Year A Epiphany 5 Matthew 5 2011
Let My Little Light Shine
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton hadn't won a game in eight weeks. A critical press was suggesting that he be dropped from the starting lineup. The future looked bleak, and Sutton felt terrible. Then, before a game, Dodgers manager Walter Alston tapped him on the shoulder. "I'd like to speak with you, Don," he said. Sutton prepared himself for the worst.
"Don," said Alston, "I know how the past couple of months have been for you. Everyone's wondering whether we can make it to the play-offs . . . You know there's a lot of pressure . . . I've had to make a decision." Sutton had visions of being taken off the mound. Then Alston continued. "If the Dodgers are going to win this year," he said, looking Sutton in the eye, "they're going to win with Don Sutton pitching. Come what may, you're staying in the starting job. That's all I wanted to say."
Sutton's losing streak lasted two more weeks, but because of his manager's encouragement he felt different about it. Something in him was turning around. He found himself pitching the best ball of his career. In the National League pennant drive, he won 13 games out of 14.
There are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people. We can do it through guilt, through fear, through shame. But these were not Jesus' methods. Jesus motivated through positive messages of hope and encouragement.
Consider our lesson for today. Jesus says to his followers, "You are the light of the world. . . ." Can you imagine that? Here was a motley crew of farmers and fishermen and tax collectors and housewives in a tiny and remote village in an obscure part of the world and Jesus was saying to them, "You are the light of the world." Talk about a statement of faith! Let's go farther than that. Talk about a crazy idea! Light of the world? That bunch? It must have sounded absurd at the time even to them. Only Jesus could have seen that through this motley crew God would indeed change the world forever. At the time, however, it probably sounded like so much idle chatter. "You are the light of the world," he said and so they were. Now do you want to hear something really absurd? So are we.
Jesus says to us this morning that WE are the light of the world. Think about that for a moment. Sink your teeth into it savor it. You and I are the light of the world. What does it mean? Well, let me suggest some possibilities.
- We Have a Responsibility for the World.
- We Have Something the World Desperately Needs.
- We Are Not the Source of Our Light, but We Reflect a Much Greater Light.
What Kind of Pillar Are You?
Who are the pillars of the church? If others look to you as a “pillar of the church,” what kind of pillar are you?
Jesus answers that question in our gospel reading for this morning, but to get to his answer we’ve got to exercise the discipline of historical context. We’ve got to put his words and images in the context of the culture of his day. So here we go . . .
Anyone who has ever had a class on Greek and Roman culture has had to recall and recognize the three distinctive types of architectural columns used to support the stately monuments, temples, and public buildings that adorned their world. Let’s see how well you remember your columns…anyone?
I’ll give a hint: Doric is one.
There you go. The three are the Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian. These three styles of supportive pillars framed the graceful entrances of some of the most imposing, majestic architectural wonders the world has ever known. Yet today they stand in ruins. Time, decay, wars, earthquakes, floods have left us little to look at except a few of those stately pillars. The glory of the Parthenon, the grandeur of the Coliseum, are merely hinted at by the few remaining columns that still stand upright and intact, like the bones of some long extinct dinosaur. The pillars remain. But the people and powers that put them up long ago crumbled into the dust of history.
In the ancient world pillars could be either a sign of welcome or a sign of warning: a portal into new possibilities, or a symbol of a last outpost, a sign of the end.
The so-called “Pillars of Hercules” — the mountain peaks that flank either side of the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar — have shared both of those titles. The Pillars supposedly marked the farthest reaches of Hercules’ journeys during his “twelve labors.” They were symbols of the end of the world and were believed to be inscribed with the warning “nec plus ultra” — “nothing further beyond.” The original understanding of the Pillars of Hercules was as a huge “do not enter” sign before the waters of the unknown and the worlds that lay beyond the Mediterranean. Too many “pillars of the church” are like these “Pillars of Hercules” beyond whom no one might sail.
But by the time of Charles V, aka “the Holy Roman Emperor,” the symbol of the Pillars of Hercules offered a different message. As Spanish explorers sails across the Atlantic to the Americas these “Pillars” were re-christened to proclaim “Plus Ultra” — “Further Beyond.” In other words, the Pillars had gone from being a protective gate closing in the Mediterranean to being the entrance gate opening into a whole new world of possibilities.
These are the kinds of “Pillars of the Church” that Jesus summons forth...