Brook will be donning their costumes and happily covering their faces and venturing out into the surrounding neighborhoods to participate in the annual ritual we all know and remember as “Trick or Treat.” When you’re a child, it’s all about dressing up as your favorite character and going from house to house to load up on candy. And when you’re an adult, it’s all about bragging on the creativity of the costumes and making a child’s night with his or her favorite treat. And then later that night, the costumes come off, the candy is consumed, and everyone gets ready for things the next day to go back to normal. Dressing up, disguising yourself, and pretending to be something you’re not is lots of fun for one night of the year, but it’s no way to live with any sense of wholeness and completeness, given how much better it is just to be who you are and to relate to others with genuineness and authenticity.

That’s much of what Jesus was encouraging in these two passages before us this morning. We’ve been walking our way through this section of Luke’s Gospel over the course of these past couple of months, where Jesus is pouring his truth into those who have come around him, both the multitudes as well as his disciples. Here, Jesus speaks first to the crowds; and as far as they are concerned, they’ve come to Jesus looking to him for something that will sustain them in the face of their everyday challenges. The “sugar high” of what they have received from their religious leaders has failed to nourish their souls, in large measure because of the duplicity and hypocrisy that have come from those leaders, who say one thing to them and do something entirely different in private. Instead, the crowds want something that will illumine their souls and cast out the darkness that has come over them, a darkness that does not contain any measure of truth or hope.

And so in the first teaching, Jesus instructs them to be careful what they open themselves to in this world. “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body is also full of light. But when they are bad, your body is full of darkness.” In other words, Jesus is telling the crowds that there is so much in this world that passes for light that is anything but. It shines and it glitters, but it has no substance. Better then that we take every precaution to make sure that we don’t just follow the sparkle and in the process lose the chance to experience the glorious. After all, even a candle seems bright until the sun comes out, and then we see how the light of the candle pales in comparison to the radiance of the sun.

I think you see the application. How many people today are all about the bling, which is nothing more than a pursuit of that which dazzles for a moment, but loses its appeal when the harsh realities of life bring a darkness down upon them that totally obstructs the shimmer they thought they would enjoy forever? They’re like little children who dress up for Halloween and pride themselves on their elaborate garb, except that children know that at some point the garb gets packed back into the closet because it is worn only for one night. These people think that they can comport themselves that way forever, until one day they come to see that they’ve only been tricking themselves and that there’s no lasting treat to how they’ve been living. It’s only when we recognize how so much of the supposed brightness of this world actually keeps us from seeing the true light of Jesus that we open our hearts to him so that his light might give meaning and purpose to every part of our lives, so much so that we begin to shine with the light of Christ, drawing others to it from out of their darkness. And in the end, isn’t that the real mission of the church, to bear witness to the light of Christ in such a compelling way that we poke holes in the world’s darkness and offer others a better way to live – today, tomorrow, and forevermore?

“No one lights a lamp,” says Jesus, “and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” Followers of Jesus are called to be open to his light, not what the world tells us is light, so that we might then lead others to that light which alone brings life in all its abundance.

It is that truth which leads to the second teaching, the one where Jesus turns his attention to his disciples to warn them against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of their day, who ended up obstructing the light they were supposed to be revealing because of their dishonesty and deceit. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” Jesus told them. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” In other words, our lives as Christians are to be clear and obvious examples of the truth of Jesus and the difference it makes in our everyday life.

This should go without saying, but tragically, it does not. That’s because of how there are too many people in the church today who are claiming to be followers of Jesus, but who are covering up their secret sins. Like the Pharisees about whom Jesus warned his disciples, these folk look good on the outside and even have the appearance of being Christian, but when they are alone and no one is watching, they are engaging in things that are not consistent with their confession of Jesus. They think they can get away with things as long as nobody finds out about them. But as Jesus tells his disciples, while others may not always recognize our sin, God does, and one day God will bring it to light. This, Jesus assures us, is no recipe for abundance.

Of course, some today have learned this lesson, despite having had to learn it the hard way. I’m thinking in particular of those persons who have gone through recovery for all manner of addictive behaviors and have emerged from their darkness in a much better and healthier place. Ask any of those persons and they will tell you that one of the principles that guided them through their darkness was, “We’re only as sick as our secrets,” which is a hallmark principle for the recovery process. That is to say that any secret that we keep in the dark only grows and becomes more harmful. But once we expose it to the light, no matter how painful it is when we do so, the power of that secret is lost and it becomes replaced with a higher power, and for people of faith, a power that is full of mercy and grace. 

This is true not only for individuals, it is also true for churches that seek to be places of healing and hope. And so, over the course of these last ten years, when new people have come our way and I’ve had the privilege to speak with them about the possibilities here at Mountain Brook Baptist Church, I know that many of them have come from places where they’ve been hurt and mistreated. And so, when they ask about our church, who we are and where we stand on matters, I proudly tell them, “What you see is who we are. We are as transparent as a pane of glass. There are no secrets. There are no hidden agendas. There are no skeletons in any of our closets. What you see is what you get.” 

Now, does that mean that we’re a perfect church and we have no dirty laundry? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Neither does it mean that we display our dirty laundry for all to see, not because we’re trying to deceive others, but more because we think that doing so would be tawdry and tacky. We confess our sins to God and then show ourselves to others as sinners being saved by grace. It’s not our light we display; it’s the light of Christ shining through us, shining we hope in ways that enable others to see the grace that can help them recover from their rough places also. 

The church I attended in college left a lasting impression upon me in this regard. There was something about the layout of the Sanctuary in that church that was radically different from the church I had grown up in or, quite frankly, any church I’ve seen since. All churches have windows, and most of those windows are opaque. They allow light to come through but you can’t see out of them and no one can see in through them. Perhaps they’re designed that way to create a sense of sanctuary, of rest and release from this otherwise threatening world. 

This church, however, was different in that it had clear glass, glass you could see through in both directions. But the glass wasn’t like our stained glass, which is situated around the sanctuary. In this church the clear glass was directly behind the pulpit, which I always thought was a huge mistake. “How can anyone listen to the preacher with the beauty of God’s creation so profoundly displayed in the background?” 

But then the thought occurred to me, “Maybe that’s the point. None of is the light, not even the preacher. We bear witness to the light.  We’re like clear-paned glass that allows the light to show through so that everyone might see the beauty of God’s creation and by seeing Jesus in us, even the beauty of God’s new creation.”

We’re not going to be changing any windows in this church anytime soon, but we can at least be the church that Jesus needs us to be – a church that doesn’t dress up its appearance and certainly doesn’t conceal its flaws, but is instead a church that comes to the light, a church that keeps its eyes on the light, a church that bears witness to the light, not just on special occasions but every single day of the year.