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"A Sunny Place for Shady People"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 15, 2021
By Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Ephesians 5:8

There are those who look upon the church as a sunny place for sunny people, a place for the right kinds of people, of the right economic station or the right color or the right nationality or the right whatever. It is for people who have arrived or who are presumably without the usual sins. That view fails to take into account a very important statement of the Lord. "I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Others, more critical of the church, take it to task because they look upon it as a shady place for shady people. They delight in exposing the dirty wash, which occasionally surfaces in the church, scandals among the clergy and notorious lay people, members who have gone wrong, and a lot of other people who are wrong though they think of themselves as right. The church, as this view goes, keeps these people from seeing themselves as they are.

Today, we remember a saint called St. Mary Magdalene. She has her own day on the church calendar. That may come as something of a surprise to people who never thought about it. This Mary had been known around her hometown as a shady lady, a woman whose shady reputation caused St. Mark's cryptic comment that she was the woman from whom Jesus exorcized seven devils. Count them, seven devils. Whatever those devils did to her, she was pretty well known in the community. This shady lady came into the sunshine of God's family. That's really the church. It's a sunny place for shady people, a good place for people like you and me. It's a good place for everyone when it is a sunny place for shady people.

St. Paul once said to people who had become Christians, "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." He was talking about real people in real life, not plaster saints in a dream world. These are the real saints, like the real saints of every age, the first to acknowledge that they are real sinners. Out of that darkness, they have come. And in this light they live, the light of Christ, who Himself went down into the deepest of the darkness and came out into the brightest of the light. He died for the sins of the whole world. And He was raised from the dead to be the Lord of the whole world. "In Him was life," said one of His men, "and that life is the light of people everywhere. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not been able to put it out." "Awake you who are sleeping and arise from the dead," said St. Paul, "and Christ will shine His light upon you."

Mary Magdalene was one of those characters who had come out of the shade, the darkness, and had seen the light. For her, it was not just turning over a new leaf, it was having a new life. People turn over new leaves all the time, and they always turn out to be the same old leaves the same evening. New life is a different kind of commodity, the one the prophet was talking about when he spoke of the coming of Christ, "People who walked in darkness have seen a great light." In the apostolic age, they were saying the same things because of Christ: "Once we were in darkness, but now are light in the Lord." St. Paul encouraged people like that to "walk as children of light."

The shady lady, Mary Magdalene, emerged from her encounter with Jesus as a woman to be admired and honored. She is even remembered today as a saint who committed herself to the Lord Jesus and His service among the people of her community. St. Mary Magdalene came out of the shadows of a dark life and into the sunshine of God's love. As you see it in the face of Jesus Christ, this Man, this Teacher, this Savior—Jesus—was different from every man she had ever known. Others had treated her as an object, a thing to be used and abused for their own satisfaction. Her own life had been filled with self-depreciation and humiliation. She had never before been loved by someone just for who she was and even where she was.

Now there came Jesus. He knew her shady past, and He offered her deliverance. He cast out the devils that possessed her. He forgave her the past, and He pointed her to the future. He gave her life that is full of hope. In the process, He restored to her a sense of dignity and human worth. He offered her life with a capital L. That's the way it is with Christ. Nobody can offer people life like that except Jesus. No church can bring life to people except by telling them about Jesus. How shall people believe in Him unless someone tells them about Him? When people get to know Jesus and trust in Jesus, God Himself gives them new life that is in Christ Jesus.

This is not just talk, it is life. People just can't believe that something like this could happen, though it is happening all the time. There are people listening to me today who never set foot in a church, and then they learned about Jesus. That changed their whole life. There are people listening to me who went to church almost all their lives. And all of a sudden, they came to know Jesus. That changed their whole life. It does not happen in any other way, but it certainly does happen that way. As the church always says, "The Gospel of Christ itself brings faith into the hearts of people through the power of the Spirit of God, who is doing His work in the world through that Good News of Jesus Christ."

Still, there are many people, some of them Christians, who like to look upon the church as a sunny place for sunny people. It's a place for the right kind of people, and others are not welcome. Often rightness in this case, means sameness or conformity or uniformity or something else that is looked upon as desirable in a club that consists of first-class snobs. The real church has always consisted of shady people who have recognized what they need and that Christ gives them what they need to fill that need. They have seen themselves in the assessment of Paul: all of us have sinned and come short of the glory God has a right to expect of us, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.

St. John was talking to Christians when he said, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Now, the real church is not a sunny place for sunny people who have no sin to be forgiven, no hurts to be healed, no crosses which call for comfort from on high. There's no room for perfectionism here. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," Mary Magdalene might very well have said to her critics. The Lord Jesus said that to her critics and to the critics of everyone who has himself or herself fallen into sin.

