Let Your Light So Shine ...
Imagine you are lost at sea in small boat in a storm. Those who have been in peril at sea and lived to tell the tale say that there is no darkness as thick, as dark. The sea rages and the storm clouds block any light from moon or stars. Suddenly a beam of light slices through the darkness and then is gone again. It’s the light from a lighthouse. A glimmer of hope that cuts through the terror of the moment. Then through mist, you see the lights of a city spreading out above the sea and down the coast. And with that sight the light from the lighthouse reaches you more regularly. Finally, the steady beam of search light close by fixes on your vessel. You’ve been found, identified and help is here to guide you into the safety of the port.
The light — from the lighthouse, the city, the searchlight — the light that drove out the darkness and found us is the light that signals good news of hope and salvation. When that light discovered us, the terror in our hearts was replaced with faith and hope, and our courage and joy returned. When we reached the safety of land, our hearts overflowed with gratitude and thanksgiving to God for those who tended the light and worked for our rescue.
Years later, we find ourselves volunteering to care for that aging lighthouse and spending time caring for those who, like us, had once been lost at sea. Having known how much that light meant to us, we dedicated ourselves to tending the light that signals salvation to others, lost at sea in a storm with nothing but a small boat.
The light of God’s grace and mercy has risen in Jesus Christ. In this next part of Jesus’ great teaching for his disciples, he tells us, his followers, that we are the light of the world — we are sign and signal that God has heard and searched, discovered and come to rescue of this world struggling lost in the darkness of sin, hatred, violence and death. Not only has the light of God’s kingdom appeared in Jesus, but Jesus opens the doors that welcomes all into a new relationship with their saving God. The guides the lost safely into the fellowship of the citizens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where they find justice and mercy enacted in love.
In both his presence and his teaching, Jesus announces that God’s kingdom has come and the vision of God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done — on earth now, as in heaven — is filled up and finds its completion in Jesus. His followers are just the start of something new that fulfills the promise of the old.
The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jakob announced that God has come to be their God and to make them and their descendants God’s people: the people through whom the world would know its God, the people who would bless the world by being the light that lit the way to God. That’s the promise God reaffirmed when God called Moses, Miriam and Aaron to guide the Hebrews out slavery in Egypt … the promise communicated again in the law — the Ten Commandments -- God gave Moses at Mount Sinai. Rescued from slavery, God reveals God’s ways of mercy and justice, the righteousness that reveals God’s loving heart. This new nation of freed slaves would be a light to the world — its laws so just, its leaders so compassionate and merciful — that the nations of the world would be drawn to light of God’s glory and grace. That’s the vision of Isaiah and the prophets who proclaimed God’s promise as they begged and pleaded for the nation to return to heart of God’s law.
There is a God who listens, hears and answers prayers. God heard our cries for help and Jesus has come to the rescue of all who are lost in the darkness of their sin, giving his own body, sacrificing his own life blood, and then rising from the darkness of a grave. We can have confidence in this witness that the light of God’s love that is stronger than the darkness of death. Wherever this good news is proclaimed and received, wherever the Holy Spirit gives faith to believe, the light of God’s grace is lit as a testimony and witness to the loving God who claimed us as His own.
In our baptismal liturgy, we symbolically act out this truth. In baptism, we die with Christ to sin and death and rise with Christ to live a new life by faith. As God’s children, then, we are sent to be lights, signal and sign of God’s kingdom. In our liturgy, we even use Jesus’ own command to remind us of this mission: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” So we are sent into the world to do good, to be people filled with God’s righteousness … not for our own sake, but so that our neighbor knows God's goodness, mercy and salvation through Jesus.
From time to time, however, we followers of Jesus might try to hide the light. We stop doing good for the sake of the world and reserve that goodness for only our own — our own church, our own families … Its usually fear of some kind or another that obscures God’s light. Fear erodes our faith in God as we resort to our own survival instincts and resourcefulness to save ourselves. Sometimes those fears get the most of us.
Few of us are old enough to remember black out drills during the second world war. Lights in the darkness attract friend and foe alike, so especially in America’s coastal cities, lights were extinguished and thick black curtains were used to keep any light from escaping and giving away the position or landmarks. The fear of attack, had us practicing ways to keep the night as black as possible. For a navy at sea during war time, keeping the lights out is rule number one.
In June of 1944, United State carriers were involved in a two day battle that finally broke the power of the Japanese Navy. On the first day of the battle, US carrier planes fended off an attack by Japanese carrier planes with such success that Japanese naval aviation would never be able to recover during the war. Yet, the US was having a difficult time finding the Japanese fleet that launched the planes. One the second day of the battle, they found the fleet, but the discovery came late in the afternoon and at the far range of the US planes. The return trip would be in the dark and the planes would be low on fuel. The planes were launched anyway and their mission relatively successful. On the way back to their carriers, however, it grew dark and planes started running out of fuel over the largest … now darkest ocean on the planet. Hearing aviators in trouble, American fleet commander Marc Mitscher ordered the lights of entire US fleet turned on. “Let there be light,” he said. And the dark Pacific lit up like day. Planes found the closest carrier to land or if they had to ditch, they did so close to the fleet and were rescued. Admiral Mitscher took risk, making the whole fleet vulnerable for the sake of recovering and saving his desperate aviators.
Sometimes, even when we are most afraid, we must turn on the lights for the sake of people in trouble, trusting that our security and well being come from God and God alone. Our good works, our righteous works of mercy and justice, our mission to the people who still struggle in darkness are the answer to prayer and the witness to God’s goodness the world needs more than anything else. God’s grace to us and our trust and confidence in the sufficiency of that grace for all that is good and beautiful in this life combine as a powerful witness to God that can transform and save lives in this world and give eternal life in God forever.
You see, in the end, faith, hope and love conquer fear, darkness and despair. That’s the foolishness of the cross that St. Paul talks about. That’s the foolishness that overcomes the wisdom of this world. The foolishness that is in truth the deepest wisdom of all because it is grounded and built on the wisdom of God’s love for us. And wisdom it is, sound and confident decision making that led Admiral Mitscher to reason that responding to the real and witnessed immediate need saved more lives than might be lost in case of an attack by an enemy submarine. Sometimes wisdom and evidence defy common sense or common practice and procedure. The foolishness of the Gospel brings salvation to all; the common sense of our fear only guarantees the cycle of violence, darkness and death continues.
Who knows who is waking up this morning lost in darkness and threatened by storms. Who knows who is praying for rescue and refuge, for someone to hear and answer their prayers, for someone with the courage of love and faith to turn the lights, even when it makes us more vulnerable. That’s the kind of people God is fashioning us to be … as we gather around Jesus to hear again the promise of God’s grace and to learn how to be light keepers and light bearers as apprentices to the master … our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The latest news, sermons and commentary on our life in mission together.