BE CAREFUL WHERE AND HOW YOU SHINE YOUR LIGHT
Matthew 5: 13-16
1. (Appear wearing a mask) Good morning. I am Amasone Kilei from the Pacific island of Tuvalu. Your pastor invited me to come speak today. You have nice church.
2. Well that disguise and mask obviously did not fool anyone as to my real identity. You all knew who the real clown was behind it and were patiently waiting for me to remove the sham mask and just be who I am.
• Each one of us has at various times in our lives worn masks and perhaps sometimes still do.
• Of course, not all masks are for disguise – some are for protection – like what a surgeon wears – for your protection and his/hers, like gas masks, like a biker’s or football player’s helmet and so on.
• Some of us might also wear figurative masks for protection – like coming across as a rather gruff and aggressive personality that can hide our more tender and vulnerable nature
• Some can wear the mask of sweetness itself that for a while hides a bitter and poisonous spirit
• Do you wear a mask? What is it about who you are that you would rather others not know and so prefer to keep up the pretense?
3. I remember as a young boy having 4 main heroes in my life and frequently in fun times with my friends, I played and would become in my mind’s eye the embodiment of these characters – Tarzan, Roy Rogers, Prince Valiant, and Superman. I swung from trees, I rode my imaginary horse “Trigger”, engaged in wooden sword fights, and I flew around our yard with my swirling cape. One time I even leapt off our house roof and fortunately landed in the soft ground of the flower bed.
4. Now according to the dictionary definition of the word, I was being a hypocrite. The word “hypocrite” comes from an ancient Greek word “hypocrites” which means an actor and “hypokrinesthai” which means “to play a part” or to “pretend”. So a hypocrite was an actor who played a part in a Greek drama.
• Most often when we use the word hypocrite or hypocrisy we are referring in a derogatory or accusatory manner to someone who professes to be virtuous or righteous or a Christian, but in reality is quite the opposite.
• We remember Jesus’ reference to the Pharisees as hypocrites who sounded a trumpet before them as they gave alms in the synagogue and in the streets, so that they might impress others with their generosity.
• Or how they loved to stand and pray in the synagogue and on street corners so that their piety might be displayed to others.
5. Maxie Dunnam in his book, “That’s What the Man Said” tells the story of a young couple that had courted each other for a long time and made plans to get married. All the preparations were well under way with the date for the wedding rapidly approaching, when the young woman suddenly broke off the engagement, telling her devastated fiancée that she was madly in love with someone else.
• About 8 months later she wrote this amazing letter to him:
• “Dear Tommy, can you ever forgive me? No words can express how badly I feel, how terribly unhappy I’ve been since breaking our engagement. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything without thinking of you. Please take me back, Tommy. Please. No one could ever take your place in my heart. I love you! I love you! I love you!”
• The letter was signed “Forever, Marie” and then just below, there was this small “unrelated” addition, “P.S. By the way, Tommy, congratulations on winning the Irish Sweepstakes!”
• Would you say there was something suspiciously hypocritical about her attitude? I guessed you might.
6. One of the last things most of us wants to be called is a hypocrite that we have often kept our mouths shut and our identity as Christians as quiet as possible, preferring to stave off the likelihood of such an accusation by being God’s secret or undercover agents – sort of “Spiritual 007’s”
• If we don’t make any public acknowledgment that we’re disciples of Jesus then no one can ever accuse us of not living up to that standard.
7. But let me ask you – if it is hypocritical to make all kinds of outward Christian profession and not live up to it, is it equally hypocritical to be a committed disciple and not let that light be seen by others?
8. In our Scripture reading for today, Jesus speaks about His followers – that’s us, being “the light of the world” and how we are to let that light shine in our world for the sake of others. He reminds us that a city set on a hill is there for all to see. In the same way, no one lights a candle and then sticks it under a bucket but on a lamp stand for all in the house.
• What’s the point of lighting a candle that no one is ever going to see?
• Besides, candles that are lit and placed under buckets soon use up the available oxygen and go out and are then of no use to anybody.
9. So the challenge that Maxie Dunnam makes in his book and that I want us to hear this morning is to stop being hypocrites who pretend to be less than we are and humbly and yet unashamedly allow the light that Jesus has given us to shine forth from our lives.
