Matthew 5:14-16

This Little Light of Mine

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

When “Papa Mack,” as the children call him, asked me to do the children’s sermon this morning, of course, I said, “Yes!”  And when he told me what he had in mind, I knew that this passage from the Sermon on the Mount would have to be my text:

“You are the light of the world.
A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.
Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket,
but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house.
Even so, let your light shine before men;
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:14-16)

Of course, we also know what Jesus said in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John: “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:5)  Well, put these two together, and you have the thesis for the sermon this morning: As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to let the light of Christ shine through us.

It’s interesting that, in today’s text, Jesus first referred to a city on hill that could not be hidden.  In his days, that city would most likely have been Sepphoris.  It was the new and emerging capital of Herod Antipas.  As such, it was the most extensive building project of the day.  If you were a laborer or craftsman, Sepphoris was the place to be.  Buildings were going up everywhere.  There were jobs to be had by all.

Sepphoris was located about three miles from Nazareth.  Since Joseph was a craftsman, it’s reasonable to assume that he would’ve sought work in Sepphoris.  And, if Jesus were twelve years old or older, he would have served as his father’s apprentice.

But the family wouldn’t have lived there.  For one thing, Sepphoris was a wealthy city, and they wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  More importantly, it was a Roman city, and they wouldn’t have been welcome.  Nor would they have wanted to live there, among Gentiles.

So, here’s the deal: Let’s say Joseph has a steady job in Sepphoris, and Jesus is his apprentice.  The two get up early each morning and walk to the job site, getting there before sunrise.  At sunset, they store their tools, clean up, and walk home, again in the dark.

On the way to work, and on the way home, they’re able to see the torches lighting the streets and homes of Sepphoris.  Little wonder, when Jesus reached for an image to make his point, he went back to what he knew best: A city set on a hill that could not be hidden.  Its light shines for all to see.

That’s the image Jesus would have us live by: Individuals willing to stand up for what’s right, to speak out for what is just and true; to live on a higher plane, a cut above the masses.

Who have you known that fits this description … whose life gave light and hope to others?  When it comes to the city of Minden, I’m a Johnny-come-lately.  My seat is in the nosebleed section of the concert hall.  That’s not to say I don’t pay attention.  For example, I would have loved to have known Larry and Gladys Hunter.

I bought the book, Memories of Hunters.  I read all about the activities center they built for the youth of the city.  “Hunter’s Playhouse,” they called it.  Kids came from all over, including far-away places like Sibley and Heflin and Dubberly to meet other kids and dance and swim in the pool.  I’ve read about the baseball team Larry organized – the “Red Birds” – and the personal letters he wrote to Minden GIs during World War II.  The elder President Bush would have surely included the Hunters in his “Thousand Points of Light.”

I would’ve loved to have known your former mayor, Bill Roberson, who served the City of Minden so well, and for so long.   And Chief T. C. Bloxon, who was a legend among the law enforcement community, as well as the fire department.

I wish I had known Jimmy Williams’ father, who had a distinguished career in the public school system, as did Sherie Lester’s father, who went on to serve as your state representative.  In this congregation, I would’ve loved to have known Bob Addison and the Reverend Jack Kennedy.

Compared to some of the pillars of the community and church, you may not think you have a lot to offer, but you do.  God has instilled in each of you the light of his grace and love.  And whether yours is a search light, a flood light, or a forty-watt bulb, you’re called to rise above the crowd and stand up for Christ and let your light shine, so that others may see the way that leads to salvation.  Jesus went on to say:

“Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket,
but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house.”

The lamp Jesus is talking about would have been a small olive oil lamp.  The ones I’ve seen are about the size of your hand.  They’re made of clay.  The body holds the oil and the spout has a wick that burns the vapors.  It doesn’t put out that much light, but it gets the job done if the room is dark and you put it on a stand.  The last thing you want to do is shield the light from doing its job.

There’s an image I like – it comes from the study of Buddhism – that pictures a light at the heart of the human soul.  Think of it for now as a light bulb.  It burns, but it doesn’t put out much light.  That’s because it’s covered with a thick layer of dust.  As you grow in faith a layer is washed away, making the light shine more brightly.  Every step toward Nirvana (think perfection), layer after layer is removed.   In time, you’re able to radiate an aura of enlightenment that imparts wisdom and understanding, peace and reconciliation to all those around you.

In the Christian faith, that layer of dust keeping the light of Christ from shining brightly is our sinful nature.  We’re the ones holding Christ back.  We’re the ones standing in the way.  And the truth is we do it by choice.  Jesus said,

“This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.
For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light,
lest his works would be exposed.
But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God.”

