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by Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington
When I was a young boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, we went to church and Sunday school. For Sunday school, we went into an old, crummy, rundown basement. This old decrepit building has been torn down to make room for a new sanctuary and new classrooms, but I remember the old one, the Sunday school rooms of my childhood. I remember going down a long narrow hallway, with a railing on the walls and the railing was painted crummy green. You followed this hallway down to another old room where the had an “opening” songfest for their Sunday school. This opening songfest was for the little kids in Sunday school and I was a little kid.
There were several things that happened in that opening session of Sunday school. First, they had a happy birthday bank, and this happy birthday bank was in the form of a church. If you were seven years old, you had to bring seven pennies and the whole Sunday school would count out loud as you dropped each of the seven pennies in the bank. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven and then they would sing happy birthday to you. We also would sing songs, and there were two songs that were drilled into us. We sang them so many times that we would never forget them. The songs were riveted deep within our memory banks. One song was: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The second song that we learned very well and must have sung it hundreds of times. It was, “This little light of mine.” You probably remember it. It goes like this:
The chorus: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine;
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
The first verse: “Hide it under a bushel, NO, I’m going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, NO, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
We had to say, no, real crisply and strongly. Hide it under a bushel, NO!!!
I knew that I was not to hide my little light under a bushel. As a little seven year old boy, I knew for sure that I should not hide the light of Christ under a bushel. I should let everybody around know that I was a Christian.
Then the next verses was:
“Don’t let Satan blow it out. I’m gunna let it shine.
Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gunna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
I knew that Satan wanted to blow out my candle. I knew that Satan wanted to blow out my light of Christ, wanted to extinguish the light, wanted to dim my life . As a little seven year old, I understood that.
The next verse was:
“Shine all over Jackson, I’m gunna let it shine.
Shine all over Jackson, I’m gunna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
For that verse, the teacher made us make big circles in the air to symbolize Jackson. So when we sang, “Shine all over Jackson,” all the children were making circles in the air, symbolic of our little town. I knew and so did all the other kids singing that song. Our faith was to shine all over Jackson.
So when I got on my little bike, the bike’s name was Little Wind, I would ride up the long hill all the way to the swimming pool which was a converted gravel pit and filled with water, and as I rode by bicycle all the way up the hill, I knew that I was to be the light of Christ every block of the way. When I was at the swimming hole, I knew I was to be the light of Christ. When I rode down to the bowling alley to go bowling, I knew that the bowling alley. When I walked past the place of sin, the pool hall, I really needed to be the light of Christ. No matter where I went, I was to be the light of Christ in Jackson.
The next verse to the song was:
“Let it shine til Jesus comes, I’m gunna let it shine.
Let it shines til Jesus comes, I’m gunna let it shine…”
And I knew what this meant as a seven year old. I knew that I was to let the light of Christ shine throughout my whole lifetime. At seven years old, seventeen, twenty-seven, or thirty-seven or seventy-seven or eighty-seven. I knew that throughout my whole life long, I was to let my light shine.
The mood of the song was not, “I have to let it shine, or I ought to let it shine or I must let it shine. I should let it shine.” It wasn’t an oppressive commandment, “thou shalt let your light shine.” No. Instead, there was a positive enthusiasm for being the light of Christ, for letting the light of Christ in me to shine.
It is with this introduction that we approach the story for today about Jesus of Nazareth. The teaching for today comes from the Sermon of the Mount. Jesus was living in the small town of Capernaum, right on the lake shore of the Lake of Galilee. The large hills seemed to grow right out from the lake shore, rising up from the lake, and halfway up the hills above Lake Galilee is where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount. Situated there is now a chapel called “The Chapel of the Beatitudes.” There from that chapel, high on the hill, you look out across the Lake of Galilee and it is incredibly beautiful. That is where Jesus taught the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.
Up on that mountain, with his disciples, Jesus was thought of as the new teacher, the new Moses. As Moses went up to Mount Sinai, he gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish religion; so Jesus, the New Moses, went up the mountain and he gave Christians a new set of commandments, a new code for living, a new sense of right and wrong. Jesus gave us a new guideline for life. The Ten Commandments were no longer adequate. There is much more to the Christian life than trying to obey the Ten Commandments. On the mountain above Capernaum that day, Jesus was the New Moses and this was the New Mountain and these were his New Commandments.
Jesus said to his disciples: “You. You. You.” In the Greek language, the emphasis is on you. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. A lamp that is lit in a house is not put under a bushel. Rather, you put a lamp onto a lamp stand so that it will light the whole house.” Then Jesus said, “Let your light so shine, so that all people will see your good works, your works of love, and give glory to God who is in heaven.”
Shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let is shine.
