As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Being a Light to the Community, was given at our Installation service at Devonport Salvation Army on Sunday 12 January, 2014. The Bible reading was Matthew 5:13-16.
I don’t know what you’re thinking about me right at the moment, but one thing that I can tell you is that I’m a bit of an odd person, and I like odd things. My wife won’t disagree here. I like Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, and I play musical instruments with strings, not brass. Before I went to the Training College, I spent 18 months in the Media and Communications department at the Uniting Church Synod office, where I did, amongst other things, a lot of looking at and editing photos. One thing that I learned to appreciate was the different types of light.
When Edison invented his light bulb, it is said that he tried 2,000 different types of filament before he stumbled upon the right one. Having worked so hard to find the one filament that would work, I wonder what he would think about the multitude of options that we have available to us today. Filament, Fluorescent, compact fluorescent, led, and more, with each one producing a different type of light. From the warm glow of the original Edison globe, to the sterile white light of the Fluorescent, each one produces a different type of light. All different, all unique, and all necessary in the right situation.
The problem is that often the light being used could be the wrong light for the situation. I’m talking metaphorical now, in that the light that many see is not the true light. In our society, many people are attracted to the bright lights of the celebrities. They are attracted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other things that can enslave us. There’s been an ad on TV that has a high-profile Hollywood actor who tells us “If you’re not a member of the world’s largest online sports betting agency, you’ve got to ask yourself, Ge’ez, why am I not a member of the world largest online sports betting agency” – as if you’re an idiot if you’re not a member. This is despite the fact that gambling affects thousands of lives here in Australia, and online betting itself is in new, uncharted, dangerous waters due to the fact that people can now gamble whenever, wherever, 24 hours a day.
False lights of lust, gluttony, greed are now prevalent in our society, and have been for some time. You now are not someone worth knowing unless you’ve got the biggest car, the biggest house, the best job, the most beautiful wife, and if you don’t have that, then you dump it all and start again. We work longer hours to get ahead in jobs we don’t like to spend our money on more things that we don’t need, but want because of the image it portrays. When people ask “How have you been?” The stock standard answer is no longer good, but busy.
When people put their trust in these false lights, their faith in the true light is lost. The number of people who put their religious beliefs as None, Agnostic or atheist in the census has been growing steadily. There are people now who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and whose only experience of Christians is what the media chooses to portray – which is often the extremist as opposed to the majority. They only have exposure to the false light, not the true light.
In John chapter 1, we read about this true light. John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on my holidays. In it, there is a scene where Gandalf is fighting the Necromancer, who we discover is Sauron. In the fight scene, the Necromancer says that There is no light that can overcome his darkness. While Gandalf may be defeated in that battle, we know from the Lord of the Rings movies that it is through Gandalf’s putting together the Fellowship of the Ring that Sauron is eventually defeated thanks to the destruction of the one ring.
Light can always overcome darkness, because darkness is not a thing. You cannot take a bottle of dark and make it darker. Once you get to pitch dark, that’s it. However, you can always add to light and make it brighter, until it’s blinding light, and even then you can keep adding light, until it is seen across the galaxy.
In the reading we heard today, we heard part of Jesus’ Sermon on the mount, where he told the crowds that “you are the light of the world.” What we often miss here is the bit of humour that Jesus injects in the passage. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” – of course! It would be silly to suggest otherwise, because the reason you build on a hill is so that it can be seen. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket” – well, this is silly for two reasons. First, you light a lamp so that it can give light. You wouldn’t want to waste precious oil by covering the light up. Secondly, while we don’t know a lot about what a bushel basket would have been, if it was woven, then putting it over an open flame probably wouldn’t be the smartest idea, unless you wanted the whole house to go up in flames.
Through Jesus’ use of the negative, saying things we can agree with – yes, a city on a hill cannot be hidden, yes, it would be silly to cover up the lamp we just lit – we then agree to his point – “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” We can be God’s true light in our dark society, by letting our light shine, doing good works, and directing the glory to God, not to ourselves.
The thing is that quite often, we talk about all this metaphorical stuff, but we don’t know how to translate it into reality. You might be saying at this point, “Yes, I want to be God’s light, but what does being a light really mean?” I think a bit of a story might be needed.
When I came to college, one of the things that I was very keen on was Golf. I loved playing – even though I wasn’t very good – and I decided that it would be great to join a golf club to meet some people outside of college. So, despite Royal Park Golf Course being just behind the college, I joined the Northcote Golf Club, and started playing every second Saturday. If you’ve never been part of a golf club, when you arrive you get sorted into a start group of four players, who you might not have played with before. As you go around the course, you get a really good opportunity to chat to them and get to know them. Of course, as things progressed, people got to know that I was studying theology with The Salvation Army. But, it wasn’t just a thing that I did, but they could see that it was something that was every part of me. I didn’t get angry with my bad shots, I didn’t swear, I didn’t have a beer after the round. Over my time there, I ended up having a few deep theological chats with some of the guys, and ended up inspiring one guy to donate a whole heap of baby stuff to his local Salvos Store, instead of somewhere else, or perhaps the bin.
I didn’t go there with any intention of that sort of stuff happening. I wanted to play golf, hopefully get a bit better (didn’t happen), and meet some people. However, because of being authentic, through living every part of my life in the way that God intended it, he was able to work through me to bring his light into that situation.
That’s what we need to do. We first need to allow God to transform us, so that we can then go out into the world, to be his light, just by being ourselves. When we start living the life that Christ calls us to, we find that people start to notice. When they start to notice, they ask the question – what makes them so different? That then opens up opportunities to bring them into the light of Christ.
But we need to remember that this transformation, this holiness, isn’t just a personal thing. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church out of which William Booth came, once said “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.” We must be informed about the major social issues of our day, and be actively working towards finding ways to transform our society. For example, every day 30,000 children die from starvation. Half the world’s population, over 3 billion people, live on less than $2 a day, and over 1 billion live on less than $1 a day, which Bono describes as “crazy poverty”. What can we do about that? We can make choices that promote the end of poverty. We can choose to buy products that are Fair Trade, where the people that grow the raw product receive a fair price and are encouraged to use sustainable practices. We can donate to organisations that are actively working in areas of crazy poverty – like The Salvation Army, World Vision, TEAR, and many others. In a few months, we will have our OWSOMS or Self-Denial appeal, and I would encourage you to seriously consider donating a week’s salary to support those in third world countries living in abject poverty. In our conversations with our friends and families, be aware of the issues and bring them up, inform friends and families so that we can come to transform society. All of this comes through the change that God does in you, so that you can bring God’s light into the world.
So today, I invite you to come and be transformed. To open up to God’s transforming power and see what God will do with you. I invite you to come forward to this place of prayer and ask God to empower you to head out into the world and bring the true light into our dark world. To let God salt your conversations and let people see you as a Christian who is truly being Christ’s light to the community, and who is desiring to transform our society. To no longer stand idly by while children die, while people are locked in slavery, while men and women are trapped by greed and lust. And if you are here today and you don’t know Jesus, but you want to be involved in the transformational change that he can bring to your life and to our society, then you are also welcome here. Someone will come and pray with you, and we will keep in contact, to support and encourage you in your transformation. While we sing, this place is open to all to come and pray for whatever God is placing on your hearts. So come, be transformed, be empowered and strengthened, and head out into the world to be God’s transforming light.