The world’s a pretty messy place right now. The Middle East is one big regional war zone. Countries are facing indebtedness with numbers none of us can fathom. We’re victims of the climate we’ve changed through our environmental abuses. We have the means to end hunger and disease, but we won’t invest in the simple solutions to do so. We’re a global community and virtually connected, yet we’re disconnected on so many levels.
It’s into the world’s mess and life’s messiness that Jesus wants his followers to dwell. Jesus challenged those listening to his message. He knew most people would come to listen and then not think any more about what he said (hmm, reminds me of churches). That didn’t stop him from teaching because he also knew there would be handfuls of people who would hear his message and then try to integrate it into their daily lives. Jesus wasn’t interested in changing the masses, but changing the individual.
Any change for the world begins with a changed individual. An individual changes, another individual notices and they too change, until there are lots of changed people making a difference. In the beatitudes, Jesus highlights how a God-follower is different. Then he challenges them to be different. He indicates being that influence for good in the world through the metaphors of salt and light.
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).
Being the light of the world is a pretty tall order for most of us. Being a light isn’t so difficult if we consider our own little world. For most of us, our world is our home, our family and friends, where we work, the places we shop and eat, what we do recreationally and the like.
There are three primary functions for light. Light illuminates, making things visible. Light guides, making the way clear. Light warns, indicating hazards or potential danger. Now, how does that apply to us being a light to the world.
Light illuminates. What difference would we make in our world if we were mindful of how we treat our families; how we interact with our co-workers and friends; how we treat the waitstaff at the cafe we lunch or the person checking us out at the grocery store; how we behave on the road. By being a light in our little world, we represent God to the people around us. They experience something of God through how we talk to them and treat them. They experience the value of creation and the environment observing us as we demonstrate good stewardship by re-using, recycling, and re-purposing items. We live our lives out loud, not to say “look at me, I’m better than you”, but I’m doing this because you’re valued and our planet is important.
Light guides. Very often Christians interpret their social responsibility in terms of helping the casualties of society instead of the structures and institutions that cause those casualties. That’s like a doctor treating the patient once they’re already symptomatic, where prevention might have kept the patient healthy. We’re to be conscientious citizens of the world, mindful of the freedom, justice, dignity, civil and human rights of all people.
Light warns. I’m reminded of a lighthouse. A lighthouse stands atop a cliff warning the ship pilot of potential danger. The lighthouse doesn’t remove the danger or prevent danger. It’s there to warn sailors of the threat of danger so they can adjust their course accordingly.
God-followers are like that lighthouse. They don’t try and change or coerce everyone to follow their path. Instead, they shine their light into the darkness. They explore peaceful alternatives to violence. They make education accessible for all so everyone has better opportunities. They consume responsibly so resources are available for others. They speak out against human trafficking because it enslaves all our children. They champion the common good because it affects all individuals.
The world is a pretty messy and dark place. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and want to throw up our hands in despair, thinking we can’t make any impact. In the eternal scheme of things, we do make a difference. When God makes a difference in our life, we live out that difference by the things we do and say. We never truly know the difference we make as a light in our world. But then, I’m sure that small band of individuals that followed Jesus never thought we’d still be talking about a new concept for life, much less know their names, more than two millennia later.