Scripture Lesson: Matthew 5:13-16
Sermon: Living in the Light
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
The Last Englishmen: Love, War, and the End of Empire by Deborah Baker is an
historical account of the early British efforts to summit Mount Everest set in the
context of colonial India and World War 2. Following an unsuccessful attempt on
Everest in 1933, a reconnaissance expedition is sent in 1934. This small team was
to map more of the area and take photographs so that a route could be identified for
another attempt on Everest the next year. Along the way, the small entourage stops
in a village in Tibet but they are turned back and not given permission to continue.
They must head to another route to continue their surveying and examination of the
terrain. The head of the expedition asks the head of the village why they are not
being permitted to pass through the region. The headman of the village gives this
“Western ways leave behind nothing but unhappiness,” the headman replied.
“What will I do with the 200 rupees you have paid me for the use of my ponies?
Where there is no surplus there is nothing to buy. You have only to open your eyes
to see that in this country soil, crops, and people exist in a delicate balance. Money
can’t replenish the fodder consumed by transiting yaks. Money will simply
provide grounds for the headman in the next village to be jealous thus establishing
the conditions for perpetual strife. This is the material and spiritual effect of an
expedition passing through our lands. This is how unhappiness and suffering are
introduced into our lives.” [4 minutes and 45 seconds into the recorded book]
What a piercing ray of light and truth spoken to these Englishmen, so sure of
themselves and of the importance of their mission. The Tibetan leader speaks his
truth. Shares his insight. Tells his story. Reveals the reality of life for himself and
those of his culture and community.
As we heard from the Sermon on the Mount this morning, Jesus is remembered for
declaring that his followers are the light of the world. Not one of them but all of
them are the light of the world. Not just Jesus who appeared aglow with light on
the mountain top. And the verb used is present tense. They are the light of the world. We are not told that they will be the light of the world. At some future
point. When they have proven themselves. Or when they have passed some kind
of test. They will not become the light after they have been given a license. Or
obtained a permit. Or made a donation. Or earned a diploma. No. There is no
test or measurement or criteria. The followers of Jesus are, simply, the light of the
world. This is a way of saying that God is present. It is an acknowledgment of
Divinity within. It is a way of expressing the power of each and every person for
good, for truth, and for healing.
Light is a functional metaphor. Light shines. It does something. Has an impact.
Light is visible, public. It is not to be hidden under a bushel. Following Jesus is
not just a personal, private matter. This image of light has power. Light makes rats
scurry and it draws moths.
We don’t know that we will have to face in this life. But we know that we can trust
the light to show us the way, to lead us, to give us strength because, fundamentally,
light is life giving. It is like the light necessary for a plant to grow. Light is
healing. Light is warmth. Light reveals beauty. Light is energy. Light is vision.
We need light to live fully, knowing the deep experience of our humanness.
But it’s easy to resist this metaphor of light. It is easy to be reluctant to accept this
teaching. If we have this power, then we must be responsible for what we are
doing with it. The light within must be allowed to shine. Our story, our reality, our
experience, our perspective is to be valued and shared.
And here is the real problem with light. We may not like what we see. We may
not like what it shows. It may be horrific. Scary. We may not want to see what is
exposed by the light.
Maybe we don’t want to see that we are in an abusive relationship. Or that
someone we love is in such a relationship. Maybe we don’t want to see the
ramifications of something we have done which is causing harm to others. Easier
not to know the story of the farmworkers and just eat those tomatoes they have
picked. Who wants to see the truth of global warming and the devastation and
destruction that it is already causing on a daily basis? Who wants to know about
the continuing legacy of slavery that plagues our society today?
To think that we have some kind of light that we are compelled to shine, it can justseem like too much responsibility, too heavy a burden, too overwhelming.
Thomas Merton, mystic of the 20th century, reminds us that we are not alone. He writes: “I have the immense joy of being…a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
In the verse we heard this morning, “You are the light of the world,” the word ‘you’ is plural. It’s not just you, or you, or you, or me. It is all of us. Each of us has light that is needed to overcome the darkness of our spirits and the darkness in. the world.
We are all light. The light of the world. Every one of us contributing like an array of solar panels. Enabling vision and insight. Driving out fear.
And the light is needed especially when it is darkest. That is when the light shines most brightly: When people are being mean and hurtful, a beam of kindness and understanding. When people are hostile and at odds, even engaged in violence and war, a ray of understanding and peace. When things are swirling in a confused muddle of corruption, lies, and betrayal, a beacon of right, of ethical grounding, of moral good. When selfishness and greed seem to be winning the day, there is a stream of generosity, justice, and compassion.
No matter the extremity of the darkness, there is light, and it shines from others, it shines from us. We have not chosen to bear the light. It has been given. Like the sun. To light of the world. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.