Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before other people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

On being light

Robert Louis Stevenson was in poor health during much of his childhood and youth. One night his nurse found him with his nose pressed against the frosty bedroom window. "Child, come away from there. You'll catch your death of a cold," she fussed.

But young Robert wouldn't budge. He sat, mesmerized, as he watched an old lamplighter slowly working his way through the black night, lighting each street lamp along his route. Pointing, Robert exclaimed, "See. Look there. There's a man poking holes in the darkness."

Have you ever experienced total and complete darkness? The kind of darkness where you can’t see a thing, not even your own hand held right up close to your face. A cave is a good place to experience this kind of darkness. With no light of any kind the darkness is frightening. It’s as if there is nothing in the world around you except the blackest blackness.

One evening I was midway through the sermon at a small country church when the power went off casting the church in total and complete darkness. I didn't dare move for fear of falling down the steep pulpit steps which led into the vestry and everyone knows what dangers lay hidden in a cluttered vestry. Thank God for ladies’ handbags. One of the ladies had a torch in her handbag and that small light made all the difference.

Jesus talks about light and salt making a difference in our world. Jesus tells his followers that they are "the salt of the earth", and "the light of the world".

It's interesting that when Jesus speaks of the difference God’s people make in the world, he uses two rather small, often unnoticed, seemingly insignificant substances - salt and light. Only a small amount of salt is needed to change the flavour of food. French fries without salt are just bits of boring potato.

Light is very fragile and can be easily extinguished but even the smallest light in the darkest room makes all the difference. Just one tiny light drives away fear, gives comfort, guides our footsteps, and enables us to see hidden dangers. Though small, both salt and light, can make all the difference.

In our text, Jesus looks at his followers and he says to them and to us: "You are the salt of the earth ..., you are the light of the world!"
In other words: "As my followers, I want you to live a distinctively different kind of life to the rest of the world and the community in which you live. You are an important part of my strategy for changing the world!" Just as salt makes a significant difference on fries and light has a profound effect on darkness, so also God’s people are to have a powerful and profound influence on other people, the environment, politics, in fact anything that makes up our world.

Two cars were waiting at a stop light. The light turned green, but the man in the front car didn't notice. The woman in the car behind him started pounding on her steering wheel and yelling for the man to move. The man doesn't move, and the woman goes ballistic inside her car. The light then turns yellow, and the woman gives the man in front a blast from her car horn, gesturing with one finger and screaming curses at the man. The man, upon hearing the commotion, looks up... sees the yellow light... and accelerates through the intersection as the light turns red.

The woman is beside herself, screaming in frustration sitting at the red light when she hears a tap on her window. She turns and sees a very serious looking policeman. He tells her to shut off her car and get out of the car with her hands up. The police officer quickly handcuffs her and hustles her into the patrol car. She is driven to the police stations where she is fingerprinted, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.

After a few hours, a policeman escorts her back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal belongings. He says, "I'm really sorry for this mistake, but you see, I pulled up behind your car as you were blowing your horn, gesturing and swearing at the car in front of you. And when I noticed the "What Would Jesus Do" and "Follow me to Sunday School" bumper stickers, the personal license plate starting with "LUV", and the fish emblem in the rear window, I naturally assumed you'd stolen the car."

When people observe how we behave in certain situations what do they see?
How well can others see the love of Christ through me?
When I am really under pressure what are people reading into the way I speak or respond to their questions and complaints?
Can others see that Jesus makes a difference to my life and gives me confidence, comfort and encouragement even when things are really difficult?

I don’t think we have to be geniuses to work out that too often we have not let the light of Christ change us and the way we regard God and treat other people.
Whether pastor, teacher, business person, labourer or student, it makes no difference. Far too often the dark side of our sinful nature takes control and we demonstrate arrogance, jealousy, anger, envy, the need to get back, unkind speech and action.
Too often we simply blend in with the morals, attitudes and values of the world. We don’t want to be different and stand out. We hide the light of Christ.

