“A Light in the World”
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Year A
Sermon by lay leader Ginnie Glassman
“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
Light is a constant theme in our Scriptures, in our worship and in our lives.
In Genesis, the first thing that God does is speak into the void of darkness and say “Let there be light.” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1: 3-4a)
God used a burning bush to get the attention of Moses. The light of the fire made Moses pause to look closer. And God enlightened him that he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3)
On the journey, God led them with a cloud by day and a column of fire by night. The light of the fire assured the Israelites that God was with them even in the darkness of night. (Exodus 13: 21-22)
Much later, John the Baptist was sent to prepare the world for Jesus’ coming. John’s Gospel tells us that “God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all mankind.” (John 1:6-9)
When Jesus arrived in our world, he proclaimed to his followers “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12)
In today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we too are the light of the world. He invites us to share that identity with him. Our light comes from him, and is a reflection of him. Like John the Baptist, we are commissioned to tell people about the light that Jesus brought to the world and the power of God.
I think many of you know the song “You Are the Light of the World” from Godspell. One verse says “You are the light of the world but if that light is under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial. You’ve got to stay bright to be the light of the world.”
In our preacher training, I have found that some of you are already on the lampstand and preaching, and some are just peeking out from under the bushel to see if this is something you want to do.
We do short assignments to get to know one another and also to become more comfortable with speaking in a group. Along the way, the sharing of joys, sorrows, worries, comfort and faith is ongoing. The depth of the conversations and the trust that develops in just eight meetings is amazing. One group member said that our meeting time had become a spiritual time in his week, a time to reflect and discuss. I see the Holy Spirit present with us in each meeting.
And in the last weeks of each session, it all comes together and we hear excellent sermons – well thought out, personal and inspiring. It is always a joy (and no surprise) to later hear that the sermon was delivered in the parish and well received. Hearing that there is another preaching date planned adds further excitement for me.
I am delighted too to hear from our clergy or wardens that the sermon was well done and they will be happy to have the person preach again. They thank me for the preacher training course. I lead it by providing the time and space and some guidance but you are the ones who willingly put in all the work as you prepare and share.
When we take on the role of lay preaching, we make ourselves vulnerable by sharing ourselves, our faith journeys and our lives. We become someone others come to trust and so bring light to the parish. In one parish in transition, five people have completed the lay preacher training and are now doing the Sunday services weekly. Their work has inspired others in the parish to take on new roles and new challenges. The parish will be ready when the new minister is called.
We each bring a different light as we preach based on our own life experience. This is good for the parish and gives your regular preachers a chance to do other things. We certainly come to understand how much time and effort it takes and we develop a new appreciation for those who do it weekly.
We also bring light to each other through our Tuesday morning lay preacher prep and the monthly lay preacher discussion groups where we share ideas, questions, inspirations, frustrations and successes.
You have brought light to my life too. This ministry has led me to meet wonderful people who I might never have known. I enjoy getting to know each person during the training and I am always happy to hear from you after the sessions end. With the situation in our country and the world as it is, I am greatly encouraged to be part of the strong faith community in our diocese. Knowing people who are willing to share their faith and bring their light into a world that badly needs it is so uplifting.
Another verse of the song from Godspell is: “You are the light of the world but the tallest candlestick ain’t much good without a wick.” And any acolyte can tell you, the wick ain’t much good until it is lit. You each come with a wick ready to be lit. Once the fire starts, the light glows within you too.
As the Godspell song says “You’ve got to stay bright to be the light of the world.”
How do we light that wick and keep it burning? By being active in our our parishes, in our diocese and in our communities. When we introduce ourselves at the beginning of a training session, I am always impressed by the number of hats people wear. Most of you have at least two or three ministries within your parish plus being a parent, caregiver, grandparent and working full or part time. And then there are food banks, shelters, walks for causes, outreach or just being neighborly. Your light shines bright within your faith community and in the community in which you live.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us to “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) This is the key point of the work we have taken on. We use our gifts to become instruments of God, to spread his message, to inspire others to give praise to the Father for all he has done and still does for us.
Rev. Kate Heichler writes a daily meditation on the Gospel for the coming Sunday. Her words are meaningful for us and the work we do:
“When we are proclaiming the incredible news that God is on a mission to love the world back into wholeness, we are invited to be as loud and immodest as we possibly can. There are a lot of people with broken parts who need to hear that news, you and I among them….The world needs the light we carry, and we need to shine it brightly to give light to “all in the house.” (Rev. Kate Heichler, Water Daily, February 1, 2023)
At the Holy Saturday Vigil service, we light a new Easter candle. As the procession goes to the altar, there is a pause three times to chant “The Light of Christ”. Let us think of ourselves as that candle, newly lit and burning bright, to bring the Light of Christ to those who know us and hear our preaching.
Amen and God bless each of you.