Whatever it was that dragged Mary Magdalene into the darkness, it was probably something more than the merely physical. Although it could have been that, too. She felt trapped, used, chained, not unlike women who today become the victims of darkness on the hard and often inhuman ground upon which they have to live in Chicago or Minneapolis or Sydney or Hong Kong or Junction City. Not all women want to be what they have become, whether they are chronic alcoholics, petty thieves, gossips, or know-it-alls. But there they are, and it is still darkness. However it happened, Mary Magdalene was called into the presence of Christ. People are called today by the church into the presence of Christ. It is not calling them into a place where people are above reproach because they feel superior to those who have to hustle in order to survive. It is not a place where people are indifferent to the cares and responsibilities of other people, nor are they indifferent to their own responsibilities to God and to other people. I am here today to invite you into the presence of Christ and into the family of God. People like me, who carry with them the sting of sin, which is death—we're not here because we are better than other people, but because we too have been called into the presence of Christ, drawn away, apart from the darkness into the light, compelled by a love which turns the darkness into the brilliance of sunshine. What is that brightness, that warmth? It's the presence of Christ who endured the darkness, forgetting about the shame. And now look at Him. He sits at the right hand of the majesty of God. It's the power of Christ to forgive and to give life. It's the warmth of Christ that makes His family a sunny place for shady people.

Critics of the church are often want to refer to it as a shady place for shady people. They hear us talk about sin, but they don't really believe us. They hear us talk about sin, and they are offended. After all, people are not really sinners, are they, as preachers would make them out to be? They may be misguided or mistaken, but not sinners. Those people who are always talking about sin must be some pretty shady people themselves. Actually, not to admit to yourself that you are a sinner is to walk in darkness. You just close your eyes to the world around you, and also to the world inside you. Refusing to admit that you have sinned against the Most High God and also against others around you is really the mark of the plaster saint. No real saint talks that way, only a lot of people who pretend to be saints. There is no virtue in the pride of a walking pretense.

Mary Magdalene was never holier than thou. She knew the scarlet stain of sin, and she also knew the white snow of divine forgiveness. When it comes right down to it, that's life: to be forgiven and to live forgiving. Mary Magdalene found the company of Jesus to be a sunny place for shady people. She treasured the presence of Christ, and she was one of the first to see Him risen from the dead. Distracted at the moment, not considering the possibility of His resurrection, she did not really recognize Him. But when He spoke her name, "Mary," she said, "Rabboni," which is an affectionate way, and also a respectful way, of saying, "My Teacher and my Lord."

The enemies of Jesus criticized Him for receiving sinners. He told some of them who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others, the story of a very righteous man, a very self-righteous man, a religious paragon who prayed, "I thank You, God, that I am not as other men are, or even as this tax collector." There was a tax collector there, too. He kept saying to himself, over and over, "God be merciful to me, sinner than I am." The Lord said that one of those two men went out of the church that day justified. You know which one it was. "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost ones," He said. No one is so lost as the person who does not know that he is lost. For the last ones, He came and died.

He did not go around condemning penitent sinners. He forgave them and gave them hope. He does that today. He wants you to know that He will do it for you. Say to Him, as He told us all to say, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." That is walking as children of light. That's a prayer, faith in Jesus. It's a prayer for the family of Jesus. It's a prayer for people who have found the light after walking in darkness and in the light of Christ have the joy of walking as children of light. It is a prayer for people who have found in Jesus a sunny place for shady people. Amen.

Reflections for August 15, 2021

Title: A Sunny Place for Shady People

Mark Eischer: Now here's Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark, and many thanks to God for the message from Dr. Hoffmann we heard today inspired by Paul's words to the followers of Jesus and Ephesus, where Paul reminds us that once we were "shady people," people in darkness, but in Christ, we are now children of light.

I'm visiting again with Rev. Peter Kirby, who helps direct our global outreach with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Welcome back, Peter.

Peter Kirby: Thank you.

Mike Zeigler: Peter, last week you told us about Lutheran Hour Ministries' work in Mongolia to share the love of Jesus, to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways and word and deed. But that's just one of the many places where we work around the globe to empower people with the Good News of Jesus, of life and salvation in Him? You've also worked in Russia; I've seen pictures of you in Russia. So tell us about that, will you remember your first visit to Russia?

Peter Kirby: Yeah, it was in November about eight years ago, when I first went there, and this was a very different experience for me because that's getting close to the shortest day of the year. And so it's challenging because the days are very short—when you're talking about darkness and light—and so you end up basically spending most of your time in the dark, and under the streetlights. So maybe you finished your work day, but then if you go out in the evening to a restaurant or something like that, it's dark all the time. And maybe the sun comes up at 9:30 a.m. and goes down about 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon so very, very short days. So you really begin to play with that darkness and light thing a little bit.

