Please sing with me: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
This is the Sunday to sing that song because Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, before all humanity so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.” Let your light shine.
Now unfortunately, the song is wrong–sorry to inform you of that–because it’s not this little light of mine; Jesus is talking about y’all- this little light of y’alls. There’s not a really good rhyme for that though. I couldn’t; I was trying to come up with one and I couldn’t get it to work. Jesus has taken his disciples aside on a mountain and he’s addressing them as a community. He doesn’t say you are the light of the world, He says y’all – you all- are the light of the world. You all together are the light that will shine in the darkness. So there’s two pieces of good news that I want to highlight about this.
The first is that Jesus is saying we’re already the light. We are the light. We don’t have to earn the light or kindle it or, or achieve it. We are the light already and all we have to do is let it shine. And the second piece of good news is that we don’t shine by ourselves. We shine together. We shine as God’s beloved community. So Beloved let’s go shine!
How we gonna do that? Well, let’s pull back for a moment and let’s look at the context of what Jesus is talking about. This is the continuing of the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter 5, 6, and 7, and the scriptures tell us that Jesus saw the crowds and He took his disciples up on a mountain and He began to teach them. And last Sunday we heard the beginning of the sermon, what we often refer to as the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are you when people who revile you and curse you and persecute you for My name’s sake … and on and on.
And, today we get the next part of Jesus’ introduction in which He continues and says, “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.” So Jesus is beginning His sermon, He’s setting up His message by telling the disciples three things: Your blessed, your salt and your light. He’s telling them that they are already blessed because all those things, “Blessed are those…”, that all applies to those disciples. They would have heard that and said, “Wow! That’s me, I’m blessed!” The salt, blessed, you are the salt of the earth. You are as essential to, to what’s going on as salt is to the earth in all the ways that salt is essential. You all, your community, you are really important, Jesus is saying. And you are the light of the world. You are to shine in the darkness. And that’s the first instruction of the whole sermon. Let your light shine, before humankind, so they may see your good works and give glory to God.
So the first instruction, the first imperative after He’s kinda given them all of this kinda encouragement, “Your blessed, and your salt, and your light … Shine, shine!” And the rest of the sermon it’s really a description of what it will look like when the disciples of God and the disciples who follow Jesus shine. And it’s gonna look different than what they expect. So Jesus has this little kind of parenthesis, little caveat that He goes into which we also heard this morning. He says, “Now, don’t think that I’ve come to do away with the law and the prophets.” And what He’s essentially saying, “It’s going to sound like and what I’m about to say, like I’m getting ready to do away with the law and the prophets; but I haven’t come to get rid of the law and the prophets or to abolish it. I’ve come to fulfil it. To fulfil the law.”
Jesus sort of makes a suggestion that the scribes and the Pharisees, the so called righteous ones, the ones who are supposed to be, supposedly the religious elite in the Jewish community, they’ve actually broken the laws because they have; they’ve been following them without heart. Without, without the Spirit. The law has become deflated. Following the law is different from fulfilling the Spirit and the heart of God’s law and that’s what Jesus has come to show the disciples and that’s what’s been passed down to us as those who have inherited that mantle of discipleship over the centuries. We are to be fulfillers of the law. And when we let our light shine we will fulfill what God intends for us. But, back to that question, “What, ok, we’re supposed to shine; we’re supposed to fulfil…what does that look like?”
So we’re going to hear more of the Sermon on the Mount in the next couple of Sundays and on Ash Wednesday. We’re not going to get to hear the whole thing on Sunday this year of the Lectionary, we’re gonna hear a good bit of it and Jesus is going to lay some pretty radical stuff on us, I’m just gonna warn you ahead of time. Jesus is going to say things like, “Well, the law says do not murder, but I say that if you’re even angry or insult somebody you’re liable to judgement.” Jesus will remind us of the teaching, “The law says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say turn the other cheek. The law says love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say love your enemies.” Again he’s not getting rid of the old rules, He’s fulfilling them, He’s breathing new Spirit into them like a, like a balloon that’s reinflating. And that’s what it will look like to shine in the light of the world, not just to follow the law, but to fulfil it, getting past legalities and exploring spiritual possibilities.
