Pre-Lenten Reflection from the Rev. Dr. Brian Wilbert

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Ephesians 5:8-14

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. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

"Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."

The fourth Sunday in Lent is Mid-Lent. Three down...three to go. If this were Advent it would be "Rejoice Sunday" and we would wear pink...I mean rose and lighten things up a bit. But it is Lent...well, thank all that is holy Sundays in Lent are not part of Lent but feast days...albeit, in the language of music, feasting perhaps in a minor mode. At Christ Church in Oberlin during the Lent season we usually begin celebrations of the Eucharist with the penitential order including the Decalogue. So, on the fourth Sunday of Lent we usually chant the Great Litany in procession just to shake up things liturgically.

Pondering our appointed readings for this day I am reminded of something that my friend and mentor, St. Joseph P. Russell (of blessed memory), used to say. Joe was one of those great mostly unknown framers of our common lectionary and he used to say, "Sometimes we were really able to come up with a common thread among the lessons for each Sunday and sometimes not so much." This particular Sunday in Lent during year A of our common lectionary readings...not so much.

Well there is certainly something of a connection between our Hebrew Scripture readings with the anointing of David that handsome harp playing shepherd in 1 Samuel and the Psalm appointed for the day–Psalm 23: the ultimate shepherd's poem. The Gospel reading from John is the somewhat troubling story of Jesus healing a man born blind. The healing isn't the troubling part. The fact the religious leaders of the day refused to believe the testimony of the one who was healed thereby showing their own spiritual blindness is truly troubling... or it should be especially for those of us who are religious leaders–religious specialists who strive to serve Christ in our day. Where is our blindness? Whose testimony about Jesus do we not believe because that someone who is trying to teach is...well, we would never say born entirely in sin but what if they don't have a or the right seminary education or haven't been an Episcopalian long enough? I don't know about you but I'm not seeing a connection between the Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures... and I'm not seeing a thread between the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel and this reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. This scripture is a lesson which, with all of its references to light sounds, at least to me, like it belongs in the season after the Epiphany rather than Lent. Well as brother Joe Russell also often said, "Sometimes you just have to choose a lesson and go with it."

The portion of the letter appointed to be read for the 4th Sunday of Lent (5:8-14) comes from a section of the letter specifically believed to contain "instructions about ordinary life and different relationships." Switching hats and speaking as an adjunct instructor in world religion I will tell you that the phrase "instructions about ordinary life and different relationships" is an encryption for "rules for getting along" and every World Religion has them. And speaking of these kinds of rules, for Christians this section of the letter to the Ephesians is giving us what scholars call for New Testament Household or Domestic codes developed to meet the needs for order within the early churches and, in the domestic and civil structures of society. Some might say that from a purely academic point of view, religion exists in part to help create order... and chapter five of Ephesians speaks not only about relationships and ordering in the community of Christ but also about relationships and order between spouses, between parents and children, between slaves and masters...all of which...all of which must be lived out in the context of the community of Christ.

The tone is set in the first verses of Chapter five: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (cue the offering baskets for distribution–yes?)

But from here the author doesn't mince words speaking about the unfruitful works of darkness which need exposing: sexual immorality, impurity, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, drunkenness and debauchery...oh, my. And what are we to make of this interesting scriptural reference, which ends our reading?

"Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."

There is a thought that this supposed reference may be a tip of the author's theological hat to the first words from what devout Episcopalians know as Canticle 11 the Third Song of Isaiah ( BCP page 87 or Isaiah 60:1-2)
Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

We're half way through our Lenten Journey on the fourth Sunday of Lent and maybe this lesson is here to remind us of the light at the end of the liturgical tunnel: Easter, Resurrection, life over death, light over darkness. In the midst of our Lenten journey the promise of Easter light shines through the darkness as a beacon for us who claim the faith of the risen Christ.

Recently I had my yearly eye exam and at the end of the appointment the doctor, trying to let me down easy asked, how old are you? "53," I answered, "why do you ask?"

"Well," she said, "You have the eyes of a 70 year old."

"Well," I said, "That explains a lot." I've recently had to purchase a really bright light to sit on my desk at home so that I can see my computer keyboard, and a small hand held LED flash light has become my constant companion so that I can shine light in the darkness and shadows just to be able to see and find things, like my car keys this morning. This flashlight is a handy thing to have and it even plays tricks. It flashes bright, then brighter, and then it turns into a beacon if needed. I need this light to help me live and move and have my being.

And I need regular spiritual opportunities like the season of Lent to exam my life. I need the light of Christ to shine in my heart and in my life so that I can see all the ways that I've been seduced by the shadows and darkness of the world. And with any unfruitful work, habits, thoughts, foolish talk and actions exposed I can, as the words of the baptismal covenant so clearly state, "repent and return to the Lord" I love and who I know loves me. As a Christian I want my life to reflect Christ's life. I want my relationships with others, my spouse, my family, my parish, the clergy of our diocese to be different–illuminated by the light of Christ lived out in the relationships and ordering of the Christian community.

Since we're preparing for Lent and confession is good for the soul, I'll end with this confession and I hope you won't think any less of me for it...I confess that I have a real dislike for hymn 490 in our hymnal. What can I say, with all respect to the composer Kathleen Thomerson, I'm just not a praise music kind of guy...and the combination of music and text just pushes the dislike button in me. Yet, yet, yet, God's still small voice through Jesus and the ever abiding presence of the Holy Spirit which can speak to us through earthquake, wind and fire can also speak to me through a hymn I dislike. The theology of the text fits right with our New Testament reading, doesn't it?

I want to walk as a child of the Light
I want to follow Jesus? Why?
In him there is no darkness at all,
the day and the night are both alike.
the lamb is the light of the city of God,.
Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

The Rev. Dr. Brian K. Wilbert
Christ Church, Oberlin