Epiphany 5
Matt. 5:13-20

“Asunbeam, a sunbeam, I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus!
A sunbeam, a sun beam, I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.”

When I was a little boy, we were taught in church school to sing “A sunbeam for Jesus.” Every year the children would line up and sing their hearts out. It was silly. It was embarrassing. It was nearly cloying. But it was also absolutely adorable. The parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and teachers loved it. It was silly, but it was also wonderful.

As is often the case, in a children’s story or children’s song, there can be a profound truth. You and I are made in the image of God. We bear the marks of the creator. To be made in the image of God means that we have intelligence. We can think, make decisions, and shape to some extent the world around us. We can think ahead, and we can remember. And we have within us what Henri Bergson called the “Elan Vitale”, that vital positive source of creative energy which is part of the essence of life. Whether you and I like it or not, we bear the image of God and we reflect His divine nature. Sometimes we do it well and sometimes we do it poorly.

The writers of the Old Testament understood this. “What is man but that thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,” wrote the Psalmist. Man, though fallen since the garden of Eden, is seen as responsible for his actions and as capable of responding to an intelligent, guiding and redeeming God. The Pentateuch the first five books of the Old Testament, is the story of the Hebrews’ developing understanding of the will of God and His relationship to other gods, nations and the world. The prophets speak of The Word, and the authors of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak of Wisdom. Hence the rational sense of man reflects the nature of God, as does man’s moral sense reflect the righteousness and justice of God.

Because of God’s special relationship to the Hebrews, they are a witness to the nature and will of God. The people or the remnant are to be a light to the nations. King David is seen as a light to the world, as is also Jerusalem. The Law, meaning the Pentateuch as well as the Ten Commandments, is also seen as a light to the world. The religious Jew is to reflect that light. Jesus moves the whole conversation up a notch. He tells His followers and disciples, “You are the light of the world.” And again, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Jesus is doing two things here. First of all He is reaching deep within the Jewish religion. He is reaching to the faith tradition that the will of God has been revealed in the Law and the prophets, and that the Jews reflect that in their lives. Secondly, he is stating the obvious. He is saying that the disciples stand out as a light to those around them. Their faith in Jesus, and in the righteousness which He brings, reveals the redemptive and transforming love of God. The disciples are not only to show the image of God in their lives, they are to show the redemptive love of Jesus Christ in their lives. Jesus is saying, “let it show.”

Jesus Christ is telling you and me that we are the light of the world. He is challenging us to let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. And that, brothers and sisters, is what we do every day of our life, whether we like it or not. Our lives reflect our faith. We witness to God’s redemptive love in our lives. Some of us do it poorly and some of us do it well. Each of us has to do it in his or her own way.

We do it when we respond to the needs of the community and the less fortunate. We do it when we seek peace rather than war. We do it when we advocate love and understanding, rather than hate and recriminations in politics and the community. We do it through countless acts of caring and of compassion for a child, a relative, or a friend.

In letting our light shine before men, that God might be glorified, we are challenged to be aware but not self-conscious, to seek righteousness but not to be self-righteous, to be holy, but not holier than thou. The light which shines from the heart with the love and mercy of God can and often does shine brightest.

You and I come to church to nurture our faith, to receive forgiveness, and to be challenged to hear the Gospel in the difficult contexts of our lives. Many of us bear burdens which are truly weighty. Some of us live in pain, despair, or stress which save for the love and grace of God would destroy us. The market place is brutal. The political arena is chaotic. The social picture is constantly changing. In the midst of all of this Christ challenges you and me to be a light to the world. A difficult but not impossible task no matter how humble our circumstances.

About four weeks ago I was called to a nursing home to see a 93 year old woman who was dying. Among other things she had congenital heart failure. The nurse warned me that she was having difficulty talking and I might not be able to understand her. I greeted the woman, read Rite I., and gave her communion. She looked at me and said clear as day, “It is so wonderful to hear those beautiful old prayers.” And then she said, “How good it is for me to open my eyes and to see your lovely smile.” Those were the last words I heard her say. But she lit up my life. She made my day. From her death bed she brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. She not only witnessed to God’s redemptive love, she gave me the gift of a memory which I shall always carry with me.

You are the light of the world. Be a sunbeam for Jesus? Why not? Amen.