Now Jesus is a pretty intense preacher, probably more intense than I’ll ever be bold enough to be in this pulpit, but I’ll quote Jesus. Jesus, he doesn’t just, like a good preacher, he doesn’t just pull this stuff out of thin air. He’s read his Hebrew bible and he doesn’t quote it directly but the passage we heard from Isiah today, could certainly have been in his mind and Isaiah is also addressing a people, centuries before, who claim to follow God’s law but do not fulfill it because they’ve lost the heart, and Isaiah describes the righteous who fast and pray and who say they want to be close to God but who at the same time oppress their workers and they quarrel and they fight and so the prophet comes with the word from the Lord. He says, “Is this not the fast that I choose, releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated and breaking every yoke.” Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house? Covering the naked when you see them and not hiding from your own family? Then Isaiah says, “Then your light will shine, will break out like the dawn. And you will be healed quickly.” Then your light will break out like the dawn. When we loose the bonds of injustice together, when we share bread with the world together, when we welcome those who have been afflicted and cast out of their homes into our home together. That’s a light to shine in the world.
But Jesus also might have been thinking of any number of texts that talk about the light. Psalm 112 which says…
Light shines in the darkness for the upright and the righteous are full of mercy and compassion.
Good for them to be generous in lending and to manage their affairs with justice.
Our mercy, and our compassion, and our just dealings, that’s light, that’s light in the darkness. But of course we often don’t shine as brightly as we could, right? As individuals, as a community we can be just as hypocritical as those scripture warns us about. I am a hypocrite. I admit it. Anybody can relate?
I don’t always do what I say. I don’t always do what I believe is right. And the Sermon on the Mount, man it just puts me to shame. Jesus saying, “Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, don’t even insult each other much less kill each other. Don’t be greedy, don’t worry about money, don’t judge lest ye be judged.”
The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus really lets us have it. And my question for Jesus is, “Are you just trying to make me depressed? Are you just trying to make me feel inadequate, like I don’t, I’m never going to measure up to your impossible bar?” But I don’t believe that Jesus is trying to discourage the disciples or set the bar impossibly high. Not trying to discourage us either. I think He’s trying to excite us. And all those who would call themselves followers of Jesus, He’s trying to help us see that there’s more to God’s plans for us than following rules that have no heart or Spirit. Jesus is trying to expand our spiritual imagination. He’s given us a whole lot of stuff to think about and expand our spiritual imagination just as Isiah was trying to do before Him. Isaiah says, “Hey, imagine a fast where you, instead of giving up food you’re giving up injustice.” Imagine that.
And Jesus says, “Imagine, that when the law says don’t murder it also could mean don’t kill the Spirit with insults and abuse. Or imagine when the law says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth we can choose to respond without retaliation. Imagine how bright the world can be if we use our imagination to see how we might shine together as followers of Christ. How we might be a light for a world that’s mired in negativity and “snarkiness” and obstinacy and blindness to human suffering. How bright can we shine together? Even as we are hypocrites we can still have imagination and we still can encourage one another to have a spiritual imagination that goes beyond the letter of the law; could encourage those to whom we look for leadership in our world to have a spiritual imagination. ‘Cause the world right now needs us, this community of disciples, to shine; the world needs our spiritual imagination that will brighten in the darkness. The world needs us to shine with the light of liberation for all God’s children. That’s what God has entrusted to us as followers of Jesus. This little light of ours let it reveal God’s power. I know that’s not as good as this little light of mine, but you get the point. This little light- let the shining of this light, let the shining of this church on a hill, let the shining of this part of God’s beloved community, let it cause others to say, “Wow! God is up to something good over there!” Because Jesus says, “Let your light shine before humanity that they may see your good works and give glory to God.” A city on a hill, a church on a hill cannot be hid. We can’t keep this to ourselves. We have been giving light. Let it shine. Singing: Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
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