Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shining Before Others (Matthew 5:13-20)

I want to start this morning with two stories.  The first story is about a man in Enid, Oklahoma by the name of Gary James.  Gary James has owned and run the restaurant/bar Gary’s Chicaros for forty-four years.  Lately he has come under criticism for his outspoken views about people he refuses to serve in his business.  James doesn’t deny that he thinks some people shouldn’t patronize his restaurant.  He proudly wears his opinions on the official t-shirt he sells at his restaurant that proclaims: that gay people (or as he calls them, faggots), blacks (which he calls, niggers), other racial minority groups are not welcome at his restaurant . . . he also threatens violence against Muslims, Democrats, and people who are on welfare.  He don’t care for people with disabilities.  When he banned a disabled customer, the customer complained.  And, guess what . . . he’s been doing it for over forty years and really doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

The second story focuses on the Olympics being held in Russia and its hospitality to the many visitors from other nations . . . in particular, its accommodations.  In comparison to what we are used to, the accommodations are way below the standards we think are acceptable according to our American point of view.  The Russians have taken a beating in the media and on social media to become the laughing stock of the Western world.  The Russian attempts at being Americanized are subpar and substandard to what most of us would find acceptable even if we were staying at the local Motel 6 . . . but, we forget . . . what we find appalling is often the envy of the rest of the world that does not have the quality of life we have as Americans.  What we forget is that in comparison to the rest of the world, we are wealthy people.

Jesus speaks to us this morning about letting our light shine out to the rest of the world so that they can see the goodness of being in a relationship with God.  In the face of such a challenge, how does the light shine for the restaurant owner in Enid, Oklahoma?  How does it shine upon us as Americans when we make fun of how the rest of the world lives?

That is the challenge that Jesus places before us this morning as we listen into his continued sermon featuring last week’s beatitudes . . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  That is what he said.  Some would argue, but I will say, that our light is our faith.  Faith that is based upon a relationship with God that says that we love and trust not only God, but all of God’s creation.  A faith that is built upon Jesus’ charge to us to love God completely and to love one another . . . relationships.  We are to let our relationships of love shine through so that the rest of the world can see how wonderful it is to be in relationship with God.  How we live and love in life is the light that we shine for the rest of the world to see.

What sort of light does Gary James shine when he spews his hatred in a land that gives him the right to have his own opinions?  What sort of light do any of us shine when we laugh and make fun of other nations and their attempts to be Americanized in their hospitality on the world’s stage?  What sort of light are we letting shine for the rest of the world to see?

Our light shines in the actions that we take . . . are they actions that reflect the love we have received and continue to receive from God?  Are they actions that embrace loving others . . . especially those who are the least of these?  Are they actions that welcome the stranger into our house, the poor into our lives, and the sinner into the fellowship?  Are they actions that display hospitality to all people—all of God’s children, or are they actions that demonstrate selectivity, prejudice, and downright exclusion?  Are they actions that our Lord and Savior would do or are they the actions that we tell ourselves society accepts and that makes it okay?  Our actions speak loudly when it comes to letting our light shine.

So do our words.  The old children’s ditty about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a lie.  We know that words hurt and can wound just as bad, and often worse, than sticks or stones.  We know that words have the capability to ruin lives.  We have all felt the sting of words in our own lives.  Thus we should always be careful in how we use words . . . and, how we respond to words.  Are the words we use inviting, welcoming, accepting, and inclusive of those around us?  Are the words we use loving, graceful, and respectful of others?  Are the words we speak congruent to the way that we live our lives?  Words are another way in which we let our lights shine in the world.

Here is Jesus telling us that we have this great relationship with God.  Telling us that because we do have this great relationship we should let the world know about it . . . that we should set it out there so the whole world can see it.  He tells us that we out to spice up the world with our relationship with God.  He tells us to shine before others.  Let others know of our loving relationship with God through the actions that we take and the words that we speak . . . just as Jesus did for us.

That’s the challenge . . . letting your light shine.  I know that we can all do it . . . but, if you need a little help . . . well, I suggest to dig back a few years to your childhood and remember.  Remember:  This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine . . . let it shine . . . let it shine . . . let it shine.  Amen.

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