Read Matthew 5:13-16, Isaiah 58:3-9a
A good number of years ago my family and I visited a cave in Pennsylvania. Inside the cave we followed our guide along a well marked and well lit path. At one point we stopped and our tour guide explained that she was going to turn out the lights, and we would experience total darkness.
We discovered that total darkness really means total. I lifted my hand so that it was only about an inch or two in front of my eyes. I could not even see my hand, let alone anything or anyone else in the cave. I could see absolutely nothing. The lights were only out about a minute or less, but it seemed like an eternity.
As our tour guide joked about leaving us in a state of darkness while she went on her break, I wondered what it would be like if we really were left in total darkness. I imagined that we would try to make it to the light of the cave entrance. But we could not see the light of the cave entrance, so we wouldn’t get far. We would stumble and fall off the path. We would lse our way. Before long we would be separated, each going our own way in the darkness, with no hope of ever finding a way out.
It became clear to me how essential light is to a meaningful life. Jesus knew that. God sent Jesus into a world of darkness. Not the darkness caused by the lack of sunlight, but the darkness which results when people are separated from God and trying to live meaningful lives on their own. It couldn’t be done. So Jesus entered the world to lead humanity back to the light – back to God.
Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, knew that he must depend upon his disciples to carry on this effort. He explained to them that they were the light of the world. If they were to be effective disciples, they must let the light of God in Christ be reflected from them to show the world God’s way.
Jesus had preceded his teaching about their being the light of the world with the beatitudes. . He first explained how God expected them to live and then he explained that they must be highly visible in the world so that the world would see Christ in them. They could not take credit for turning the light on, but they had to be in place in order for it to reach the world. God in Christ would be revealed through them. When they let God’s light shine through them, the world would begin to see what was acceptable and what was not acceptable to God. The world would see God’s way, and the world would see that it was possible to follow the light.
If they did not use the light, if they did not do God’s will in public, then the world would not know God’s way. As part of the Christian church today, Christians are expected to be the light of the world. God calls those of us who profess to be Christians to reflect his light to the world. God calls us to speak and do his will for all the world to see. And if we will not let our light shine , God will find someone else who will.
During my service as a pastor I frequently heard church members discussing why the church was losing members. I remember saying at one meeting that in some sense we could take comfort in that we were not alone in experiencing membership decline, because many other churches were having the same expeience. Almost all of the traditional mainline Prtestant churches in the United States have been going through this for about the past 50 years. All kinds of explanations have been given for this, and most of them are right. Books have been written and read. Speeches have been given. But be the basic answer behind all the answers is that the church and its individual members, including the clergy, allowed its light to be dimmed by the ways of the world. The church became, and for the most part still is, a reflection of the world, rather than a reflection of God to the world.
As w seek to bring people back to the church, we must be sure that we are not simply bringing them to a building, or to an organization. We must be sure that we are bringing people to find God. We can devise ways, with enough people and/or money, to get people to the church. But the real question is, what will they find when they get there – when they see the people of the church up close? Will they find God there? Or will they find more of what they have already found in the world?
The people came to Isaiah wondering why God didn’t pay attention to them. They had obeyed the fasting tradition. They had gone without food on the specified days and specified period of time. But God didn’t acknowledge them. And Isaiah explained that the reason they couldn’t get God’s attention was that their fasting was just an outward display of piety, which did nothing but serve their own image. While they were fasting they were carrying on business as usual , living the way of the world. Isaiah says that they cannot manipulate God through fasting. If they want to please God, then what God really wants is not abstinence from food, but abstinance from their worldly ways. God wants them to change their ways, based on motivation from God and not for their own purposes. Their actions must be a way that enables others to see God.
How can we today, both as individual Christians and as local churches, reflect God in Christ to the world? That is the question we must always be asking and answering. Jesus first expressed his words about salt and light to just 12 disciples. He gave them responsibility to reflect his light in the whole world. One disciple (Judas) fell by the wayside. But the others kept the light burning. They passed the light on to others and the church was born. And over the centuries the church passed it on to still others, but continuing loss of membership in many churches shows that too many churches are not keeping the light burning as brightly as they should. In too many cases the light has burned out.
But of course, the light will never totally go out. There is no question about that. God won’t let that happen. The question is, are Christians all doing their part to keep the light burning? Are we living the Christian life, in such a way that we truly are the light of the world? When the world sees God reflected in us, then the world changes and God’s kingdom grows. God’s kingdom will grow and be fulfilled in God’s own time. But when the roll is called and we are asked if we let our light shine, what can we answer?
Grace and peace, Ray
We welcome any comments and questions you might want to share with us and others. We expect to publish a new Bible study on or about February 20.
(you can contact us by E-mail at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We have also written an extensive reference – How to Study the Bible – which you can always access by clicking on the “Study Guide” tab above.
You might also find it helpful to view web-sites which contain complete texts of various versions of the Bible, as well as additional material helpful for Bible study, such as (www.biblestudytools.com) and (www.biblios.com)
We also invite you to view our other web-sites, as follows:
* Our blog, Today’s Enlightenment at www.rohmnj.wordpress.com.
* Ray Gough’s e-book , noted below, which can be read, downloaded, or copied free at http://www.pastorrayhopesfulfilled.wordpress.com/home
A Spiritual Autobiography
How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes
of an ordinary guy from Jersey City