Epiphany 5A Matthew 5:13-20
A few years ago, I was on a retreat at a beach in South Carolina in late January. Close to the end of the retreat, we were hit by a significant ice storm. It was severe enough to close bridges and bring the entire area to a stand still.The beach in the winter is always an interesting contrast to me. This place of sun and Summer wrapped in the comparative cold of winter.
At any season of the year, I always think of lighthouses when I’m at the beach, especially
the Carolina beaches where there are so many. As I stood in the warm, dry and safe retreat center looking out into the frigid, lightless night, I thought of what remarkable and profound hope the sight of a lighthouse must have been to sea captains and sailors on nights like this. In the middle of a storm, with bitter wind churning the sea and tiny bullets of frozen rain pelting down, just image what must that have been like for those coming in to land on the shores of these beaches long ago; to sail around the barrier islands in the middle of the night. In good weather, there would have been stars and the moon to get your bearings, but in bad weather, there would be no light from the heavens to guide you. What hope must a single, roving beam of light from one of those tall towers kindled in the hearts of even the toughest sailors.
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus is just getting started in what will be a roughly three chapter sermon. It began with the beatitudes from last week’s text. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the peace makers. Today, he continues to teach his followers about the kingdom of heaven and how the people of that kingdom act in this world. Jesus talks about light and it must have been one of his favorites symbols to use because he uses it frequently!
In this section he tells his disciples and us: You are the light of the world!
Let you light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.
We use these words in our baptismal rite. Just after the central piece of the baptism, the water part, the family or sponsors present a lighted candle to the newly baptized person and say those very words.
That is a very important part of our baptism and of who we are as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We’ve all been given light; light that comes from Jesus himself.
Makes me think of that children’s song: this little light of mine. We sang it just the other week in worship! It is a simple song but it teaches a profound truth. No matter how little we are, we have light. No matter how small, insignificant, helpless or even powerless we may feel, we still have that light. And with that light comes responsibilities to light the darkness around us.
Maybe we want to hide our light under a bushel basket sometimes because we do not think that our little light could possibly make a difference in this big, dark world. Or maybe because we are afraid people might not like our light or tell us to turn it off! Perhaps, if children are taught very early on in life to be aware of the light given to them by God, then, when they are grown ups, they will be more likely to continue to let their light shine despite what the world would tell them.
Let your light shine before others….that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.
Think of those lighthouses, stationed along the coastline, their beacons a tiny glimmer in the vast darkness of night and storm and sea. They shone their lights, sent out their little beacons across the waters, not so they would be in the spotlight, showing off their pretty stripes, or even to illuminate the seagoing vessels themselves. They shone and still shine their lights to say ‘here is where the land is’, to be a guide, to be a light in the darkness, especially when all other lights have gone out and there is no one to guide the way of those who are tossed about in storms and lost among the waves.
That is very much like what Jesus is telling us to be. We aren’t to let our light shine so that we can be thanked and look good. We aren’t shining our light to show off our stripes. We aren’t to let our light shine on ourselves to draw attention to how good we are or what great things we can accomplish. The light we receive from Jesus isn’t a stage light for ourselves to perform in or even to highlight someone else’s great faith performance either, as though either were the reason for the light itself. We let our light shine for the same reason the lighthouses do; to say, here is where the land is. Or, in other words, here is where Jesus is. Here is hope. Here is safety. Here is home. Here is guidance. Here is the way.
My first year of seminary seemed heavily overshadowed with doubt, loss, fear. Constantly questioning not only my own potential ability to do this work it seemed God might have called me to do, I, along with all of us who face difficult challenges wherever they are, felt very lost. I could not find my way, struggling to see what to do. I remember telling an upper-class student that I felt like I was fumbling in the dark and was wondering why on earth God didn’t just flip the switch and turn on the light for me!
The next day I found a small flashlight in my mailbox and a card with these words from the Gospel of John: The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it.
Our light shining is, as Jesus shows, symbolically referring to the good that we do in the world. We are to do good in the world not because we have to in order for God to love us, since God loves us no matter what, and not so that we can be thought of as a good or holy person, but so that people will look at what we do in the same way those sailors looked at the lighthouse light. All hope is not lost. Even in the midst of one of life’s storms, perhaps someone can see your actions and say: I can hang on and not give up because there is still good in the world. There is still kindness, compassion, love. There are people who still care, who will not pass judgment on me because of how I look, who will accept me even if I am different from them. There is still generosity, safety and places where peace can be found. Even in a dark world, there is still light.
Some days we do not feel as if one little light will help anyone very much. One light, even one as big as an entire lighthouse, is so small when compared to the vast, pervasive darkness! But Jesus did not say for us to shine our light only on the good days, only on the days that are clear and easy. He simply said let your light shine. Our little light could be just the thing someone needs to find their way home. The light we shine, even if it seems tiny, could be the light by which someone else can navigate and find a place of safety.
Jesus is the light of the world; the bringer of light and life to us all. But Jesus also says YOU are the light of the world. YOU are the light of the world!
Our light isn’t our own creation; it is the gift of God. Christ’s gift to us is light and life, his light and life. Let your light shine so bright into any darkness that people may see your light, your good works, and give glory to God in heaven.
In this world where there always seem to be times of darkness and storms and where there seem to be so many of us who are lost, lonely, broken and afraid, we can hold our light high. You never know who may be out there in the dark hoping, praying and looking for a little light.
So let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!