Monday, 3 February 2014

“Let your light shine ...”: a sermon (Matthew 5:13-20)

Today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel is a passage of scripture that I’ve often read as part of a brief funeral address, normally coming at the end of a few longer tributes from family members and friends.

I’ll share what I’ve said at some funerals.  Let’s assume it’s for the funeral of a man named “Eddie”.  (And I don’t think I’ve ever actually done this at a funeral for someone named “Eddie”.  And, if you have a family member or friend named “Eddie”, it’s NOT about your Eddie.  I’ve just picked a name out of the air, and the name just happened to be “Eddie”.)  

Here’s what I’ve said.

***

I’m going to read a brief passage of scripture and to speak very briefly.  We have heard tributes to Eddie on behalf of his family. Everyone here can express their thanks for the qualities of love and care shown in Eddie’s life in one way or another:  to his family, within this congregation, and within the wider community in other areas of service.

We give thanks to God for the love, care, and service that have been qualities of Eddie’s life.  And in this context, I’d like to read some words spoken almost two thousand years ago.  While he was teaching his disciples, Jesus once said:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

For a number of reasons, these may be confronting words for many of us.

Here in Australia, our culture gives us the message that we’re not supposed to “have tickets on ourselves”, that we’re supposed to downgrade our own contributions to the well-being of the people around us:  “Oh, it’s not that much, not really.”

And, as well, there’s a type of religious person who believes they always need to put themselves down.  They often say, “I’m bad, I’m bad; I’m horrible, I’m horrible!” until they start to believe it themselves.  (And this is one reason why some religious people have real problems with low self-esteem.)

In contrast to both these unhelpful attitudes, we hear Jesus’ words:  “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  It’s not a question of “having tickets on yourself”, but of being honest about your own contribution to the well-being of others.

Eddie was not the sort of person who “had tickets on himself”, but was nevertheless the sort of person who helped this community to be a caring place.  We give thanks to God for Eddie’s life of care for those around him.

Jesus said, “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

***

And that’s the sort of thing I said at a number of funerals.

And, as I’ve said, what Jesus taught us here contradicts a lot of what many of us were taught in church over the years.  If Jesus teaches us to let our light shine before others, that must mean we have a light that we can shine.  And, particularly for those who’ve grown up in rather conservative churches, much of what we’ve been taught in church tells us we have no light to shine.

·        We’ve been taught prayers that say we’re “not worthy to gather up the crumbs under ... [God’s] table”, but Jesus tells us to let our light shine.

·        We’ve been taught hymns where we sing of “a wretch like me,” but Jesus tells us to let our light shine.

·        We’ve been taught in Sunday School or Confirmation Class that our good works mean nothing in God’s sight, compared with whether or not we hold the right beliefs, but Jesus tells us to let our light shine.

Once again, those who may have grown up as part of particularly conservative churches may find Jesus telling us things that contradict much of what we were taught in our religious upbringing.  One good rule of thumb:  If Jesus is saying one thing, and your earlier religious upbringing is saying something else, go with what Jesus is saying.

Jesus said, “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

In the meal we shall soon celebrate, Jesus will not check out our theology or our personal ethics, and toss us out if we don’t measure up.  He hands us the bread and the cup and says, “Come, for all is made ready.”

Afterwards, Jesus will challenge us “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

2 comments:

  1. Interesting point about the negativity of church language in the past. I remember being taught to pray as a child, God bless ......and make her good, which means I must have been bad in the first place.
    Bronwyn Mitchell

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

    ReplyDelete

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