5th Weekend after Epiphany (A/RCL) Feb. 4 & 5: "Let Your Light So Shine..."

Fifth Weekend After Epiphany (A/RCL): “Let Your Light So Shine….”

Matthew 5:13-20

February 4-5, 2017

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            Pastor Mark loves different kinds of lights: candles, solar-powered lanterns, flashlights, nightlights, headlamps.  One of his Christmas presents was a magnetic flashlight for the grill.  His e-mail address is litehouz.  He is a great living illustration of the Christophers’ motto: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” 

            At our Matthew Bible study last week Peter Seggel pointed out something I’d never picked up on.  Of all Jesus’ “I am” sayings from St. John’s Gospel:

·         I am the light of the world

·         I am the bread of life

·         I am the Good Shepherd

·         I am the resurrection and the life

·         I am the way, the truth and the life

-- of them all, the only one Jesus applies to us is, “You are the light of the world.”  We heard it in today’s Gospel:

“You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)

            The “you” Jesus is talking to isn’t you or me individually; it’s us together.    We know that from the Greek verb, which is plural.   We also know Jesus is emphasizing you [not “them”] because the pronoun isn’t even necessary, but He uses it.  YOU (not the scribes and Pharisees and other formal religious leaders) are the light of the world.   Think about a concert arena or a sports stadium.  One lighter, one phone’s flashlight, is a barely visible pinprick in the darkness.  But if everyone has a lighter, if everyone’s phone is lit up, the whole place is illuminated.  It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, but it’s even better to light a community-full of candles.

            The assisting minister quotes Jesus’ words to the newly baptized during the presentation of the baptismal taper lit from the Paschal candle which was first lit from the Easter fire in our Holy Trinity churchyard on Holy Saturday night:

“…[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Echoing, proclaiming Jesus’ words is a commissioning of the newly baptized, but more importantly of our whole family of faith.  It is also a reminder that we are not the Source of the Light we shed.  There is Another who is the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2); we are like moons reflecting His light.  We whom Jesus calls the light of the world would walk in darkness ourselves if we were not following closely in His footsteps (John 8:12), if it were not for the living Word that is “a lamp for [our] feet and a light for [our] path.”  (Psalm 119:105)

            The works we are to perform so our Father in heaven is glorified aren’t just good; if we look at the meaning of the Greek word, they are beautiful.   Mother Teresa of Calcutta had it right when she said, “Let us do something beautiful for God.”  She wasn’t talking about passively having beautiful beliefs about God, but about actively doing beautiful deeds for God’s children. 

            The magnificent first lesson from Isaiah tells us what we should do so that:

…[our] light shall break forth like the dawn,

      and [our] healing shall spring up quickly….

                                          Isaiah 58:8

Through the prophet Isaiah our God says that we should:

…loose the bonds of injustice,

…undo the thongs of the yoke,

…let the oppressed go free…

…share [our]bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into [our] house;

when [we] see the naked, to cover them….

                                          Isaiah 58:6-7

We are told in Scripture:

…[I]f you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

      and your gloom be like the noonday.

                                          Isaiah 58:10

When we raise our voice on behalf of the voiceless, when we recognize Christ in the hungry, the homeless, the despairing, the displaced, the diseased, the addicted, the imprisoned, the most powerless and least lovely members of our society, the last, the least and the lost, when we are advocates for social justice, following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets and more importantly of our Lord -- then, as a community of Christ, as a family of faith, we will be like:

 …a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [our] hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

            I keep my sermon notes on the Scripture I study; we follow the lectionary, so I know the same lessons will resurface at least every three years!  In with my materials on this Gospel, I found the sermon I preached at the candlelight service in Squan Plaza on September 16, 2001, 5 days after the 9/11 attacks.  Some of you were there.  We never got a true headcount, but I’ve heard an educated guess that there were over a thousand people present that night.  This weekend’s Gospel was the Scripture chosen for that service of lament and of petition to God, filled with prayers for those who grieved the loss of loved ones and for those who posted “missing” photo flyers of loved ones -- for those who worked and those who wandered and those who feared the darkness and prayed for light to dispel the darkness.

            I shared how someone had asked me beforehand, “What’s the purpose of a candlelight vigil?”  I preached:

The purpose is to shed light in the darkness.  If I stood here alone and lit a single candle, I would be making a personal witness, but I wouldn’t be doing much to brighten up the place.  But look at the effect of all our candles and flashlights joined together!  The purpose of a candlelight vigil is… to remind us that we are the light of the world

Others are letting their lights shine at the disaster sights, including New York City.  Members of our community are digging and tunneling through debris, delivering water and flashlights, offering their particular expertise to the rescue efforts.  They and all the firefighters, police, EMT’s, search and rescue workers who risk their lives to save others are shining brightly with courage and self-sacrifice.  They remind us that the greatest heroes are at Ground Zero and not on the gridiron.  They challenge us to do whatever we can to shine brightly.

As I reread it, I couldn’t help but think this message is as relevant today as when I preached it 15 years ago:

Shining brightly as individuals, as a community, as a nation, means refusing to answer mindless violence with violence.  It means we do not scapegoat an entire ethnic group, punishing the innocent and twisting the religion of those who follow the true teachings of their faith.  It means that we don’t dehumanize people and make them expendable military targets.  It means that we “keep the faith” that as sure as the rising sun will bless our beautiful Jersey Shore tomorrow morning, good will prevail over evil in this world… 

Even and especially when human misery… could suggest that God is nowhere, trust that God is now here with a saving hand and an outstretched arm.  God is now here in those who rappel into dark canyons of rubble in Lower Manhattan.  God is now here in those who hold candles and flashlights in Squan Plaza.  Because God is now here, light pierces the darkness.

People of God, today and always:

“…[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”


Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham