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You Do Make A Difference
August 15, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto


Ephesians 5:16, “This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it because the days are evil. That age did not last. The Roman Empire fell to barbarians. Civilization is precarious— full of examples of defeat, Dark Ages, setbacks. I was intrigued during our vacation trip last month in England with Roman history. Everywhere you see evidence of the Roman Empire, the Roman influence, Roman life in England before Jesus was born. Julius Caesar first attacked England in 43 BC, that long ago. Ultimately, the Roman Empire extended up England to Hadrian's Wall, a wall they built, extending the entire width of the country almost as far north as Scotland. For almost 400 years, Britain was part of the Roman Empire. Rome ruled Britain for almost 400 years. Yet I was amazed to see how little impact that 400 years had on the life of England or their future. We visited some of the ruins of some of those walls— Hadrian's Wall, the Roman walls in York and Chester. We visited the fabulous Roman baths in Bath, and we saw a house in Dover—all examples of a civilization that was far superior to the native inhabitants who lived before. They had hot water ducts under the floor. And then the Empire fell. The soldiers retreated and the barbarian Angles and Saxons descended upon England and destroyed all traces of civilization. To this day, they don't know how to heat their homes in England. Both castles and cathedrals and the Romans knew how to do it 2,000 years ago. It was centuries, 1,000 years later, before they again enjoyed the baths. What a setback! How precarious is civilization! How tenuous! How easy it is to fall! 

Our country, our culture, has only been 300 years on this continent, 100 years less than the Roman occupation of Britain. And as the Roman civilization was obliterated from Britain, how easily our culture and our civilization could be obliterated from the face of this earth. You and I are living in the times, in the days when it's a very real live possibility that life as you and I know it on this planet could be destroyed, annihilated from the face of this earth through nuclear destruction, ignorance, violence out of control. The Dark Ages could again descend on this earth. The clock could be turned back again to primitive times when the major task of living was survival—not Mozart's concerts, not fine dress, not art, not reading, not education—survival. But the post office assures us that the mail will be delivered. 

Paul called it wicked and evil, but Paul was not pessimistic or fatalistic. He said this may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. There has been a lot of controversy over the correct translation of verse 16:5. The Revised Standard Version translates it, “Make the most of the time because the days are evil.” The Good News translations reads, “Make good use of every opportunity you have because these are evil days.” The New Jerusalem Bible, which I'm using this morning, translates the verse, “Your lives could redeem this wicked age.” This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. The literal translation of the Greek is “redeem the time”. This word  “kairos” is translated “time”, and that’s the controversy. Kairos in Greek, like time in English, has many meanings such as these are difficult times, or this is the right time, or favorable time, or age. I believe that the New Jerusalem Bible has captured the real meaning where Paul is telling us this is a wicked age, but we can redeem this age, we can save this time. That's the challenge. Paul is saying, “Don’t denounce and renounce the age in which you live.” Don't be fatalistic and pessimistic about it. The situation is not all that big. God is still in control, the future may be bright. 

And Paul gives us a task to do. Paul gives us a job to do. He says, “You do make a difference.” The way you live might redeem this age.  It's not bleak. It's not hopeless. Don't wring your hands, despair and give up. These can be great times in which we live and the impact of your living on these times is beyond imagination. The very salvation, redemption of God might work through the way you and I live. 

He says in verse 17, “Then therefore, try to find out what the Lord wants you to do.” Understand what the will of the Lord is. And in verse 15, “Therefore, be careful about the sort of lives you lead.” The lives you and I Iead have a terrific impact on our age. How can we redeem it? Paul tells us in verse nine, “Now you are light in the Lord. Be like children of the light.” The light is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. To be children of the light is to live in Jesus Christ, and to let the light of Christ shine through you. To be children of the light is to live as Christ lived in his age and let the light shine. To be children of the light is to shine in our age as Christ shined in his. Paul goes on in verse nine, “The effects of the light are seen in complete goodness, right living and truth.” To let your light shine as Christ shines in and through you is to live in goodness, truth, love, kindness, and gentleness. 

