The Light on This Corner

Matthew 5:14-16 – February 5, 2017

matt-5-14-light-city-at-night

“The Light on This Corner”

Remember the holiday we celebrated here in this church, just a few weeks ago? The birth of the baby in Bethlehem. Foretold by prophets, welcomed by angels. I mean Christmas, the coming of God’s light into a dark world.

Just think about light, for a moment. When you walk into a dark house late at night, what is first thing you do? Turn on the lights. When the electricity shuts off during a power outage one dark and stormy night, what is the first thing you do? Find a flashlight or a candle and light it. Light is not only comforting, but useful. Light helps us in any number of ways. Helps us to see, allows us to work and read and go about our activities in what would otherwise be a dark and scary situation.

Jesus talked about light here in today’s Gospel reading, too. But before we get into His words about light, where does this reading coming from? These words are from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of His public ministry. Another way of looking at this long address is a long lecture on God’s view of a lot of things. Important things, with a lot of real-life illustrations.

Our bible study on Wednesday mornings has just started a study on the first verses of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, what comes just before these verses today. I won’t talk about the Beatitudes, since each sentence, each blessing of those deserves a whole sermon all by itself. We go on to these verses about salt and light, which the Rabbi Jesus places here, after the Beatitudes.       We could say more about salt (which is important, and tells us a lot about what Jesus thinks about the part we take in our world). However, I wanted to focus on Jesus’s words about Light. He says, You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

What did we sing right before the sermon started? “This Little Light of Mine.” When we held our lights up, do you know what that reminded me of? Remember back to Christmas Eve? For the closing hymn of that service, we sang “Silent Night.” We all held candles and sang. We held those candles as a symbol or sign of God’s light within each of us, God’s light that shines among us.

Jesus had a definite point to His words. We are light. Right now.

However, there is a definite temptation for many followers of Jesus. Some are tempted to make these words of Jesus a rigid requirement, as if Jesus were a stern, mean drill sergeant. Communicating with sarcasm, shaming. Shaking His finger at us and shouting, “You’d better be light!” Or a little less severe: “If you want to be light, do this!” Or even, “Before I call you light, I’ll need to see this from you.” [1]

Does that sound like Jesus? Truly? Would He ever use shame, guilt, and sarcasm?

That is most certainly not the way Jesus communicates here. As commentator David Lose says, “Rather, He says both simply and directly, “You are the light of the world.” It is, as with last week’s Beatitudes, sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning.” [2]

Dr. Lose reminds us of the statistics about a child’s self-esteem compared to what kind of messages they hear. When elementary-aged children hear one single negative message about themselves—like, “you’re mean!” “how stupid!” “you can’t do anything right!”—psychologists suggest that the children need to hear ten positive messages to restore their sense of self-esteem to where it had been previously. [3] That is, to correct the internal emotional and psychological balance of the children, and cause them to have a positive, healthy self-image.

“Children, to put it another way, become what they are named. Call a child bad long enough, and he or she will believe you and act bad. Call a child (or teen or adult for that matter) worthless or unlovable or shameful, and eventually he or she — all of us! — will live into the name we’ve been assigned. In the same way, call us good or useful, dependable, helpful, or worthwhile, and we will grow into that identity and behavior as well.” [4]

That is exactly what Jesus is doing here! He is calling us—naming us—light. We are—all of us—light of the world. The light of a city on a hill, shedding light to the whole community. Yes, Jesus wants us to be that light. He is calling us to grow into that identity and behavior! That same light of God we held up on Christmas Eve? The light of God that came into the world as a Baby born in Bethlehem? This is the same light that Jesus is talking about here. It’s the light of a city on a hill, and the light for the nations, that the prophet Isaiah talks about.

We aren’t required to do ten impossible things before breakfast to just break even with God, and try to get in line for a chance to reach for the light. It isn’t hoping that someday, maybe, we might finally become that light. We aren’t hiding our lights under a bushel, either.

We are that light! Now! And, we are holding it high! Why? Because, Jesus says so!

Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor from DeKalb, about an hour west of here in Morton Grove, has this real-life illustration about letting the light of God shine.

About two weeks ago, she met with the director of Hope Haven, the homeless shelter in DeKalb. The director told Pastor Hunt that the homeless shelter is the second largest housing facility in the county for the mentally ill (after the county jail for DeKalb County). Pastor Hunt was cut to the heart when the director told her the homeless shelter had to ration toilet paper, because of severe funding cuts. (Imagine, rationing even toilet paper.)

This is what Pastor Janet Hunt’s Lutheran congregation is going to do for the month of February. She said, “we will be collecting toilet paper and giving it to some of the most vulnerable among us. And maybe this will give us a way to begin a conversation about why it is so that the jail and the homeless shelter appear to be the only options in our neighborhood for people who are so fragile. Maybe we can start to shine light on this and them even in a time when too much of the world seems to care so little for such as these. And maybe that shining light will serve as both beacon and promise to our neighbors — both those who are so vulnerable and those who have extra toilet paper to share.” [5]

This might just be a little thing her church can do. Little to them, but huge to the people at the homeless shelter. This is surely a way to let the residents and the employees at Hope Haven know that someone cares. Someone is listening, and caring, and doing something.

Dr. Hunt’s illustration is a tremendous tie-in with Micah 6:8 from last week’s sermon! Do justice and love mercy/kindness/chesed for these homeless people in DeKalb, and shine the light of God. In the same way, we can let our lights (or, the Light of God) shine here in Morton Grove so that others will see it and rejoice. A city build on a hill shines its light for all to see. This church on this corner shines its light for all to see in this community, as well.

Where have you seen the light of God, lately? How can you let your light shine, today? How can you make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is small? I have a list of some kind, loving things you and I can do, each and every day. We can BE what Jesus calls us: light to the world. Light to our community. We can all live into God’s affirmation, trust, and love and BE God’s light to everyone we meet. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&rp=blog53&post=1543 “Salt and Light,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011. (Italics mine.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&rp=blog53&post=1543 “Salt and Light,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011

[5] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world/  “You Are the Light of the World,” Janet H Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2017.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Don’t Worry?

“Don’t Worry?”

Matt 6-34 do not worry about tomorrow

Matthew 6:25-34 – November 22, 2015

Worry. Fear. Anxiety. This 21st century urban culture we live in is an extremely anxious culture. People worry about all kinds of things. And, with the recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, many people all over the world are even more anxious. For good reason!

Worry about my friends. One of my friends has an elderly parent who is in hospice. Yes, I’m concerned about the whole family! Worry about jobs. Some people worry about their bosses, or their co-workers. I have several friends who are in need of jobs, and wish they could have the luxury of worrying about the situation at work! So, there’s worry about finances in there, too.

Worry about health and about family. One of my sisters had a knee operation several months ago. She lives out of state, and I haven’t heard from her in a while. Worried? Concerned for her and her mobility? Yes, I am, at least a little.

All of these situations are troubles, concerns. Worries. The news on the radio, on the television, different media websites—all depend on worry and anxiety to pull in their viewers. And with recent events, many of the politicians worldwide are having a field day. And the media outlets? Trying to get the public on the edge of their seats, to keep tuning in, or buying their products. A never-ending fearful circus.

Here in our bible verses this morning, our Lord Jesus is telling us not to be filled with worry. Worry—anxiety—fear. When we come right down to it, this yucky predicament sounds familiar. We might not like it, we might be uncomfortable with it, but these various negative situations still happen to many of us, on a regular basis.

All the worry and anxiety just mentioned? That was mostly external. Looking outward. Yes, common to all of us. Let’s up that worry and anxiety one notch higher. Let’s sprinkle some self-centered fear on it. Add a few dashes of worry, and pile on concern about foreign people, faraway places, and strange-looking things? Does that sound familiar, too?

