Let Your Light Shine

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

In the middle of the New Mexico desert, astronomers are upset about the “light pollution” from cities that are beginning to gradually spread out across the land.  Even on the darkest moonless nights, the stars that used to gleam and twinkle so brilliantly are fading.

We who dwell in large metropolitan areas rarely glance heavenward at night anymore – at least not to see stars.  The lights that now brightly illumine our nights read, “McDonald’s,” “Twenty-Four Hour Service,” plus all of the lights that make up the Chicago skyline.

In the glare of all these high-powered night lights, it is hard to remember just how dark and frightening the hours between sunset and sunrise used to be for our ancestors.  Light, whether natural or artificial, was a precious commodity.

Perhaps the only place where people still tune the rhythms of their lives to the lights in the sky is with those who dwell above the Arctic Circle.  Despite the modern convenience of the light switch, there is no ignoring the fact that the daylight hours all but disappear for several months.

In Norway, this period of darkness is called morketida.  From mid-November to mid-January, the sun does not rise above the horizon.  At best, those high above the Arctic Circle may look forward to only two or three hours of indirect or half-light around midday for nearly two months.

Yet while the stars that light the sky during this morketida period may shine for long periods, they are not enough to dispel the gloom that pervades the streets and can easily poison and depress our soul.

Those who curse “light pollution” for dimming our stars are disgusted, not at losing light, but at losing a beautiful, heavenly starscape to ponder.  With all of our artificial light, the stars are both too distant and too overwhelmed to offer us any real nighttime comfort or vision.

During our own periods of morketida, we don’t really need more stars, we need more common lights or lamps lit to help us and guide us on our everyday journeys.

In Matthew’s text this week, Jesus urges us to serve as lamps for one another, not stars that only dazzle and inspire, but lamps lit and placed on a table for all to see.  Jesus calls us to be lights in the world, not an exploding super-nova.  Yet, there seem to be a lot more people who want to be “stars” than are willing to be serviceable lamps.

Jesus encountered this “star syndrome” among his own disciples.  In Matthew 20:20 ff, the sons of Zebedee and their equally ambitious mother petition Jesus, begging him to “save them seats” in heaven.

James and John don’t want just any old place; they specifically ask Jesus for the “star” seats, those immediately on his right and on his left.  James and John are looking for stellar status, a place where they may shine down on others.

Jesus tries to teach these two star-seekers that their request is wrong-headed for two reasons.  First, Jesus claims that heaven’s seating order is his Father’s domain – not his.  More importantly, Jesus patiently reminds James and John that the way they may emulate him and be “first” in the kingdom is through selfless service to others; doing for others, not looking out for themselves.

As James and John demonstrate, there are lots of people wishing they were “stars.”  But what Jesus preaches is the need for more “lamp-Christians.”  Lamp-Christians are those who willingly burn out in service – as both disciples and mentors for others.

Hebrews 10:24 defines the glowing value of being a lamp-Christian:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

“Modeling” or “mentoring” is a popular concept today.  But what does it mean for you and me to be “modeling” and “mentoring” Christians?

Although mentors or teachers may often appear to be elevated to “upfront” positions, genuine mentors do not try to be “stars.”  The role of the Christian mentor is that of a lamp, helping illumine the pathway that lies directly at his or her student’s feet, offering guidance and service in in-direct, even ordinary ways.

At previous churches where I have served we began and ended the “Word for Children” by singing, “This little light of mine … I’m going to let it shine ….”

I love that song!  The only problem with that song is that we have to be careful that we don’t focus just on a single beam of light emitted by our own singular lights.

Jesus wants us to think about the illuminating power he generates in each of us as part of a larger light; an all-encompassing light that shines from the entire community of faith.

The “city built on a hill” is not noticed because one lone light flickers in a window.  It is the combined wattage of an array of lights, each burning in its own place for a common purpose; it is that light that sets the city ablaze in the midst of a dark and dreary night.

What must we do to let our light shine as God’s ordinary people?

Well, in the first place, it is not so much what we do, but who we are that counts; it is not in the doing, but in the being.  And that is a hard lesson for us, for we are such an achievement-oriented people.

Philip Brooks, the great nineteenth century New England preacher reminded us that preaching is:  “Truth through personality,” and that means that what a person is, speaks so loudly that we cannot hear what the person says.

“Being” comes from within; the light shines out, not in.

When Samuel went down among the sons of Jesse to find a new king for Israel, he was first attracted to Eliab, who was tall, dark, and handsome, and Samuel said: “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is before me.”

The Lord, however, said to Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16: 7)

So the search continued until David found whose heart was pleasing to God.

What David did in his life was not always pleasing to God, but what he was, his being, always was.  And that is why, flaws and all, David is counted among the greatest of the sons of God.  For who David was, was always greater than what he did.  In King David’s best moments, he made his name a blessing among the nations.

All of us have had in our time, light shed upon our path, and not necessarily by the famous, the powerful, or those who get their names in the paper.

It has been a teacher here, a friend there, and sometimes by someone who will never be aware of the extent of his or her influence upon us.  That person just at the right time and at the right place was the bearer of light in a dark or difficult time.

Recently Carolyn, a friend of ours, was at her health club when a woman from her church passed by and asked how she and her husband were doing?  You see, Carolyn and her husband both found out within weeks of each other that they both had cancer.  Carolyn had recently had surgery and was now receiving treatment; she was optimistic and her recovery was going well.  Her husband was halfway through his prescribed Chemo treatments, and they were both practicing the power of being positive.  It was tough, but they were both bearing up and were so thankful and so appreciative for all the love and support they were receiving from so many people, particularly from those in their church.

Carolyn then asked Nancy how she and her husband were.  Nancy began to tear up and then went on to share that her husband had just found out that he also had cancer and was facing immediate surgery.  Carolyn was so surprised and taken aback; she reached out and hugged Nancy.  She said, “We are making it with God’s help and with the help and prayers of others and you will also.”

Several weeks later Nancy came up to Carolyn once again at the health club and said that her husband had gotten through his surgery and was recovering.  Nancy then said to Carolyn,

“You will never know how much your presence and your words meant to me when we last talked.  For after talking to you, I was able to regain my strength and my faith; and to put my hope and trust in God; your words and presence are helping me get through these trying days.”

What is always amazing to me is the bearers of the light in our lives are almost always ordinary people, women and men like you and me, with no special claim upon the world, but upon whom God has placed a claim and by God’s grace at a particular time and place they shine their light upon us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ comes down to a rather simple proposition for ordinary people like you and me.  If God is to be known, that knowledge will be in the lives of ordinary people who are redeemed by his extra-ordinary message of love.

What the world knows of God it will know through us, for:

We are the good news,
We are the gospel;

We are the light of the world.

You don’t need to have a degree behind your name or a title in front of it to announce to the world your importance or to let your light shine.  We do not have to postpone the blessedness of Christ into some ever retreating future; in fact, we dare not wait for more qualified Christians, or for better prayers, or for better laws, or for better codes of ethical conduct to come along in order to do our shining for us.  No:

The work of God awaits our hands,
The love of God awaits our hearts, and

The people of God await our fellowship right here and now, ordinary and imperfect though we may be.

Therefore, brother and sisters, let your light shine in the world that all may see your good works, as disciples of Christ, “lights of the world,” we need only let our lamps shine, that others may see and find the way, the truth and the life.

Sing with me:

“This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Everywhere I go
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, everywhere I go
I’m going to let it shine
Everywhere I go
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”  Amen!