After shamelessly promoting the Denver Broncos for our Souper Bowl of Caring last week – for those of us who were interested in last Sunday’s game – I have to say I was surprised at the outcome. Right from the first play when the center hiked the ball right over Peyton Manning’s head – I thought, “Man! That looks like something the Bills would have done were they in this game.”
Well – needless to say – the Seahawks had their day. And the Broncos – well the Broncos blew it big time. And I couldn’t help thinking about Don Meredith – you remember Don Meredith from Monday Night Football from years ago – when it was clear that the losing team was going to lose. And he would sing – sort of – “Turn out the lights. The party’s over.” I felt like singing that for the Broncos after that very first play from scrimmage. Whew! That ball went sailing right over Manning’s head.
What makes me bring that into today’s sermon is Jesus’ message to us today in our Gospel reading. Today’s lesson is a continuation from last week’s reading – a snippet of a longer reading from what is called the Sermon on the Mount. And what we hear Jesus say to all of us today is that we are to be salt and light to a world that needs us to be salt and light.
Of course, Jesus is talking in metaphors. Salt is used as seasoning to flavor food. It is used as a preservative. If we push that metaphor it seems to me that as disciples of Jesus Christ – we will add a delicious flavor – if you will – to life. We can and we will preserve that which is right and good and just.
But it is as light that I would like to speak to you today. When Jesus says that you and I are light – that we are the light of the world – just what is he talking about? Because in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying about himself, “I am the light of the world.”
So which is it? Jesus or us? Well let me tell you – it’s both. It’s both. Jesus is the light of the world – and we are the light of the world. And to the extent that we are the light of the world – we are a reflection of the light of Christ. Think of the moon. The moon shines at night. But the moon produces no light of its own, does it! No. What we see when we look up into the night sky at the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light bouncing off the surface of the moon generating a night light if you will when it’s dark.
So what I am hearing from what Jesus is saying to us today is that we are to be the light of the world – a reflection of the light of Christ – a reflection of the love – and the grace – and the mercy of Christ. The problem is – and this is why I mentioned the Denver Broncos at the start – the problem is is that sometimes when we try to be light in a world of darkness – the kind of light that we know Jesus wants us to be – the problem is that sometimes we stumble at the starting gate. The ball goes sailing right over our heads.
One botched play after another. Or maybe we feel our efforts might look more like the Bills. You know – win some – lose more. OR maybe like the Sabres. Worst team in the league right now. And yet – and yet even those are among the best at what they do – football, hockey – you name it – sometimes those who are among the best at what they do don’t do so well at what they’re supposed to be good at.
If you’ve ever felt that way about your walk with Christ –if you sometimes stumble when it comes to your faith life – if there are times when you would rather hide your light under a basket instead of letting it shine – well let me tell you. You’re not alone. You’ve got plenty of company with all of the rest of us. Myself included. Sometimes we might think that we don’t do so well at shining the light of Christ for all the world to see.
And yet – for those of us who are local sports fans – yet we still love the Bills, don’t we? We still love the Sabres.
So when our salt has lost some of its flavor – or when the light of Christ just doesn’t shine as brightly as maybe it ought to – don’t you think that God still loves you anyway? Don’t you think that Jesus still forgives you anyway?
Jesus calls us today to be light. And wouldn’t you agree that there are a lot of dark places in this world that need the light of Christ? Wouldn’t you agree?
I suspect that every generation has looked at the generations that come after it and clucked their tongues – and shaken their heads in amazement. I suspect every generation has done that and asked, “What is this world coming to?” Yeah? Maybe?
If I had to diagnose a difference between what I see and experience now from, say, 40 years ago, it is that our culture has gotten ruder – and has grown more disrespectful – and some cases downright more violent. That’s not to say those of us who lived 40 years ago lived in a golden age of love and respect. You know – back in the days when I was a teenager. We didn’t always say and do the right things either. It didn’t happen overnight, but I think we are becoming ruder and less respectful as a society.
For instance. You read about in the paper, or saw on TV about the family in Buffalo that came back from a dream vacation only to find their house trashed. They had hired a friend of their daughter to look after their 7 cats. (7cats. Yikes!) Long story short – a friend of this friend invited other friends to a party at this home – and the teens trashed the house. And these teens were from the some of the more respected private and public schools in Buffalo! The cream of the crop! Only goes to show that sometimes the cream turns sour.
Now – quite frankly – I don’t know these kids – and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m just shaking my head and clucking my tongue – but I want to believe that these were good kids for the most part who just made some very bad choices.
Now I know that none of the young folks who attend this church would ever do anything like that. Well – at least I hope that would be true. You see – something has happened. Something is happening in our culture when more and more things like this happen. Not to mention far worse things like school shootings and shopping mall shootings.
More and more it seems to me the world – our culture – our neighborhoods – need us to be the light of Christ. As followers of Jesus Christ we need to engage the darkness. And that’s not going to happen simply because we shake our heads and cluck out tongues.
No. It seems to me that as disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility for the world we live in. It begins with Jesus, and what Jesus has done for us. And when we realize just how much Jesus has done for us – when you and I realize just how much we are loved – how much we have received Christ’s love, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness – then we’re ready to reflect all that good stuff on to others. Just like the moon reflects the sun’s light – so too – if we’re to be the light of Christ – we need to reflect Christ’s love, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness to a world that desperately needs it. I’m talking about your city – your town – your school – your place of work – your church – your neighborhood – your home.
If we don’t engage the darkness – then the darkness wins. Edmund Burke is alleged to have said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
And that’s why I want to hear again what Jesus has to say to all of us today. Listen.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We hear those words at every baptism. Those baptized as older children or adults can hear and understand those words. The vast majority of the baptisms we preside over here at ZLC are infants. Little Nolan Hardy will be baptized [tomorrow] [later today] in just a few moments. And we will say to him, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.” We at this church will partner with his parents and sponsors and grandparents to teach him what those words mean as he grows up.
We are reflections of the light of Christ – that’s what it means to let your light shine. Not for our own benefit – not to receive the accolades of our adoring fans. No. We reflect the light of Christ – others will see what we are doing – with the effect that Christ will be honored. That God will be glorified.
A man named Albert Mehrabian’s once made a study on credibility in communication. In this study, which dealt with the question “what makes a person credible when they seek to communicate with others,” he concluded that when we are speaking to someone else our body language accounts for 55% of the message that the other person actually receives. Our tone of voice accounts for 38% of the message, and the actual words we use only account for 7% of the message the other person actually receives. [Says something about preaching, doesn’t it!]
In other words, in terms of credibility, Mehrabian finds concrete evidence that actions speak louder than words. It’s important that we talk about our faith, but it is much more important that we live that faith. It is more important that we walk the walk than that we talk the talk. That is how we shine our light to the world.
Let me end with a story. “Once there lived a man who wanted to determine which of his two children was more worthy of inheriting his property. And so he gave each a coin. ‘Buy something with this coin that will fill the house.’
“The son tried to think of something he could buy with that coin that could fulfill his father’s wishes. He decided on a load of straw. But when he returned home, he didn’t even have enough straw to cover the floor.
“The younger child, a daughter, chose a wiser course. She spent her coin on candles. As she lighted each candle, their light filled the house.
“The happy father said to his daughter, ‘To you I give over my business. You have shown true wisdom.’”
“There is not enough darkness in the entire world,” says Robert Alden, “to put out the light of even one small candle.”
Friends – will you join with me in engaging the darkness? Will you? Will you say with me that the darkness cannot and will not win?
John’s Gospel says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. You, my dear friends – YOU – are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world. A reflection of the light of Christ. SO let your light shine! Amen