Let Our Light Shine for All the World to See!
May 28, 2000
Reverend Frederick R. Trost, Wisconsin Conference Minister
(composed for congregational use Spring, 2000)
May the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
The vocation (or calling) of the Church of Jesus Christ is to let its light shine. Since the time of the first disciples, this simple, sometimes awesome, often sacrificial responsibility has fallen to people - - like us.
Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors into the service of the Word. Those who ran breathlessly with the Easter message were women whose main qualification was devotion and a willingness to serve. It was a tent-maker - Paul - who carried the gospel deep into the world.
Think of the story of the pharisee and the tax collector. The pharisee is a man whose influence was profound, whose knowledge was admired, whose stature was coveted by many. Across from him stands the tax collector, alone in the temple, despised by his fellow Jews for his complicity with the Romans. Which one does Jesus choose? It is the tax collector whom Jesus admires, the one who prays simply, "Lord, be merciful unto me a sinner." Of such people the church has always been formed.
You may also recall the one we call the "prodigal son." Some interpreters of the Scriptures suggest that he is present in the Bible as a representative of us all. You remember how he had wasted time and energy, and did not have a leg to stand on when it came to meriting his father's kindness. Yet it is he who, after making many mistakes, turns again toward home and is welcomed with complete acceptance. Could it be that we are related to him, and so many other people who appear in the Scriptures with their souls and their hands empty?
The fact is there is not one person summoned by Jesus to let his or her light shine that has much reason to boast. As St Paul observed about the members of the Body of Christ, "there is none that is righteous, no not one."
But does this not give us reason to rejoice and be glad? For we have nothing, nothing at all, that we have to prove to God. God knows the state of our souls and still calls us children of the promise. This should provide great comfort to many of us who are well aware of our short-comings, and also to those who won't admit it, but know deep down nevertheless they too are not worthy to eat the crumbs that fall from the Lord's Table.
Here is what is so remarkable, so surprising about our faith: Those who are called to bear light to others have no reason, no reason at all, to boast of their superiority over others, or their own light, for it is the light of God that we reflect!
Truly we all can join in the old song:
Just as I am without one plea; Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt;
Just as I am; poor, wretched, blind;
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve.
Because Thy promise I believe, 0 Lamb of God, I come, I come."
For generations, people like us have been welcomed into the Household of Faith, not as spiritual geniuses, but as those who, despite everything, are loved by God.
The point is that those in every century, in every city, in every rural place; all who bear witness to the gospel of God's love, have no reason to think it is their own greatness that qualifies them to light the smallest candle. According to Jesus, the poor in spirit, those who mourn for themselves and others, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted - these are the ones who compose the communion of saints.
The Church at large and this church in particular are composed of all kinds of people. The one thing we have in common is not age, or language, or race, or personality type or nationality, but rather the fact we are clearly obligated to carry light wherever we go, into home and into family, into work and into times of rest, into just causes and into our political interests.
The German theologian and martyr of the second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, "God has erected a strange, marvelous and wonderful sign in the world: the cross of Jesus Christ, the cross of the suffering love of God. Under the cross of Jesus, Christians know they belong to one another. It is from discipleship related to the cross that their light begins to shine."
We all have similar needs, destinies, sorrows; similar temptations, and longings, similar hopes and joys. Rich or poor, wise or simple, good or bad, respected or despised - we are one large congregation spread across the earth. And we are entrusted with the precious call to be the light of the world.
So it was that as great a human being as Johann Sebastian Bach whose music surely reaches to the very vault of heaven, would write at the beginning of his compositions, "Jesus, help me!" and at the end of his mighty works would scribble the words, "To the glory of God alone!"
The clue to the stance the church is called to take in the world was originally offered by John the Baptist. There is a portrait of this prophetic figure dating from the Middle Ages that shows him with his index finger pointed away from himself to Jesus, "the Lamb of God." John reminds us that it is not we who are at the center of things, but Jesus. It is not we who are the source of all goodness, but Jesus. It is not we who are qualified to dispense the gifts of grace, but Jesus.
Each of us is justified, Martin Luther proclaimed, not by our own good works or by our sterling reputation, nor by our stature among our peers, but rather by faith in the one "who empties himself, taking the form of a servant." Indeed, the model for our life together as bearers of light in this world is offered by Jesus as he kneels in the midst of his little band of followers, takes a towel in his hands and begins to wash their dirty feet. "I have given you an example," he says, "that you also should do as I have done to you." These words are also addressed to modem torch-bearers, people like us.
Where does this calling to let light shine come from? We have each been called in our baptism; called to die unto ourselves that we might live unto Christ. This does not mean living with a sad face or turning away from the joy of living. Quite the opposite. We are to enter deeply into humanity, with all its wonder and all its wounds, taking our place not as those who seek to dominate or to call the shots, but as those who seek to serve.
Where good works take place among us, where the light appears in our discipleship, it is always Jesus who compels us.
The attention of people of faith is drawn not to the mysteries of heaven or to the glories of eternity, but to the beauty of the earth and to the blight of society.
The light always shines in darkness. The light is seen amidst the troubles of the world. And so, the church should not be shy or hide its face. It is clear that wherever the cross is present, Jesus is present. And so, as we bear light into the shadows of life, we are never alone.
When the pastor in a little French village was asked by law enforcement officers why the members of the congregation protected the Jewish refugee children seeking to escape the Holocaust, he did not hesitate to respond: "We did it because we wanted to be with Jesus."
It is a mark of the grace of God that we are, according to the Bible, light. This news should startle and humble us. We are not to become light, as if we could improve ourselves into being better people. We are light! This means we are to be visible in the world. With all our blemishes.
Jesus does not say "You have light." Again, Bonhoeffer writes, "The light is not an instrument which has been put into our hands," which we can lay down whenever we please. The light is the disciples themselves. The light is all who seek to follow Jesus Christ. You are the light of the world in your whole existence, provided you remain true to your calling. And since you are light, you can no longer remain hidden, even if you want to." The property of light is to shine.
Like a city set on a hill cannot be hid, and can be seen from miles away, so too the light of faith. It is not great deeds that are required of us, though occasionally great deeds are done by those who are the light. William James remarked how "I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big successes, and I am for those tiny invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride."
Our calling is not to measure our deeds or count the rays of light we take into the world. Our calling is simply to be present, as God's joyful and obedient servants, wanting nothing more or nothing less than to fulfill our obligation to the world God loves by being present to it as light . . . . Light that helps people believe life may have meaning, and that people, despite crucifixions and disappointments, and despite the many contradictions that abound in the world, people have a future and a hope!
God give us all grace to live our lives in such a way that the light of God will shine within us and through us; that the darkness of our world may be made light, the suffering of the world eased, the joy of the world heightened, and the truth of God in Christ made known. Amen.