The text for today and the whole Sermon on the Mount is about our relationship to the world around us. Last Sunday, we focused on the commandment that Christians are to be the salt of the earth. The world is going through moral decay and disintegration. The world is forever stinking morally, and you Christians are to be the salt of the earth. You are to be the moral preservative of moral values.
But that is not enough. Jesus continued. You are not only to be salt but you are to be a light to the world. It is not enough to preserve the moral fabric of society. More is needed. You are to be the light that shines on the world. We need to preserve the moral values of God but we need to expand the kingdom of God and Christ to all people, and being the light of Christ is part of that expansion. The world needs more than salt; the world also needs the light of Christ.
Jesus did not say, “You are to be the light for the church.” The Bible does not say, “When you come to church, turn on your light. When you come to the church, let everyone see how devout and pious you are. When you come to the church, turn on your religious energy.” No. When you leave this church and get in your car and drive out of the parking lot and into your neighborhoods, into your schools, into your classrooms, into your factories and offices, let your light shine for Jesus Christ. You, you, you, you are the light of the world. Let the world see your light and come to know Jesus Christ.
So, what is Jesus saying in this new commandment for us?
First, your Christianity is to be visible. Your Christianity is to be seen, is to be noticed, is not to be hid. People are to know you are a Christian by what you say, by what you do, by who you are. If you are a Christian, you cannot hide it. It is the very nature of discipleship to be seen. There is no such thing as a secret Christian. There is no such thing as a closet Christian. At home, your discipleship is to be visible. At work, your discipleship is to be visible. At school, your discipleship is to be visible. In these places, do people know that you are a practicing Christian? With your friends at soccer? With the baseball teammates? At the symphony, the orchestra, the band? Do the people that you know and work with know that you are a Christian?
I want to pause. It is so important that your Christianity is visible in your home, that your light shines in your house. Especially for the role of grandparents. Recently, I was able to conduct the funeral for Hazel Simpson and Hazel was grand lady, some eighty-four years old when she died. I went over and gave her the last rites, as her children and grandchildren gathered around the sacred memory of their grandmother. These same children and grandchildren gathered a few days later for the memorial service in order to pay their last respects for their grandmother, their grandmother who had become a widow at age thirty-two, their grandmother who had raised seven children by herself. Hazel gave her whole life to raising her children. And then she gave her whole life to raising her grandchildren. And all the grandchildren were there because they had seen the light of Christ shining in their grandmother. They saw what their grandma was like and they said to themselves with their inner voices, “I want to be like my grandma. I want to have what she had her whole life. Grandma wanted me to have faith and I want to have faith too, faith in Jesus Christ, faith like Grandma. ” It wasn’t spoken out loud, but you could sense it by their attitudes and comments.
A second example of a grandparent being the light of Jesus Christ. A member of our parish told me about a nine year old grandson who had written a note about his grandma who was a regular visitor to our church. This is what a nine year old grandson wrote about his grandma at the time of her death. “It is really hard for my whole family, especially my dad. My grandma was really special to me. She was in a wheel chair for eighteen years and my grandmother never gave up for those eighteen years in her wheelchair. She spent her last thanksgiving at our home with our family. She was really special to me. She was really special to all of us. I always remember that she had a smile on her face when somebody came over, even if she did not know the person. She gave us everything, but the best thing she ever gave to us was a hug and a smile. I can tell you another thing. I know my grandma believed in God and I know that my grandma has eternal life. Signed, Grandson John, Age 9.”
Two grandmas in two weeks. They never said a preachy word about Jesus Christ. They didn’t harangue their grandchildren about Christ or religion or church. It was more simple and basic than that: the faith of these two grandmas just shined, like a light in the night, and the grandchildren all knew it. Let your light so shine, so that your grandchildren, so that your children, so that your parents, so that other people want to be a Christian, so that other people will be attracted to the Christian faith and the Indwelling Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words, let your faith be visible.
Our faith needs to shine no matter where we are, at work, at play, at school. It is important that our language is filled with words about God, Jesus, love and the church. By what we say, we show that we love God. We need to use the words, God, Jesus, Christ, Bible, faith, church as part of our language. Do you use those words as part of your language? Are those words part of your vocabulary? Or…do you hide it? When you get out into the world, do you hide it? But when you come to church, do you pull out the light and put it on a lamp stand? Do you hide your light when you are in the world but turn it on when you are in the presence with your Christian friends?
Jesus said, “If salt has lost its saltiness, you might as well throw it on a pile of dung. The salt is worthless” Similarly, if you are unwilling to let your light shine out there in the world, if you don’t let the world know that you love God, Christ, and the things of God, you might as well turn off your light for you are worthless as a Christian. Salt and light both can become worthless to God.
Jesus says, Let your light shine…in the world…that the world may know Christ.