• And there are at least two ways in which Jesus calls us to be the light
• One is to let our light shine BEFORE others and not AT them
• The other is to let our light shine without being showy – to let the focus of our light draw people’s attention to God and not us.
10. I already made the point in the children’s message that when we need to see where we are going along a dark and uncertain path, the last thing we want is someone shining the flashlight in our eyes. Not only is it highly annoying and distracting, but it prevents us from seeing where we are going – in fact it can blind us to seeing the path at all.
11. To make this point, Dunnam relates an old story about a contest between the wind and the sun to see which of them would be the fastest in getting a man to remove his overcoat.
• Well the wind boastfully blustered and blew around the man as he walked across a field. But that just made the man pull his coat tighter around himself and eventually button it all the way up under his chin in spite of the wind howling and swirling noisily around him.
• After surrendering in disgust, the sun simply began to smile warmly and gently on the man until he quite voluntarily unbuttoned his coat, opened it up and finally took it off.
12. So what’s the difference here? Well, in contrast to the wind’s blustery attempt to force the coat off the man, the sun respected that man’s personal integrity and patiently allowed him to make the decision if and when the coat should come off.
• An international South African evangelist friend of mine, Michael Cassidy, once related a story of his years as a theological student at Oxford University in England. He told of two professors who were good friends – one a devout Christian and the other, an atheist. They often spent time together, did activities together and really liked each other
• The Christian had often spoken to his friend about Christ and had certainly shown forth the character of Christ in his relationship with his atheist friend. He was never pushy but responded humbly and honestly to his questions and had patiently and faithfully prayed for him and secretly longed to see his friend surrender his life to Christ. But that never happened during his lifetime.
• The Christian died and the atheist professor attended his funeral and it was during that funeral service that the atheist surrendered his heart to Christ.
• Let your light in the same way shine before others – not at them.
• We sow the seed and do our best to lovingly nurture it, but the rest is up to God and that individual.
13. The follow-on point Jesus makes to letting our light shine before others is “so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”
• To let our light shine without being showy – to let the focus of our light draw people’s attention to God.
14. In Matthew 25 where Jesus refers to that great day of His returning and humanity is divided into the only two groups that will ever matter – those who served Him and those who did not – you notice how the righteous respond with stunned amazement to Jesus saying, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. A stranger and you took me in. I was sick and in prison and you came to visit me.”
• They say, “But when, Lord? When did we see you like this?”
• And the Lord replies, “In as much as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
• So these are the ones whose focus is not on some other motive – like winning Brownie points for heaven, or making a statement – political or otherwise, or to get people to like them – but simply because their hearts are moved with compassion when they see someone in need and reach out to do what they can to make a difference.
15. The doctor-novelist A.J. Cronin aptly illustrates this behavior in his autobiographical work, Adventures in Two Worlds. He writes:
• “I have told you of Olwen Davies, the middle-aged nurse who for more than twenty years, with fortitude and patience, calmness and cheerfulness, served the people of a certain Welsh village. This unconscious selflessness, which above all seemed the key-note of her character, was so poorly rewarded it worried me. Although she was much beloved by the people, her salary was inadequate. And late one night, after a particular strenuous case, I ventured to protest to her as we drank a cup of tea together.”
• “Nurse,” I said, “why don’t you make them pay you more? It’s ridiculous that you should work for so little.” She raised her eyebrows a little. But she smiled, “I have enough to get along.”
• “No, really,” I protested, “You ought to have an extra pound a week at least. God knows you are worth it…” There was a pause. Her smile remained but her gaze held a gravity, and intensity which startled me. “Doctor,” she said, “If God knows I am worth it, that’s all that matters to me.” (Cronin, p. 32)
16. In a frequently dark and scary world, anxious and frightened people eagerly look for a light – however dim it may seem, that is able to give them hope and comfort and a sense of security.
• For people who have lost loved ones
• For people who are struggling to make ends meet
• For people who feel they are at the end of their rope
• For people who are questioning their worth and value
• You and I are mini versions of Jesus, the Light of the world.
• Let your light so shine before them, that they may see your good works, and come to glorify your Father who is in heaven.