Light The Way - Matthew 5:14-16
A little boy forgot his lines in a Sunday School presentation.
His mother, sitting in the front row to prompt him, gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it didn't help. Her son's memory was blank.
Finally she leaned forward and whispered the cue, "I am the light of the world."
The child beamed and with great feeling and a loud, clear voice said, "My mother is the light of the world."
This little boy, while missing his line, offered a truth about his mom that echoed the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said to those who had chosen to follow Him, to listen to His words, those that had gathered on that hillside, “You are the light of the world.”
This pronouncement that the people of God are the light of the world followed directly after his pronouncement that they were also considered the “salt of the earth.” We remember from two weeks ago that as the salt of the earth we are called to give seasoning/flavoring to what would otherwise be a dull, drab existence, and as salt, we are that which preserves and protects God’s creation.
Jesus, though, wants to expand our understanding of our role as God’s people beyond just that which flavors, preserves, and protects. Jesus wants us to understand that we are light. What does light do? Light dispels, light draws, and light displays.
Light dispels…light dispels darkness. What is the first thing you do if you walk into a dark room? You turn on the light. Why? To brighten the room and rid it of darkness. Light relegates the darkness to shadows, and brightens all around us in the room
We live in a world that is marked more by darkness that it is by light, a world where more and more people live in depression or with a fatalistic view of our existence. A world in which many choose to turn to violence, abuse, addictions, or even self-inflicted pain, like cutting or attempting suicide in an effort to escape the darkness, only to find themselves, having used tools of darkness, still lost or trapped within it.
As the light of the world, we are called to enter into this darkness and dispel it—driving it back out of people’s lives to the shadows in which it belongs.
Maybe this is done with efforts like these Christmas shoeboxes that will be delivered to children who have known little other that the violence of war, lives where the darkness of hatred and death have covered them. These gifts seeking to begin dispelling the darkness by letting them know that they are loved.
Maybe it is the light shining into the darkness of loss as we support UMCOR in assisting those whose homes, communities, and livelihoods have been washed away in unimaginable floodwaters.
Maybe it is the light shining into the darkness of hunger, in the food that was collected last week to help stock Allied Church’s food pantry.
Maybe it is the light shining into the darkness of loneliness and despair, as we visit those who are sick, shut-in, or alone.
Maybe it is shining light into the darkness of addiction, helping those who seem trapped by substances and lifestyles that rob life, trying to trap them in darkness, and freeing them to live in the light that truly offers life.
Maybe it is shining light into the lives of those who are caught in the web of slavery and human trafficking, bringing them freedom from their bondage.
Sometimes, though being the light, is about more than shining light on those who are lost in the darkness and it is about confronting the source of the darkness…systems of evil that seek to keep people oppressed and restricted to the darkness—whether it is confronting those at the source of supplying the addicts, confronting terrorist regimes, or coming face to face with how our own lives and the things we enjoy, contribute to the darkness and oppression of others.
All of our role as light, though, is not about dispelling and driving out darkness, but about living our lives in such a way that it draws those in the darkness to come out of it. Think of the way that a porch light draws the insects out of the darkness towards it, or a light shining into the water, draws fish toward it, or the way sunflowers and other vegetation are drawn toward the sunlight. If we are being light, we will draw others.
Jesus offers this image of a city on a hill which cannot be hidden. Travelers in Jesus time would not be a lot different from us. Consider times that you may have been on a long trip, especially driving down a long stretch of road in which there was nothing, not only is the needle on your car’s tank near empty, but the needle on your sleep level or hunger level has drawn close to the empty mark and you begin searching out a place to rest and refuel—in Jesus’ day caravans would take note of light shining through the darkness and travelers would be drawn toward that, in much the same way we in our travels look for those exits which are well lit by gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. The light attracts us, letting us know that what we have been searching for is there to be found.
In that same way we are to be the light of the world. Our lives should shine with how a relationship with God has made all the difference to us. In that way, like sojourners drawn to a city set on a hill or an exit filled with the multiple lights of gas, food, and lodging locations, those wandering looking for a source of fulfillment will be drawn to us. How does this happen? It happens when we differ ourselves from the darkness of the world. Folks wandering in the darkness must see that things are different in us. Our lives should be marked with the light of joy, the light of peace, the light of love, the light of fulfillment and contentment. If God has made that kind of difference in our lives, if He has lit our lives with his light, we must reveal that light to the world…or we are like someone who has lit a lamp and then covered it. We must let the world be lit by the fire that God has ignited within us. If our lives are marked with that type of discipleship, we will find that we truly reflect the church of Acts, where God added to their number day by day those who were being saved—those whom God was rescuing from the darkness by placing them in His community of light.
The fact that it is God’s community of light brings us to the final aspect of being the light of the world, and that is that as light we display, and what we are to display is the true source of the light. Jesus says we are the light of the world so that “others…may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” Our purpose in being light is not that we may attract attention to ourselves, like multiple marquis drawing folks into a business, but we are in fact directing those in the darkness to the true source of light, the true source of life itself. We act and live as light in the world not to be glorified for the things we do to dispel the darkness, but so that the one who shines His light through us may be glorified.
Maybe today, my brothers and sisters, you may be among those who find themselves walking in darkness. If that is the case, I pray that You may find here those who bear witness to the source of light, God our Creator. Maybe today, you find yourselves already illuminated by the Father above, then, my friends, let us take that light into the darkness, dispelling it, drawing others to the light, and displaying the love of God to the world.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.