God Cannot Be Kept Out

Easter John 1.1-14 – God Can’t Be Kept Out[1]

The worst thing that ever happened to the world, happened on a Friday afternoon in the dark on a hill named Golgotha.  This last Black/Good Friday we gathered here to remember it.  Three days after that terrible event on Golgotha the best thing that every happened to the world … happened.

Several grieving women woke up early.  In the dark of the night they packed up spices and special ointments and set off.  It was still dark, says John 20, when they arrived at their destination.  There were no street lights in those days.  I imagine they made their way through the city by torchlight.  They picked their way across the countryside to the tomb, their little torch bobbing in the darkness.

Empty-Tomb-Picture-16

Friday night as we gathered here to remember the death of Jesus for a moment it was pitch black.  The only light came from a flickering candle in the dark.  A suborn flame that promised that even the smallest light can chase away the shadows lurking in this world, that even in the darkest places – on a cross, in a tomb, in death and hell – even there… the little flame promised that GOD cannot be kept out.

In John 1 God chooses to describe his coming into the world as a light coming into the darkness.  Normally we think of these verses as when Jesus came into the world as a baby.  But what if we read it not in the light of Christmas?  But what if we read it in light of Easter?  Vs. 4 says, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness…[but the darkness has not understood it.”

I’m sure you have noticed.  But light and dark don’t exactly get along.  Where light is, darkness shrinks back.  They cannot exist in the same space.  They are as opposite one another as you can get.

Madeline L’Engle once said, “Nothing is so secular that it cannot be sacred.  And that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation.”

I think we can adjust what she said just a bit.  We can say, “Nothing is so secular that it cannot be sacred.  And that is one of the deepest messages of Easter.”

The Cross is a revolting tool of humiliation and brutality. But the cross is a thing of beauty.  It represents our freedom from sin and death.  Nothing is so secular, so that it cannot be sacred.

The tomb. A horrid dark and dank cave where bodies are laid to rot alone.  The tomb, empty and open.  Nothing is so secular, that it cannot be sacred.

In other words, to use the imagery of John, no darkness can be so dark that it cannot be changed by a light, no matter how small.

Nothing in this world can be so bad.  Nothing in this world can be so lost.  Nothing in this world can be so evil… that God is kept out.  That is the promise of John 1 – the promise of Easter.

Sometimes that is a very hard promise to believe.  Especially when six year old girls need a liver transplant.  Especially when our church had nearly a dozen funerals in the last year.  Especially when we have several members of our church struggling with cancer.  Especially when our livelihood is threatened.  Especially when we have a desperate need, a prayer deep inside us, that goes unanswered month after month.  The darkness seems so thick.

There is a rumor.  A horrible and untrue rumor.  The rumor that says that God can be chased out.  That God can be denied access.  Maybe you have heard the rumor.

you might have heard,” says Rachel Held Evans …  “that if we can’t keep God’s name in our pledge, on our money, and on our courthouse walls, then we can’t keep God in our country. … that the fight of faith is a fight for power, that we win when we see God’s name on our cash, on our statues, on our idols, and in our legislation. [We might think] that the removal of God’s name is the removal of God’s very self. [We forget] that when God showed up, God was executed by the government. 

On a cross.  Emptied of all power.  Only to rise from a borrowed grave three days later because God can’t be kept out.”

I have also heard people say every time a disaster happens, that it happened because God had been excluded.  I have heard famous Christians say that the earthquake that killed thousands in Haiti happened because the country made a deal with the devil 150 years ago.  I have heard Christians say that the Twin Towers were taken down on Sept. 11 b/c they represented greed and that made them ungodly.  I have heard it said that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because it is a wicked city devoid of faith.  I have heard it said that the shooting in Sandy Hook happened because prayer is kept out of public schools.  Just like I have read in the bible that the Pharisees taught a person born blind was because of his parent’s sin.

With all the bad things that happen.  All the darkness in this world.  You might begin to wonder if God is present anywhere.  Or if God is present he is only with the healthy and wealthy.  The safe and secure.  The holy and righteous.

