In our gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus tells His disciples, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
As He speaks here, Jesus, the One described by John the apostle as “[t]he true light that gives light to everyone,” knows that one day, darkness and condemnation for our sins will envelop Him. He will go to a cross, die, rise, and then ascend into heaven only to return to this world when the Father says it’s time.
But until all of that happens, Jesus is intent on doing the works that God gave Him to do.
We who by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, belong to God, are called to a similar intent for our lives.
No matter how dark the world may become, we are called to be about the work of the God Who has saved us from sin, death, darkness, and eternal condemnation.
In the coronavirus, our country and our world face perhaps the gravest physical threat to the human race since the invention of the atomic bomb. Now, we all, from the moment we are born, “walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4, ESV).” But we are all likely more conscious of it now than we have been at most times in our lives.
Yet, as Bishop Dan Selbo pointed out during a conference call with deans last week, for all the dangers and difficulties with which this moment confronts us, it also brings us opportunities to be about the works of our Lord, to bring His light into the darkness.
In an essay written during a sixteenth-century plague, Martin Luther wrote about the Christian’s duty in such circumstances. Luther said that not all had the duty to do the same things: some would be called to stay where the plague was happening, others to where it hadn't reached. But he asserted that the call of every Christian was to find ways to love others as Christ has loved us.
In our lesson, Jesus and His disciples are walking along when they encounter a man that we’re told was “blind from birth.” The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Whenever a person is afflicted with disease, adversity, or hardship, you can bank on it that someone somewhere will likely say either that it’s all the victim’s fault or someone else’s fault. The disciples believe themselves to be good people to whom a bad thing like being born blind could possibly happen.
People say things like the disciples say to make themselves feel superior or safe.
They do this even when they become afflicted and need a scapegoat.
But Jesus shows no interest in assigning blame for people’s afflictions.
Jesus has different priorities.
We see this in His reply to the disciples, found in verses 3-5. Most English translations get Jesus’ words at least partly wrong. Our translation, the New International Version, for example, says that Jesus answers: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
The way Jesus’ words are rendered here seems still to imply that God caused the man to be blind in order that Jesus could perform the miracle of opening the man’s eyes to sight.
But the Greek in which John composed his gospel reads literally like this:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that the works of God might be revealed in him, we must do the works of him who sent me while it is day.”“It doesn’t matter where this man’s blindness came from," Jesus is saying. "I’m here to bring the light of God’s love. Period!”
The application for you and me is clear.
Don’t worry about assigning blame, especially if it makes you feel superior (because you’re not and neither am I), just get about the business of doing God’s work in the world.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows us that our work as His people isn’t something we do in order to gain God’s favor. We know that we can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus. (See here.)
Instead, Jesus says that there are two basic things that constitute the work you and I are to do while it’s still light, while we still live, before we pass from this life.
First, we are called to believe in Jesus. “This is the work of God,” Jesus says in John 6:29, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Of course, we can’t convince ourselves to believe. Belief in--or trust in--anyone but ourselves is foreign to our natures.
That’s why the Holy Spirit gives us God’s Word about Jesus--the Gospel--so that as we hear it, receive it at the baptismal font, and taste and see it at the Communion table, God will create saving belief, faith, within us.
Second, we’re to bring the light and love of Jesus to others. Think for a moment of the light of Jesus has brought to our dark world through Living Water in just the past few months.
We’ve fed homeless men at St. Vincent’s; helped the victims of the Dayton tornadoes to rebuild their lives; joined together in small groups to meet God around His Word, pray for one another, and be empowered to live out our faith with others; provided rice and beans for and helped spread the Gospel among people in Haiti, and done similar work among families in South Africa; joined in the work of the Miami Valley Women’s Center, Love Monkey, and the Life Enrichment Center. We’ve helped our children know and grow in the faith in Jesus.
And now, we’ve extended our outreach for Christ and the Gospel onto YouTube, whole new works of light for a dark world to which God has called us in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
We do none of these things in our own power. Jesus says: “...apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We are helpless in the face of darkness to do anything useful or helpful for our neighbor, anything that honors God or points others to Jesus.
But we have a promise from Jesus: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
Jesus, Who sits at this moment at the right hand of God the Father and has sent the Holy Spirit to His believing Church, empowers us to bring more light in more places than He ever was for thirty years in Galilee, and Samaria. As we trust in Him, Jesus empowers us to bring His light to others!
So, this week and for as long as you still have breath, do Your Father’s work.
Believe that Jesus died and rose to bring you into the eternal light of His loving kingdom.
And while, out of love for neighbor, you’ll need to keep your distance from others, because, without testing, you may be an unwitting carrier of a terrible disease, do those works of love that Jesus gives you to do as His child:
- steep yourself in God’s Word,
- pray for our world and for leaders that God will give them wisdom on which they act,
- telephone your neighbors within and outside the church to see how they’re doing,
- pick up groceries or prescriptions for someone who can’t get out,
- reach out to others through email and social media,
- share the Gospel whenever and by whatever means you can
Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.” This week, be about the work given you by the One Who has sent you: Trust in Jesus and, as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, do whatever loving, light-casting thing He calls you to do.
This is how the God revealed in Jesus will call our world out of darkness into His light! Amen
[I am the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]