March 26, 2017 – 4th Sunday in Lent
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read Ephesians 5: 8 – 14
Grace and peace to you as you stand at the Cross with the light of God, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The world that we live in is a dark place filled with people who need the light of God in their life. When darkness comes or we find ourselves in a dark place we don’t hesitate to look for a light switch and turn it on. But when talking about going out and being a light in the darkness of this world, well most of us can find all sorts of excuses why we don’t want to flip on the light of God in our lives as we live in the darkness of our world. Now many of us know the song “This little Light of Mine,” but so often we don’t have any problem with putting our light under a bushel instead of letting it shine all the time, let it shine. Letting our light shine in our lives means being ready to talk about the love of God, that we have been given in our lives, with our neighbors or friends and sometime even strangers. When facing a situation like this we so often find it’s easier to turn off the light of God than to let it shine in the world of darkness.
The Apostle Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord so walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5:8) We were all at one time children of the darkness of this world because we sinned and thought nothing of sinning but then God came into our lives through His Word and Sacraments and made us a Child of the light so that we could walk as children of the light forever. As we walk as children of the light God gives us opportunities to share the good news of God’s love in our life with others, that’s walking as children of light. Now in my life I have seen a lot of people who were once walking in the darkness and then by the light of God’s Word and Sacrament came into the light of God and began shining the light of God’s Word out into the darkness of their world. One of those people that I will never forget and whom I thank God that I had the opportunity to share some time with was Darrell Williams.
Now Darrell Williams was a big man and when he stood in front of you he looked like stonewall, at about 6 feet 6 inches tall with thick muscular arms, legs and shoulders. In the darkness of this world he was one of those guys that you hoped that you would never meet in a dark alley. But then that was exactly were Darrell Williams grew up, in the dark alleys of the gangs of Chicago. I met Darrell in the second month of my vicarage, as a chaplain at Centennial Correctional Facilities outside of Centennial, Illinois. As a vicar I spent Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday doing my duties at Bethlehem Lutheran in Ferrin, Illinois and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I spent time as one of the Chaplains of Centennial Correctional Facilities. Every other Monday at 10 am I ran the Lutheran Worship service for the inmates and it was at one of these services that I met Darrell after the service was over. I was talking with some of the inmates after the service when Darrell walked towards the group and quickly all the other inmates left. Darrell asked if he could get an appointment to meet with me. I responded by saying, “Sure you can, just fill out one of the request forms and I’ll sign you up for a time to meet with me.” I reached over and handed him a form with my name on it. He took the form from me and then turned to head out with all the other inmates as the officers were taking them back to their barracks. After all the inmates had left the chapel, the head chaplain came out of his office and said, “Do you know who that man was who asked for a visit form?” I answered, “No I don’t, but I suspect that I will be getting to know him later this week.” Well the head chaplain informed me that he was Darrell Williams and that he was one of the gang bangers from Chicago that the prison had and that he was probably going to check me out to see if he could use me to get information in and out of the prison from one of the gangs in Chicago. He warned me, as he had done before, to never take a note from an inmate to be mailed outside the prison and never receive a letter from someone outside the prison and give it to an inmate.
I met with Darrell on that Friday and we talk for about an hour and then the officer who had brought him to the chapel came back and took him back to his barracks. In our meeting Darrell asked a lot of questions about my family and me and I gave him no information, always redirecting his question to himself. As a prison chaplain, I was not allowed to give out any information about myself or anyone else to an inmate because they could use it against me or my family or someone else. In that first meeting, I discovered that Darrell had no Christian up bringing at all, that he had never read the Bible or had a Bible, so I gave him one of the free paper back Bibles that we gave out to anyone who wanted one. Darrell was at the Lutheran service once again on the following Monday and we were scheduled to meet for another hour again on Friday. Darrell also got signed up for the Bible Study group that met every Wednesday afternoon for two hours. In the second meeting on a Friday, I once again dodged a lot of questions about my family and me, and then he asked me to tell him more about the Lutheran faith. That gave me the chance to ask him if he would like to go through an adult confirmation class about the Lutheran faith in Jesus Christ. After explaining what an adult confirmation class was he said that he would be willing to check it out for a few weeks and we scheduled to meet for a two-hour class each Friday morning. This started out as being just a temporary thing but it lasted for 6 months and at the end of the 6 month I had the privilege of baptizing Darrell Williams in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the celebration of Darrell’s baptism one of the members of Bethlehem Lutheran had bought Darrell a leather bound Bible with his name engraved on it and after his baptism I gave him the gift and as he opened it he began to cry tears of joy.
The head chaplain told me that he didn’t believe that Darrell had changed but that he was playing me and my response was, “Well we will see.” Darrell continue to be at ever worship service on Monday and every Bible Class on Wednesday. Until about 3 months later when I came in on a Monday morning to get ready for the worship service and the head chaplain called me into his office. I greet him warmly as he sat behind his desk and he said, “Darrell is in the isolation ward and is asking for you.” My first question was, “What did Darrell do to get himself in the isolations ward?” The Chaplain explained that three other men with shanks, homemade knives, had tried to kill Darrell because he was scratching off his gang tattoos. He explained that they had stabbed him several times but he fought back and broke one of the man’s leg, another man’s arm and gave the third man a concussion and cracked skull. The officers took Darrell to the isolation ward to bandage him up and separate him from the other inmates. The whole time that they were taking care of his wounds he was asking to see me. During the service that morning many of the other inmates were asking about Darrell but I couldn’t give them any information other than that I was going to visit him after the service was over.
When I got to the isolation ward after the service, the officer greeted me and said that they would allow me to go into the cell if I wanted to, which was not allowed in a normal situation. Darrell was laying on the bed and he had bandages covering his chest, head and arms. He tried to sit up, but I told him to remain lying as I brought in the chair that the officer had given to me to sit down next to him. My first question was, “Why Darrell were they trying to kill you?” He answered, with pain in each breath that he took, “Because I was leaving the gang and the only way that you leave the gang is dead.” After a few moments he continued, “I’m a child of God now Vicar Scheele and I can’t be a part of that darkness any more if I’m going to let the light of God shine in me.” I talked and prayed with Darrell for an hour before the guards said that I needed to leave. As I walked from the isolation ward to the chapel that day I had tears running down my checks as I thought about how Darrell was willing to die to keep the light of God shining in his life and I had to ask myself would I be willing to do the same thing with the same situation?
The Apostle Paul tells us, “Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  But when the light exposes anything, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. (Eph. 5:9 – 14)
Darrell was learning how to walk as a child of the light of God through God’s Word and Sacraments and I was given the opportunity to spend another month with Darrell in the isolation ward, as he healed up from all the stab wounds and scars. When He was shipped out I said goodbye and prayed with him, but I knew that I would probably never see or speak to him again.
God has given you a light to shine in your Baptism and through His Word. That light will shine as you let God’s Word go to work in your life through the Holy Spirit, if you don’t hide it under a bushel or let the devil blow it out. So, I encourage each of you to stay in God’s Word and let Christ fill you with the light that needs to shine, for God will get that light where it needs to be. And don’t worry, but trust in God to give you the right words to share the love of God with whoever stands in front of you, just continue to shine Christ’s love in the dark places you are given the opportunity to be at and watch what it can do. It’s God working through you as you let God’s love shine through your words and actions. That’s all that God is asking of you. Let your light shine all around, let it shine all the time, let it shine. Amen.