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The theme for this year's conference is "Let Your Light Shine." It is a very appropriate charge to us as Christians. In fact, it is the Christian charge. John 8 tells us that Jesus is the light of the world, and we are told all over the scriptures that we are to be like Christ. Christians are little Christs - we are to be little lights.Elsewhere, John tells us that "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
So the question I would like to explore is "how do we shine our lights in such a way as to reveal God rather than conceal him?" I would imagine that speaking to a group like this - a group I assume consists of long-time Christians, like myself - there is no need to convince you of the holiness of God and our need to be holy. Our need to be light. Like I was, you have probably been saturated with this truth. It is not difficult for most Christians to abstain from the "big" sins and to live separated from the world on their own Cellestial City here on Earth. Where we do seem to struggle, is in the directing of our light. We have become spotlights rather than lighthouses, blinding the world to its needs through our judgmentalism, as they founder unaided by us, in the sea of their fate.
God says so much more about being light than Matthew 5:16 tells us. As you continue through Matthew 5, and as you look at parallel passages like Luke 6, you see that Christ proceeds from his charge to be light, and moves into ways in which this light is actually shined. We see that rather than prescribe a list of actions we should and should not do, as the law does, he is asking us to go beyond the letter of the law and to the heart of it. Don't commit adultery? Actually, don't objectify persons as objects for your pleasure. Don't murder? Actually, don't view others as impediments to your will. Exact justice now and with equal force? Actually, allow your enemies to hurt you without retaliating in a similar manner. Jesus is telling us that to be light means so much more than doing right actions, it is having a right heart.
But Christ goes far beyond telling us what it means to be light. He exemplifies light and shows us what it should look like. Christ doesn't objectify women, he talks with the societal outcast at the well and stoops with the adulterer who is about to be stoned. He doesn't hate his enemies, he prays for their forgiveness while they torture him. He doesn't exact his own justice on his own terms, he shows mercy by holding back the legions of angels he could have petitioned his father to send on the night before his crucifixion. And while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us. The essence of Christian light is not holiness alone, but holiness exuded in love. Just as light is both a particle and a wave, so the light of a Christian is both holiness and love. Love God and love others. They will know you're Christ's disciples by the way you love each other.
Paul may summarize this concept the best, though he uses sound instead of light. In I Corinthians 13 Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." Perhaps we could change it to say, "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am a blinding spotlight, an incinerating lamp." The world is in desperate need of holiness, but that is a work that can only be done by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Just as that Spirit was brought to believers by the priestly ministry of the self-sacrificial, love encompassed son of God and his intercession on our behalf, so it is today. We are a royal priesthood - a product of the great high priest himself. As representatives and reflections of our priest and savior, the son of God, through his body, the church, we must lay down our lives, in love - the tempering force that makes holiness accessible, and the invisible God visible to a world who desperately needs to see him.