Sermon given at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 9th February 2014
9 February 2014 at 11:00 am
The Reverend Gavin Williams, Priest Vicar
How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?
• Trinitarian Christians would say three, but they’re really only one.
• Calvinists say none. Lights go on and off at predestined times.
• Charismatic Christians also question the need to change the bulb. First they require two or three to pray together against the spirit of darkness.
• More open-minded Christians choose not to make a statement either in favour of or against the need for a light bulb. However, some have found that light bulbs work for them as part of their faith journey. They recognise a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, tungsten, two pin, three-way, four pin, bayonet cap, Edison screw, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
• And what about Anglicans? They have put the issue of the sex and status of light-bulb changers on the agenda of General Synod. I hope you all have torches.
Of course we’re not in the dark. Christians are supposed to be the light of the world because Jesus promised that anyone who followed him would not walk in darkness but would have the light of life. This light is supposed to do two things.
The first is exposure. Matthew has earlier said, ‘The people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light’. Until the light comes, there is just darkness, but when light shines in the darkness, we can see the difference. Jesus says everyone who is a Christian, faithful to Christ, will be a light who will help others see the difference between walking in the dark and walking in the light.
For example, I expect you know the story about a woman who goes for a job interview with the CEO of a FTSE 100 company. During the interview the phone rings.
The CEO tells the interview candidate, ‘I want you to answer it. Tell whoever it is I am not here.’
The candidate refuses saying, ‘If you want me to lie for you, how will you be able to trust me not to lie to you’.
The CEO gives her the job.
Christians should be showing the world that honesty is the best policy – so we should be honest about our failures and see whether our example shames others into being honest too, particularly people in public life on whose integrity we depend for the promotion of the common good.
The second thing light does is explain the cause of the darkness and why there is so much of it in the world. We claim to be enlightened and yet for all the light shed upon our lives by our gigantic store of knowledge, it cannot be denied that, for example, the five giant evils identified by William Beveridge in 1942 - Want, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness and Disease - are still alive and well. Why is this?
What Jesus says is that man cannot live in the light unless he is in a right relationship with God. All our quarrels, disputes and misunderstandings, all our failures to change the world in which we live, can be traced back to sin, to our self-centredness, our preference for fantasy rather than reality. We are by nature idolaters who worship small gods and not the true God.
Because human nature is like this, we find ourselves saying with Paul, ‘the good thing I want to do is not what I do, but the wrong thing I do not want to do, that is what I find myself doing. Who will rescue me from myself?’
At this point we do not need more light. If we have got to the stage of asking for help, the light has successfully performed its exposure and explanation functions.
What is needed now is for the light bulb to be changed.
Once we know what the good is that we want to do and we know we need help to be able to do it, we need to be fitted with a new nature that will love the light and hate the darkness. Then our light will shine to give light to all in the house.
For example, though the world is becoming more rude and inconsiderate – and not only during the rush hour on days when the tube drivers are on strike – Christians need not take offence at the selfish behaviour of others. If Christians can manage this without being holier than thou, then it is God who will be glorified.
Another example of the light shining to give light to all in the house is the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Dr James Kim, a Korean American entrepreneur who is a Christian, has raised much of the £20 million needed to fund the university from Christian charities. This is a remarkable achievement in a country which persecutes Christians. The university is educating the future elite of North Korean society in the hope that one day it will enable North Korea to return to the family of nations.
You are the light of the world because Jesus is the light of the world. By that light Christians see that many dwell in darkness. And like Jesus, our compassion for these poor people should mean that we will want to change the world. Metaphorically changing light bulbs is all that Christians should be thinking about doing.