When Sean was a little boy, he always had to have the lights on. The brighter the better. I swear his nightlight was bright enough to land a plane. It was so bright that one day a team from NASA came to investigate the strange illumination that they were seeing from space.
I used to think Sean needed that much light because he was afraid of the dark. But it turned out he just couldn’t see. He was in dire need of glasses. Turning on every light in the house helped him navigate his blurry world more clearly.
To Jesus’ point, what good is a lamp if it’s not plugged in and turned on? Even people with perfect vision struggle to get around in the dark?
Now there are basically three kinds of light: natural, artificial, and spiritual.
Natural light is the physical source of all life. It was the first thing God did to interrupt the chaos of darkness. This light is essential to our existence. For example, the sheer miracle of photosynthesis is important to the plant which can take sunlight and turn it into a form of energy we can use, either directly by eating plants, or indirectly by eating something else that eats those plants.
Natural light has the ability to penetrate the ground to give life to dead seeds. And it can bend and bounce across the universe to illuminate our side of the world long after we’ve turned away from the sun’s sight.
Then there’s artificial light, like lightbulbs or candles. Until someone or something turns it on or lights its wick, they are not very useful. But when they are on, the to can be life giving and life saving.
A flashlight can help us see our way out of a dark cave or through a dense forest at night. The beacon of a lighthouse can warn boats of impending dangers and lead ships safely to shore. And as Sean knows…a basic bright lightbulb can help us navigate words in a book, and expose dangers that might be hidden in the dark.
Artificial light can change the way we see things. Take for example black light, which, when turned on, not only makes colors literally glow in the dark, but its ultraviolet rays expose stuff we would have never known were there. Like dandruff and lint on a shirt, or stains on your teeth. Police use these lights in crime scenes. And doctors use them to heal acne, kill fungus, and detect melanomas. But these things can only be done when the light is turned on.
And then there is the spiritual light within us. Some might flicker brighter than others, but we all possess it. This light helps us see and understands the difference between good and bad, the metaphorical bright and dark side of our inner being. Spiritual light illuminates the positive when we’re stuck in the dark place of negativity, depression, fear, anxiety and grief. Such light radiates peace and hope when it seems all hope is lost.
In the Bible Jesus is called the light, and “in him there is no darkness at all.” John says, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…whoever says I abide in him, ought to walk just as he walked.” So as followers of his way, we are called to shine God’s love in the darkest of places.
Just as it was in the beginning, the light of Christ interrupts the chaos of darkness, and darkness cannot over power it. When we walk in the light of Christ, we are able to see the glory of God shine all around us, even in those dark and cavernous places we sometimes stumble into. But what good is that light, Jesus asks, if it’s hidden or not turned on?
‘Elucean omnibus lux’— ‘Let the light shine out from all.’
The light of Christ is essential to our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing – it helps us see who we really are and what we are called to do.
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With his rhetorical question, Jesus compares us to a lamp whose sole purpose is to illuminate the room. Jesus knew the typical household couldn’t afford to keep more than one or two lamps burning. So its position in the room was key to its effectiveness – you’d want it in the middle of the table or on the mantel. Not hide it under a basket or bowl.
In this parable Jesus reminds us that if the smallest of lamps can illuminate a room, then the light of a small or struggling disciple is enough for God to brighten up someone’s life – as long as it’s not covered up, or tucked away. “We are not hiding things, but bringing them out into the open.”
We are the light of the world. Made in the image of the one who first made light appear with such a big bang that it forever changed the darkness. As Danny Gokey sings, “We were made to shine.” And when we shine like Christ all peoples and all nations can know of God’s grace and be transformed.
In Sunday school I used to sing, “This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine.” But then I grew up and put that light away with the rest of my childhood. As I entered into the world on my own, I clothed and covered my faith with things that would help me blend in – instead of shine. And I was often left feeling lost and afraid.
This is why the world needs our light. They need to see that our faith is real and authentic, and they need us to shine so they can be found and filled with God’s love…the hope and glory of God’s light.
Like I said last week, Jesus isn’t asking you to be perfect. Just to be faithful to what God is calling you to do: shine with acts of love, mercy and justice.
Because Jesus is the light of the world, we are able to see what he does and know that we can do the same. Like him, we too can illuminate the darkness for others to see God‘s glory… radiating in all things. Jesus does not tell us to go start a fire, or to burn bigger and brighter than others. He’s simply telling us to remove those things in our life that hide our light so we can shine.
So I ask you this question: What are the baskets in your life?
Fear, anxiety, shame, guilt? Could it be pettiness, jealousy, gossip? Are you holding onto some past resentment? Or maybe it’s anger, stubbornness, or pride? These aren’t qualities that radiate the light of Christ in you. They only obscure it. Thus Eugene Peterson stated in his Message translation, “Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
Martin Luther King so famously preached, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I received these words when I graduated from seminary. And in the same spirit I offer them to you, whether you’re graduating or simply struggling to live your best self.
Your light, your love, your peace – as small or dim as it might seem to be – can overcome all the darkness of the world. Through Christ, God’s light is present and hard at work in you. So shine until the world is beaming and radiating the fullness of God’s glory.
Throw off those bushels and baskets, pull your lamps out from under the bed and plug them in. Light up the world so it can be seen from space. And illuminate with such intense brightness that there will be no more need for sun or moon.
Stand in the spotlight of God’s steadfast and never ending love…and let your goodness be seen until heaven and earth become one again. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 1. [Westminster John Knox: 2010] p. 332-337.
Jeffers-Schori, Katherine. Shine As The Light Of The World For God’s Glory. [episcopalchurch.org : Dec. 16, 2008] (Accessed on June 6, 2019.)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”