Apparently, somehow, we are supposed to let our light shine before others so brightly that they will give glory to God in heaven. Now, I do not know how you feel about your supply of divine light. I do not always feel super shiny, so the idea of me shining brightly enough to illuminate the world sounds … unnerving.
It gets worse. Read one way, the whole biblical story is all about light, and Jesus is making us an important part of it.
As the Bible begins, in the very first chapter of the very first book, God creates the heavens and the earth. And it all starts with light. “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4).
As the Bible ends, in the very last chapter of the very last book, God renews the heavens and the earth. And it all ends as it began, with light. Revelation says, “there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (22:5).
From the beginning of creation to the final establishment of God’s kingdom, it is all about the light of God
But there is a problem in the middle of the story, in the space between the very first chapter and the very last chapter. In my Bible, that middle space is 1200 pages, so there is a lot of middle. And what we get in the middle is a lot of darkness.
The darkness gets going right away. Sin messes up God’s beautiful creation. Sin introduces evil and death into the world. Sin throws everything out of balance. Because of sin, God’s divine light is obscured.
The entire Bible is the story of God’s repeated efforts to shine a little light into our dark world.
God called a covenant people. God gave them the law. God sent prophets and kings to help them. But nothing worked. The darkness only grew, and people lost their ability to see God’s light.
Last week, I had lunch with a friend who recently had cataract surgery. He told me he had not realized how poor his vision had gotten because it had happened slowly.
Then my friend said, “you, Harvey, are too young for cataracts.” And I realized, to my horror, that he was wrong. Until that moment, I had not thought about it. But I do not see as well as I used to, and the problem is not my prescription.
I will deal with that. Here is the point. Sin has given all of us cataracts. For many of us, the blurriness, the darkness, the blindness, has come on so slowly that we have not even noticed it. And yet, many of us have become blind to God’s light.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. The world needed a cataract operation. But even with God’s help, human beings were not able to do what needed to be done.
So God sent his only-begotten Son into the world as “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). In Jesus Christ, God’s “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Christ beats back the power of sin and darkness. Christ shines so brightly that God’s light is visible once again. Christ enables us to see once again. Christ is bringing about God’s kingdom of light and life and love.
And Christ calls us to keep that work going.
That is what Jesus means when he says “You are the light of the world….Let your light shine before others.” We are the agents of God’s kingdom in the world in this time and in this place.
And we may not feel worthy of our calling as light of the world. But whether or not we feel worthy does not change the fact. Our calling from God is to let God’s light shine in us.
We can perhaps take comfort in the fact that God’s people have always been unworthy of their calling.
Listen again to what we heard Paul say last week. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1:26-27).
In our reading for this morning, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he himself came “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”
And yet weak, fearful, trembling Paul spread the light of Christ in the world. The foolish, weak, low-born Corinthians spread the light of Christ in the world.
And we, with all our anxieties and insecurities and limitations, we, too, are charged with spreading the light of Christ in the world. Like all those Christians who have gone before us, we are called to be the light of the world and to let our light shine before others.
That calling to be the light of the world is as important now as it has been at any time in my adult life. It seems like the world around us is going crazy. Darkness is on the move. Our eyes are filming over.
But, as our Bishop says, the Church was formed for times like these. When the world is dark, we are called to be light. Our task in this time is to make sure that the darkness does not overcome us, to make sure that we remained rooted at all times in the light of Christ, to do our best to act in such a way that God’s light in us shines out.
It begins here.
As Isaiah says, “If we remove the yoke from among us, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our light shall rise in the darkness.” We can do that.
And if we can live together as Christian people, as Isaiah says, we will get a little brighter, our light will shine a little more powerfully. And only God knows what will happen, which is as it should be.
But here is another story I heard last week.
When a friend of mine named Dave was in the military, he had a friend named Roy. Dave lost touch with Roy when Dave left the service. Fifty years went by. Then, last week, out of the blue, Roy contacted Dave. And Roy told Dave that he was the only real friend Roy had ever had. Apparently everyone else in Roy’s life had tried to use him in one way or another, everyone except Dave. For fifty years, Roy had thought of Dave with gratitude as a little bit of light in his life, and he just wanted to thank Dave for it.
Dave had no idea about the impact he had had on Roy. Dave had not done anything particularly dramatic—he had just been a friend to a lonely man. But Dave’s light has been shining for Roy for fifty years.
That is what Christ is talking about when he calls us the light of the world.
Christ invites us to shine in the darkness, to live as children of the light, as best we can, with God’s help. And God takes it from there.
Thanks be to God. Amen.