The Light Side

Scripture:  Ephesians 5:8-14

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, professional wrestling was in a golden age of peak popularity, and Hulkamania was running wild.  There are several really popular wrestlers from that era. One of the more bombastic ones was George “The Animal” Steele.  The wrestling color commentators would often call him the “missing link” as he acted like a Neanderthal. He was known for sticking out his green tongue; he would either say single words or babble incoherently; he would tear up the turnbuckles by throwing their stuffing everywhere, and one of his signature moves was biting the opponent on the arm.  George Steele lived up to his nickname “The Animal” in every way.  However, there was a slight oddity about the animal. He was most active in the WWF during the summer.  During the other seasons, his matches and appearances were much more infrequent and rarer.  The reason for this was fairly simple, but it was also The Animal’s biggest secret.  George Steele was not as active in the non-summer months because school was in session.  George Steele’s actual name is Jim Myers, and Mr. Myers was a mild-mannered high school teacher in the Detroit suburbs. A former football player and natural strongman, Myers sort of fell into professional wrestling as a way to supplement his income in the 1960s.  He attracted the attention of the then World Wrestling Federation and began wrestling on the national level.  The entire time, Mr. Myers kept his in the ring persona a secret from all but his closest family.  Every now and then a student would mention the resemblance between Mr. Myers and The Animal.  He would deny it, and when they would inevitably show him a picture, he would just ask, “Do you really think I am that ugly?”  For 20 years he lived two completely separate lives.  In an interview conducted several years ago, Myers said, “My wife and I joke about it all the time. It’s like there are two people living inside one body.”[1]  Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”  There is a lot of wisdom to that.  The truth seems to have a way of breaking out.  However, Jim Myers managed to pull it off and live two separate lives.  He pulled it off because he essentially lived as two separate people.  When he was home as a teacher he was Jim Myers, when he was in the ring he was George Steele. While most do not take it to the extremes that Jim Myers did, a lot of people lead double lives.  For instance, the idea of a moral crusader who rails against some sort of social evil only to be caught engaging in the activity the condemned has happened so often that it is a cliché stereotype at this point.

I would go as far saying all of us struggle with the temptation of living double lives.  Again, we do not take it to the same extremes as Jim Myers, but we all portray different personas.  For too many of us, the way that we act in public spaces like church is different from the way we act in the security of our homes.  For some, both of these personas are different from the ways they act, hidden behind the anonymity of the Internet, and then all of these faces can be different from the inner-self that we hear constantly in our own inner monologue.  For a lot of people the answer to the question “who are you?” is honestly contextual upon who is doing the asking and where they are being asked. This morning’s scripture from Ephesians addresses that and points out that, for all of the different sides we may have, ultimately we need to firmly plant ourselves in only showing the light side.

Ephesians is easily somewhere in my top five books of the Bible. The tone of Ephesians really makes it stick out from the other letters that Paul wrote to churches. In a lot of Paul’s letters, he is addressing a specific pastoral issue or doctrinal error that the church is struggling with. However, that is the not the case with Ephesians. The tone that comes across in Ephesians is that Paul really loved the church and he truly wanted the best for them. Overall Ephesians is an encouraging letter. Paul’s encouragement is to uplift the church in Ephesus, but it is to also push them. This morning’s scripture comes from a larger part of Ephesians where Paul is encouraging the church to be their best. Paul comes across like a coach pushing those under him to reach their true potential. This section in Ephesians begins in chapter 4:1 and continues through the beginning of chapter 6.  Ephesians 4:1 really sets the pace for this whole section where Paul writes, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  This morning’s scripture continues that theme by emphasizing the way we live a life worthy of the calling we have received is by living it consistently.

The idea of this scripture is simple, it is common sense, but it also call us out.  We are to live as children of the light. Paul even helpfully defines what this looks like as having a life defined by goodness, righteousness and truth.  Paul contrasts living as children of the light against the fruitless deeds of darkness. This makes a lot of sense because it really points out the nature of darkness. Darkness has no properties of its own, darkness is just the absence of light.  This is true in our own lives as well. As Paul wrote, “we were once of darkness but now you are light in the Lord.”  In other words, before we experienced the saving and justifying grace of Jesus Christ we were incapable of goodness and righteousness.  Which means if we are truly leaning into our relationship with God, if we are seeking to follow Jesus then there will not be darkness in our lives because the goodness and righteousness that comes from being obedient to God will cast out the darkness and illuminate our lives.

