The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Year A

“Live as a Child of the Light”

A sermon from Pastor Jane Jeuland

“Expose it to the sunlight as much as you can.” That is what my pediatrician told me to do when my son had the worst diaper rash as an infant. Expose it to the sunlight and that will tame the rash and sure enough it did. The rash could not survive and grow when it was exposed to the light. It only survived if it was covered up and kept in the dark. 

Sin operates in much the same way as this pesky rash. Sin multiples and spreads when it is kept in the dark. It is far more powerful when it is hidden away. And yet our tendency is to keep our sins secret because we are embarrassed to share our sins with others. We think that we are the only ones who have ever done anything this wrong. We think that if we just don’t tell anyone then we can change our behavior, and the sin will all go away. We won’t do it again. We even think from time to time that we can hide our sin from God and we do not share it with God in our prayers, we do not ask for God’s forgiveness. 

This voice in our head that tells us to keep our sins secret are not from God. Many would say that this is the enemy, devil, satan, the evil one tempting you to hide your sins because the enemy knows that when our sins are kept secret they will fester and proliferate. But none of these rationalizations that make us want to cover up our sins are from God. Again and again in scripture, God calls us out of the darkness and into the light. God encourages us to confess our sins to God and to one another. We see people confessing their sins throughout the old testament and we see folks confessing their sins as they approach John to be baptized in the River Jordan.

And today we hear the author of Ephesians tell us to expose “unfruitful works” to the light. He writes, expose “what such people do secretly” because everything that is exposed to the light becomes visible, and everything that becomes visible is light. In other words when we expose our secret misdeeds, when we expose our sins to the light, these “unfruitful works” become visible and when they become visible they in fact transform from “unfruitful works” of darkness into light. What once was dark becomes transformed by the light into the light. 

The rash dies down, fades and there is nothing except the softness of a newborns skin. The sin dies down, it looses power, it looses its grip on us and what is left is transformation, new life, new growth, healing, mended relationships and a way of being. 

Sin has a very hard time surviving once it is exposed to the light… Sin is not nearly as powerful when it is exposed to the light. When we share our sin with others it loses so much of its power. 

That – in part – is what makes Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous so powerful. When you come into a circle of fellow humans all struggling with the same addiction and you share what you have done… you bring your struggle into the light… and though it is still a daily struggle to resist the addiction it is far, far less powerful when you have a mentor just a phone call away, when you have a group of people rooting for you to win the battle against the addiction, when you work the steps and make amends with those you have hurt. When brought into the light, addiction has far less power. 

This is also why Christianity has encouraged us to share our sins with someone else, to make our confession. In the Episcopal Church we pray a prayer of confession together every Sunday. During Lent, at the start of our service, many Episcopal churches like ours confess together a whole list of sins. In addition to our Sunday corporate confessions, the Episcopal Church also offers formal confessions one on one with a priest. We don’t use booths. We sit across from one another in a private office, we pray, the confessor shares, and the priest offers counseling, prays a prayer of absolution, and offers some prayers for the confessor to use toward complete healing and repentance. There are no requirements for making confession in order to receive communion. In the Episcopal church, we believe that all may say confession, some should, and a few must. 

If you have a sin, a behavior, a recurring disturbing thought that you have been struggling with in the darkness, I encourage you to expose it to the light. You can set up an appointment with me, Mother Erika, or any priest you feel comfortable with. Bring it into the light. Anything that is telling you not to expose it, is not from God. God wants you to bring it out into the open so that it can lose its grasp on you and release you.

Sometimes when folks hear sermons or talks such as these, they get the urge to run out and tell all their sins to the first person they see. Brene Brown is a famous researcher who studies shame. She explains that the only way that we can combat shame is by being vulnerable with one another, but she explains that does not mean that you need to overshare or share everything with the first person you meet. She explains that people we are vulnerable with must be worthy of hearing our weaknesses and must be able to hold space for this tender moment in our lives.

We often worry that when we share our vulnerability and our sins with others, we will be judged and you know what – sometimes we will, some people are not worthy recipients of our most darkest, deepest secretes — but that does not mean that everyone or even most people will judge and shame us. 

I know someone who openly shares some of his trauma and his past addictions because he says, “if I keep it secret, it will fester and grow in me… so I tell people I trust.” And he does it in such a way that draws people to him. He is one of the most beloved people in his circle of friends. We all love him dearly for who he is foibles and all. 

We tend to think that exposing our shame, our sins, our darkness will undo us and bring a scarlet letter upon our back… but when we share with trustworthy, compassionate, equally vulnerable people, when we share under the authority, wisdom, and abundant love of God in confession, our sins lose their power. They no longer haunt us like an unfinished task on a to do list. They are open, exposed, unfettered, told, and communicated and those who hear us, receive our hurt and our shame are now in our circle to embrace us, love us and walk with us through and out of the sin that we are locked in. 

God has nothing but forgiveness for you. As we hear in one of my favorite scripture passages that follows one of the most famous scripture passages: John 3:17

For God so love the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not die, but have eternal life.. That is the famous passage… that is immediately followed by…

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

God did not create us to condemn us. Jesus did not hang on the cross to shame us. God created us for goodness and Jesus powerfully overcame sin and death on the cross to free us from shame, guilt, and condemnation. 

We are free… so we need to live as free people, not as condemned people. We need to confess our sins not as condemned criminals, but as liberated, beloved children of God.

The author of Ephesians tells us that we were once in darkness, but now in the Lord, we are in the light. He says, Live as children of the light. Live like you are free. Live like you are loved, live in the light, for he says, the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

So expose what is hidden to trustworthy souls and live as you were made to live – live as a child of the light.