Have you seen the movie this summer “ET”?. Take your children or your grandchildren. It's a delightful summer experience to see ET—a gentle, warm, touching story about children and the extra- terrestrial being, a story of children whose love and gentleness make such a difference when the adult and the government can't understand the delightful example of letting your light shine. Let your light shine in goodness, kindness and gentleness. 

We have a golden opportunity in these times for you to let your light shine with Vacation Church School starting a week from tomorrow. Let your light shine in your neighborhood and invite the children. Here's a golden opportunity to take the light of Jesus Christ and be loving. Take a brochure around your neighborhood and invite the children—care about them, care that they know about God's word and have an experience of the love of Jesus Christ. Let your light shine because you can have a terrific impact on this age in which we live. 

Paul goes on with other descriptions of the function of the light and what the light can do. Verse 10, “A function of the light is to expose the darkness. Have nothing to do with unfruitful works of darkness, but expose them.” By contrast, Paul uses light and darkness as symbols of right and wrong, of evil and good. What the light does is to expose, to shine on the darkness. And when the darkness is shined upon, the darkness disappears. Verse 13, “Darkness cannot live in the presence of light.” Evil cannot live in the presence of good, hate cannot live in the presence of love. The Revised Standard Version translates that verse, “But anything exposed by the light becomes visible. For anything that becomes visible is light.” Making evil visible, shining on evil is your task, my task and the task of the church in this age in which we live. Let the light shine. 

Wherever there is immorality, let the light shine. Where there is evil, let the light shine, where there is falsehood and error. Shining the light begins with ourselves, with an honest look at who and what we are. We know that an alcoholic can only be cured or recovered when that alcoholic makes the admission, “I am an alcoholic” and the light shines. The alcoholism is revealed to the world. And when the alcoholic admits the alcoholism, then that person is well on the road to recovery. 

Exposure and revelation is the first step. Learning the truth about ourselves, admitting the truth about our situation, admitting the truth about what goes on in our community, in our country is the shining of the light. For example, let's let the light keep shining on the drunk driver. Now we have laws to protect us and our society from the drunk driver by keeping them off the road. But, did you read how a judge overruled the jury's conviction of a drunk driver who killed two people? He overruled the conviction on the grounds that the drunk driver did not have a malicious intent to kill! Let’s keep the lights shining on that. It's not a malicious intent to kill, to get behind the wheel of a lethal weapon called an automobile without control of yourself? That's malicious intent. 

Let's keep the light shining on the false hope generated by the delusion that a nuclear war is winnable, fightable and survivable, and that civil defense is practical. Let’s keep the light of the truth shining on those delusions, on the nonsense that millions of people can be evacuated in eight minutes, and that hospital and sanitary conditions can prevent the spread of diseases. Let's keep the lights shining on the truth. When the truth is revealed and made visible, then we are well on the road to redemption. 

Paul says secondly, “After the life has exposed the darkness, then that darkness can be transformed into light.” Verse 14, “Anything illuminated turns into light.” That's our hope. That's our promise. And that's what gives us hope these days. That's why we're excited about living. That's the task that God has given us. The promise is that if you and I will let our light shine and live in goodness and kindness that through us, God may transform, God may redeem, God may save this age in which we live. 

You and I are not responsible for the redemption. That’s God's task. You and I are responsible to let our light shine and not to feel guilty, not to feel weak and indifferent, not to feel badly when we don't see the result. Our challenge is to do. The redemption is up to God. Joseph Kennedy had high challenges for the nine Kennedy children—high expectations demanding excellence of them. But, at the same time he told them not to feel guilty and feel badly when they don't get  results. He used to say, “Once you've done your best, the heck with it.” That's good advice. 

Let your light shine. Do your best, trust, hope and leave the results up to God. You do make a difference. That’s our hope. Do you let your light shine, or do you contribute to the darkness? Wherever you go—in the store, in traffic, in the park, at work, even at home—does the light shine through you, or are you contributing to the works of darkness? 

This may be a wicked age but you're alive. “This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.”

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris