Banner Logo


Sermon Graphic

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Tad de Bordenave, February 8, 2015

Going to Other Towns

If we let Peter continue what he started to say to Jesus (Mark 1:37), this is what he might have said. “Jesus, you have no idea what sort of fame you have gotten for yourself. There you were all day yesterday doing healings and exorcisms. People all over the Northern Neck will flock to you. All you have to do is come on back. And you know that church that’s beginning to be built on 360—they have 22 acres and are only now using half an acre for their sanctuary. By the time all the crowds come, they’ll need a sanctuary three times that size!”

Now that I have the attention of the Building Committee, the Vestry, the Interior Design Committee, and anyone else who has pledged, you can see more clearly where today’s lessons are pointing.

It’s true that the day of healings gave Jesus dramatic attention. Jesus could have so easily have drawn an enormous crowd and launched a dazzling career of healing and other miracles. That makes what He says to Peter all the more striking. He responded with a shocking statement. In fact, here the Lord reveals His purpose. “I must go on to the other towns. For this is the reason I have come!” His mission is not only for where He is known and believed; He has come for those who have not yet heard and not yet believed.

We also heard from Paul in the lessons. He gave what is believed to be an autobiographical statement about his Damascus Road encounter. This is how he described his experience and his insight:

The God who said, “Let there be light” has shone in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

What is striking about that statement is that he gives his conversion a preamble, an introduction. “The God who said, ‘Let there be light’…” A preamble, yes, but a carefully chosen one. He wanted to establish a couple of things about God before he moved on to his encounter with Christ. This sets the stage for what he went on to say.

First Paul pointed to God. He is the initiator of what happened. His power is without parallel. When He said, “Let there be light”, there was light. I’m sure none of us has ever gone outside on a dark night and shouted, “Let there be light!” We know nothing would happen. But when God says for something to happen, it happens.

Next, Paul brings in the image of darkness. God did not create this world for it to be enveloped in darkness. He would not let darkness continue or dominate. Outside of God’s rule there is darkness, and God is determined to eradicate all darkness and its power.

Then there is the light. The light is God’s light, and more than a brilliant flashlight. His light enlightens. C. S. Lewis was asked once why he was a Christian. He said it was because of how the sun came up every morning and lit up the world. Lewis treated that as a metaphor. Christ is the light of the world. “In His light we see light,” the Psalmist says. Christ shows us the world as it is seen in its truest reality.

With this background we can move into what these passages tell the church about mission. Paul and Jesus would tell us—I dare say—that for a church to be shot through with Holy Spirit vitality and life, the church must have evidence of compulsion that moves us to other towns.

If that is so, we need to know what keeps that movement alive, what sustains this outward effort beyond our territory. What fuels this compulsion? Probably there are a number of fuels. I want to present two, two fundamental truths that cannot fade or be overshadowed. I will outline them and comment on each.

The first truth, referring back to Paul’s statement, is this: in the face of Jesus Christ we see God. Jesus is the revelation of God. That means that if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Read about Him. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said.

More than that, if you want to know what God is up to, what He is doing and why, look to Jesus. “My Father is working, and so am I. I do what my Father tells me.”

The most important implication here is that he is the way to the Father. If you want to know how to find God, how to become His child, and enjoy intimacy with Him, and live closely with Him, Jesus is very clear. “No one goes to the Father but by Me.” There are other paths, but they do not take you to the Father.

Let me pause there and focus on that statement, for it gets a bad press. It sounds so exclusive. Only one way! For many it is a distasteful reflection on Christian teaching. So negative. It just doesn’t fit in today’s cultural religious climate.

I would like to rescue this, since it holds great beauty, hope, and love. The reason is simple. What this is also saying is this—apart from Christ there just is no other way to the Father. We try to get there, we persuade ourselves that we are certainly good enough, and we remind ourselves of all the good things we have done. Of course we can get to the Father by ourselves.

This is not an uncommon attitude. But it is a vain hope. Behind it is a hint of arrogance, a strong flavor of pride. Also there is the absence of awareness of our sin and of God’s holiness. In fact this is exactly like going outside and trying to create light. We are trying to do something that only God can do. In the same way He created light, He alone gives us a way to the Father.

I remember in my spiritual quest at the University of Virginia dismissing any hope of finding a God who is near and who hears. I just never connected with Him. The University did me the honor of asking me to take biology twice. When I opened up a worm, I didn’t care about its parts; I wanted to know if it has a soul. I gave up on God. I withdrew and resorted to the solution of Zen and mystical Hinduism. That path was to transcend the transient passions of this world and by meditation find union with the world soul, a place of no personality, no communication.

