Matthew 5: 13-20
My camera, a Canon Rebel T5, and I are now BFF’s – Best Friends Forever. Many of you know that I have just returned from a ten day trip to Costa Rica with a group of kindred spirits who like to capture natural science images on digital film and paper through watercolor or pencil. I thank you for the time off to refresh my soul’s deepest desire to travel and see this amazing world and to renew my spirit through my art and photography. But this is not a sermon about my trip. It is a sermon about light, God’s light in particular and our role as apertures’ of that light.
Getting back to my camera and how we became BFF’s. I was warned that shooting photography in the rainforest could be a real challenge because of the specific lighting issues that present themselves. Well the rainforest did not disappoint on so many levels. It was difficult because shooting poison dart and red eyed tree frogs, snakes and leaf cutter ants along with the flora of the forest takes camera settings that let lots of light in because the trees, vines and abundant growth darken the floor of the forest.
But when you hear Howler monkeys coming in the distance, and you look up to get ready to shoot, or you see an amazing bird with teal colored feathers perched high up on a branch you have to quickly change the settings to let much less light in because the strong and bright sun is piercing its way through the leaves of the highest trees.
For those of you who know cameras, you know that it’s all about the speed of the film, the speed of the shutter and the size of the aperture. Kind of like the Trinity, each has its own function yet are dependent upon one another to produce a cohesive divine unit. So when all three camera settings are aligned properly you get a National Geographic quality photo, or at least a good one that will be a nice remembrance of your trip. Capturing an image is all about how much light you let in or don’t let in. You are not the light source, merely the vehicle by which the light source is controlled. That’s exactly what Jesus was talking about that day on the mountainside in Galilee.
Today’s scripture reading is from the Sermon on the Mount and falls directly after the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. It may seem a bit disjointed because what does salt and light have to do with the law and the prophets? We have to remember that Jesus audience was quite different than Matthew’s audience. Jesus was preaching to Israel and Israel had been called by God to be a light to the nations. (Isaiah 49: 6)
Jesus’ sermon was quite a divergent view in an already heated political and religious debate over the fate of Israel whose land by now had been occupied by the Roman Empire. The land was no longer in the hands of the Jews but in the hands of the ‘goyim’, the non-Jews. So there were divisions among the Jews on how to address the questions that would come up as a result of the occupation and their identity. What does God want us to do? Who does God want us to be? What are we supposed to do?
Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount as encouragement for the people to be Israel, just to be themselves and to be who God had called them to be through their covenantal relationship; to be open to the ways in which God was calling them.
The Pharisees understood Torah in one-way and Jesus understood it in another. The Pharisees were working with an outdated political and cultural model and were striving to maintain the status quo. Jesus was saying that God is doing a new thing, and he is the fulfillment of the ‘new thing’. For us, Gentiles, we have now been included through the covenant made in Jesus, we have been incorporated into God’s covenant of love, hope, and redemption.
And so now we are to be the vessels by which the light of God can shine through. We are the harbingers of God’s light we are the ‘light on the hill’. The question for us is, how can we open our apertures large enough so that others can see this abundant light? This is such an important question for us as a church today.
We know people are seeking to have a spiritual connection with God and with others. We know people search for a place where they can be accepted and loved for who they are. We know there are people in need. And we know that we can offer all of that and more, so why aren’t people knocking down our doors?
These are questions that need deep, soul searching exploration to realize the answers. It might just mean that we will need to change our ways but not the way of Jesus Christ and our commitment to him and his teachings.
God IS doing a new thing right now with the church. How do we even begin to envision what it is that God is doing? How do we embrace change, which can be scary and unnerving? How can we open wide our apertures rather than make them small only letting just a small amount of light out? How can we be the Church and be relevant in the world around us? Perhaps in this second year of my tenure together we can dig deep and come up with some answers. We are just not about surviving and maintaining the status quo. We are about fluidity and change because that is what God is about.
Let the light of God fully come to you. Let it warm you and guide you and then allow others to see it because it is essential to telling the story. Open up and let God’s miraculous, tender and healing love be seen by others.
In the words of Maryanne Williamson, quoted by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 Inaugural speech, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
And that’s what we are about.