But Russia's been challenging. It's been a lot in the news here and a lot of friction, I think, politically, between America and between Russia still. And yet when I go there, you realize that people there are for the most part just like us. I mean they have the same concerns, the same issues of dealing with their family, dealing with work pressures, long workdays, parents trying to raise their children in the best way possible. There's a lot of substance abuse issues out of alcoholism and drug abuse, and so that's raising spiritual questions for people, too. And so it keeps me grounded, I think, to remember that people are the same all over and they have the same needs that we do: to find hope and happiness in their daily lives. And, and hopefully we can point them to the light that we find in Jesus Christ and the blessing that that creates for us.

Mike Zeigler: Now, some of our listeners might not be aware that Lutheran Hour Ministries is much bigger than just the broadcast that we do here with the Lutheran Hour in North America. We're in 37 different countries around the world. Is that right?

Peter Kirby: Yeah, 37.

Mike Zeigler: And then the ministry reaches out into 50 countries beyond that.

Peter Kirby: It's amazing how God is reaching out through those established ministry centers into so many countries around the world.

Mike Zeigler: And our method, our model for reaching out to people isn't like what a church body might do, where we would raise up ordained missionaries and send them out to plant churches. We have a church body that does that, but our ministry is more focused on lay people. So what are some of the benefits of that method or that model for outreach?

Peter Kirby: It has worked very well for us for the past 80 years or so that we've been doing global outreach as Lutheran Hour Ministries to find local Christians who speak the languages and the dialects of the countries in which we work. They know culturally, what are the best media to be doing outreach with? And so that's one of the things that's very interesting is that we don't always use the same approach. I mean, we started here with radio in the U.S., and we've moved into television, now the internet, But we're flexible overseas to figure out what works best in each culture.

Mike Zeigler: So many forms of media, many approaches, many languages, many different faces of the people who are sharing the message, but one message. How have you seen or heard people in Russia responding to that Good News of forgiveness and new life in Jesus?

Peter Kirby: There are a lot of people there that this has opened the eyes for them. Russia is really challenging that way, that during the Soviet years, there was a lot of repression of religion and people were not either allowed to be Christians or to practice their faith, churches were shut down and repurposed, and many pastors were killed or were sent off to the gulag in Siberia. And so it was a real challenge for people during those years. But now there's much more openness since the 1990s for people to be able to return to church and to hear this Good News through the various media that were going on.

So one lady that I've heard of, her name is Sarma, Sarma is one of those who has responded. She's a teacher in kindergarten. She's married and a mother of two. She loves her job, and she thinks that you can always find just the right way to reach a child's heart. She describes herself as an eternal optimist who seeks for the beauty in the ordinary things. She also says that she has always felt like there was something missing in her life. She loves her job she loves her family, but there must be something else that could fill her heart.

Her mother was very religious and Sarma used to attend the church with her mother when she was a child. But later on in her life, she lost that close connection with her family and their traditions. She said after her children were born, there was no time for anything except the everyday worries and the work. And she also said that she believes in God, but she's not a person who would attend church on Sundays; she just didn't feel like she belonged there. But now that her children are grown up, Sarma decided that she had some spare time to start some new hobbies. She'd always loved singing, and so she started to attend the local choir classes.

And in those classes, she met Anita, a lady who was a passionate Lutheran. And one of the topics that they discussed was religion and faith. This lady Anita told her that she should seek for the answers to the questions that she has. And she said that she didn't feel like going to church, but Anita suggested that she should try to start a Bible course that was offered by the local Lutheran Hour office. In that time, it was important for her that she could do it on her own, in her own rhythm and time. Her family was very supportive and so the main obstacle in the way was herself. So she said that it had been a year since she started the Bible course, and now she's a member of a local Lutheran congregation. She was happy before; she had a job and a loving family, but as she said, there was something missing and that is true that only God can fill your soul.

Mike Zeigler: So there are warm and caring and optimistic kindergarten teachers in Russia just like here in the United States.

Peter Kirby: Just like here.

Mike Zeigler: And yet, no matter how optimistic you are, we still all stumble through the darkness, the spiritual darkness of this world, and so we need the light of the Gospel and that light is shining here in the United States and in Russia, even in November, when how many hours of daylight did you say?

Peter Kirby: About four or five hours a day.

Mike Zeigler: The light of Jesus never goes out.

Peter Kirby: No.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O God, My Faithful God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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