“Let Your Light Shine!”

Epiphany 5

February 5, 2017


Text:  Matthew 5:13-20; Psalm 112:1-10; Isaiah 58:1-12


    Many of us remember singing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” in Sunday School when we were children.  This song, of course, is based on part of our Gospel lesson today, where Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.  A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket.  Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

    This light does not originate with us.  Jesus is talking about the light of God’s love shining through us.  In order for that light to shine at its fullest, we need to be in right relationship with God.  Our psalm today, Psalm 112, reminds us, “Those who honor the Lord, who adore God’s commandments, are truly happy!...The offspring of those who do right will be blessed….Their righteousness stands forever.  They shine in the dark for others who do right.  They are merciful, compassionate, and righteous.”  Those who live in God’s ways of mercy, compassion, and justice display God’s character.  God’s light shines through them, and others who do right are encouraged and strengthened.  Let your light shine on everyone.

    Our reading from the prophet Isaiah enforces this same idea from the negative side of the fence.  The complaint of God’s people Israel at the time was that they couldn’t understand why God seemed to be ignoring them.  They were practicing their piety faithfully.  They were performing all the right rituals and giving all the right offerings.  They were fasting and praying at the appointed times.  But, as the prophet points out, their piety was not leading them to live justly and ethically.  They oppressed their workers.  They failed to care for the poor.  They fought each other violently.  They were doing the activities of worshiping God, but they were not displaying God’s character in dealing with each other or with other people.

    God gave them this message through the prophet:  “Isn’t this the fast 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 your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly.  Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, ‘I’m here.’”  In other words--only when you let God’s light shine through you in how you treat others will God listen to you.  Let your light shine on everyone.

    Now how do we measure up in our day?  We certainly do plenty of fighting, although often with words rather than fists, and often have harsh opinions of those we disagree with.  And as for how we treat the poor and mistreated, it seems to me that a lot of us (and I’m guilty of this, too) expect others to do this job for us.  We expect either the government or private social service agencies (many of which are church-related) to do this work for us.  The private agencies soldier on heroically, but are often dependent on government funds, and government is becoming increasingly unwilling to be involved in doing the work or in funding it.  But how many of us would actually invite a homeless poor person or family to come live with us, as Isaiah suggests?  I know I would find that difficult.  Would you?

    Sometimes it may seem like God is ignoring the church, and that is why we struggle so much.  We talk a good game.  We do the worship, the programs and activities, the advocacy.  We try our level best to be “relevant”.  But we also keep right on fighting among ourselves about matters that may not even be worth fighting about.  And for many of us, actually getting personally involved with the poor and mistreated of the world is a place we don’t really want to go.  We may be fine with giving financial support to those who do, but that is all many of us want to do.  

    Many people today want nothing to do with the church.  They see it as irrelevant, and in some cases even see its behavior as hateful, and thus as contradictory to the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  They don’t see the light of Christ shining through it.  If this is to change, we who call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, need to learn to love again--to love God, love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, even love our enemies--all of which are things Jesus taught.  God’s message through Isaiah could not be plainer:  “If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech; if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon.  The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places….They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account; the foundations of generations past you will restore.”  God’s light will shine through the church once more, and the church will be restored, when the church changes its ways, when we quit fighting each other and start showing God’s love to each other and to the world in word and action, especially to the least of these.  Let your light shine on everyone.

    As Jesus pointed out, light does not discriminate.  It is not something to be hidden from anyone.  He said, “People don’t light a lamp and then hide it under a basket.  Instead, they put it on a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.”  Let your light shine on everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from or what they are like.

    Remember that the light Jesus calls our light is really God’s light shining through us.  Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”  The light does not shine to glorify us; it shines to glorify God.  It is God’s love, God’s character shining through you and me.  Let your light shine on everyone.

    If the church is to faithfully carry out its mission in the world, if it is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world, if our local church is to be “an open and caring family of persons seeking to experience, share, and grow in the love of God” through the various activities we engage in, we need God’s light to shine in us and through us.  We need to let our light shine on everyone, without exception.  Jesus has issued the challenge.  Let us be faithful in responding.  Amen.

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