It’s been an amazing week for local sports fans! Last Sunday the Seahawks became, for the first time ever, Super Bowl champions! Then, on Friday, the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony kicked off two weeks of international competition; once again, we have local athletes who will be competing. The Super Bowl was a blast to watch. My wife and I love the Olympics. We even traveled to Vancouver four years ago to take in some of the competition.
Big-time sports competitions can generate a lot of emotion! It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of the moment. Winning makes us feel good about ourselves. After the competition is over, however, the smoke clears and the dust settles, and we have the opportunity to step back and pay closer attention to what was going on.
For example, how many times in the past week have you heard the Seahawks described as “world champions”? World champions? NFL teams are all American teams; hardly anyone outside of North America pays much attention to American-style football. We may be the only country on earth that calls national champions “world champions!”
But it doesn’t end there. Remember the newspaper reports after Wednesday’s big Super Bowl victory celebration in downtown Seattle? 700,000 people! Well, if you read yesterday’s paper you found that, as it turns out, maybe half that many people actually participated. That’s still a lot of people! But in the excitement of winning we’re willing to believe what we want to believe and not ask questions that might upset those beliefs.
It’s been said that “truth is the first casualty of war.” But propaganda and exaggeration are part of any high-stakes “us vs. them” competition.
At first blush, today’s reading from Matthew seems to be a lot of propaganda and exaggeration. You are the light of the world, says Jesus. You are the world champions! You are the 12th Man! You are the Olympic gold medalist! You are important! You are privileged, and you deserve glory!
But if we read closely, we find a different message. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Unlike the message we receive from sporting competitions and other human endeavors, the life we’ve been given is not about us. As St. Paul writes in today’s second reading, We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our lives are a gift. With our lives we give glory to God!
You are the light of the world. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “You are the light of the world under these conditions.” We are the light of the world not because of anything we’ve earned or won but because God put the light of Christ into our hearts. The only question is: Will we allow that light to shine, or will we cover it up?
The prophet Isaiah gives us an example of what it means to let our light shine for the world and give glory to God:
To loose the bonds of injustice…to let the oppressed go free…to share bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house…when you see the naked, to cover them…Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.
I hope you see in that description how you have been and continue to be light to the world by feeding the hungry, by bringing the homeless poor into your house. Lutherans do these things. We provide food and shelter and clothing and quilts. But the problem with such descriptions is that they become lists: “Yep, we do that. Check…check…check. Done!
To be the light of the world is not to follow a checklist but to learn a different way of seeing and thinking that determines the choices we make in every area of our lives! It’s to see with spiritual eyes and to interpret with a spiritual mind. In all we do, it is–as Paul puts it–to have the mind of Christ.
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to have the mind of Christ, and something our bishop said recently got me thinking. I’m coming to the end of a four-year term on our Synod Council. A few weeks ago at our regular meeting Bishop Kirby Unti spent some time sharing with us his experience as pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Renton.
Over the course of his 33 years at St. Matthew, Bishop Unti said, St. Matthew went from a small congregation about to close its doors to the healthy, dynamic church it is today. One of the main reasons for that, Bishop Unti said, is that the people of St. Matthew learned to say yes. When opportunities to serve arise, he said, they have learned to say yes. Rather than asking how much something costs or if they have enough people, if a service opportunity matches their mission as a congregation they say, Let’s find a way to say yes. (Our mission, by the way—in case you didn’t know— appears on the back of your bulletin every Sunday.)
You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
When we let our light shine—when we have the mind of Christ—it tends to attract attention. People are drawn to light! Earlier this past week I was on retreat with other pastors from our area. One Seattle pastor told about how over the past ten years her congregation has been opening the church up to outside groups. The place has gotten busy and the neighbors have noticed! One of those neighbors never went to Sunday worship but nevertheless considered that small church his home. Last year he died and left a million dollars for that church. It’s an unusual situation, but the point is that by welcoming the stranger, the outsider–by having the mind of Christ–that congregation’s light shone and was gratefully embraced.
Closer to home, a couple of weeks ago I got a call from the Lakeridge Garden Club. It was a request to use the building this spring for a neighborhood event. I ran it by the council and they said yes. It seems a small thing, doesn’t it, offering space for the local garden club. Not a big deal. Hardly worth mentioning. Not likely to result in a million-dollar gift! But to be light to the world doesn’t necessarily mean being world champions or gold medal winners or the best or greatest or richest or strongest. To be light to the world is to have the mind of Christ, saying yes to ordinary, everyday opportunities God gives us to give our lives away for the sake of the world, without thinking how we might benefit.
Dear friends in Christ, you are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. In Jesus’ name,