(John 3:19-21)

Scripture teaches that God created us in his image.  We’re born in the image of God to reflect God’s glory.  The beauty of God’s holiness – God’s perfect light – dwells within you.

Scripture also teaches that we’re born into sin.  Like Adam and Eve, we prefer our wills to God’s will.  There’s a dark side to our nature.  We’re egotistical and self-centered.  At times, we can be hateful and mean-spirited.  We want to do things our way.  We want to call the shots … make the rules … be our own gods.

The more we give in to our sinful nature and follow the crowd, the more we stifle the light of Christ within us and the less difference there is between us and the darkness of the world around us.

The Good News is the more we say no to our sinful nature and turn to God, the brighter the light of Christ shines within us, and the more we’re able to dispel the forces of evil and wash away the taint of sin.

Do this: When you get up in the morning, offer this simple prayer:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.”
(Psalm 51:10)

Do this every day for a month and I guarantee the light of Christ, however covered with a load of sin, will shine brighter and brighter each day.  Jesus went on to say:

“Even so, let your light shine before men;
that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Then, as now, actions speak louder than words.  Edgar Guest said it best:

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.”

We’re to let the light of Christ shine in us in such a way that when others see our good works, they give glory to God.  James echoes the thought when he writes,

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith,
but has no works?
Can faith save him?
If a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food,
and one of you tells them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’;
and yet not give them the things the body needs, what good is it?
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.
Yes, a man will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’
Show me your faith without works,
and I by my works will show you my faith.”
(James 2:14-18)

Let’s be clear: We’re not saved by works, but by grace alone through faith.  At the same time, charitable works are an indication of salvation: The more you know what Christ has done for you, the more you want to do for others, and doing good deeds for others is the best way I know of letting the light of Christ shine through you.

My cousin, Mack, spoke to the Hope-Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation last week.  Among other things, he made a strong connection between economic development and community service.  It’s no secret: Potential employers look for strong communities, and strong communities are those in which everyone – rich and poor, young and old – pitches in and does his part.

Paul pointed out to the Corinthians how we all have different gifts and abilities.  Some are good at teaching; some, singing; some, balancing the budget; others, fixing things. Some are natural leaders, others are more comfortable following directions.  Each has his place and each is essential to the overall health and well being of the body.

The story is told of a little boy trying out for the elementary school play.  The problem was he was awkward and clumsy and slow on the uptake.  But the teacher had a heart for all of her children, and so she found the perfect part for him to play.  When he got home from school, his mother asked him, “Did you get a part in the play?”  He said, “You betcha!  I get to clap and cheer.”

Both in the church and community we all have a part to play.  God has endowed us with gifts, however great or small, and we’re to use them for the common good.

Let’s see if we can wrap it up.  If you’ve watched the news this week, you know what a broken and fallen world we live in.  Take, for example:

• The unspeakable brutality of the terrorist group now called ISIL.  This week they publicly beheaded journalist, James Foley.  In recent weeks they’ve massacred hundreds of Christian men, women and children; they slaughtered whole villages, simple because they were of an opposing tribe.

• Then there’s the continued violence in Ferguson, Missouri.  For now, it’s quieted down, but the underlying problem still smolders beneath the surface.  It’s only a matter time until the resentment and anger will explode again, if not in Ferguson, in other parts of the country.

• Alcohol and drug addiction continues to plague our nation. A recent study found that 76% of the teens polled said they consume alcoholic beverages, 81% said they’d been offered drugs and 41% said they had actually used them.

• The harmful effects of smoking are old hat, only now we have e-cigarettes.  Instead of smoking tobacco, you can inhale a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and various flavorings.  Sound inviting?  Be careful, we don’t even know what the health risks are, but they can’t be good.  And because they’re not cigarettes, as such, we’ve yet to figure out a way to control them and keep them out of the hands of minors.

• Meanwhile, the National Debt Clock keeps ticking away, drawing our country closer and closer to insolvency.

Face it: The world we live in is a mess, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon.  So, what’s the Good News?  Simply this:

“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.”
(John 1:5)

Jesus gave his life to reconcile the world to God and open the gates of heaven for all who believe in him.  In the final outcome, he will triumph.  God will have the last word, and Jesus will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all creation.

It’s up to us to be faithful and share the Good News of his love with others.  It’s up to us to let “this little light of mine” shine brightly and dispel the darkness and bring a glimmer of hope to the world around us.

Let us pray: Gracious God, you’ve entrusted your Word to us and filled us with your Spirit.  The world is so dark, and, at times, we feel so powerless to do anything about it.  Embolden our witness and give us courage, that we may be a shining example of your grace and love, for we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2014 Philip McLarty.  Used by permission.