Jesus, Light of the World: summary of Duncan’s sermon on Sunday

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‘It was powerful!’ Graham Neville commented on the Facebook post about the opportunity we all had on Sunday to light a candle, symbolising so many things for us, centred around Jesus as the Light of the World.

And Duncan continued the theme of ‘light’ in an equally-powerful sermon. As he had with the children he began by discussing three great festivals in the Jewish calendar, so that we could place in context Jesus’ words about being the light of the world (John 8:12)

Passover was an annual reminder to  the Jewish people as they shared a meal including a lamb dish together, a reminder of their rescue by God from 400 years of slavery in Egypt; 50 days later came the ‘Feast of Weeks’ or ‘Pentecost’ when the first fruits of the new season’s crop were  celebrated.  Christians celebrate Pentecost as the time when God gave the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised.

Remembering

The other feast is probably less well-known: the Feast of Tabernacles, described in Leviticus 23:39-44, is the context in which Jesus made his claim to be the light of the world. At ‘tabernacles’ or ‘booths’ Jewish people were to move out of their houses, and live in basic accommodation in their garden, or open ground close to their homes. It was a time for remembering their history, remembering the 40 years when their ancestors lived in tents in the desert.

The importance of the Old Testament

The connection between these ancient Jewish festivals and the life and work of Jesus highlights the importance for us of having some understanding of the Old Testament. Jesus ministry was rooted in Jewish history. Jesus took the old stories, and gave them a radical new slant. The festivals, symbols, stories and prophecies of the Old Testament all point to the New Testament – and all point to Jesus.

Living in tents

Duncan asked us to used our imaginations. Imagine, he said, if everyone in our street were to move out of our homes and camp together for a whole week on some green space close to home. What would that do for the dynamic of our neighbourhoods?

Jewish people were reminded through the experience of living in ‘booths’ of their total dependence on God in the desert. God had never failed them,  God had given them a ‘pillar of cloud’ to guide them by day, and  ‘pillar of light’ to guide them at night.

The idea was that, in their participation in the festival, the whole of Israel was celebrating God’s goodness to them.  It was, Duncan said, and annual, embodied reminder of who they were as God’s people, and of who their God was.

21st century festivals

Duncan invited us to reflect on the place of festivals, the place of ‘living in tents’ in our lives as Christians. He reminded us of the many young people who have spoken about the powerful impact on their lives of going with others to Soul Survivor.

Christian festivals contributed to Duncan’s formation as a person of faith. As a young man, he camped for two weeks at Keswick each July, attending the Keswick Convention; for ten years he has been enriched by his regular visits to Greenbelt, a Christian  arts festival which culminates in a massive outdoor communion service, attended by 10,000 people. He reminded us of Clan Gathering and Refuel, festival through which many of us have been encouraged.

How important embodied festivals can be, Duncan said, as we gather together, remember together.  And it’s never too late to start finding the blessings of gathering in this way.  Jesus embraced festivals as a way of life – we can, too.

Light

But, Duncan continued, the Festival of Tabernacles did not just emphasise remembering, but also Light. The Festival took place at a times of year when, as the sun set, the moon was rising – another reminder of the light which was always with the Jewish people in the desert.

And when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, it was illuminated by massive candelabra, said to be about 75 feet high, each with four branches supporting bowls filled with gallons of oil.

When the oil in these bowls was ignited, it gave off a tremendously intense light, which reflected against the white sandstone of the building. Music played; the light could be seen for miles; people celebrated reminded of God’s glory, reminded of the ‘Shekinah glory’ of God which had been visible in the temple in earlier years.

And then one year God’s glory entered the temple in a new and amazing form – in the person of Jesus, who stood teaching in the Court of the Women, perhaps at the foot of one of the massive candelabras, and claimed ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12)

Said Duncan, ‘What strikes me about the scene is how embodied and dramatic it is.  Tents, thousand of people, dazzling light, choirs of singers and musicians. There is so much going on in terms of a message before a word is spoken.’

And he wondered about the relevance of this for the Church – can we use art, architecture and music to communicate a message about our faith without a word being spoken.

Jesus’ invitation

But Jesus did speak, claiming that he himself was the light, and adding ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12)  It’s a challenge to follow Jesus, and to live in the light of Jesus.

Duncan quoted John 1:4-5 ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

What are our stories, Duncan asked us, about living in the light?

Jesus’ challenge

But Jesus also said ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:14) We are to shine, Duncan reminded us, by our words and by our lives. And he concluded ‘May we bring light wherever we go. May we bring warmth and hope, whoever we share with.

 

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