This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Sunday Feb. 5, 2017.
The text for this week: Matthew 5:13-20
There’s a lot about light and lamps in Matthew’s scripture for today. It got me thinking about lights, and then I started noticing how many lights we’re surrounded by everyday. They’re everywhere. I counted the lights in my house and I stopped at one hundred. There’s six lights on just on the coffee maker in the kitchen. Two on the coffee grinder, seven inside the refrigerator, plus the clock, the ceiling, the oven, you get the picture. We have so many lights around us that we are never truly in the dark. We take it for granted that we can hit a switch and the light will come on. We have an abundance of light.
Lights are everywhere in this modern age. And Christians, like lights are everywhere, too. There’s more than 2 billion of us on the planet, and in most of the places where Christians live, Christians are the majority religion (meaning, we’re mostly always surrounded by other Christians). Of course, in Sonoma County, a lot of people say they are “spiritual but not religious”, but still our majority culture is built around the Christian calendar including secular ways to celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.
It’s remarkable to think that in the time when Jesus was alive, there were neither “Christians” nor light bulbs. In Jesus time, lamps were quite different. They had only oil lamps, and the house would have been always very dim. Matches weren’t invented, either, so they had to light it by striking stones against each other or rubbing sticks together.
And there was no such thing as a “Christian” as we know it, just a few people who followed Jesus as their teacher. This is what’s going on in Matthew 5: Jesus is speaking to his disciples on a mountainside. When he talks them, “you” is plural, meaning Jesus is addressing the disciples as a group:
“You (all) are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your (plural) light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
What is he asking the disciples to do? What does it mean to be the light of the world?
Well, after this Jesus talks about fulfilling the religious law of the time rather than getting rid of it. Then, he goes through some of the law of the day, and he “illuminates” the meaning of the passage for his disciples.
Jesus doesn’t take away the responsibility of following religious law, instead he shows how to live into the grace and goodness in it. You might say that Jesus acts like of those magnifying glass lights to illuminate what was important in the religious rules of his time.
Basically, Jesus is asking his disciples to be light for the world by being living testaments to God’s grace.
Though we live in a different time, our call is still the same call that Jesus gave to those first disciples. We are called to be light to the world, both individually and collectively.
As we noticed earlier, though, our challenge in our modern age is that there are literally billions of Christian “lights” on in the world. And there’s a lot of Christians who use their light in a way that sounds counter to what we might understand Christianity to be.
Speaking personally, I am concerned that the name of Christianity is getting tied ever-tighter to the “alt-right” movement, which is considered by some to be a sanitized name for white nationalism, white supremacy or neo-nazism. Our denomination, the PC(USA) is also concerned that an American President who claims to be Presbyterian would act so counter to our biblical roots in so many ways, but particularly (this week) regarding refugees.
It’s difficult as a new preacher to learn where the lines are around the pulpit and politics. But, I also know that anyone with a passing knowledge of Scripture knows that Jesus was a poor, middle-Eastern Jew who was crucified for speaking out against the occupying Roman empire. And that’s the center of our Christian story, not white, American Christian ethnocentrism.
Sometimes, we might feel ashamed of our Christianity. Embarrassed to be included in community with other “outspoken” lights and want to hide our own. But in hiding our own light, we just make the world darker. Let’s let go of the shame of being associated with Christians voices that are counter to the voice of Christ.
Like the people gathered around Jesus on the mountainside, we’re a group of disciples, too. And, we’re in a great place to start something new. I am constantly amazed by this group of people, how you are committed to living caring lives, committed to issues like mental health, prison ministry, caring for the homeless, and the rights of the LGBTQI community.
We are beginning a new chapter on being church together. Think about how you would like this church to share the love of God with each other and with the community. There’s a core of caring for social justice at Knox and in the Presbyterian church. How do you all want to shine that light?
There are a lot of lights in the world. Some are bright and harsh, like the interrogation lamps on a criminal tv show. Some are warm and soft, like candlelight at a family dinner. The good news is that God loves us all, no matter what kind of light we are, and the love of God is a renewable resource. It will never go out.
Let us get lit up with the love of God and then go out unafraid to be light to the world.
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