But to be a Reformed Christian is to say that ALL of this world is God’s kingdom.  Even the darkest corners of it.  Especially the darkest corners of it.  No place is so secular that it cannot be made sacred.  That is what it means to have a Reformed Faith.  That is what it means to proclaim, “The Lord is Risen!”

That is what vs. 5 means. “The light shines in the darkness…”

I have been blessed to see some dark places in my life.  I have spent 18 of my 34 years in Latin America.  I have been to places like Haiti and Cuba.  I have I have lived in poor villages.  As a child I played with kids who had no clothes.  I have seen hunger and distended bellies.  I have seen people die from curable diseases.  I have seen more than I wish to remember.  I have already seen more than a life-time of poverty, hunger, disease and injustice.  I do not say this to boast.  This is not something to boast about.

I say this to testify to you concerning the light so that you might believe.  Those dark places of poverty and suffering were awash in God’s light.  Those places were not abandoned by God.  God was not kept out of Haiti when I visited a lonely church I could only get to by motorcycle.   And found in the town of Ouanamenthe a Christian community of faith that dwarfed my own.  The church is growing faster in Haiti than in any other country in the Western Hemisphere.  God was not kept out of Cuba, despite Fidel Castro’s best efforts. And under Castro’s rule the Christian Reformed Church alone multiplied 30 times in size.

God goes where he wants to go.  We cannot remove God from anywhere if we tried.  Public prayer or his name on our coins or not.  Poverty and disease or not.  God cannot be kept out.

God is everywhere.  God is with the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  God is with the wealthy of Malibu.  God is with the astronauts floating about the space station.  God is with the coal miners of West Virginia.  God is in the drug dens of LA.  God is with the dictators of rogue nations.  God is with the soldier in the trenches.  God is with the climber on the highest mountain top.  God is with you in your home.  He is with you in your car.  He is with you when you cry.  He is with you when you laugh.  He is with you when you doubt, when you are angry with him.  When it is hard for you to believe.  He is with you in this room.  The light is in the darkness, even though the darkness cannot recognize it.

Christ is Risen! We know he is risen because he lives in us!  Christ is with us.

And in the manger.  And on the cross.  And in the grave.  And on his throne in heaven.

Because no amount of darkness can overcome the light.  God cannot be kept out.

But there is a problem.  The light shines in the darkness.  But the darkness doesn’t understand it, says John 1:5.  Verse 10 says that Jesus is in the world, and though world was made through him, but the world didn’t recognize him.

The world will look at the evil and the hurt swirling around us and say there is no God.  Because all they can see is darkness.  If we Christians begin to say that God is kept out of the most brutal places and the darkest corners of human experience, then we are speaking the language of the world.  We are saying, “There is no God here.”  Or we are saying, “There is a God, but he is either not powerful enough or not loving enough to be here.”

But we don’t say that.  B/c of Easter.  B/c a messiah we nailed into place.  A messiah chained by death.  A messiah trapped in a tomb by a stone so heavy no one person could move it.  A messiah whose grave was guarded by the soldiers of the best army of the world at the time.  And STILL HE could not be kept away!!

B/C we have a dead messiah who now lives(!) we say “God cannot be kept out!”

B/c the darkness did not understand the light, God sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus.  He came to bear witness to the light.  The Pharisees asked John who he was and he answered in verse 23, “I am the voice calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.”  John came to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus.

Today as we wait for the coming of Jesus again, there will be no second John the Baptist.  Instead there is the church.  We are the ones called to bear witness to the light.  We are the voice in the desert that calls out, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

We are the ones with the story to tell.  The story of Easter.  The story that proclaims “GOD CANNOT BE KEPT OUT!”

Vs. 14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory [the TOMB IS EMPTY] the glory of the One and Only who came from the father full of grace and truth.”

Who will stand and proclaim the truth of Easter?  That, “God cannot be kept out!”?

Praise be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] A thank you to Rachel Held Evans for providing this phrase as the bones upon which this meditation was built.

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