Today we are going to try something a little different. The text that we just heard from Matthew was in the New Revised Standard Version. The text says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The New Revised Standard Version is lovely, giving us the beautiful metaphor about us being light; and that by shining our light, we allow others to give glory to God. But sometimes, we hear scripture so often that the language becomes stale. I can almost imagine the inner monologue of many of us in the room, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jesus. I know the song, ‘This little light of mine.’” Or maybe you have some mental image of the super chipper, always happy person, whose face seems to radiate light, and whose life seems so perfect that just remaining friends with them is a challenge.
So in order to get you out of your “This little light of mine,” rut, I want you to hear the same text from a paraphrase version of the Bible called The Message. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Something about this version of Jesus’ words makes me much more excited about the idea of being light. This version of Jesus is a little like the cool teacher from school, who wants to break it down for you so you can understand and act.
Let’s take the passage line by line. First Jesus says, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” We learn two things from this first line. First, we have a purpose in life – to be light. If ever you are floundering with who you are or what you are meant to do with your life, Jesus reminds us that we are here to be light. Second, being light means we will bring out the God-colors in the world. Just this past week, I have found light in all sorts of fun places: the sunset catching a wall of tall trees whose limbs were all frozen, making the light sparkle in the sunset; the afternoon sun that shines through our stained glass windows, making a beautiful mosaic of color in the Narthex; the morning sun that peaks through the trees, warming not only my cold body, but also reminding me that there is still hope in the bleak midwinter. But God-colors are not just experiences with light; they are also the full range of the goodness of God – the red of God’s love, the yellow of God’s mercy, the green of God’s refreshment, the blue of God’s forgiveness, and the purple of God’s grace
So if our purpose is to be light that brings out the God-colors of the world, are we allowed to hold that knowledge and comfort in ourselves? Not according to Jesus. Next he says, “God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.” Now I know we have been talking a lot about evangelism this past year. We have been talking about sharing our stories with our neighbors, and listening for and naming God in the world. And for many of us, including me at times, this has made us wary or anxious. But Jesus words in this paraphrase sound like a hype-man who makes us want to get out there. We’re going public! We’re going to get out there, and show some love and light! I don’t know about you, but this gets me much more excited about Jesus’ metaphor.
So as Jesus gets us hyped up, telling us he wouldn’t dare hide us under a bucket, Jesus gives us a simple task: Shine! You are already light, a light that points to the beautiful God-colors in the world. Our only remaining job? To shine! Be the light that God created you to be.
Now, you might be wondering, okay, shining sounds simple enough, but what does that really mean? Jesus gives us more: “Keep open house; be generous with your lives.” Now certainly generosity means sharing our earthly possessions. But the kind of generosity Jesus is talking about is also hospitality. When I was in college, I befriended a campus minister who had a family of five. They had a guest room downstairs connected to a bathroom. For as long as I knew her, someone was always in that guest room. Whether the room was used by a seminarian, a recent college graduate looking for work, or someone doing volunteer service for a year, that room was always in use. This is what Jesus means when he says to be generous with your lives. Share that guest room. Take time out of your day to visit a shut-in or someone who is sick and stay longer than you really want to. Stop for that person asking for a handout and hear a bit of their story. Be generous with your life.
And why do we need to do all of this? Jesus says, “By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Here’s the funny twist at the end. Jesus basically says both “it is all about you,” and “it is not at all about you.” The “all about you” is the need to open up to other. Maybe for you that means being more vulnerable than feels comfortable. Maybe for you that means being present with someone you would rather not be present with. Maybe for you that means trying something that takes you out of your comfort zone. And why do we have to focus on opening up to others? That’s the “it’s not all about you” part. Your opening up to others encourages others to open up to God. At the end of the day, that is what all of this hype and vulnerability and shining is all about – about helping others to see and know and open up to the God whom we find so incredible. By putting ourselves out there, we become a doorway for others to God. What a fine privilege! So be a light that shines. Get out in the world. Keep open house. Be generous. Open up to others. Your work allows the rest of the world “in” on the secret: because we’re going public! Amen.