Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:16
“Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven”. 

Shine your light

“You are the light of the world”, Jesus says to his followers.  Of course when Jesus is talking about a light he wasn’t thinking of the floodlights of the Gabba cricket ground, or the bright beam of light that flashes from a lighthouse or airport control tower that can be seen far and wide.  He isn’t thinking of the light of a laser beam that can slice through darkest night with the narrowest beam that is blindly brilliant.  Nor is he thinking of the flashes of coloured light that we see in the darkened sky on New Year’s Eve or Australia Day as fireworks light up the faces of everyone watching.  Neither was Jesus thinking of the thousands of tiny lights that are in the back of televisions that work together to change our black screens into a vast array of moving vivid colour.

None of this modern light making technology was available to make light back in the first century.  The main source of light, other than the sun, was a lamp or a candle, a source of light that was simple, small and fragile and yet still powerful enough to light a darkened room or guide a traveller along dark roads. It really doesn’t matter how small a light is or even how fragile it might be when everything around you is complete darkness, that tiny light is brilliant as it cuts a hole in the darkness and comforts and guides and protects. 

A small boy and his father were about to walk down a dark road with a lantern.  The boy said, “Daddy, I’m really scared to go down there because it’s really dark.  This lantern doesn’t give very much light, does it?” 
His dad replied, “You’re right son, it is very dark and the lantern isn’t very bright but when you walk with the lantern, the light will always be around you and throw its light on everything around you. Just keep walking.  There is enough light to get us all the way home.”

Keeping that picture what does Jesus mean when he says to us his followers, “You are the light of the world.… Your light must shine before people”.

A light is something that is meant to be seen; it’s meant to shine and light up the area in front of you and around you if a light is worth anything at all. 

The light of our faith in Jesus has to shine beyond this place of worship.  A form of Christianity that stops at the church door or is something that we keep for private use only is not much use to anyone.  Through Jesus’ use of the image of a light shining to give light to everyone in the house he indicates that our faith and love and mercy is something that should be worn on our sleeve.  It should be visible in the everyday activities of our lives.  Like the boys lantern, the light of Christ should fall on everyone and everything around us as we travel through each day.

The people of this community, the people we rub shoulders with every day, our neighbours and friends should be able to note that our relationship with Jesus does make a difference to our everyday life.  We are just as much a Christian in the workshop, the schoolroom, the office, the surgery, the kitchen, on the sports field, as we are in church at worship or at Bible study or doing Christian things and so let our light shines in every circumstance. 

There are times when we blow out a candle or a lamp or turn off a light but the kind of light Jesus is referring to is not the kind that is turned off.  When he calls us “light of the world” there is a continuous, never ceasing aspect to this. There isn’t a switch that we can turn off and can say, “Today or at this moment, I’m not a light.  I just want a break.  I just want to go somewhere and hide for a while”. 

The light of Jesus has come into our lives and makes us different.  As Paul says so many times in his letters to the early Christians as he explains how Jesus has changed their lives.  He talks about the newness that Christ brings into our lives and so by the Spirit’s power we strive to put off the old sinful ways that centre around ourselves and our selfishness and the focus on ourselves and be more like God intended us to be to be filled with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, humility, faithfulness and self-control.  Christ makes us different to the rest of the world.

In a world where decency, politeness, compassion, kindness, understanding seem to have gone out the window and verbal and physical violence, dishonesty, selfishness, and lack of care have taken over, our community needs Christians to bring the 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 will 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 as a breath of fresh air the cool breeze of forgiveness healing old wounds.

When one person encourages and supports others who fear the worst and see nothing but doom in the future, the Christian can be a light to this person bringing the peace and comfort and the reassurance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

By the different way you respond to the anger of others,
by the remarkable way you treat those who treat you indifferently,
by your love and understanding and compassion,
by your dedication and enthusiasm,
by the way you do your job speak to others,
the light of Christ radiates through you into the lives of those around you making a difference in their lives.  People will think it and they will even say it, “What is it about that person that makes him or her so different?  Where does all that patience and kindness and love come from?” 

A couple of times I attended a national Christian camp for 400-500 teenage boys as part of the chaplaincy team. It was a very full-on 10 days.  At the end when the boys were heading home a dad called out, “Hey you!  I want to have a word with you.”  (I wasn’t quite sure what to expect so I braced myself for whatever came next).  He went on.  “I don’t understand why you blokes give up your holidays to organise this and wear yourselves out and give these boys the time of their life but I’m really want to say thanks”. 

That was his way of saying, “There’s something different happening here that I don’t understand”.  I found out that the dad and his family came to see Jesus as their Light.

The hard thing about Jesus’ words “you are the light of the world” and “let your light shine before others” is that this can make us stand out.  It take us right out of our comfort zone and put us out there for all to see because our values might be so different to those being expressed by the people around us.  At just that moment, it’s far easier to be quiet and slip into the background and let our light just splutter and grow so dim that it almost goes out. 

Jesus knows what that’s like.  He stood out like a sore thumb in his day.  People called him crazy.  They didn’t recognise the one who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).  The light of God was shining through him but they preferred the darkness.  Jesus knows how hard it is to be the light of the world and that’s why he came to bring the light of mercy and forgiveness into the world.  All who believed and received the light of Christ are reborn as children of God.

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.

You are the light of the world”.  What a privilege this is – you are God's gifts to this world, just as Jesus is God's gift to the world. You 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,
you and I are God's shining lights.

That is an awesome responsibility and a wonderful privilege. It is one not to be taken lightly.  It is one that we can’t dismiss and say that it someone else’s job.  “You are the light of the world” Jesus says to his followers.  The emphasis is on “you” or if you like “You all are light of the world”. It’s one that we will fail doing often but one we can do with the grace of God.  It is one that we happily carry out because we want others to see the Light of Christ and see that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour.

May God’s Spirit help each one of us shine the light of Christ so that others will see God and praise his name.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th February 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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