“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16)
This is a verse that is often read at baptisms. It is also sometimes a chosen Confirmation verse: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
These words come from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” – the foundation of his teaching to the disciples and all who would follow him; these words are as pertinent to post-resurrection Christians as they were to those first followers of Christ on the side of that mountain in Galilee in the 1st century.
YOU are the light of the world. Did you catch that? YOU! This is repeated in The Gospel of John when Jesus says we “have the light” (12:36). Curious. Earlier in the Gospel of John we read that JESUS has come as the light of the world (John 1:9).
But then the light-resposibility shifts it to us. According to Jesus, WE are now the light of the world, and we will perform even greater works than Jesus himself (John 14:12)! That is quite extraordinary, especially considering the miracles that Jesus performed.
Without going so far as to equate us with God, the scriptures come very close to doing so. Psalm 8 identifies us humans as created just a “little lower than God” (v.5).
On Easter morning, the Church affirms that BECAUSE of the resurrection of Jesus, because Jesus is alive, because Jesus lives and isn’t dead anymore – we now have the light and life of Jesus in our lives.
So what holds us back? Why do we time and time again have trouble living out of that truth, that joy, that glory, that energy, that belief so central to Christianity? Why do we have trouble believing the gift within us as a faithful expression of our belief in the risen Lord? Why do we so instinctually confine the Spirit of God?
Do we want to be free? Are we afraid of being great? Is it the fear of that light?
Some more words of wisdom we have discussed in preparing for Confirmation come from Marianne Williamson from her writings entitled, “Return to Love”.
“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 most 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 does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make 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 own 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.”
I read about an American soldier who performed a covert operation to free hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified.
When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.
The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. The soldier, though, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them.
He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier. (as told by Donald Miller, “Blue Like Jazz”, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p.33-34).
The process of becoming free, of taming our fear, of taking the risk to let go of the hurt and pain in the light of God – this is not easy. There is a “refining fire” that cleanses us; but it’s not a warm, soapy bath; the cleansing is often difficult, turbulent, stormy, and challenges us to the core of our personality. We are often our own worst enemies when offered God’s freedom in Christ.
Yet the blessing, grace and freedom are just beyond the prison doors of our hearts. Jesus knocks on that door of our hearts (Revelation 3). He has already rescued us! What will we do? Will we open that door? Will we accept God’s love and God’s salvation meant for us? Notice on that famous picture there is no door handle on the outside where Jesus knocks and waits.
I heard of a fire that destroyed a century-old home. Thankfully no one was physically injured. Firefighters and inspectors had a difficult time finding the cause of the fire. Until they discovered the south side of the house had beveled stained glass windows, and that on the day of the fire the sun had shone brilliantly.
By reconstructing the scene they were able to determine that the angle of the sun’s rays had shone through a part of the glass that had concentrated the light in such a way as to start a fire on some papers in the house. The sun’s rays were concentrated through the glass with increased and incredible energy and power to start a fire.
The light shines in us. The risen Lord’s light shines brightly through our lives. The effect of this light is concentrated through our faithful witness to the power of the resurrection. And this power can start “fires” so to speak – that’s how strong the Lord lives in us! To work for justice and peace; to work for God’s mission in and from Christ’s church to the world around us; to reflect the light and love of God to those near and far.
Because of Easter, we need not let fear rule our lives; rather, because of the resurrection we are baptized into Christ’s power, and we affirm our baptisms in the kind of lives we lead. Thanks be to God! Amen.