Written by Pastor Ed
February 5, 2017
This Little Light
Isaiah 58: 1-9a
Matthew 5: 13-20
One of the most used images throughout the Bible is that of light. From beginning to end, the image of light is used. Just as it is the first thing we see in the morning, even before the sun appears, so light is the first thing Genesis 1 says God created. God said, “Let there be light.” And the vision in Revelation closes with the promise that there will be no more night, for God will be the light, so the saints won’t need a lamp or even the sun.
In between we have numerous references to light – a pillar of light leading the children of Israel on their exodus, Jesus as the light coming into the world in John 1 that the darkness is not able to overcome, and so forth.
But our text today says, “You are the light of the world.” You, the disciples, the followers of Jesus are the light. As the children of Israel were called to be a light to the nations, now the new people of God are called to be the light of the world – the cosmos, that is not just other people but a light that embraces all of creation. Somehow we are to be today what God will eventually be in the fullness of the kingdom of God.
Moreover Jesus said, a light is to be seen. As William Barclay, noted Bible commentator said, there is no such thing as secret discipleship for “either the secrecy destroys the discipleship or the discipleship destroys the secrecy.” You can’t be like the person who said he was concerned about being hassled at work because he was a Christian, but was pleased to report that he didn’t get hassled because no one at work found out he was a Christian.
Now lights serve many purposes. Sometimes lights serve as guides; they brighten the way to show where to go or serve as beacons to give direction. Pilots would have a hard time landing a plane at night if there were no lights. Or if you’ve ever gone into a strange place in the dark, you know how helpful a light can be.
I recall visiting a friend in Dusseldorf, Germany and going with her father to the church that he pastored. As we walked into a room he heard me bumping into tables and said, “Oh, there’s a light switch by the door if you want to turn it on.” Which I did. Since he was blind, he knew his way around without the light, but for me it made a great deal of difference.
Lights can also serve as warning signals, on emergency vehicles, on lighthouses or buoys, flashing markers warning of danger ahead.
We are lights, Jesus says. It’s not a matter of whether you want to be or not – you are a light and you will be seen. The purpose of that light is to show people God, “so that they may glorify your father who is in heaven.” It is not to call attention to yourself, but rather to point to God.
So, what kind of a light are you? Or what kind of light would you like to be? There are lots of possibilities.
Perhaps you see yourself like this rather small, insignificant light, a Christmas tree light. It really doesn’t put out a whole lot of light and is mostly stuck away and only used on certain occasions. And it mostly gets used in a group, not very often so you see these individually. But when they are put together with others, they can create quite a display.
Or perhaps you’d like to be a bit more noticed, more like one of these decorative bulbs of which there are many kinds. These are not meant to be under a shade or anything, but out where everyone can see them. Some people are perhaps a bit like that, sometimes more show than light. If you want to be seen primarily for who you are, rather than pointing to something else or lighting the way, then perhaps that’s not the kind of light we’re talking about. Yet, there are places where these bulbs can and need to be used.
Perhaps another bulb I should have is a heat lamp. You have probably come across people who are more heat than light, although again that’s not what we’re aspiring to.
Perhaps some people’s light is like this flashbulb. Some of you younger people may not know what this is, it’s what cameras used to use. While this is a fairly small one, yet it can put out a great deal of light, albeit for only a fraction of a second. This light sits here with great potential, a brilliant flash, but only for a second, and only once – one flash and it’s done. It does have a special job to do, and it fulfills that job well. Of course now we have electronic flashes that can be used over and over, but again only in short flashes. Some people are like that as well. One bright flash, and then gone. Brilliant when on, but of short duration.
Some lights are rather unique, as are some people, like this one. It’s a rather unique light bulb with lots of special things inside, including another bulb. It does give off a fair bit of light, but it is special with a unique shape. But it also has its limitations. For one thing it needs a special base, called a mogul base, so it won’t fit just anywhere, and perhaps more importantly, it only works up-side down, with the base up, like in a street light which is where it is from.
Some of you saw the bulb here on the table a few weeks ago and saw what 300 watts of clear light looks like, but what about this one! Now there’s a light bulb and I suppose everyone would like to be a light like this. 750 watts of clear light. That would get noticed, right? If we are called to be lights to the world, why not be big and noticed. But again this bulb has its limitations. It too needs a special mogul base and it really wouldn’t fit in most of the places we need light. It would be so bright as to be almost over powering. In fact, quite frankly I’m not even sure where you might use something like this, perhaps in an arena.
But do you know where most of the light we use everyday comes from? Most of us are probably more like a standard 60 watt bulb or its equivalent. There’s nothing spectacular about these, unlike some of the others, but they are handy and useful, not overblown, but convenient. They go about their task mostly unnoticed, yet they give light for all to see.
But all of these have a place. With all of this variety, and many more we can have a light for all occasions. Each has a role to play and a function. You can’t take a bright picture with a 60 watt bulb, you need a flash. You can’t light a parking lot with a little decorative bulb, you need a special one, not like the one I have anymore, but still a special bulb. And you certainly couldn’t hang many of these 750 watters from your Christmas tree! We need a whole variety of light, just as we need a whole variety of Christian lights to point to Jesus.
But no matter what kind of light we are, or aspire to be, Isaiah gives us a clue as to what being a light means. When the people complain that they are going through all the right rituals but God doesn’t seem to care, Isaiah says, it’s not just going to church on Sunday that shines your light into the world. That’s shutting it up inside, under a basket. Most people won’t see or care if you practice all your religious rituals. Not that those aren’t important, but that’s not shining your light. That’s not fulfilling your mission in the world, what God has a people for.
No, it’s what you do out in the world that makes a difference. To do justice, to share your bread with the hungry, to provide shelter to the homeless and poor, to clothe the naked. If you do those things, says Isaiah, “then your light will break forth like the dawn!” Those are the kinds of things that spread the light of Jesus and let others know who you are. And as Alan Kreider noted in a lecture, those things ought to be audacious enough, noticeable enough, that people will ask questions, so that you can explain why it is you act the way you do. Following the way of Jesus will make a difference in how you live your life, and that will show to people around you. As we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks, we’ll explore that theme further.
And one more thing. As you may have noticed, none of these bulbs are lit, for none are connected to a power source. It is only when they are connected that their light truly shines. They all need that outside source of power to do their task, and the same is true for us. If we are to be lights in the world, then we need to be connected to our source of power, namely to Jesus Christ through the Spirit which God has given to us. It is only in that way that we can be the kind of light that Jesus calls us to be and thus draw others to give glory to God.
May our lights truly shine into the world.