That is, until I saw Bethlehem. There in the Nativity and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there was “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God has come down, He has revealed Himself, He has shown what lies at the center of His heart: mercy, forgiveness, grace, and a place for us in His presence as His chosen and precious children.

God sees us in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us. He sees us groping outside. He knows we cannot find the way, and He knows we could very easily just stay there – outside. But He has not. He sorrows over us. He yearns for us. He loves us so much, as John wrote, that He sent His own Son to die for us so that all who believe will find forgiveness for their sins and the path to His presence. That is the beauty of this truth.

We can find no way to God. Period. But the good news is that the Father has Himself come to us and provided a way. That way is through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

The second truth is another anchor, one that holds a congregation to mission to those in other towns. This is about darkness, and the outsiders who have not come into the light.

There are two kinds of darkness. One seems to be in light, a distorted light that perverts vision and fools people. This false image brings up a life of comfort with things, fun, and a holiday life. What could be better? You’ve got friends, cars, lots of upbeat things to do. Surely there could be no better life than this.

But if a life does not center on God, does not find truths and principles for life from the Bible, does not look for Christian fellowship, and has no priority for the worship of God, that is a life in darkness.

The other kind of darkness is dark, intense black darkness with no light of Christ nearby or known at all. These people are under false gods who serve up fear and hatred and insecurity. They lie. They deceive, they destroy, they dehumanize, and they discard.

These are the unreached people of the world, and they are to be pitied. More importantly, they are to be loved by us so that we will know the darkness we used to share and will tell them where there is light.

Hell is real and hell is eternal. Life on the outside is grim. It is life separated from God forever, life without hope, without peace, but with the knowledge that they have refused the Son who could have shown them the way to the kingdom. The images Christ gives are of cold and isolation, of gnashing of teeth for sadness and for regret.

Why would I introduce this dark truth? After all, as a self-confessed mild-mannered, self-effacing, Virginia gentleman, I should know better. Well, it’s not my idea. Don’t take my word for it. The reality lies deeply embedded in the holy character of God. Jesus is the one who talked about it. “There will be two men working in the field. One will be taken, one will be left. There will be two women working at the mill. One will be taken, one will be left.” He uses images of cold and dark, of gnashing of teeth, quoting from the end of Isaiah, “Where the worm does not die and the fire goes not out.”

C. S. Lewis wrote that he wished that hell didn’t exist, that he could pay the price so that people could have the way out of hell. Then he realized that he could not pay one one-thousandth of the price that God Himself paid for those to get out of darkness. That price was the suffering death of His Son, crucified, and hanging there with the sin of the world laid upon Him. And by His death and resurrection God has offered forgiveness of sin for all who reach out in faith to Christ.

These are two fundamental truths of mission, but what holds them before us? What keeps us wanting to move on to other towns? Paul gives that motivation in his autobiographical verse in Corinthians. “The light has shone in our hearts.”

When we find that the light of Christ has shone in our hearts, we are moved. Deeply. We are in awe of God’s forebearance and grace for us sinners. We want to ask, “Are you sure you wanted to go through with this? Do you know how unworthy I am, how undeserving? Do you know?”

And of course He does know. He sees the darkness and knows but for His grace we would all be outside, lost, and separated from Him. That is what moved Him to send His Son. And so we are humbled, we are grateful. So much that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, those in light darkness around us and those in deep darkness in far away lands.

And so we go to other towns. God wants them not to go to hell. He has sent His Son for their sins. There is compulsion to tell them the path of hope. Paul says, in the King James, “Therefore I persuade men.” We do, and we persuade women. We have a parish commitment to strengthen the family. We persuade children of our schools who do not have a way to know Christ. We learn how to get inside the heads of college students to equip them to know the truth in this alien world. We pray for this massive nomadic group, the Fulani, for them to have their own church.

This compulsion doesn’t mean that we follow Lyn Conley to Cambodia or Ward and Judy on their mission for the sanctity of life. We tend and develop our fellowship, and we find out about the towns we must go to.

We have discovered yet another fuel for this compulsion—the name we have put upon ourselves, “Light of Christ”. We know Jesus. We know He is the Light of the World. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we present to Him, for His witness, ourselves as lights in the dark world. We, humbled and grateful, tell the Lord what we have heard from Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.”

Let us pray.

Almighty God who hast made of one blood all the nations of the earth, and didst send thy blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near; Grant that all people everywhere may seek after thee and find thee, bring the nations into thy fold, pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh, use us as lights of the world, and hasten the coming of thy kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

©2015 Tad de Bordenave

Return to top

Sermon Archives