Good morning, Friends!
Thanks for coming today. I hope you all found some way to stay cool during this past week. People here in North Carolina have a lot of favorite ways to say how hot it is in weather like this.
People say, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg out there!”
Or they say, “It’s like a steam bath!”
Heard one person say, “I bought a loaf of bread at the grocery store, and before I got home, it was toast!”
Heard another person say, “It’s so hot, I saw the Devil in Wal-Mart buying an air conditioner!”
Any way you slice it, it’s pretty hot out. I don’t want to keep you all for long today. I remember, when I was a boy, the shortest sermon I ever heard in my entire life.
It was an evening service, there was no air conditioning. People were fanning themselves with their bulletins. It was so hot, people were melting into the finish on the pews. When you tried to get up, your clothes were stuck.
The minister was probably wearing shorts and sandals under his robe. He stood up. He wiped his forehead. And he said, “Dearly beloved in Christ, I know that you all love God. And I know that God loves you. Let us pray. . .”
We practically gave him a standing ovation. We sang one verse of the last hymn and we all got out of there.
I’m not going to be quite as quick as that today. But I’ll try not to run overtime.
Our scripture today is one you’ve heard me read before. It’s a favorite. But it’s important for us to hear often. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16
This is one of those things which is just so basic. Our job, according to Jesus, is to be the light of the world. Any time you ever forget what you’re supposed to be doing – you’re a light-bearer. You’re a light bringer.
Our job is to share the light of Christ, and hold it up high, and make this part of the world a brighter place, because of Jesus’ message.
Here at worship, in our ministries, in our families, at home, at work, in the community. We bring more light, wherever we go.
Jesus himself 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)
I heard a story years ago. I liked it so much that I wrote it down. Kept the story in my notes, for years.
According to the story, in a certain town, years ago, people decided to build a church. They made some drawings, hired a contractor, and raised the money.
Nobody saw the plans for the church until it was finished. When the people went inside, everybody said it was beautiful. Then somebody asked, where are the lights? How will it be lighted?
The minister pointed to brackets which were on the walls. Then he gave each family a lamp, and told them to bring it with them each time they came to worship.
“Each time you’re here,” the minister said, “the place where you sit will be lighted. Each time you’re not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of it will be missing its light. Your place will be dark.”
That’s just a story, of course, but there’s a lot of truth to it.
Every year, my family and I go up to the mountains on vacation. We’ve got a cabin that’s been in our family for close to a hundred years.
Whenever we can, we like to go to an evening service at a nearby church. It was built in the 1800’s, and it was built jointly by the Free Will Baptists, the Methodists, the Congregationalists, and the Christian church.
Each week, a preacher from one of those denominations would come there for the service. They all took turns. People belonged to the church of their choice, but they all came, every Sunday, no matter who was preaching. Because Jesus was the same for all of them.
They never did put in electricity. There’s a few old kerosene lamps around the room, but they don’t give enough light to read the hymnals by. So everybody brings a flashlight so they can read the hymns.
There’s an old pump organ, and they have a hymn sing. Everybody calls out their favorites, just like we did here a couple of weeks ago. A local minister gives a short summer sermon. Somebody says a prayer. Then they all shake hands and go home.
It’s the most basic kind of service. Every seat is always full. Nobody quarrels. It’s how church ought to be.
But like that story I told you, everybody brings their own light. If you aren’t there, or if you don’t bring a light, part of the church is dark. That’s not the way it ought to be, but that’s the way it really is. If we don’t bring a light, part of this church is dark.
What does it mean to “bring a light”? Not just a flashlight or a lamp, but a spiritual light? What did Jesus mean, when he said, “You are the light of the world”?
Well, he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s good news, because most people don’t feel very rich inside. We don’t feel like saints. We don’t feel like experts. We don’t feel like we can even cope with our own lives sometimes.
But God’s kingdom belongs to you, Jesus said. God’s kingdom belongs to people who don’t feel very strong, who feel inadequate. The kingdom belongs to you!
Jesus said that people who mourn will be comforted. He said that people who are humble will inherit the earth. He said that people who are hungry and thirsty for the world to be a better place, a holy place, will be filled.
Jesus said that people who show mercy will receive mercy themselves. That’s important, because we all need mercy and forgiveness. But we only receive mercy from God, if we show mercy to everyone else.
Jesus blessed people who are pure in heart. People who let God’s light shine through them. People who keep the windows of their heart fresh and clean, because they want to see God, not just now and then, but every day.
And then Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Not just me, but you. You’re the city on the hill. You’re the light shining in the darkness.”
The world can be a very dark place, and we see reminders of that almost every day in the news.
What does it mean, to be “the light of the world”? What does it mean, to bring light to darkened places?
You’re the light of the world, whenever you bring food to share with someone – food for COAT, food for a meal, food for someone who’s lonely.
You’re the light of the world when you take time to listen to someone. Not to talk at them, but to listen. Not to give them advice, but to let them pour their heart out, and pray with them.
Everyone is the light of the world, who takes time to teach a child. Teachers are especially blessed, because kids have so much to learn. And the world’s values are not in most children’s best interest.
Kids need to be told they’re special, not stupid. Kids need to learn to clean up their mess. They need to learn that bullying isn’t OK, and how to stand up to a bully.
They need to learn all the stories of Jesus, not just the dozen or so most people remember from their childhood.
Helping kids – and grownups, too! – know all the stories of Jesus is like giving them a full kit of tools for life. It’s like giving them a jack, a spare tire, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a full set of kitchen gear, a snow shovel, blankets, a life raft and a ladder.
Anyone who teaches is like that. Some day, they’re going to need those tools, and you may be the one who helps them.
You’re the light of the world, whenever you tell the truth, simply and without being threatening about it.
You’re the light of the world, whenever you don’t judge somebody.
You’re the light of the world, when you welcome people, and invite them to sit down at the table with you, and share what you have.
You’re the light of the world, whenever you pray for someone. A prayer is a light. When you pray with someone, you help bring light into their life.
You’re the light of the world, whenever you tell somebody else how much God means to you, whenever you thank God, whenever you give God the credit and praise.
You know, most people just love light. We like fireworks and light shows and Christmas lights. We like sunsets and sunrises.
We like candles and campfires, and songs that bring light. Being a light bringer means bringing joy.
Any time you bring light, in any place, you’re doing what Jesus said. You’re being a minister, and you’re sharing Jesus’ joy.