St Francis, Terriers 4 before Lent (05.02.2017)

Tony Dickinson

Jesus told those who follow him – and that includes us, unless we’re here under false pretences – Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.” The big question is what kind of light?

In Jesus’s day that wasn’t a question you really needed to ask. There were indoor lights, filled with oil. And there were outdoor lights, pieces of wood with one end dipped in tar that rich people used to find their way round the city in the darkness – and sometimes fixed in holders outside their front door.

Today we have all kinds of lights for indoors and outdoors. I’ve bought a selection along.

Some of them are old-fashioned lights, the kind that have been around for centuries. Here’s a wax candle and a tea-light – also made out of wax. We use this lantern when we go out carol-singing. There are more wax lights on the candle-stand and the light by the statue of St Francis.

Mixing things up, we’ve got the candles on the altar, which aren’t really candles at all, but a kind of oil lamp. And we’ve got the really modern lights, the electric lights.

Here’s a battery-powered tea-light. We use them at Messy Church and Club Francis when we pray. This is an alien snake light. It’s not much good for lighting a room, but very useful when you want to fix something in a dark corner and you need both hands free. Here’s a work-light with a hook and a magnet in the back that you can hang up or stick onto a metal surface. Here’s a wind-up torch. And here’s the floodlight that lights up the Christmas crib.

All of these lights give out varying amounts of light and they have very varied uses. Can you think of some of the ways in which lights are useful?

They keep us safe. They help us to find things. They look pretty. They allow us to work (or to enjoy ourselves) after sunset. They stop us being scared. If I’m walking down the church drive late in the dark, I’m a lot less anxious if I have my torch with me. And they show us things that we might not otherwise have noticed.

Now, when Jesus told his disciples that they were the light of the world, which of those ways of using light do you think he had in mind?

Quite possibly all of them, but I think there were a couple that were really important to him. The first is helping people to find things and showing them things they might not otherwise have noticed. Jesus told his disciples “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus wants people to see the presence of God among us, taking away fear, stopping us being scared. He wants people to see that in the good things that we do, in our care for other people. What he doesn’t want is followers behaving like the people shown up by the prophet’s floodlight in our first reading, people who come to church on Sunday and spend the rest of the week taking advantage of others, being aggressive and violent, always thinking of themselves and ignoring other people’s needs.

So, some of God’s people are called to be prophetic floodlights, shining the light of justice and truth where people are doing wrong and naming their wrong-doing. Others are called to be like those alien snake lights, shining the light of God’s love into dark corners and difficult places. Some of the organisations we work with, the Children’s Society, for example, or the Whitechapel Mission - they are rather like snake lights. Some people think “Oh, I can’t be a floodlight or a snake light. I can’t let my light shine.” But they pray, or they keep an eye on elderly neighbours, or folk going through difficult times. And where people pray, and when they look out for neighbours who are having a hard time – they’re being like the LEDs in this work lamp. Each one looks tiny and insignificant, but together they give off a lot of light. And so can we, in the simple things we do, caring for neighbours, volunteering for charities, taking care of our bit of the planet, playing our part in local and national campaigns for justice and peace. In all of these we are following the commandment of Jesus “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”