Paul wrote this morning’s scripture though because he knew that it was easier said than done.  When it comes to being the children of light, a lot of us work like a porch light with a motion sensor. When we are visible by others, then we are on, but as soon as that passes the light goes dark. For some this involves engaging in actions that they know are wrong but are done in secret. For others this involves going online and lashing out at strangers in ways that does not respect their inherent sacred worth.  Then for others it involves indulging in dark thoughts of judgement, lust or hatred.  As Paul wrote it is shameful even to mention what is done in secret. We know this is true, which is why we try to keep our darkness a secret while making sure we shine a light when others can see us.

This is not a modern problem. The faithful believers of the 1st century church in Ephesus clearly found themselves in the same conundrum. That is why Paul encourages them to live as children in the light. That same encouragement is offered to us today.  As we consider what that looks like and how to do that, I think there is a set of practices we need to consider in order to better be on the light side.

The set of practices is centered on how we need to change our mindset. There is a song by 90s era Christian pop-rock band DC Talk that speaks to this. The song is called “In the Light.” It is a product of its time and sounds a little dated, but the chorus is absolutely beautiful and makes a wonderful prayer.  The group sings, “I want to be in the light as you are in the light. I want to shine like the stars in the heaven. O Lord, be my light and be my salvation cause all I want is to be in the light.” That should be our prayer. That should be our mindset.  Remember darkness is the absence of light, so if we are not fully in the light then there is shadow in our hearts and souls. We should not have a mindset where we portray an image of goodness and gentleness only when we are dressed in our Sunday best but then we act different in every other context.  Our faith should be active in all contexts; it should be a faith of authenticity that is always in the light.

Striving for an authentic faith is important for two reasons. First, an authentic faith is a healthy faith. Going back to our wrestler, Jim Myers lived two lives and he commented about how exhausting it was to switch back and forth.  It is the same way with our faith. If our faith is not authentically evident in our lives at all times, then we have to spend a lot of emotional and spiritual energy switching between how we are on Sundays and how we are the rest of the week.  All of that energy is energy wasted and energy that could better be spent learning to live more like Jesus.  We may not always get it right, but it is better for us to live an authentic, imperfect faith all of the time instead of project the image of a perfect faith only part of the time.

Living out an authentic faith is also important because our world is desperate for people of faith to be authentic. This was part of the findings of ministry researchers Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin.  They wrote a book called “Growing Young” which is all the ways that churches can effectively “help young people discover and love your church.”  The found authenticity was a key factor to reaching younger generations, and in fact authenticity was more important than factors like relevance. They wrote, “While young people may be able to find great preaching online, many told us they’re aching for more than that. They want to be in relationship with leaders who know their name and model a life of faith. These young people look to Christian leaders in their community and ask, ‘are you the real deal? And then watch closely to see their answer”[2]

Friends of North Judson UMC, several of you have expressed to me your desire to see more teenagers and young people be part of the church.  This is how we do it. We know their name and we show the real deal. We show them an authentic faith that is live saving, life changing, and worth living. In a world of uncertainty, fear, desperation and darkness, we show them what it is like to live in the light.

Again, our faith lived in the light a faith marked by goodness, righteousness, and truth cannot be a sometimes faith. For it to be a faith that really matters, for it to be authentic, it is a faith that we need to live all the time. If there is any silver lining to this time of craziness we are living through, it is that this time of social distancing has created a perfect opportunity for us to practice living in the light.  As we are mostly confined to our homes, this is a time when it would be easy to slip into the darkness. Before knowing Jesus, we were once in darkness and right now isolated and distanced it would be so easy for us to fall back into some of our destructive habits.  It would be so easy for us to indulge those temptations that we normally keep at bay. After all, who would know, right? Authentic character is who we really are, and character is shown by what we do when know else is watching.  Right now it would be easy to put faith on the back burner. But instead of closing our  Bibles, instead of rushing through prayer, may we turn off the TV and close the Internet browser. May we seek God, may we seek his righteousness and his truth.

I know this is a challenging time for all of us, and there is a certain irony that this is happening during Lent. In our spiritual lives Lent is supposed to be challenging, and I do not think any of us thought we would be giving up this much for Lent.  However, it is during times of challenge that we can grow the most. So may you be in the light.  May you seek to live an authentic faith. Even if no one else can see you, may you let your light shine and may you truly live as God’s children, as children of the light.

[1] D’Ambrosia, Brian. “Jim Myers Double Life as George ‘The Animal’ Steele” HuffPost, December 6th, 2017. Accessed 3/19/20

[2] Powell, Kara. Jake Mulder. Brad Griffin. Growing Young (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016) pg 64.

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