“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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.” —Matthew 5:14—16
In modernity where the flip of an ever-handy switch at either end of the room can light up a room, a powerful spotlight senses motion and illuminates the pathway when we pull in at night, we have apps on our phones to flash-light when the power goes out and “pollution” from our brightly lit nightscapes fade the stars that used to gleam brilliantly, it’s hard to remember just how dark and frightening the hours between sunset and sunrise used to be for our ancestors. In Jesus’ time, light was a precious commodity.
Perhaps the only place where people still tune the rhythms of their lives to the lights in the sky are those who dwell above the Arctic Circle. Despite the modern convenience of the light switch, there is no ignoring the fact that the daylight hours all but disappear for several months. In Tromso, Norway, this period of darkness is called morketida and the people can look forward to only two or three hours of indirect or half-light around midday for nearly two months. While the stars that light the sky during this morketida period shine brightly for long periods, they are not enough to dispel the gloom that pervades the streets and can easily poison the soul.
The truth is, we human beings all experience periods of morketida, and stars are not enough to dispel that gloom. We need more common lights or lamps to light our everyday paths on this earth. Whether in literature, academe, Hollywood or the firmament, stars inspire us, they dazzle us, they entice us to dream. But a star won’t keep you from stubbing your toe on a stone as you wander down a dark and lonely road.
In this week’s text from Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges us to be lights for the world, to serve as lamps for one another—and it is not enough to be a supernova star that dazzles brightly and then burns out. Being a star that shines down on others is enticing to our egos, but being a steadily burning lamp that lights the way is what the world needs!
Jesus, as always models for us the Way to being that light and teaches that being “first” in the kingdom of God comes through selfless service to others. Doing for others is the way to turn up the candle-power on our individual lights. We burn brighter by loving others more and ourselves less. We also burn brighter by sharing our lamp light. As teachers and mentors of the faith, we help to illumine the pathway that lies directly at the feet of those we are teaching, offering guidance and service in indirect, even pedestrian ways.
When we combine the illuminating power generated within each of us by our relationship with Jesus we become even brighter. The “city built on a hill” is not noticed because one lone light flickers in a window. It is the combined wattage of an array of lights, each burning in its own place, but for a common purpose, that sets the city ablaze in the midst of a dark and dreary night.
Beloved, there are none among us, no lamps that cannot throw some light on some darkened portion of a fellow-traveler’s pathway. You must know–our light source is unquenchable, so take confidence in the potential power of your lamp. The psalmist reminds us that the eternal flame of Scripture is always available to us for additional fuel: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). As followers of Jesus, we have everything we need to bring some light into the dark of another’s night, to offer a flashlight to point out the Way and to collect our lights to make a difference is the world. May we let our collective lamps shine, that others may see and find this brilliant Light of the World that we call Jesus. Let us be set ablaze with a common purpose that we might be a city on the hill right here in West Medford, brightening the darkness with God’s Glorious, Glowing Grace.
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade (firstname.lastname@example.org)