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Part 17

09 Jun 2021

Matt 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world”

Jesus here uses the idiom of light to convey to us something of who we are to be, and as a result, how we ought to live in the world.

There are two specific aspects of light that He draws upon in order to make His point, light seen from a distance (the city on the hill), and light seen in close proximity (the lamp set on a stand).

The defining difference between these two images, it seems to me, is that it is only from a distance that light itself is seen, that it is the light that is noticed. At close proximity the light is not seen, in and of itself, but instead that which the light illuminates.

The city set on a hill is a good example of this. From a distance and in the dark, it is not the city, its buildings, streets, parks, gardens, etc that are seen, it is the light given off by the city.

Jerusalem was a city set on a hill. To those walking in darkness in the surrounding countryside, its light would signal the end of a long journey, rest, comfort, and security for the weary traveller.

The light given off by the city would become a definite point of reference, a point towards which to steer in an otherwise dark and featureless landscape.

From a distance it is the light in a dark place that gives hope to the lost in hope of being found, of safety, security, peace, and rest.

This is how the body of Christ ought to appear to those walking in a darkened world with darkened hearts and minds, a beacon of hope for the lost soul, a place of comfort and rest for the weary and heavy laden, a place of healing for the wounded.

The Church is to be a light set on a hill so that those who walk in darkness may see a marvellous light and steer towards that light in the hope of being found.

But it is only at a distance that the light is seen. It is only from a distance that the light itself provides such hope.

At close proximity it is no longer the light that brings comfort and hope, instead it is that which the light illumines that becomes the point of focus.

Jesus uses the example of a lamp set on a lamp stand in the context of a home.

In the home the people don’t sit around at the foot of the lamp stand and gaze up at the light. To do so would be to miss the point of the lamp stand. It is to give light to those in the house. To make visible the contents of the house, the space where the family gathers, where life is lived, where celebrations and feasts are enjoyed, and where comfort is found in the familiar surroundings of the family home.

To sit around and stare at the lamp would be to miss all of this, but even more so, it would be dangerous for the eyes. It would be to court blindness, so that the spaces and objects of the family home can no longer be seen at all.

This is how we are to be as followers of Jesus. At close proximity people are to see our manner of life, the vision for which we live and the values by which we pursue it, the ends that we live towards, as well as the means that serve them, and ultimately the Kingdom to which we belong and the King to whom we belong and owe our lives.

The light that our lives are to be should not illuminate ourselves. Instead it is to point towards our Father in Heaven and bring Him glory.

The light of our life is intended to illuminate Him, but how much of our lives and world is geared up to put the spotlight on ourselves.

Whether it’s our social media accounts where we create a page dedicated to Me and broadcast to the world all of our lives, thoughts, whatever we are eating. We live in the most narcissistic age in all history our digital engagement demonstrates that, but nothing exemplifies this fact more than the selfie stick. We have become a culture of little narcissus’, gazing into the pool enamoured with our own reflection, blinded to the danger we are flirting with, and we will inevitably drown in the pool of self love.

The sad reality is that, all too often, the Church is no different to the world on this score.

The prevalent understanding of how we as the Church or as particular ministries increase our impact is to seek a bigger platform, and so we pursue bigger and bigger platforms in the belief that this will mean a bigger and bigger impact. But who is on those platforms? Whose image are we broadcasting.

We are created in the image and likeness of God, to reflect His character and nature to Him, to each other, and to all creation. We are to broadcast His image with all of life. But it’s difficult to ignore the fact that in seeking bigger and bigger platforms we are also broadcasting our own image to the world. We’ve got to have a bigger digital footprint, get our image out there.

To do that we need to create ministries (often with our own name on them) write more content for our websites and put a picture of ourselves on them so everyone knows who wrote it, but also because of the impact this has on the algorithms that determine how many people will see it. We’ve got to create more YouTube videos, all of which will have a thumbnail picture or a screen shot inevitably of me mid preach or posing artificially for a publicity shot. We’ve got to speak on bigger and bigger stages to bigger and bigger audiences where they will get to see and hear me in person. All of which, of course comes with the hope of generating greater and greater financial support so that we can employ other people to put my image on these things in the hope of reaching more and more people.

It has gotten so bad that some of our most recognisable servants of the Lord spend an inordinate amount of money on plastic surgery in order to protect or improve their own image for the camera. Whose image do you imagine is more important to those folk, theirs or the Lords?

The same goes for the massive consumer market generated by the glossy pop and vacuous lyrics of our modern worship bands. And we all know it’s true, even to the point where we make jokes about the worship bands and their clothes being like uniforms with guys in skinny jeans, beards and hats etc etc etc. When was the last time you saw an ugly girl with a great voice leading one of the big worship bands…nope, me either. Pretty girls with great voices are much better for the marketing collateral and the image of the band as a whole.

The Church has all too often and for far too long allowed the spotlight to fall on us, to illuminate our image and likeness instead of reflecting the image and likeness of God. In doing so we have become enamoured with ourselves, becoming blind to the danger that we run the risk of taking the place of God on the centre stage of our lives, and set ourselves up as false gods in His place.

So many of the ills of the our current christian culture with the alarming fall of so many celebrity preachers can be attributed to this fact, and that as a people we have, by and large, forgotten that to be a disciple of Jesus means to pick up your cross and die to the self, die to the sinful desires of the flesh, and to live for Christ and His glory. Instead we seem to be busy feeding the flesh, indulging its desires, and putting the spotlight firmly on ourselves, on our own feelings, and on our own perception of happiness and fulfilment.

“Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Our light is intended to bring glory to our God, our Father in heaven. But we have refocussed that light in order to illuminate ME, and in doing so, to bring glory to the god of our own making.

Time to cast it off. No more refocussed lenses trained on ourselves. No more editing ourselves into the spotlight and putting our best side forward. No more soft focus lenses digital retouching and filters to make our image more acceptable before people whose only engagement with us is likely to be through some form of screen.

We need to retrain the light, refocus it on the object of the Gospel message, the subject of our proclamation, and the person to whom we belong and serve, and desire others to meet and love as He has first loved us.

He is the light of the world, ours is a derivative light that comes from outside of ourselves in Him, but as a miraculous gift of grace, that light, His light, has come to dwell in us by the Holy Spirit.

So wakey wakey, time to rise and shine!

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