4th Sunday in Lent

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

Ephesians 5:8-14 

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. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 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.”

Since last Sunday, I have spent most of my time at home, and one of the things that has been done is “THE LAUNDRY.”  I enjoy starting with dirty garments, towels and sheets and completing the task with clean linens and clothes.  I have a question for you today that I bet you have never thought about before: if you were a piece of laundry, would you rather be wet laundry or dry laundry?

Well, let’s compare.

Have you ever left a wet load of clothes sitting in the washer overnight? Our washer is in the garage. I’ve forgotten laundry in there for a day or two in summer. It does not smell good after sitting there in the damp dark for a couple of days. Even when you wash it again, the mildew smells clings to the clothes. You can’t get rid of it for a few washings. It’s not good, leaving the wet clothes in the dark to get moldy. You’ve got to get the clothes in the dryer pretty quick or they’ll start to smell. Stinky things grow in the dark.

Another option, is that you could go in the dryer. You’ll get tumbled around some, you’ll be nice and warm. The dryer is a perfectly fine option. Nowadays, we mainly rely on our dryers. It’s still dark in there, though, and if you get left too long, you’ll get wrinkly. And, no matter how much money laundry detergent manufacturers spend on artificial scents and advertising, Tide will never smell sweet like laundry dried in the country sunshine.

Which brings us to the third option. Line drying.

Every week, across the street from me, my neighbor puts out the family clothes on the line to dry.  Towels, Sheets, Jeans, Shirts and Undergarments.  They carry the wet laundry outside in a wicker basket and go down the line, hanging each piece one by one with clothespins, leaving them to flap in the breeze in the sunshine.

I always want to sneak over and sniff the line-dried linens.  There is a particular pleasure in smelling sun-dried laundry. When you’re small, you can walk right up under it – under a big bed sheet for example – and stick your whole face in and get a good sniff. It smells like nothing else, bright and warm and clean. Hanging the clothes in the sun exposes all parts of it to sunlight, disinfecting it.

All right, when I write the three choices that way it’s obvious that I’m steering you towards drying in the sun, because it illustrates what our Scripture from Ephesians 5 is about. It’s about bringing the dark yucky parts of our lives into the light – the light of Christ – because darkness can’t survive the light.

Ephesians 5:8-14 reads:

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, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians is basically an ancient little sermon from the 1st or 2nd century on living life as a Christian (that last line may even be from an ancient hymn). It was written probably as a letter to be circulated around to different churches to help guide Christians to grow towards spiritual maturity, embracing values of transparency, honesty, justice and goodness. To seek ongoing behavior that is pleasing to Christ, and live as children of light.

Even though Ephesians encourages people to seek behavior that is pleasing to Christ, the question in the text – the life choice for the people of that day and for us – is not about good and bad behavior, it’s not really about morals, or right and wrong.

It’s about identity: would we rather be “children of the darkness” or “children of light”?

As we ponder this question of identity, it’s good to remember that we are justified followers of Jesus Christ.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not through our own doing. We are forgiven because God in Christ forgives us, not because we did something good to earn that forgiveness.

Accepting that we a saved by grace through faith – grabbing onto grace – is the first step in recognizing we are beloved children of God. We are meant to be children of the light.

The basic piece of advice in Ephesians 5:8-14 gives us the next step.  Once we recognize we are saved by grace, as a free gift from God, then comes a change of heart. Out of thankfulness to Christ, we want to live in a way that is pleasing to him   To do that, we open our whole lives up – all the dark secret corners – to Christ to let the light of Christ shine on it, kind of like laundry in the sun.

Why is it so hard then? Darkness is familiar, but darkness tells lies. Dark, destructive habits feed deep needs that make us feel vulnerable, and darkness tells you that there’s a monster under the bed and if you get out of bed to flip on the light, they will kill you. It seems safer there. So, you stay under the covers rather than risk turning on the light and seeing the monster for what it is: just a pile of clothes in the corner.

We started with an identity crisis. We are wet laundry. We’re wet, we’re floppy, we’re in basket. and it’s ok, being wet laundry is all we know. At first, it’s kind of warm and pleasant…but then it starts getting colder and smellier…and if we stay in the darkness long enough, we start to rot with mildew.

Then, someone picks us up and carries us outside, out into the sunshine. And we see other clothes, on the line, open to the breeze and to the light. And we get pulled out of the basket and be open to the light. It’s like we want to awake and have Christ light shine on us.

The good news for today is…well, the good news for today is that you’re not laundry.

All joking aside, the good news is that your identity has already been decided. The light’s turned on for you. There’s no identity crisis, it’s an illusion. You already are a beloved child of God.

We do have a choice, though. Each of us. Will we stay in the darkness, damp and mildew-ey, or will we grab onto grace and head for the sunshine? Come into the light. It’s nice and warm there.

Commentary provided by Sarah Henrich, Emily Stockert, Margaret Amyer and Richard Carlson