You Are the Light of the WorldPosted: July 29, 2012
You Are the Light of the World
Our scripture comes from the Sermon on the Mount just after the beatitudes and before Jesus begins detailing how his followers are to distinguish themselves from those who merely follow the law. For instance, “You have heard in the law that it is said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if a Roman soldier should force you to carry his pack one mile, prove to him that you are a person of love not hate by carrying it two miles. Give to him who begs from you and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” So it is in the context of becoming the people of love and walking the second mile, that Jesus calls his followers to become the Light of the World.
Light has been a classic image of goodness and truth. From Psalm 43: Send out your light and your truth let them lead me. Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Proverbs 4:18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Light in the scriptures represents goodness and truth. We are called to be the people of goodness and truth like a light house on a dangerous coast in a dark and stormy sea, we can give light and direction to others who are trying to navigate difficult waters. And that reminds me of one of my very favorite illustrations of all time.
A naval officer full of himself was promoted to Captain and given command of the newest, fastest most powerful battle ship in the fleet. The Captain was on the bridge one night congratulating himself on his new command, when he noticed a light on his starboard side closing fast. Unwilling to give way to any other ship in the fleet the Captain asked the signalman to send a message to the light on his starboard to alter your course ten degrees to port.
To the Captain’s astonishment a signal was returned, alter your course ten degrees to port. The Captain asked the signalman to send a new message, “this is Captain Jones, alter your course 10 degrees to port immediately.”
The message came back, “this is Seaman Third Class Smith, alter your course 10 degrees to port immediately.”
Infuriated the Captain grabbed the signal light, and flashed the message, “I am a Battle Ship.”
The response came back, “I am a Light House.”
I like this illustration because we live in a culture of narcissism. So many people are running around flexing their egos and saying: “I am a battle ship.” And so often they end up running their lives on the rocks like the Costa Concordia. We live in a time, when many people especially young people are trying to find their way without a chart or a spiritual compass. They don’t have the slightest idea of where they are going, where they have come from, or how to get there. I am aghast by how little history our young people know.
I remember one of the parents at St. Paul’s Christian School asking me, “Now I’m a little fuzzy about history, did Vietnam come before or after the Civil War?” And we as church folks need to understand, many people in our culture have no spiritual background what so ever, they are functionally unchurched, and the only impression they have of religion comes from the judgmentalism of the religious right. And if all they know about Christian faith is what comes out of the religious right, anti-gay, pro-war, opposed to equal rights for women, opposed to evolution and science in general, no wonder they stay away from churches. We’re sitting here saying, “we’re not like that, come give us a try,” but many young people can’t hear us, because we are drowned out by the other angry, judgmental voices, who claim they represent the Christian faith.
If we at United church are going to be the light of the world, then we have to make a real effort to communicate. We have to learn to connect with and welcome people, who are not part of our faith community, young people who may have never been part of a church, some of whom may not know the first thing about either Christmas or Easter.
Beginning to learn to reach the unchurched, especially younger people, we have to acknowledge that our own members are no longer the primary target audience. A couple of months ago, when we were on vacation, Beth and I would tune in the news in the evening, while we were eating dinner. We normally don’t watch television. And advertisements would come on the T.V., and when they were over, we would look at each other and ask, “What was that about?” We didn’t get it. And that is because we are no longer the “target audience.” The people for whom the advertisements are designed are from a different generation, they speak a different language, and they respond to a whole different set of images.
We need to learn to think of ourselves like the Wycliffe Bible Translators who travel into remote areas, where they learn the language of a tribe of people and then translate the Bible into that language, so the people can learn about God in their own native language. In many cases these remote people do not have a written language, so the Wycliffe Bible Translators end up creating a written language for these remote peoples. Thus not only do they give the gift of scripture, they are also giving these people the gift of literacy. Let me note here that several of Bob Bergman’s family members are Wycliffe Bible translators, and you can ask him about it the next time he visits United Church.
You and I are probably not called to parachute into the jungle to translate the Bible for some remote tribe. But we are called to venture into the untamed, and foreign culture of unchurched young people to translate a progressive Christian message into language and images to which those young people can relate and understand. We can find out where to advertise and how to get our message across in ways that will catch their attention. We will have to learn to use smart phones and social media. We need to encourage the unchurched to come to the light of Christ to find themselves in relationship to God.
We can’t preach at the unchurched telling them all of the reasons they should be in church. For these unchurched people “shoulds” are about judgmentalism and that is exactly why they are not in church. Our message has to be winsome and welcoming. Winsome means charming, beautiful and joyous even humorous. Lillian Daniels provided us with a good example of winsome evangelism in her still speaking devotion on Tuesday this week:
On Sunday nights, our church houses and feeds about 60 homeless people in Pilgrim Hall through a program called
PADS. Sylvia, one of our church members who volunteers with the program, sent me this note:
A couple of PADs guests stopped me to say they thought it was great – religious but funny, too. I happen to think that is a great way to sum up our denomination – serious about what needs to be serious, but always willing to lighten it up to get the message across.”
I thought this was an excellent testimony to the many ways in which we share our faith. Some people are comfortable with conversation, but that’s not the only way to communicate. In this case, by wearing her UCC apron, Sylvia was able to open up some meaningful conversations that would not have happened otherwise.
I have heard a lot of stories like this, from people who wear a comma pin or carry something that points to our church. Years ago when we began these devotionals, we came up with the theme “whimsical piety.” Another way to say it might be “religious but funny.” You can care about justice and still have a sense of humor. You can take God seriously but yourself less so. You can appreciate the weighty things and still be light in spirit. Welcome to the UCC, where God is still speaking.
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here, because God loves you. And here in this community of faith we will walk with you, pray with you and for you as you seek to chart your course in life. Come to the light.
Not only do we have to be winsome in our presentation of our faith, we also have to pay attention to verse 16 in our scripture: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven.” We have to embody our faith. Our deeds have to match our claims. We can’t just talk about welcoming, we have to do welcoming, invite people to lunch or dinner, feed people, move over and make room for people in our common life together. We also have to do mission. Jesus says to us, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked welcome the stranger. Our support of foodline, and habitat, and meals on wheels and the Huntsville Assistance program has to be visible, so others will find themselves drawn into participating in mission because of our example.
Be the light of the world. Do the light of the world, so others may see your good deeds and glorify God.