“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
Have you been to the country recently? Just recently, I headed down to Margaret River for a weekend away. We were driving, and there were no lights anywhere. We looked up and saw the stars. Having escaped the light pollution that cities normally give, we could see all these stars lighting up the sky. It was really amazing.
You may well be familiar with the reading above. Coming just after the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s a reading that both challenges and inspires me. It opens with that famous line “You are the light of the world.” Great, but what does it mean? Am I electromagnetic radiation to which the organs of sight react? I don’t think a dictionary is going to help me there.
Often we read in the bible references to light and dark – light is in contact with God, darkness is when we’re in sin, or out of contact with God.
But biblical light is more than that – light is one of God’s many forms of communication. In Luke’s account of the transfiguration, we read that Jesus’ clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning, and in Matthew’s account we read this:
“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him’”
I picture this as one of those clouds that you see sometimes, that are so white that you have to shield your eyes when looking into them.
Again in Luke, we read of the Angels appearing to the shepherds, “And the Glory of the Lord Shone around them”
My next example requires a bit of explaining. Have you heard of Tony Robinson? He’s the host of Time Team on the ABC, was Baldrick in Blackadder, and a while ago hosted a series of TV shorts explaining various stories in the Bible, called Blood and Honey. The one I’m about to show you is his dramatic retelling of Jacobs Dream at Bethel, also known as Jacob’s Ladder.
As you can see, God often uses light as a communication tool. But light can also serve as a directional tool. A couple of years ago, at a party, some friends and I were having a bit of a fun argument with one guy over which direction his home was – it was only through looking to the stars, specifically the Southern Cross, that we were able to get our bearings and agree on what direction Coolgardie was in.
In the same way, light forms a direction for our lives. Have you heard of the phrase – “Christ is my guiding light”? Just as we looked for the Southern Cross for direction, if we keep our eyes on Christ, we can know we are heading in the right direction.
So if God uses light as a communication tool, and Christ is my Guiding light, why does Jesus say here in the reading “You are the light of the world”? Jesus is declaring early in his ministry that believing alone is not enough. In fact, it is more that is required. You are called, as a believer in Christ, to spread God’s light.
As you might know, I studied violin at WAAPA, and you may not know it, but it certainly wasn’t cruisy. As part of my studies, I gained an insight as to how my instrument worked. It’s rather interesting, and I thought I’d share it with you. When a string is vibrated, either through the bow or by plucking the string, the vibrations pass from the string to the belly via the bridge. Inside the box, there’s a piece of dowel wedged between the belly and the back. That’s called the sound post, and it passes the vibrations from the belly to the back. The belly and back from a box with the sides, and together they vibrate the air within the box, which amplifies the sound. But without these holes – aptly named “F-holes” because they are shaped after an F – the sound would remain in the box and never come out. I think you’d agree that most of the time, it’s a lot better that these holes are there to let the sound out.
I say most of the time…
Just like the violin has these little holes to allow the sound out, we need to find little holes in our lives where we can let our sound out.
At this point, I’d like to step back to the text, but this time from The Message translation of this section, which I’ve always loved, and it sheds some extra light (pun intended) on the passage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!”
You can shine in your everyday life, in your interactions with anyone you meet. The ways of God are mysterious – you never know what the guy in the cubicle next to you is needing, so why not strike up a conversation?
There are many other ways to let your light shine. There are many tasks on a Sunday morning that require help. You might not be able to play in the band, but perhaps you could run the powerpoint presentations? Or maybe make a point to sit with anyone new that comes and make them feel welcome. Or maybe you’ll feel more comfortable offering to help out with various tasks during the week – small acts of service, done with a servants heart, that all work together to hopefully bring people to Christ. Going back to the very beginning, I could see so many more stars when I was out in Margaret River than I can when I’m in Perth. That’s not to say that they’re not there, My vision is just obstructed by the light pollution, and they’re still just as important as the more powerful stars. Just like in the Church – we’ve got the bright stars that make the way through the pollution, but they work so much better when they’ve got those “smaller” stars backing them up.
I’m (still) fairly new to the Salvation Army, and when I was new to the Army, I found a few Salvo blogs which have helped me get a small bit of understanding of the church. One of the ones I read is by Captain Collo – the (former) Territory Youth Secretary. In one post, he quoted an article written by John Cleary. It said:
“Would it not be great if a C.O. Could know of her soldiers at the start of the year, that she had a committed portion of their time given in stewardship to the Army? That the soldiers had said from the beginning of the year “my spiritual work and worship will be in and through the Salvation Army and to that end I will commit to the Army X hours a week.” That’s giving soldership meaning, that’s giving the corps officer a real force, that’s giving a movement back the ability to wage war.”
That’s an opportunity to allow your light to shine.
This post is based upon a sermon that I preached at a Floreat Youth Service in 2009.