Because we hide the light of Christ that doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist. Even though we are reluctant light givers and fail to let Christ’s light change us, that in no way diminishes the radiance of the Light of the World, Jesus our Saviour. Jesus, the Light of the world, has brought forgiveness and eternal life into the darkness of sin and death in our lives. He died on a cross so that we might have the light of life and no longer walk in darkness. Every time we come here to worship
we thank God for rescuing us from the darkness of sin and death;
we are reminded that Jesus continually forgives us for our failure to brighten our world;
we praise God because we are basking in the light of Christ.

Jesus challenges us to walk as people who belong to the light saying, You are the light of the world. … Let your light shine before other people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Not only is Jesus Light in this world, but he is here telling each of us, and the church as a whole, that we are also to be light in the world. To be described as a light in the world is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to a Christian. If we are lights in the world then we are doing nothing less than what Jesus himself did.

Let’s hear what Paul has to say about being people of the light. ‘You are people of the light because you belong to the LORD. So act like people of the light and make your light shine. Be good and honest and truthful, as you try to please the LORD.  Don't take part in doing those worthless things that are done in the dark. Instead, show how wrong they are’ (Ephesians 5:8-9 CEV).

John writes simply, ‘If we love others, we are in the light’ … ‘If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark’ (1 John 2:10,11 CEV). Being in the light means we belong to God and belonging to God means that love controls everything we say and do.

When Jesus says ‘You are the light of the world’, he is saying that we are God's gifts to this world, just as Jesus is God's gift to the world. We are lights shining in the darkness of the lives of the people in our community.
In an age
- when there is so little known about Jesus and what he has done for us,
- when there are so many who know nothing of what is God's will for their lives,
- when there are so many people searching, hurting, despairing, needing comfort and strength, needing guidance in the moral dilemmas they find themselves in,
we are God's shining lights.

If we want to have an impact on the people in our lives and the world around us, we are inevitably called out of our comfort zone.
We are called to being different – to maintain our distinctive Christian values and attitudes and not going along with what is clearly wrong.
Jesus was different.
He never compromised the truth.
His love was beyond doubt.
His willingness to forgive and to help was clearly evident.
His patience and compassion were unquestionable.
He was different and yet people came out of the woodwork to get close to him. Why? Because it was his differentness that they liked and they felt acceptance and love. More than anything else that others know the warmth and love that Jesus has for everyone.

In a world as we have it today, the Christian is the light and salt that will brighten and give flavour to our world. We are people who bring the distinctive light of love and tender mercy and peace. If the love of Jesus goes with us everywhere into every situation of our life then love will dictate
- how we deal with other people,
- how we speak to them,
- how we control our tempers,
- how we make decisions about what is right and wrong,
- how we reach out to others when they have a need.

When a Christian practices forgiveness among people who have been torn apart because of hatred and strife and mistrust, there appears forgiveness as a breath of fresh air.

The Christian is a light to the person who is fearing the worst; bringing the peace and comfort and the reassurance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Few things will influence a person more than authentic self-giving love! The light of Christ’s love that you beam into the world will make a difference.

A person who experienced that kind of love wrote this:

I was in total despair when my wife died after a long fight with cancer. I went through the funeral like I was in a trance. Later that night, I felt like I just needed to get out, so I went for a walk at about 9 o'clock . But I didn't walk alone. My neighbour, a Christian whom I knew had been concerned about me, saw me leave the house, so he came outside to walk with me. I just kept walking. He walked beside me all night, and all during that walk, he never said a word. As the sun was coming up, all he said was: "Let's go get some breakfast."
I am not a Christian, but a religion that can produce the kind of love my neighbour showed me is something that I want to find out about.

May God help us to let the light of Christ shine through us in to darkness that the world may come to glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


This sermon was prepared for the Installation of staff at St Paul's Lutheran Primary School, however its message is applicable for any Sunday, especially Year C Epiphany 5 where the call of Isaiah and the disciples of Jesus are a focus of the readings.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th February 2007

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