The light shines in everything you do. My mom is a great lady. She is eighty-five years old, a wonderful lady, a good Christian and her light shines in everything she does. The other day, she was just mad as I talked to her on the telephone, mad as a hornet at a newspaper editor down south who said that liberals could not be Christian. She told me that she called up this editor and told him that she was canceling her subscription to his newspaper. She said that the newspaper editor asked her why she was canceling her subscription. She said, “Anyone can be a Christian. Liberals. Conservatives. Any of them can be a Christian.” Yes, she said her piece. The light of Jesus Christ in shines in my mom in all dimensions of her life. That is the way it was with Grandma Simpson; the way it was with Grandma Alexander; and the way it is with Grandma Markquart as well.
And that is the way it is with you my friends in Jesus Christ. You are to be the light of Christ to the world in everything you do. … Riding to the swimming hole, going down to the bowling alley, walking past the pool hall. In everything I did as a little child, I believed that my light was to shine all over Jackson as I drew the circle in the air with my little seven year old fingers. And the same is true for you.
Now, this light of Christ shining inside of you is not showing off. We are not talking about you being a Bible thumper where you bring out your Bible and throw it in peoples’ faces. Letting your light shine is not being a Jesus-pusher where you subtly push Jesus on too many occasions. Letting your light shine is not wearing Christianity on your sleeves to show everybody what a fine Christian you are. It is not wearing crosses on your ear rings and crosses on your necklaces and crosses on your bracelets, to show everyone that you are religious. No, letting your light shine is much more subtle than that.
It is important that you and I let the world know that you and I belong to Jesus Christ.
The first point of the sermon is this; our light of Christ is to be visible to everyone around us, not just at church. The second point is this: all people, including the nonchurched, need Jesus Christ to light their paths and their ways of living and loving.
Let me play a game with you. I am going to pretend that I am an unchurched person and you are all Christians. You are my friends and I see your light. In fact, I see in your light the shining presence of God. By watching you, I begin to understand God. I see God in many places. I see God in Mount Rainier. I see God in Puget Sound. I see God in the beauty of nature. But now, something new is going on in my life. For the first time in a long, long time, I see God living in another person. I see God living in you and I have never seen God living in a person. And now I am starting to learn about God by watching God live inside of you. I see the way your life has been molded by God. I see Christ living in you and I am now attracted to Christ who is living in you. For the first time, something is going on in my heart and I cannot understand it, but I am finding myself being attracted to Christ. Why? Because I see Christ living inside of you.
I don’t tell you about it, but I am watching. In you, I see the possibility of a godly life for myself. I see that you are really an ordinary human being. You are not one of those priest types. You are not one of those preacher types, running around, trying to look pious. I see that you are an ordinary human being. You work in a school, in an office, in a factory, and you have God in you. I can see God in your family. I can see God in the way you talk. I can see the possibility of God for my life because I am seeing God you. Maybe. Just maybe I could be a Christian too. I know that I could never be a pastor or one of those TV preachers. Heaven forbid. But in you, I see the possibility for me.
To be honest with you, I am watching you out of the corner of my eye. You don’t know it by the way. You don’t that I am watching you.
This is a conversation that I had at a PTA this past week, at a Parent-Teachers Association. I was at a PTA meeting and I was watching the way you conducted yourself and the way you talked. I didn’t tell you, but you have been becoming a primary model for my life. I never told you that but I was starting to imitate what you were doing. I sensed that you had something that I didn’t have and I wanted what you had inside. I am watching you out of the corner of my eye and I am increasingly being attracted to what or who is inside of you. Why? Because you are the light of the world. I see God shining in your life.
One thing that needs to be said real clearly is that kids are often the best light. Their little lights shine in such a way is that they draw other children to the faith. Little kids are often the best lights. For example, there is a little girl in our church in fifth grade by the name of Reiden Zimmerman. Sitting next to her was what I call the little red-headed girl and her name is Christen. Christen and Reiden were playmates, and pretty soon Christen came to church with Reiden, and now this Sunday, little Christen will be baptized.
This past week, I have been out in the parish, visiting people who are going to be baptized next Sunday. Do you know how many of these people are bringing their children to be baptized? The Rudding children are going to be baptized next week. Why? Because their neighbor girl, by the name of Jericho Drawdy, brought them to church. Jericho is a seventh grader. I guarantee you: Jericho is an ordinary person. She is an ordinary child of God but the light of God shines through young Jericho so much that her good friends are going to be baptized. Next Sunday, a whole bunch of young children are going to be baptized?
It is not only children who are the lights of Christ but adults as well. In my calling this past week, one of you who are going to be baptized mentioned the name of Steve Beer. Another one who is going to be baptized because Dave Olson works for the man who is going to be baptized. In other words, the boss was watching out of the corner of his eye.
This little light of mine. I am going to let it shine. Let it shine.
Jesus said on the mountain: “You, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you…you are the light of the world. Let your light shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.” Amen.
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