Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
MESSAGE “Lift Your Lamp” James Renfrew, Teaching Elder
In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the light of the world”. Matthew’s Gospel presents a similar teaching, but not exactly. Not “I am the light of the world”, but “you are the light of the world”. And this opens a significant door for us, because becoming a follower of Jesus is not just being attracted to his light, but to be one who carries the light in your own hand out into the world that needs that light. A moth is drawn to the light and never leaves it. But we are drawn to the light, then we look for a dark corner, and bring that light to it!
Today we are ordaining and installing deacons, trustees and elders. What you have been called to do is not just get involved in all of the tasks that need to be done to operate a church, but to become bearers of that light, consciously, boldly, and joyfully. Not so the rest of the people in the church can sit back and let you be the light carriers on our behalf, but to show us all how it is done. Sometimes we get it right, praise God, and sometimes we fall on our faces, oops, but that’s how we learn. We perfect our calling not by hanging back, but by taking risks. You are the light of the world!
What is that light? When you sign a contract, it’s important to know the details. If you’re going to be the light, you need to know the fine print, too. What is the light that you’re being asked to carry? I think you already know, but let me spell it out. The light that we are drawn to and the light we lift up for others to see is love, truth, peace, justice, generosity, hope and more. And not in generalities, but the kind of love that reaches across boundaries, the kind of truth that stands firm against lies, the kind of peace that reaches out to enemies, the kind of justice that aims to correct the wrongs not just complain about them, the kind of generosity that does not calculate advantage or favor, the kind of hope that believes in spite of the evidence and then works to change the evidence. This light is powerful stuff. Jesus has it. We’ve got some of it. And the world needs it.
On Facebook this week I put out some questions.
You are the light of the world. What are the things that dim your light?
You are the light of the world. What are the things that brighten your light?
You are the light of the world. What are the things you are doing when your light is dimmest?
You are the light of the world. What are the things you are doing when your light is brightest?
You are the light of the world. Who are you with when your light is dimmest?
You are the light of the world. Who are you with when your light is brightest?
While I was planning our service earlier in the week I found that bulletin cover with a hand holding up the light. It reminded me of another image for holding up the light, the torch in the upraised hand of the State of Liberty on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. It’s real name is not the “Statue of Liberty”. When given as a gift by France in 1886 the statue was named “Liberty Enlightening the World”.
My great-great-grandfather Carl Fink must have seen the Statue when he arrived in New York by steamship in 1887 from Germany. The statue faces outward in the direction of incoming ships.
I don’t know if my grandfather ever knew the words inscribed at the base of the stature. Probably not. We have his travel diary and it was written in German. He probably read or spoke no English. The words inscribed at the base of the stature are from a famous poem, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. Maybe you’ve heard it: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I lift my lamp. You lift your lamp. We lift our lamps.
Today is the day of the Superbowl. I’ll take my annual poll: who favors New England? Who favors Atlanta? Who doesn’t care? The don’t cares always seem to carry the day here. I first started playing football with the kids in my neighborhood when I was pretty young. We usually had only four or five on each side, ranging from teenagers down to eight-year-olds to fill out the team. One of our favorite plays was something we called “The Statue of Liberty Play”. The quarterback would step back and hold the ball up high, ready to pass, and then one of the other players would run from the side grab the ball, catching everyone by surprise, and then run down the other side of the field for a touchdown. In our small huddle the quarterback would simply say “Statue of Liberty” and everyone else on our team would know what to do. You won’t see the Statue of Liberty Play this evening during the Super Bowl, but as kids we had a lot of fun with it.
I like the way Emma Lazarus’ poem ends, “I lift my lamp”. Maybe that’s where we got the Statue of Liberty Play? But let’s use that play as we move forward with the message of this Gospel reading. The light offered to us in Christ is not something we lock away in the basement, sit on, or put under a bushel basket. Jesus says, “put it on a lamp stand where it gives light to everyone in the house”. We lift our lamps high!