Delivered at Ames UCC on August 19, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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I suspect that more than a handful of you, on seeing the cover of our bulletin today, thought, “Oh, she’s going to preach about giving money to the church. But isn’t it too early for the pledge drive?”
Yes, it is. It will be another four weeks before you receive a letter and pledge card along with a proposed budget that would fund the dreams of our church leadership teams. And though this is the first of three sermons on stewardship, I’m not going to speak to your time, talent, and treasure today.
Instead, I want to speak to your spark. Actually, I’m going to invite you to let Jesus speak to it.
My preaching professor once said that sometimes we need to let scripture speak for itself, let the passage do all of the work. This passage does both well, as Jesus’s meaning here is not hard to find, particularly once returned to its larger context. In this case: a very long speech by Jesus.
It begins at the start of Chapter 5 with the beatitudes, or “blessed-ares,” like blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and blessed are the peacemakers. He then covers the work of discipleship, our relationship to the decalogue (or Ten Commandments): anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love for enemies.
Chapter 6 begins with almsgiving, moves to prayer (including the introduction of what we call the Lord’s Prayer), and the practice of fasting.
So before Jesus gets to these instructions about treasure and lilies, he has already painted a detailed picture of what this kin-dom of God we are to strive for looks like: a place where the covenants of old are honored.
Then he moves into the anxieties and acquisitiveness of today: Don’t horde goods that can become worthless or get stolen. Don’t worry about appearances. Worry never gets you anywhere, let alone another year, day, or minute of life.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was never clothed like one of these.
You have what you need to be the flower that you are, so rather than striving for unnecessary petals in the soil of humanity’s fears, strive to bloom in the soil of God’s love, for if you do, there you will be in God’s kin-dom.
See what I mean? Matthew 5 and 6 speak for themselves.
But there is one small portion, a line less poetic than Solomon’s smock made shabby by lilies:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of (disease). If then the light in you is (diseased), how great is the (disease)!
I don’t think Jesus is talking about our literal eyes, but the part of us that acts as a lamp.
And what is it to act as a lamp?
Lamps do not absorb light from outside their structure, not like our eyes do. Lamps are containers of light intentionally placed within them, they are broadcasters of light specifically provided for them.
Jesus is suggesting that there is a part of each of us that holds and shares a light not of us. It is a light we must tend, we must steward, because it is vulnerable to degeneration, a degeneration that can jeopardize the light of all others.
Jesus is saying the lamp in us, the lamp that carries the light of God, is bulwark against an ever-threatening contamination that wants only to shatter and then snuff out. And once it shatters and snuffs out the lamp and the light of one, it has that much easier of a time shattering the lamp and snuffing out the light of the another.
And another. And another.
If then the light in you is degraded, how great is the degradation of all!
If you cannot steward the light God has given you, that which is threatened by light will overtake us all.
How is that good news?
By this point in Matthew we have received Jesus’s long list of expectations regarding poverty, humility, jealousy, resources, right speech, relational living, works of mercy, works of justice, and spiritual practices.
There’s no small amount of discipline involved in being a disciple.
Then he adds on that in addition to resisting the intense pressure of culture, we must tend to a godspark that we did not even ask for, in an inner lamp we may not be able to locate, because if we don’t, none of the kin-dom of God will be realized.
It is too much, Jesus! It is too much work!
It is too hard to not worry about what I look like when the world tells me I don’t look right. It is too hard not to worry about the next meal when the last one is not guaranteed. It is too hard not to worry about tomorrow when today has brought only sorrow.
And it is too much to expect me to believe that I have a spark of God in me.
How can I, a person who falls so far short of the discipline of discipleship, have been gifted with the light of God?
Because don’t many of us here, despite professing God’s grace as universal, feel like we are the exception? That we are among the few who have to work really hard, much harder than we have yet, to be granted even a glimpse that light of God?
That is splintered-lamp talk.
That is the contagion of the snuffing dis-ease creeping in through the cracks of our lamps.
Don’t listen to it.
Listen, instead, to the child of the light: Yes, we have to work to build the kin-dom of God, the beloved community, but Jesus says nothing here about having to earn the presence of the divine in our souls.
In the midst of his directions for us, Jesus is also providing a description of us: You have the light of God in you. In you right now is a small, burning portion of divine starshine. It places us in the fabric of the universe and connects us to God and to each other.
We do not have to do anything to be bound to God and each other by filaments of luminescent love. Again, we do not have to do anything to be bound to God and each other by filaments of luminescent love.
That is the good news of today’s passage.
We will have, and we will create, all manner of opportunities to live out the To-Do’s of discipleship to Jesus. A great deal of the time we will fall short. And then, like the grasses of the field, we will eventually fade and return to dust and ash.
If, in the time, we have we do nothing else but accept the love we have been gifted with, that love will continue to shine in the night—or in this day’s greed, vanity, conspicuous consumption, starvation, and meanness—and the love will not be overcome by those.
Do not listen to those who would shatter your lamp, even if it is your own voice, for in it God has placed a light.
For in each of you, in each of us, God has found hope, God has found a home.