A Light to the World
(Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 112:1-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/KZj4CBjq7-A)
13‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
17‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,* not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks* one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
As I was reflecting on these texts for this I week, I came across the thoughts of an author named Max Eller. He writes,
Recently I was driving down the highway and saw this big bill board advertising Dutch Boy paint. Displayed was this father painting his house. Standing in his shadow was this little boy, maybe four or five, watching with admiration his father. Almost unnoticed, this father was getting casual paint all over his son. This reminded me of the two metaphors used by Jesus in chapter five of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 where Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth,” followed by the statement “You are the light of the world.” Whether intentionally or casually we are called to be salt and light in the world. More often than not we have our greatest influence without any awareness of it. Without even trying we get casual paint not only on our children but on all our friends, and sometimes on strangers. God does his greatest work through us when we are truly his servant. Often we never hear about the blessings we bring to others. If we are faithful in serving God, it doesn’t matter that we hear. There is, of course, the flip side of this story, too. We sometimes get the wrong kind of casual paint on family members and friends, and it is not easily washed off. Actually, I had a similar experience many years ago while standing at the foot of my mother and father’s graves. I was mediating and lifting my soul to the Lord in thanksgiving for the influence they had on my life–, when just as clear as the sound of a bell I had this vision of my mother and dad painting–, and here I was, a little boy, standing in their shadow and watching. They were getting casual paint all over me. But they were not painting with paint as was the father in the Dutch Boy bill board. They were painting with their behavior, their attitude, the way they related to people, how they went about their work, and the way they loved one another and hugged their kids. All the while, without any awareness on their part, I am standing there in their shadows, getting casual paint all over me. I was so overjoyed by this vision I began to think about all the other important people in my life who had helped shape my faith and character, many of whom were also buried in that cemetery. So, I began to walk around the cemetery and stop at all the gravesites of those who had so richly blessed me. I would express my gratitude and go on to the next. It was like the Catholic ritual on Good Friday of the Stations of the Cross. Every time I go back to my childhood church where I was nurtured in the faith I go through this same kind of ritual of thanking those who have touched my life so deeply. It is how I get in touch with my sacred history.
I love this imagery of the “casual painter” in relation to our passage from Matthew, probably because I like to dabble in the art of painting from time to time. In fact, I just took another 6-hour painting class from Southeast Community College yesterday. I do so enjoy holding a brush and figuring out the mysteries of color and light! And the smell of paints and paint thinner in the air…what a delight! I’ve spent many hours over the years surrounded by such fumes and pondering not only the mysteries of the craft but the mysteries of life in general. It’s good to have a hobby to lose yourself in; to give you an escape from the worries of this world for just a brief moment in time. And in losing yourself, it is quite easy becoming a “casual painter” as Mr. Eller described in his words. Perhaps many of you know how easy it is to get so completely lost in whatever it is you’re doing that your behavior essentially spills out on those around you. Sometimes it’s good behavior, sometimes it’s bad, but either way it’s not something you expected to come out. Of course, the ideal is to submerse yourself in activities that only spill out nothing but goodness on those around you. Whether we like or not, our actions and behaviors have an effect on those around us. We…affect…others! What we do and believe affects others! None of us is an island unto ourselves. None is can live without affecting others in some way. Even in death, we continue to affect those who continue to live in this world. No, each of us has been blessed with the great responsibility of affecting others, for good or for ill.
Our readings assigned for this morning both acknowledge this great responsibility and help us to choose to affect others with nothing but goodness. Make no mistake about it, it is a choice we make in how we want to affect others. We may not have a choice in whether we affect others but we can choose how to affect them. We can choose to tear down or build up those around us. We can choose to hurt or help those around us. Ultimately, we can choose to live lives that are pleasing to God or lives that are displeasing to God. God is always working to build us up and help us. Even when He seems to be tearing us down and hurting us, it is for the purpose of building us up stronger and helping us overcome the powers of sin. God loves us! God has always loved us! God will always love us! We are God’s beloved children! There is nothing we could do to separate us from the deep and abiding love that God has for us. God always wants to be near to us. God always wants to share his love with us.
In our gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we are to be two things in the world: salt and light. Both salt and light are such basic, life-sustaining, life-enhancing elements that it is hard to imagine life flourishing without them. And they both have a variety of ways of profoundly enriching life. Salt not only preserves but it also adds flavor. Light not only provides visibility but it also provides warmth and necessary vitamins. Jesus’ call is for us to both preserve his message and to be his message, adding flavor to the lives of those. Jesus’ call is for us to both show others the way to him and to share his warmth and wisdom with them. And like Mr. Eller so wisely illustrated, we are called to get completely lost in the salt and light of Jesus. You see, Jesus is the salt and light of the world too. Indeed, he is THE light of the world! He preserves and adds flavor to our own lives. He shows the way to our heavenly Father and gives us a haven in our cold, cruel world. He gives us what our bodies and souls and minds so desperately need to survive. We are to become so completely enrapt in him, so completely engrossed in him, that the goodness that is in him will spill out on those around us. We are to become “casual painters,” spilling the unending love of Jesus out on the world.
As we continue through Epiphany, let us look to THE light of the world. Let us look to the kindness and mercy that he shows to the world. Let us look to his compassion and forgiveness as examples of how we are to share with the world. Let us look to his wisdom and allow it to transform our understanding of the world. Though Jesus is THE light of the world, we are called to live in this world as he lives in it: with kindness and mercy, with compassion and forgiveness, and with wisdom. We are to love each other as he loves us. In our own unique ways, let us go forth to be…a light to the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.