This Sermon was delivered at St John the Baptist, Bressingham and St Remigius, Roydon at their Eucharists on the 3rd Sunday before Lent, 9th February 2020. Reading: Matthew 5:13-20.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John’s Gospel opens enigmatically with the words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Later in John’s Gospel Jesus echoes this, saying: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Elsewhere in the New Testament we hear Paul saying: The God who said ‘Let there be light’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.
Again: Put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
Again: You were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
Also: You yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness… may you be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine like stars.
It’s not only Paul, Peter says: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
These are just a handful of the many references to light which permeates the scriptures as a metaphor for the Gospel and the impact which Jesus has on our lives.
In our Gospel reading this morning we heard from Matthew chapter 5, a short part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount which contains a lot of his teachings. We’ve heard Jesus say to us: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.
I wonder how we hear this?
Perhaps we’ve heard this many times. Don’t hide the lamp, of course that’s not how things should be. Perhaps familiarity with this image means that it can wash over us. “Oh yeah, we’re the light of the world. I like the sound of that.”
If I’m honest I found that growing up I heard this passage so many times in both Church services and Sunday Schools that it didn’t really mean much to me. It wasn’t until I was about 19 that something happened which really made me sit up and pay attention to what Jesus is saying.
At 19, I was in my second year of studying theology at the London School of Theology. However I was something of an oddity to many of my fellow students because I was very into my heavy metal music. To paint the scene, I used to wear a full length leather trench coat, skinny ripped black jeans, chelsea boots and a cowboy hat. My hair was rather longer than it is now. In a sea of checkered flannel shirts to say I stood out like a sore thumb was an understatement.
One of the great things about being at the London School of Theology was that there were students from all different denominations and cultures. Once I was sat with several penetcostal pastors who brought up the issue of heavy metal – and it was an issue. I had to spend a couple of hours explaining what I liked about it and how I approach it. That I read all the lyrics and weigh up what the music is about and sift out those things which I think are too dark or even are openly satanic and I would avoid them. (I even suggested I was more careful about metal than most people are about Pop music). At the end of this conversation they had a chat amongst themselves and then said, “Well Sam, we’re still not keen on this heavy metal thing but we don’t need to give you an exorcism!”
Amusing as it was, I found I would often share metal songs with them that I thought they would like and one day I stumbled across this amazing ten minute long power metal ballad by a band called Theocracy. Their whole theme is playing good metal with good sounds which actually have good Christian theology – something of a rarity! I started listening to their other songs and found myself drawn to one called ‘Light of the World.’
[Edit: You can listen to it here]
It opens by describing a lighthouse sitting in darkness. The beacon has gone out, soaked by rain and cold winds. There’s a ship at sea sailing alone, with no way to find its way home.
Then comes the Chorus:
“You are the light of the world,” He said
But we’ve blown out our candles
And left men for dead
Singing “we are the light of the world, He said”
As the darkness descends on us all
If we were the light of the world today
Would we hide in the shadows and scare them away?
Are we the light of the world
Or are we failing to answer the call?
These poignant words combined with stirring music really caught my attention and made me think.
If the light in a lighthouse is not shining, then the ship will never make its way home safely. By blowing out our candles, by refusing to shine, the song says we’ve left men to die. Worse, it accuses us of being happy to sing “we are the light of the world, he said” even as darkness descends on us all.
One of the verses captures the state of our contemporary culture painfully well:
Men love the darkness
Much more than the light
For their deeds can be kept out of mind
Out of sight
And the line has eroded
Between wrong and right
Like it’s all relative after all
This is the temptation which faces us all. Are we prepared to live out our beliefs or would we rather do our own thing quietly while leaving others to do their own thing? Do we accept this idea that something is true for someone else but this is true for us? Should we just leave them to it?
The Chorus repeats three times but with a simple change each time.
The first time it asks: If we were the light of the world today, would we hide in the shadows and scare them away?
The Second: If we were the light of the world today, would we hide in the shadows and just look away?
And the final time:
If we were the light of the world today, would we hide in the shadows and darken the way?
Jesus says that we are the light of the world, and that a city on a hill cannot be hidden.
It seems to me that in this familiar, perhaps too familiar, portion of scripture we are confronted with a challenging calling.
We are to be the light of the world. This means that we are to be different from the world around us, a world which increasingly does not know God or indeed know who it is or where its purpose may be found. It can be easy to look around at the falling numbers here in our churches and to say that things are hard. And in a sense they are hard. But there’s also a sense in which it has never been easier to be light in the darkness because being known by our faith should make us stand out in our communities just as much as I stood out in my leather trench coat.
Therefore let each of us as we prepare to come forward and receive communion, ponder in our hearts whether we are living as the light of the world, or if we’re falling to answer that calling.
Are we blowing out our candles, and leaving others to die?
And if we are failing, let us turn to Christ and return to the light and joy of his salvation. Let us feed on his body and blood, the bread and the wine, that the candles of our faith might be reignited. Lit afresh, may we shine before others so that when they may see our good works they too may catch fire with the faith of the Gospel, and give glory to our heavenly Father.