Be The Light You Already Are
According to childhood friend and biographer, Lewis Campbell, James was “one of the best men who ever lived.” He was known for things like:
- sending a heartfelt letter of condolence when a friend’s dog died
- Volunteering at the first college for tradesmen in England
- Who nursed his dying father and later his wife
- Kindness and generosity
He was a salt of the earth kind of fellow. His grave is in a relatively unknown place, is unremarkable and not often visited despite the fact that he made one of the greatest contributions to our modern science. A contribution upon which so much of what we take for granted today relies – everything from radar to microwaves, to imaging technology to radios and TVs to wireless communication. Who was this? And What did he discover?
James Maxwell explained the essence of light. Well, he discovered that light was an electromagnetic wave, that is, that light is made up of an electric field and a magnetic field that oscillate perpendicular to one another and travel through space – sort of dancing with one another to create the waves we call light.
Now, I am very certain that Matthew (the gospel writer) did not know Maxwell (since Maxwell lived hundreds and hundreds of years later). Yet, Matthew has something to say about the essence of light as well.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
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 says that when it comes to the world around us, you are the essence of light. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say: You are, at your very essence, the light of the world.
It would have been a fabulous conversation to put these Matthew and James Maxwell together in the same room to talk about the science and the spirituality of light. You are light. And light is electric and magnetic.
You are electric and you are magnetic. Now those are things I like to hear people say about me! But what does it really means?
You are electric – that is, you are charged, you have power to make things come alive, you are made of energy that get things going, you are the spark the world needs.
And God, the ultimate source of light, is the one who charged us. That you are light is no accident. Light must have a source. And by reminding us that God is our Father, Matthew reminds us that the source of our light is God.
You are magnetic – that is, you are a charge that is in motion, you are moving, going somewhere, actually pushing and pulling and changing things around you.
This is who you are: a being charged by God with power and energy to set this world in motion. I would say that is a pretty good description whether or not Matthew knew that light was an electromagnetic wave!
And Matthew not only says that you are light, but that you are to shine, you are to illuminate that world around you. I love the way that Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message translation of Matthew:
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.
You are a power, an energy that is moving to illuminate the God colors of the world for all to see.
The question is what kind of power? And what kind of movement? What kind of energy are you? And what are you putting in motion?
What kind of light are you?
There are certainly different kinds of light in this world. The electromagnetic spectrum is quite wide from radio wave as long as Jupiter to gamma rays that are smaller than an atom. And somewhere in the middle are the waves that we know as visible light. Some of those electromagnetic waves are good for life, others can destroy life.
But Matthew tells us what kind of light we are in God’s kingdom. His answer is found right before our passage today…what we read last week…the beatitudes. Listen to the structure of these passages together:
Blessed are those… Blessed are you…. You are salt…you are light…
There is a clear connection. Matthew first states what God’s people are about as kingdom citizens. Then Matthew shift from generic declarations about how kingdom citizens act to ensuring that we understand that he is talking about us. Here is what my people do and you are those people….so go out and do it!
Now we could talk all day about exactly how we shine a light which is poor, merciful, peacemaking, and so on. But I do not even want to get that far today. Because the truth Matthew is telling us is that we are those things. We we charged and energized with the potential for those kind of actions. We are set in motion by those acts, moving towards those ways that are blessed.
So own it! Claim it! Do it! Be the light that you already are!
It is your essence. It is what you were made for. It is your very nature having been made in God’s image. So let your light shine! You are light! Everyone of you!
Be the light you already are!