Called to Shine
Based on Matthew 5:13-20
Imagine, if you will, that you are one of Jesus disciples, or someone in the gathering crowd. You’ve heard about this man – you have heard that he recently moved into the neighbourhood and caused a bit of a ruckus in the Zebedee household when James and John left their boats and their dad, to follow him. You’ve heard that he can heal people, and that he’s caused a bit of a stir among the established leaders of the day and that’s enough to peak your interest. Word’s been going around town that he’s preaching up on the hill today, not in the synagogue, and so you and your buddies are checking it out. He’s beginning now and you’re listening in. “You are the salt of the earth”, Jesus says, and you look over your shoulder. Who’s he talking to? Is there some plain-clothes Pharisee standing behind you? “You are the light of the world,” says this itinerant preacher. Again you look around. “YOU are the light of the world”, he says, and this time he’s lookin’ right at you. You’ve been called many things in your life, but it’s never been `salt of the earth’ or `light of the world.’ Whatever does he mean by that, you wonder, and when is he going to get arrested for blasphemy!?
One of my favourite quotes about being light comes from Marianne Williamson, and was used by Nelson Mandela as part of his inaugural speech as president of South Africa. If you’ve heard it before, it bears repeating. It reads:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone, and, as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
That’s beautiful! I believe it, and yet, what about those times when we are not feeling brilliant, fabulous, strong etc. We lament:
How can I be light – when all my joints ache and I can hardly get out of bed in the morning?
How can I be light – when I am angry and scared?
How can I be light – when I’ve said and done things that have hurt others?
How can I be light – when I’m lost and confused?
How can I be light – when I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark?
How can I be light – when I feel burned out?
How can I be light – when my life is such a mess?
How can I be light – when I am grieving?
Jesus didn’t say – you have to produce light. He said `you are’ light. Remember that ancient name we call the Holy One, often translated as YHWH – “I AM.“ Well, Jesus is saying the plural `you are’.
You are the light of this world. Sometimes I admit it seems a bit of a stretch. It’s helpful for me sometimes to simply light a candle and think about what a difference even such a tiny bit of light can make – it can focus our attention, it can bring light to a darkened room…
In the days of slavery, a candle in a window was a sign for runaway slaves that this was a safe house.
One small candle can push back the cold – a couple months ago, we had a fellow traveling back to Calgary in search of work. He got this far with his van but couldn’t afford the winter tires he needed to carry on through the mountains. We got him outfitted for the night with a sleeping bag and extra blankets from the Thrift Shop, a handful of candles and I scrounged a bag of cookies and a juice box. He hitchhiked east the next morning, but left his van here along with a spare set of keys. The light and heat came from the candles, but light also came from Linda – finding the sleeping bag, and discretely tucking in a couple clean pair of socks and underwear. It came from the vision of you, the members and friends of this congregation, choosing to be such a place that can offer some help along the way.
We’re not always shining brightly all the time. But I believe, even in the darkest night of our soul, there is a divine spark in us that nothing and no one can put out.
As Marianne Williamson said, “We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone…”
Sometimes, it’s very hard to see, and we need to heed how we are looking. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the `Little House on the Prairie novels, wrote: Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds.
From another angle, contemporary gospel singer, Amy Grant reflects on a `God’s eye view’ as she sings a song written by Gary Winthur Chapman:
“I may not be every mother’s dream for her little girl,
And my face may not grace the mind of everyone in the world.
But that’s all right, as long as I can have one wish I pray:
When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say,
She has her Father’s eyes, Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help, When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion, seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through and feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes…
…And when you’re called to stand and tell just what you saw in me,
More than anything I know, I want your words to be,
She had her Father’s eyes, Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that found the good in things, When good was not around;
Eyes that found the source of help, When help would not be found;
Eyes full of compassion, seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through, And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes…”
These are the kind of eyes Jesus had as he looked over that rag-tag bunch of curious and hopeful peasants on a hillside overlooking Galilee.
We too, dear friends, are held in this loving gaze, and what do these eyes see? Light… the light of kindness, the light of wisdom, the light of justice, the light of compassion, the light of the world. So let it shine. Amen.