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 others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (NIV)

Thermometer or thermostat?

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? Let me ask you again in case you thought you didnít hear right. Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

The strange looks on your face suggest that you are saying, "What the heck is he talking about?"

Let me explain. A thermometer reflects its environment. It shows what the temperature is;
if itís hot outside - it says itís hot;
if itís cold, it tells us how cold it is;
but it exerts no influence on what's around it. A thermometer doesnít change the weather; it just reflects what is going on around it. It is designed to be influenced by the weather and doesnít have any effect on what the day is actually like.

I think you know where Iím going with this. A thermostat has power; it sets the temperature, it changes things. The thermostat changes a humid, hot room into one that is cool and comfortable. Iím sure most of us this week have experienced the power of a thermostat in our air conditioners to make a change to the climate in our workplace and homes.

So what are you? A thermometer or a thermostat?

That gets us thinking about Jesusí words to us today from the Gospel of Matthew.

"You are the light of the world. Ö People donít 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."

You are the light of the world?
You are the light of faith, hope and love;
the light of truth and compassion, justice and courage, sensitivity, mercy and forgiveness. 
You have the light of Christ within you and that light radiates from you, lighting up the world around you.  You are the light of the world.

Now given the situation in our world today, thatís a big call; a mega call, if you like. There is no doubt about the shadows and the darkness that we encounter in the world around us.
There is the darkness that sin and death brings into the lives of people and affects whole communities.
There is the darkness that depression, anxiety, confusion and hopelessness blots out any ray of light that would brighten the road ahead.
There is the darkness that comes when people have lost their way. Like being in a dark forest and not knowing which way is the right way home. They have lost their bearings and donít know right from wrong, how to teach good values to their children and how to treat other people with respect and value them for who they are.

That is where we come in. The love of God in Christ Jesus, the very Light of Light, is intended to shine in and through our daily affairs. We are supposed to have this illuminated and illuminating quality.

Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven". Thatís what is meant by being a thermostat Ė the light we shine is meant to change the lives of the people around us; chase away the darkness and bring about a new light and new way of seeing things.

Itís hard being a thermostat and to influence what is happening around us. Itís much easier to be a thermometer.
When others around us are scoffing and mocking - all we need do is be quiet, to not make waves - we may even perhaps join with them in a gentle put down.

When someone is hurt and alone and sad, or feeling offended or betrayed, or simply depressed, all we have to do is go on doing what we were doing before as if nothing was happening that needed our attention.

All we have to do to be a thermometer - is go with the flow, to not speak about God's power and love, to not witness by your deeds to God's grace and mercy.

You and I alike certainly have plenty of room for improvement but itís not my intention to take you on a guilt trip. There is a much healthier and more faithful direction for me to take in this sermon.

Letís note the words of Jesus; he is not talking about people generally but specifically about his followers. He says, "You are the light of the world".  There is an emphasis on the word Ďyouí. Itís as if he is pointing to the group gathered around him, not pointing at any particular individual, but to them all as a group. You are, all of you are at this very moment the light of the world.  Not you could be, or should be. Not tidy up your act, strengthen your will power, and commence trying.  Not in ten yearsí time or by the end of the year. Right now you are light of the world. That says something about the relationship of Jesus with us.

Next itís good to note that Jesus doesnít say all of you are the lights (plural) of the world, rather he says all of you are like a single beam of light. You are the light of the world. Without a doubt, Jesus is also saying that each person individually is the light of the world but he is emphasizing even more strongly that all of us together become one powerful beam of light.

Itís a bit like the LED torch that I use when Iím walking across the carpark at night. It has 9 very small LED light bulbs. One bulb by itself gives light and does a very good job but with 9 they shine together as one strong beam of light.

To put this into our present situation Jesus is saying that itís great that we as individuals are the light of the world but that together as fellow Christians in this congregation and, in fact, all Christians combined, how powerful would that beacon become shining light into the world. It would be a light that could hardly be ignored.

The 19th century philosopher and sceptic Frederick Nietzsche said this about the Christians of his day,
"They must sing better songs, for me to believe in their saviour. They must act like they are redeemed before I will believe in their redeemer".

Thatís the problem we still face today and Jesus knew it. Thatís why Jesus had to say in the first place, "You are the light of the world. Ö Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven". Jesus is urging all of us together to be a beacon of
light, love, hope,
God-inspired peace and joy,
Spirit given compassion, kindness, understanding and patience.
We are urged to be
Christ-like in our gentleness and tolerance of those who annoy us,
Christ-like in our readiness to forgive those who hurt us,
Christ-like in our friendliness and the warmth to the stranger.

But before we can combine our light into one powerful beam we need to know what it means to be the light of the world in a personal and individual way. We need to know where this light comes from and what empowers this light.

Immediately we ask the question, "How can I be the light of the world?" we run slap bang into the grace of God. We are left gob-smacked with surprise as we realise that through God's grace and faith and trust in that grace, the light of God has already come into our lives. Jesus in our hearts, minds and souls is the "one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone" (John 1:9). He is 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).

Itís not our light but his light. The light and love of Jesus in our hearts flows through our words and deeds and we become a light to the world. As Jesus implied, "When people see these Christ-like qualities in us, this will cause them to stop and ask, ĎWhat is it that makes these people differentí; Ďwhat is it that makes these people shine with such brilliance in the darkness when there is nothing but despair, hopelessness, grief and unkindness in our world?í "They will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 4:16) because in you they will see the Light of the world, Jesus Christ himself.

All of this must have really got up the noses of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. They taught, ĎIf you keep all the religious laws and regulations, if you ritually wash and purify yourself each day, if you make the required sacrifices at the temple, and avoid any contact with the despicable non-Jews, then.... just maybe, you may begin to be a little light in the darkness of the worldí.

Not so with Jesus. He offers to each of us the free gift of love. Simply to come as we are. Allow him to open the windows of our lives to the light and let it touch even the dusty corners of our heart and soul. The light of God is a gift: a gift to be lovingly received, celebrated, cherished and freely shared. Then without any question, we will be the light of the world.

Can I hear some of you saying, "If pastor truly knew me, he wouldnít go on waffling about me being a beacon of light in the world! I am so far from being the light of the world that it would be outrageously funny, if it werenít so desperately sad."

Letís face it: Some of us have many doubts. Some have bad habits. Some have guilty secrets. Some rarely pray or read the Bible. Some can get sarcastic about spiritual matters. We can be trite, judgmental, arrogant, or just plain apathetic at times. Dare we believe, even for one moment, that we are the light of the world?

The words of our text today are not mine. These are the words of a person who knows what is in our hearts. With openness to the guiding and leading of the Holy Spirit, we shall be, in spite of our defects, the light of the world.

The tiny bits of faith, hope and love that the grace of God has sown in your mind and heart and soul qualify you to be a bearer of the light of Christ Jesus.

For Godís sake, and for the sake of those around you, believe in the gift. Please do not fall into the temptation to discredit the power of God in your lives. It is Godís light, not your failings that count. Christ is always greater than your darkness. Christians like Peter, John, Paul, Mary and other notable disciples, had their failures on a grand scale, yet they were indeed beacons in a dark world. By the generous grace of Christ, they were the light of the world.

By the grace of God, you are a thermostat that brings change to the climate around you.
By the generous grace of God, you are the light of the world.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
6th February 2011

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