Fear of the interior. That’s the inside job. Your insides, my insides. Our feelings and emotions, everything all mixed together like with a blender or a kitchen mixer. I can imagine some people are so anxious and worried about what’s going on inside of them that they don’t even want to examine themselves, and do an inventory. They would far rather hide under a blanket. Or check out in other ways that involve various preoccupations or addictions. Sure, emotional insecurity is very real. Lots of people feel alone. All by themselves, and cut off from others. Bitterness and frustration can make things worse. Worry and anxiety can magnify those kind of feelings, way out of control.

The last few verses of Matthew 6 is the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving this year. Jesus preaches one of His signature sermons at the beginning of His ministry, the Sermon on the Mount. He deals with a whole bunch of topics here. The Beatitudes, the Law Code of Moses, prayer, judging others, and worry. Our reading for today. How on earth are we supposed to get thankfulness out of worry? Or not worrying? Seems like this is about gratitude’s opposite. Worry. Anxiety. Robbing our lives of peace, joy and serenity.

I have heard a good deal about worry and anxiety in the past few years. In my previous job, I worked as a hospital chaplain. Yes, I would pray with anyone who asked. But, I would also listen. As I listened, I heard about a whole lot of worry, anxiety and concern. And, rightfully so! Anxiety about upcoming treatment, worry about finances, awkward anticipation about losses of various kinds. But I would also hear about depression, anger, and self-pity. I’d hear about these painful emotions mixing and crashing around inside of people, and oftentimes, I would be helpless to do anything about it, except listen.

In personal life today, I have concerns. Sure, I have thoughts that sometimes preoccupy my mind. I can live in yesterday for too long of a time. I sometimes look forward to tomorrow—or next week or next month with some fear and anxiety. But what is the overarching message of this reading? What does Jesus tell us in this paragraph from the Gospel of Matthew?

He talks about the beauty and the vastness of God’s creation. He tells us to lift our heads and look around. Doesn’t God take care of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? Yes, stuff happens. Life happens—and then some, at times. But if God takes care of the birds and the beasts, think about us. Think about you and me. Do you think for one minute that God would forget about you? Or, that God would forget about me?

In preparing this sermon, I found this wonderful article online. A Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt says this about this section of Matthew: “Somehow, sometimes, God does use the really terrible things that do happen to many of us to remind us of what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.  Only in Jesus’ words today?  Nothing is worth worrying about, not even the worst tragedies and struggles that are ours, for it is all in God’s hands.  The big things, absolutely. And the small ones, too.”

I think some of you might have heard these little sayings: “It’s hard by the yard, but it’s a cinch by the inch.” And, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Anything can seem overwhelming, if we look at the whole huge thing at once. Sure, life does have challenges. And then some! However, Jesus’ words are really wise: “34 So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.” In other words, one day at a time. “Don’t worry about tomorrow!” Those aren’t my words—they’re the words of Jesus!

Some of you might be saying, “That’s all very well, to say those words. Words are pretty, but do they have any action? Do they have any lasting effect on me, on you? How does it work? In real life?” What does worry and concern do to me? To you? In real life?

One way to deal with worry and concern is to practice a breath prayer. A breath prayer has two parts: first, a name of God that fits the prayer and the second a short request for help in dealing with the problem. For example, “God, help me feel okay at the dentist.” We can say God’s name while breathing in, and the request is said while breathing out. Breath prayers can work for little worries, and big concerns, too.

Jesus says these one-day-at-a-time words from Matthew 6 to each of us, today. We can take these words home with us, today. These words urge us to let go of our worry.

Jesus offers us an amazing gift. The possibility of God’s presence, through the challenges of life. God being with us, protecting us from that worry and anxiety. Shielding us from anything that would rob our lives of peace and joy.

Praise God! God continues to help us deal with worry and anxiety, no matter how big our concerns are, or how little. Whenever and wherever they might pop up.

It seems there is nothing greater for us to be thankful for. Gratitude? You bet! Grateful to God for God’s love, protection and tender care. Here, and hereafter.

We can all say amen to that. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!