Epiphany 5A Leave The Light On
February 5, 2017
The image of ‘light’ is all over the Bible.
In the gospel of John,
Jesus is the light.
In the psalms,
The word of God is the light.
But here in the gospel of Matthew, it becomes personal.
You are the light.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus says,
“Let your light shine before others…”
What does it mean for the Christian community to be light?
And not just light for ourselves and our families,
but light for the world?
When we were baptized,
Most of us received a candle and these same words were said over us:
“Let your light so shine that they may see your good works,
And glorify your father in heaven.”
How’s that been going?
Has your light been shining recently?
Christians don’t have a monopoly on the image of light of course…
On Friday, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services asked Lutheran leaders
to visit mosques across the country.
We were asked to stand together
with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are particularly hurt and fearful right now.
After our meeting with leaders of the Muslim America Society here in Alexandria,
we attended afternoon prayer in the mosque.
The imam preached about hope when people stand together
using a parable from Mohammed.
(I never knew Mohammed spoke with parables!)
And he preached about how, in this time especially, the Muslim community is called to be light.
He said, ‘We American Muslims have been given the honor
to remind America what it stands for…”
‘We have been given the honor to remind America what it stands for…’
In Matthew Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world…a city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
For centuries, American Presidents from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush to Obama have used this image from the Bible – a city on a hill –
a light for the world to see – to describe our country and its ideals.
Over and over again, our leaders have held up this image of America –
of being a beacon of light – of truth, liberty, justice – for all people
regardless of race or ethnicity or religion.
The Statue of Liberty’s torch held up high
Is the image many think of when they think of the best of the United States.
The US claimed this image in the 1630’s when
Puritan lawyer John Winthrop delivered a sermon,
which some say was first shared on the ship Arbella
before it even arrived in Massachusetts.
Winthrop took this passage from Matthew chapter 5
And said, “”We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”[i]
We Muslim Americans have been given the honor
to remind America what it stands for.
In his farewell address, President Reagan,
(of course) told a story…
“I’ve been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean.
And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one –
a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor.
It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people.
And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway,
which was patrolling the South China Sea.
The sailor, like most American servicemen,
was young, smart, and fiercely observant.
The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat.
And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America.
The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety.
As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him.
He yelled, ‘Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.’[ii]
“The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs,
I’ve thought a bit of the ‘shining city upon a hill.’ ….
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life,
but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it.
But in my mind it was a tall, proud city
built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed,
and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace;
a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.
And if there had to be city walls,
the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
We have been given the honor
to remind America what it stands for.
When a light radiates openly –
there is no shadow, nothing hidden.
We shine out life and hope…
like the sun brings life to seeds planted in fields;
or a lighted window brings hope to a weary traveler.
A number of years ago voice actor Tom Bodett became the voice of Motel 6.
It was a highly successful ad campaign
with the combination of Tom’s voice
which the producer described as a mixture of humor and humility,
and the image he presented –
Motel 6 could be your home away from home.
What made it home?
It was the light in the window.
Each ad ended the same way…
“I’m Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we’ll leave the light on for you.”
We’ll leave the light on for you…
As David Lose reminds us, Jesus doesn’t say,
“You should be the salt of the earth and light of the world.”
Or, “You have to be,…”
Or let alone “You better be,….”
Rather, he is says, you are.
As in already are.
Even if you don’t know it.
Even if you once knew it and forgot.
Even if you have a hard time believing it. [iii]
This isn’t a command for you to do anything…
As you are, you are light for me.
And we are light for each other.
Let’s leave the light on.