For 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, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
-Ephesians 5: 8-14
Theologian Marcus Borg writes that the greatest task before the Church today is “adult biblical re-education.” By this he means that our highest need in the Church today is to assist the adults in our ministries to understand the biblical text in nuanced, deep, wide and expansive ways for the living of 21st century Christian discipleship. Two weeks ago Dr. Borg’s final book was published posthumously, Days of Awe and Wonder: How to Be a Christian in the 21st Century. I commend it to you.
Every time we crack open the biblical texts they appear to us again as a gift, an opportunity to hear God’s Word in a new, fresh and inviting way. We also must interpret our sacred texts and our faith in ways that speak to the current issues of the day and strike that delicate balance between interpretation, orthodoxy, insularity, openness and a relevant (and prophetic) interaction with the place in which we find ourselves today.
My colleague and friend, the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget wrote a beautiful and challenging commentary on this passage a few years ago over at Working Preacher. In it she offers these ideas about what the writer of today’s in Ephesians might have been trying to get at:
Critical to the author’s argument for a community ethics of transparency, honesty, justice and goodness, is the assertion that the entire community are a part of the same family: in this case, “children of light.” There are many other places where the author uses kinship imagery in Ephesians to refer to the members of the churches: adoption (1:5); inheritance (1:11); members of God’s household (2:19), etc. This is but one example. In this instance, the author argues that if your parent is light, you should resemble your parent in how you live: exposing what is secretive and false and showing what is good and just and truthful to the world.
For the preacher, the balance may be found in understanding that “children of light” is but one metaphor for the church, akin to that of “citizen with the saints.” That is, the author of Ephesians is arguing that being a Christian in a non-Christian (or today a post-Christian) world should cause members of the church to act differently: to tell the truth, to push for justice, to uphold goodness regardless of the norms of the society at large. Members of the church are to live as those who have already been raised from the dead in a world focused on prolonging youth and life.
The question for us today as we engage Ephesians in this time of Lent and also this time in the life of our communities, country and Creation is to gain clarity on the forces of light and darkness that are in our midst.
Where and what are the forces that are blocking the opportunities for openness, transparency, forgiveness, justice and the ministry that we seek because of who we are in Jesus Christ?
Where and what are the forces that create space for openness, transparency, forgiveness, justice and the ministry that we are called to because of who we are in Jesus Christ?
Ask yourself these questions for the spaces you live in and engage with during this fourth week in Lent. As them as you engage your personal, communal and citizenship space. The answers will help lead to where the Spirit is calling you to live into discipleship in Jesus Christ who proclaimed that he came to save not just us, but all of Creation.
Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is the Transitional Presbyter for Albany Presbytery. She’s fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of culture and faith communities and how these changes are pointing us to new points of God’s ongoing gift of resurrection. She can be reached at [email protected].
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