Matthew Chapter 5
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
On Friday 20th January Pastor Samuel Rodriguez (leader of an organisation of over 40,000 Hispanic and African American Christians) prayed one of the prayers at the Inauguration of President Trump. He chose to read the passage we have just read from Matthew. This was not an entirely surprising choice for him, as he has written a book called ‘Be Light’. But perhaps it was a surprising choice for him to be praying at Trump’s inauguration. If Rodriguez is light, then from our admittedly limited perspective on this side of the Pond, he seems to have been standing very close to the darkness. He has, it should be said, made it very clear that he did not endorse Trump and indeed had also prayed at one of the Obama inauguration events.
But the question which this raises is – how can Christians be light in the world if they have to deal with darkness? Isn’t it better for Christians like Rodriguez and the others praying at Trump’s inauguration to decline politely the invitation rather than accept and risk being associated with someone whose rhetoric, at the very least, appears racist and sexist. What about the people that we have to deal with every day at work or socially who behave in a way which is at odds with Jesus’ best for the world? How does a Christian decide what they can do, who they can associate with or who they can deal with, if they are to remain the light of the world.
Two points to make:
Jesus tells us not to hide our light. He has put that light in us for a purpose. You don’t after lighting a lamp, put it under a bowl – you put it on a lamp stand. Avoiding the risk of association with those who are not Christians will not advance the Kingdom of God. But Jesus calls us to be salt as well as light – we need to be able to season – to speak what Jesus expects, regardless of the policies of any political party.
But that doesn’t mean that all Christians must stand aside from the political process. As Martin Luther King said ‘Unless you are present change cannot take place’ – we need Christian politicians and we need Christians to be engaged in the public square, where all sorts of opinions are presented and all sorts of behaviour is regarded as normal and even good. We need to be light on The Hill as well as on a hill. But equally we do need Christian politicians to be willing to challenge what they see as decisions contrary to Jesus’ view on how the world should be.
I am sure that it is a very difficult line to walk, particularly as I expect that many of those challenges have to be made in private, cabinet responsibility will often mean a choice between supporting a decision or resigning, and you cannot be resigning on every issue! But for most of us, this line needs to be walked at work or with our friends. We must not hide who we are in Christ. The worst possible condemnation is if someone says to us ‘I did not know that you were a Christian’ or if we think that we can be a Christian and keep our faith as a private matter.
But secondly How do we know how Jesus wants us to behave? How do we know what we are supposed to say in any situation? How do we walk the line?
My nephew JJ is in India at the moment working for an Australian social enterprise called Pollinate Energy Pollinate Energy Website which seeks to solve the problem of energy poverty in the slums in India by providing solar powered lights as an alternative to dangerous and polluting kerosene. Lamps like this one.
It struck me the other day that this solar powered light is a really excellent example of what it is for a Christian to be light of the world. The light makes a huge difference in the environment that it works. But it is only useful if it is orientated towards its own source of energy – in this case the Sun from which it draws its power. In fact if the solar lamp is not pointing towards the light for enough time each day, it will actually be useless.
In the same way, unless Christians are being charged by God, they will be no different to anyone else – they will not illuminate the darkness. The light which illuminates our lamp is the Holy Spirit. And without study of the Bible and prayer we have no chance of understanding what vexes the Holy Spirit (and prevents that light from illuminating us). And one of the key areas that we can learn about what vexes the Holy Spirit is the Sermon on the Mount. RT Kendall a theological writer describes the Holy Spirit as like a dove RT Kendall’s book on the Sermon on the Mount. A flighty bird which if he settles on someone can inspire and guide giving great wisdom – like the sun lights the solar powered lamp. But which equally is easily frightened off by certain choices that we make and certain attitudes that we hold on to, leaving us feeling detached and foolish, unable to speak into situations with God’s wisdom, unable to be light in the darkness.
Next week we will be looking at one of the types of decision which can frighten off that flighty bird – anger. But we might just as well be talking about pride, lust, revenge, lack of forgiveness or envy and the other sins of the heart that Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount.
Take your light from under the bowl, be willing to stand for Jesus in the public square. Illuminate the darkness which surrounds us all by making sure that your heart is a suitable resting place for the Holy Spirit.