Let Your Light Shine
Pastor Brian Rajcok
With the theme of light today I couldn’t resist opening with a couple light bulb jokes. How many mystery novel writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, one to do most of the work and a second to give it a surprising twist at the end. How many televangelists does it take to change a light bulb? 100, one to change it and 99 to cast out the spirit of darkness. How many Amish people does it take to change a light bulb? Zero, they only use candles. And finally how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? 21. Ten to form a committee assessing the value of the old light bulb. Ten to plan a potluck celebrating the new light bulb. And one to actually change it.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about both change and light. He says to the crowds listening: you are the light of the world. This Sermon on the Mount is the heart of Jesus’ teaching, especially His ethical teaching. It contains what Lutherans call both Law and Gospel. Gospel means “good news,” like the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor, blessed are the mourning, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted. Jesus offers comfort and hope. And the Sermon on the Mount also contains the Law: Jesus’ call to live a righteous life.
We need to remember that just about everybody in first century Israel was oppressed and exploited by the rich and powerful. They were poor, both in wealth and in spirit. They were hungry, both physically for food and metaphorically for justice. Jesus promises real and substantial change to all who desire this transformation of the world—the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom. Jesus speaks of a world where there will be peace, there will be justice, there will be God’s Kingdom come.
And following this word of hope and comfort comes Jesus’ call to serious discipleship. He tells the crowd and all who will ever read His words: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s Jesus’ calling to us. It’s a heavy duty job. As followers of Jesus, we are responsible for a lot. Following Jesus Christ means offering up our entire life to God, and following whatever the divine will may be. It takes a lot of prayerful discernment and inner transformation, and hopefully bears good fruit and righteous action.
To ease the pressure a bit, Martin Luther taught that as Christians we actually receive the righteousness of Christ. So our righteousness does in fact exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees—because it is Christ’s righteousness which we now possess. This was very good news to medieval Christians who constantly worried about sin and hell in Luther’s day. And Luther’s theology can set us at ease too.
But it doesn’t let us off the hook! We are still called to live into the righteousness which is already ours in Christ. We don’t have to do so to gain a reward or for fear of punishment. We live out righteousness because it’s who we are—we are the light of the world! We don’t have to live our lives seeking to please God with our good works, we just live our lives and let our light shine. Not living life always concerned with doing good deeds or resisting sinful ones, but trusting in God to guide us and living into the light that we are.
Jesus knows it’s a tall command to live up to the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. But He also knows we can do it. Because of Christ’s presence in our lives and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Because by God’s grace we are the light of the world.
This is a tremendous gift, and also an incredible responsibility. The first reading from Isaiah today exemplifies how to let your light shine. Through Isaiah God says, “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise” (Isaiah 58:10). Isaiah’s message here is probably THE major message of all the Prophets: the fast that God desires is to loose the bonds of injustice, to care for the hungry, the homeless, and the naked—rather than obeying religious rituals and offering sacrifices. God was calling out the people of Israel for going through the right religious rituals, but not really caring about the suffering among them. Letting your light shine means serving the poor, ensuring workers get a their fair share, caring about making the world a better place, and changing systems that perpetuate inequality and injustice. God calls us to charity and justice. Charity by easing the suffering of the poor with food and shelter. And justice by seeking to change the systems that make them poor in the first place.
And doing so not from a place of oppositional anger, but from a place of love and compassion. That’s how we let our light shine. That’s how we change the world. That’s how we live the Beatitudes. That’s how we live into the righteousness we have in Christ.
So I hope you will hear the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ vision for a better world, and dedicate your life to that vision. He is the light of the world, and He makes you the light of the world. Be who you truly are. And at times when you feel like your light has grown dim, cast your burdens onto Christ. Whatever is suppressing your light, let it go. Invite God to lift whatever it is that may be smothering your lamp and feel the freedom that it is to shine with the light of God’s love. Maybe you’ve felt like your light has been dimmed for a long time. Maybe you’re experiencing hardships that have nearly snuffed out your light. Jesus has words for you: He says blessed are you who are poor in the spirit, blessed are you who mourn. And to you Jesus says: you are the light, be the light.
Thanks be to God for this gift, and for sending us the light of the world, Jesus Christ, and for making us light. Shine for all to see! Amen.