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Sermon: Ea at oe’s

February 3, 2011

Matthew 5:13-20

I am still thrilled about our new sign out front.  Sometimes I walk across the street just to look up and stare at the newly redesigned front of the church.  That sign caps it all off very nicely.

For a long time, of course, we didn’t have any sign, and I am sure that left many people in the community to wonder exactly what goes on in here.  Without a sign to tell them, for all they knew, it could be anything.  We could have been sacrificing chickens and dancing to disco.  But worse than having no sign is having a sign that says the wrong thing.  I think you’ve seen those before.

Let’s imagine you want to pick up a few things at the mall, so you head over to the shopping center and discover instead…

…that you are at the Wheaton Hopping Center.

Or perhaps you want a delicious meal at the Dynasty Restaurant, but when you arrive…

…you discover you are at a Nasty Restaurant.  Suddenly, your appetite disappears.

Sometimes during our lives we need to take care of the difficult task of making final arrangements for our loved ones.  We want the funeral home to care for our needs with quiet dignity…

…This is not the place you want to go.

The hospital in Elmhurst discovered that it was clearly sending the wrong message to potential customers and patients…

…I’m hurt.

As you can see, sending the wrong message is probably worse than sending no message at all.  The light must shine through!

*     *     *     *     *

Jesus said,

You are the salt of the earth…

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.

In the Sermon on the Mount—and this passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount, immediately following the Beatitudes—Matthew has set the scene to help us understand that Jesus is speaking primarily to the Church.  His disciples followed him up the mountain, and Jesus sat down to teach.  The crowds were evidently nearby, and they overheard, but the disciples of Jesus were the primary audience.

And so Jesus says to the Church, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”  Disciples, the Church, have a role to play in this revolutionary kingdom of heaven.  We are salt.  We are light.

We are light.  Light is very peculiar.  Sometimes light acts like a particle.  Sometimes light acts like a wave.  But the most theologically intriguing fact about light came from a science web site called Four-squared Explore:

All light comes from atoms.  Atoms that produce light have either gained energy by absorbing light from another source or by being struck by other particles.  It is this “extra energy” that causes an atom to give off light.  The light being emitted is carrying off the extra energy.

“Atoms that produce light have…gained energy by absorbing light from another source.”  In the beginning, “God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Genesis 1:3).  “In the beginning was the Word…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” (John 1:1, 3b-5).

We are the light of the world.  Our familiar scripture comes from John 8:12, where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  But here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”  We have absorbed light, we have absorbed energy, from the very source of light.  And when that light shines out in our good works, the world sees the love and grace and goodness of God.  The world sees that indeed, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

We have absorbed light so that we can become light, but not for ourselves, not for our own sake.  Like Abraham, who was promised many descendants not for himself, but so that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3), we receive blessing, we absorb light so that the world can see the goodness of our God.  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  Our good works do not buy us into heaven.  We are not saved by what we do, but only by what God does.  Yet, when others see our good works, inspired by the grace of our Jesus, they can see who God really is.

The light and energy we absorb from our Creator is meant to be shared with others, but it is easy to fall victim to the temptation of showing off our light so that the world can see us rather than the true source of light.  Many of us like to be on the center stage.  We like the attention and the praise, but the light isn’t about us.  The light we share through our good works is a herald of the coming kingdom of heaven.  “The primary function of light is not to be seen, but to let things be seen as they are” (M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. CraddockThe People’s New Testament Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], p.29).

And as we know, that light—or at least a part of that light, like letters in a neon sign—is sometimes missing.  The wrong message is communicated, or no message is communicated.  That which ought to be seen cannot be seen.  The love, grace and goodness of God is hidden in the world…but you are light.  You are light, and so there is no reason that the message should not be communicated.  Your light is vitally important.

In November of 2008, a young man named Brandon decided he would do one good deed every day, and then he would write about his good deeds on a blog called “One Good Deed Per Day: Happiness through Service.” Brandon wrote:  “I’ve made a commitment: to do one good deed per day.  Large or small, it doesn’t matter.  Self-sacrificing or not, extraordinary or mundane, it doesn’t matter.  Just one thing every day, that’s all.”

For 365 consecutive days, Brandon did a good deed.  His first good deed was to pick up a mound of rotting garbage from the roadway.  He frequently picked up trash as his good deed for the day.  He also helped his girlfriend, made gifts for co-workers, let someone step into line ahead of him at the DMV, organized a birthday party for a neighbor and helped out a number of charity groups—at least one every day.  At the end of the year, Brandon wrote, “This blog is done, but the deeds go on.”  Brandon let his light shine.

No matter what else happens in a community, what acts of violence, what daily grind of poverty, what fears of failure, what rude behavior and selfishness, no matter what else happens, if there is one person like Brandon, one human being to perform good deeds and acts of kindness, then there is light in that place.  As long as there is one in every community, the kingdom of heaven is present in that place.  The question, of course, is whether or not you will be that person.  (The final paragraph was inspired by—and the final line quoted from—Fred Craddock’s sermon “God Is with Us” from The Cherry Log Sermons, pp.1-6.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2011 10:18 pm

    Very good sermon! It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, but I wish I had last week as I was preparing for the sermon! Hope you are well, and keep up the good work!

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