In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-2). So begins the light we find throughout the Bible. The very first thing God does is to create light.
In the Kabbalah, a mystic tradition within Judaism, the ancient myth is told that when God decided to create, God first had to take in a breath, in a sense, remove Godself from all that is, in order to make room for creation. And so God did. Then God sent out light into the void. To do so, God made ten vessels to carry the light. But as the vessels went into the void, the light was too strong for them and the vessels shattered. The sparks of light attached themselves to the shards of the vessels and from these the solidity of creation was formed. One interpretation says that the shards of clay became like shells, hiding the light within creation. And it is the life purpose of God’s people to uncover these hidden sparks of light, to bring them back together. And when enough of these lights are freed from their clay shells, then the perfection of creation will be complete.
So God’s people have a purpose on earth – to repair the world. How? By uncovering and freeing the light which is trapped within the creation and within every person. And how is that done? By finding the good in, with and under all, taking it out from under its shell or bushel and letting it shine for all to see.
God’s light is hidden in creation and in people. Uncover it. Let it shine! Like the song, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!”
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Now THIS is interesting! God created light as the first act. Now, Jesus, the incarnate one proclaims that he is the light of the world. Not the orbs of sun, moon and stars, but the light unique to the world, bound to the world. I don’t know if Jesus may have known this story of the broken shards of light hidden in the world. But Jesus’ proclamation of who he is, I find consistent with the story. Jesus is like the shards of light bound to their clay vessels, now revealed, uncovered. Some could see and celebrate Jesus’ light. Others, saw only an outlaw and a false prophet. His light was, for them, still hidden under the bushel basket of their Law.
God’s light is in Jesus. Uncover it. Let it shine! “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!”
Jesus proclaims: “You are the light of the world!: (Matthew 5:14). Check over your shoulder…. Who? Me?… Who else is here? Who else is listening? You are the light of the world! That same light shines in you!
Who was Jesus talking to? Primarily his disciples. He goes up onto a mountain side and sits down to teach. Teachers in the synagogue sat to teach, rather than standing, as in our tradition. But he goes up a bit higher in elevation to teach, because he saw the crowds. Was he escaping them? No. But from a higher vantage point he could be heard by more of the crowd. He was addressing them all. Even addressing us, sitting here today. You are the light of the world!
In you is hidden that original light which God created on the very first day. That light is part of you.
The salt image Jesus uses in this sermon also has an ancient Jewish story behind it. The Jews are the salt of the earth too. In 722 BCE, the Jews of the northern kingdom were scattered throughout the vast Assyrian Empire and they never returned. They were lost to history, and are remembered by Jews as being scattered throughout the world “like salt.” They flavor and preserve the world by their presence, living incognito in every culture and on every continent. They remember, even without knowing it, the Torah deep in their souls. The basic moral practices of Torah are in their genes. When Jesus addresses the crowd as “the salt of the earth,” he is reminding them that Torah, God’s way, is not just a “religious thing,” not a set of odd Jewish practices involving food, and washing and counting steps on the Sabbath. Torah observance is good for the world. It makes communities gentler and more orderly. It makes human beings kinder and more tolerant.
Perhaps with these two stories in mind, Jesus pronounces, “You are salt. You are the light.” You cannot pretend that you are not. Everyone will see what you do. Everyone is watching. The whole world is watching.
Down through the ages of Christianity, some of our traditions have lost this light. Somehow we reversed Jesus’ teaching. We have been taught that we are evil, born in sin, that it takes a miracle to release us from this body of sin and death. But that is not what Jesus is saying here. Of course, we are imperfect. We all know that we are self-centered. We have bought into the demand to get what we can, to collect resources for ourselves against the possibilities of the future. I suppose that is why it is easy to believe that we are darkness.
But Jesus says, you are the light of the world! If someone tells you otherwise, who are you going to believe?
We know from educators that humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living. That probably applies to listening to sermons as well as to lectures, or reading books. Hearing a new thought doesn’t change us unless we live into it. And that is what Jesus is talking about when he says, You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! So, how will we be salt and light? By thinking about it? Probably not.
It is the good we do that shines light. We are in a dark world. But that doesn’t mean the light is gone. It is buried. Under a bushel, covered with clay. Our job is to notice. To dust it off. Point the light at the good for all to see. Rather than the bad which demands attention. It is quiet, subtle like yeast in a batch of dough. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is about living as salt and light. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to be light, but he tells us how. It isn’t a common way. But once you get it, once you live it, you know its light and it gives you peace, and you would never live any other way.
You are the light of the world. Hide it under a bushel? No! Let it shine!
You are the light of the world.
Our deacons are light….
∙ Alisa Brummer shines the light when she loves her Grumpy Dad by asking for us to pray for him.
∙ Karen Preston shines the light when she names Wendy, Gabriel, Nathan and Mike every single Sunday, because they need a little light and her heart goes out to them.
∙ You were the light of the world last Sunday, when your donations poured out to feed the hungry. Seeing you respond by putting your dollars in the donation can was heart-warming – lighting.
∙ You were the light at the Gala, gathering people to pour out their hearts for the children. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God is made of such as these.” And only those who come like a child can enter the kingdom of God.
∙ Diane and Lindy are light of the world, when they come into the office every week to make things happen – often unnoticed things like bank deposits, bulletins, coffee.
∙ Paul Smith is light of the wold when he speaks of answers to prayer on the weeks he has work.
∙ Marsha and Nic are the light of the world, when they gathered you to bond in sharing what was important to you about MTPC. You were shining light on what is good in the world.
∙ Michael, Christina, Whitley, are the light of the world every time they answer the phone or prepare a room for a guest, or clean up coffee trays or take out the garbage.
∙ You are the light of the world – every time you light a candle, or a stranger lights a candle in the sanctuary, there is more light in the world.
∙ Josh is quite literally the light of the world lately, arranging for lights to be repaired in the lobby and replace in the kitchen and the behind the stained glass, and in my office. He has been on a tear for being light!
∙ Even those who have gone before us are light still, when they give of their estates to bless this place, so that light continues to shine through our doors and windows in the city of Portland.
For the rest of the Epiphany season, we will journey through the Sermon on the Mount. I would like you to read it every week – Matthew 5-7. It will take about twenty minutes, like a normal sermon. It is perhaps the most concentrated sections of teaching from Jesus about how we live, what we do to be the salt and light of the world.
Being the light of the world is not an abstract thing. Like a city set on a hill, it is obvious to all. And don’t wonder if people notice. They do! When there is a light on the hill, it is seen. And even if it isn’t seen by anyone, pick up that piece of trash and heal the world. Buy a coffee drink for the person behind you in line, smile at the stranger. It is light. It is you being light in the world. Dust off the clay, peek under the bushels where people hide and notice the light shining through the cracks of someone else’s life. Tell them what you see. When you see the moon part the clouds, or a hillside of daffodils in bloom, point it out so another will join you in seeing light. When you say it, you put the light on the stand and you give to the world more light. We need it!
You are the light of the world. Thank you for every moment you give to light!