Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
A very basic silly biology experiment has brought me so much joy at home in recent weeks. This plant. It has sat on top of the refrigerator, mainly because there are no great spots near another window. So, the fridge is next to the window and there it sits. In its early baby sprout days, I would rotate it in the morning and anticipate how it would bend throughout the day in order to reach the light. (Don’t laugh...it’s the little things in life!)
Everyday, though, it would indeed bend toward the light. Plants need the sun, the light, in order to process all the things and grow. We’re not much different than plants in some ways. We need the light, too. I type this on a day that is not very bright at all and it makes me appreciate the days where the sun does shine brightly.
Our bodies need the physical light - as a matter of fact, for people who cannot see light, who are legally blind, they sometimes suffer from disrupted sleep cycles because their bodies don’t know night from day. Our souls need spiritual light. The light of God’s love. Without that light, we may not know the difference between hate and love.
This message of “light” is in our faith story from the very beginning - in Genesis, we are told that God made the light and separated day from night and saw that it was good. Psalm 119 tells us that God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. In the Gospels, we are told that Jesus is the light of the world and whoever follows him will not walk in darkness. (John 8:12) We are no strangers to hearing about God’s light of love.
So, for Jesus to use this language in talking with the disciples and those gathered around is no surprise. What I love about this particular imagery of light and even salt is that these metaphors put forth a message of going forth. How often do people eat salt on its own - not combined with anything else? What good would light do if it was isolated - no humans to light their path, no plants to encourage photosynthesis - just a lamp in an empty room by itself?
Salt flavors food. Light illuminates our lives.
These words in Matthew are placed directly after the Beatitudes. Think about the message of the Beatitudes that all people are blessed - not just the wealthy and healthy - but the meek, the poor, the mournful, the peacemakers. Think about that message in conjunction with going forth, and you have the gospel message of bringing God’s light of love to the people normally pushed the sides of society.
This sermon, called the Sermon on the Mount, was Jesus’s challenge to the people of Israel to BE the people of Israel. (Edwin Van Driel, Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol1) Today, when we hear this message it is Jesus saying to us “Church, be the church!”
The UCC has created a great graphic of this; Roxy often includes it in the newsletter. It says “Be the church: protect the environment. Care for the poor. forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.”
At this point, I’m pretty sure you would all agree with me - we know we need to be the light. I don’t think any of you are going to argue that. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the
problem here is whether we know we are called to be the church.
I think the problem here is figuring out what keeps this from happening? What keeps God’s light of love from shining into the world? What are the clouds that keep it from being seen?
For this, I have two specific questions I want you to reflect upon:
The first is what keeps you from shining God’s light? What stops you from caring for the poor, fighting for the powerless, embracing diversity, or enjoying this life?
- I posed this question on social media and received responses like self doubt and fear of failure. For me, it’s what other people may think or say. Maybe it’s apathy - feeling overwhelmed - not knowing where to start or what to do.
- The first step in overcoming any of these things that hinder us is to name them. Recognize that those things are stopping you from doing something for which you feel God has given you a skill or passion.
- Remember that when we speak of “doing,” these actions may be on what feels to be a small scale - like not laughing a racist joke - to what feels to be a larger scale - like taking on policy change in a school system. Both make ripples. Both make a difference. Both are
ways of shining God’s love.
What keeps you from shining God’s light?
The second question is when are you the clouds to someone else’s light shining? We don’t like to think of when we are the problem, but sometimes we are.
- I think of a general example of a child wanting to twirl or sway to music that makes them feel happy, especially in a church setting. And then, someone tells them “no, stop that.”
- When we judge others for the new ways that they try caring for the environment or rejecting racism, when we take too much ownership in a project, when we speak poorly of the “other” and generalize every person in that man made category, when we don’t listen to the stories of people who were raised differently than we were, we risk being a cloud over someone else’s light.
- We are all so different - even those of us who have similar personalities or enneagram types or faith beliefs - we are still all so different.
When are times that you have hindered another person shining God’s light? Let’s all reflect on this and try our best to not being a cloud.
I included the second Scripture selection today because I believe it’s an example of Paul trying to shine God’s light. I know many people here have very mixed feelings on the writings of Paul, and I think we can learn from this man who was trying to spread the message of Christ across many early church communities. He wrote to the church in Corinth that he came to them with “fear and trembling,” trying to convey the power and the Spirit of God. He came to them humbly, wanting only to reflect God’s light, God’s message, God’s wisdom.
Friends, the point of today’s message is that what we do in the world matters. (Thomas Long; Matthew: Westminster Bible Companion) How we reflect God’s light of love - how we potentially cloud other people from shining that light - it matters.
Let’s encourage one another to do the things we feel God compelling us to do - and then not judge others when they don’t feel compelled in the same way.
Let’s listen to wise counsel from friends and loved ones - and then also remember it is our conscious and connection to the Divine that leads us.
Let’s remember that we all need light in this world - and that we can all get a bit droopy if we're lacking it. Let us be that light to others.