Jesus Is--No Wait--We Are, the Light of the World
John 1:1-5, 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus Is, No Wait, We Are the Light of the World
July 17, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
Today’s gospel readings say that Jesus is . . . no wait, they say that we are the light of the world. Which it is? Is Jesus the light of the world? Or are we the light of the world? And the answer is: Yes. Both!
Let’s start with Vacation Bible School’s theme—Jesus is the light of the world. The kids learned that Jesus gives us courage, hope, direction and power. I can use some of that. How about you?
Now, when we say that Jesus is the light of the world, we are also acknowledging that darkness is real; otherwise we wouldn’t need his light. The theme for Bible School was "Cave Quest." In part, I suspect, that theme was just a good excuse for us to do some really cool decorating (I hope you got to see the cave hallway downstairs and the cave entrance to the chapel). In part, it was an opportunity to learn about some interesting animals that live in caves--such as salamanders, glow worms and bats--and to experience the science of geodes and echoes. But ultimately cave was a metaphor for darkness, because caves really are dark. And so sometimes is our world, and so, sometimes are our lives. The first words of the Bible are: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Darkness, it seems, is not only real but original; light has to be created by God.
Yes, darkness is real. Just turn on the TV--violence and killing only increase in Afghanistan and Iraq despite years of trying to bring order. Police officers live in fear, and African-Americans live in fear, and it’s hard for us even to talk to each other across our divisions, let alone heal them. Darkness is real. Just this past week alone I walked a family through the grief of a funeral, I talked to a man who’d fallen off the wagon after more than a year of sobriety, I visited a woman whose depression is so severe she can’t take care of herself, and my own brother can move and speak in only the most limited of ways. Darkness is not only real, it’s close.
That’s why we need the light. One of the best ways to be reminded that the light is still shining is to spend some time with children. I got to spend time with your children here this past week. And it was marvelous! I have learned about myself that I am constitutionally unable to stop myself from crying when children sing about Jesus. So here I was every night this week, with my own daughter leading the children in singing I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. Just bring me the whole box of Kleenix! Yes, the darkness is real, but I’m here to tell you, as long as children sing about Jesus, the light is still shining.
As I listened in on one Bible School session I overheard a little boy say, "I’m not afraid in my room, because I’ve got bunk beds and God." What more do you need than bunk beds and God? The light is still shining.
I’ve probably shared this poem with you before, but I shamelessly share it again. It’s a true story and it’s called "Jesus Light":
It was a gag gift
or meant to be—
a nightlight in the shape
his sacred heart exposed
like a patient half-way
through a bypass.
But my daughter, two and a half,
laid hold of him and took
him to her room
and there he abides with her
shining heart and all.
And each night her litany
of prayer includes Mommy
and Daddy, and Rachel
and my Jesus light.
He doesn’t give a lot
of light, this four-watt Jesus—
enough to read by in a pinch
and keep the monsters under the bed.
But he’s there
friend to the fearful
gift of the Father’s unfailing grace.
O sweet daughter
may it ever be so:
the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it.
You know what? There has been some real darkness in the 19 years since I wrote that poem. And you know what else? The light of Christ has shone through it all.
Otis Moss III is a black pastor in Chicago. Rev. Moss serves a prominent church and was outspoken about racial justice, and early in his ministry there he received death threats and people said they’d bomb his church. The stress made it hard for him to sleep and one night he heard a noise in the house. He got up check it out. "Like a good preacher," he says, "I grabbed my rod and staff to comfort me"--my rod and staff made in Louisville with the name Slugger on it. "I looked downstairs, and then I heard the noise again. I made my way back upstairs and peaked in my daughter’s room. There was my [six year-old] daughter Makayla dancing in the darkness—just spinning around, saying, ‘Look at me, Daddy.’
I said, ‘Makayla, you need to go to bed. It’s 3 a.m.’
But she said, ‘No, look at me, Daddy. Look at me.’
And she was spinning, barrettes going back and forth, pigtails flying. I was getting huffy wanting her to go to bed, but then God spoke to me. ‘Look at your daughter! She’s dancing in the dark. The darkness is all around her but it is not in her.’"1
The darkness is real. But so long as children dance in the dark, and so long as we will dance with them, the light is shining still.
We all need light for our darkness. And if you have found light somewhere else or from someone else, I have no need to take that from you. But the light I know is the light of Jesus who gives us hope and courage, the light of Christ who offers direction and power. His light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
All of that, my friends, is good and true, but it’s not all there is. The light of Christ does not shine just for me nor does it shine just for you. The light of Christ is always for us to share with others in their darkness. You remember that Jesus said not only, "I am the light of the world," but also, "You are the light of the world." As Jesus gives us hope and courage and direction and power, he wants us to pass them on to others.
Now, we have to be careful with this idea of being the light of the world because pride so easily sneaks in. We think, Oh, if we’re the light of the world, maybe we should point out where we think other people are wrong. Maybe we should show them the one true way to live, our way. Maybe we should tell them how much better our religion is than theirs. The trouble is, people tend not to experience those things as light! If it’s not a kind word, if it’s not a loving action, if it’s not helpful to others, it’s probably not the light of Christ. Yes, we are the light of the world, but we need always to be careful that the light we share is truly the light of the Christ of love.
Darkness is real, and so are hopelessness and fear, so are feeling lost and helpless. The darkness is all around us, it is true, but not in us. So dance and sing, my friends, love and care for others, feed the hungry and befriend the friendless, so the darkness will not be in them either. Yes, Jesus is . . . no wait, we too are the light of the world. Let it shine!
1 Otis Moss III, "Dancing in the Dark: Preaching the Blue without Despair," The Christian Century 132/24 (November 25, 2015), 22-25.