Revelation 21:22-27; Matthew 4:12-17

3rd Sunday of Lent

St Barbara’s; 07.03.2021

Rev Tulo Raistrick

In the last few days we have seen some absolutely remarkable pictures of Mars, sent down from Nasa’s Perseverance Rover. From a robot controlled remotely from millions of miles away, photographs have been sent back of incredible detail and quality. My mind can’t even begin to compute the levels of technological skill needed to achieve such a task. It is truly astounding. And yet without light, all the sophistication and brilliant scientific breakthroughs needed to make the Mars landing and rover expedition possible would have come to naught. Without light, we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Light, for all our technological advances, remains one of our essential needs in life.

It is why light is such an important analogy for us when talking about our daily experiences. We talk about going through “dark times” or of seeing “light at the end of the tunnel”. We need light. And on our spiritual journey, the journey we have been thinking about over the last few weeks, we need light too – light to guide our feet to prevent us from stumbling and falling; light to show us the way; light to give us hope.

Often people can bring us that light. Jesus said of John the Baptist to those questioning him, “John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.” In the darkness of first century Israel, the people experiencing the oppression of foreign rule, the worship of the Temple feeling dry and compromised, John came offering light to the path ahead, calling people to repent and prepare to receive the good news of Christ. At a time of confusion and darkness, John came and shone a lamp on the path ahead. Many responded to his call, so that when Jesus came, there were people ready to listen, ready to follow.

Providing light on the path ahead is immensely important. There have been numerous times over the years when people have done that for me. I think of a time at university when a good friend, out the blue, committed suicide, and the college chaplain spent time with me, talking with me, helping me find light in the darkness of grief and loss. I think of a time when a few years later I was at a crossroads, burnt out, unsure what to do, recuperating from a long illness, and a good friend sat down with me and talked and helped me find light in what had become for me a dark situation. And I think of a couple, who by their example of hospitality, welcome and inclusion, shone a light for me on how life could be lived with generosity and joy.

Earlier we heard from Jessica about one of her parents’ carers shining a light, being a person of encouragement and inspiration. I wonder who for you have been those lamps, those sources of light, in your life. Who has helped you in dark times? Who has helped to shine a light on your path? Who has been a source of inspiration, helping you to see something more of Christ? Some traditions in the church give a lot of emphasis to saints’ days, celebrating and giving thanks for the lives of Christians in the past who have been an inspiration, a shining light, to many. I wonder who have been your personal saints, living or no longer with us, those Christians who for just a short time, or for throughout your life, have shone a light for you. Just for a moment, take time to remember them and give thanks to God for them.

As we think of others being lamps, so Jesus encourages us to be lamps in his world too. He told his followers: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, 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.” Jesus isn’t asking us here to trumpet what we do, or to draw attention to ourselves and brag about who we are or what we have done. Indeed, to do so is to distort the light, even potentially snuff it out all together. Instead, it is allowing the light of Christ that is within us to shine out through the way we act – with gentleness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. By caring for the needs of others; by standing up for justice.

Christ lives in us. All his light is wanting to burst out of us. Rather than covering it up with our selfishness, we are called to let it shine out through our daily actions. Just as we have given thanks for others who have been lamps for us, how might we ourselves be lamps for others this week? How can we shine some hope and love into people’s lives? Take a moment now to consider what you may do.

In her Lent course, Lentwise, which a number of the church small groups are exploring this Lent, Paula Gooder draws a helpful distinction between lamps and light. John the Baptist, those who have helped us, we ourselves, are lamps. We are not the source of light, but kindled by it, we shine out that light in the world. The one true light is Christ. He is the great light that Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah as foretelling, the one whose light has dawned upon the world. And it is a light that does more than reveal the way, important though that is. Christ’s light is like the sun – it nourishes, it enables growth and life, it provides warmth, it fills the whole earth. Indeed, as our reading from Revelation shows, Christ is the ultimate source of life. In beautifully poetic language the writer of Revelation says that where Christ dwells there is no need even for the sun; for he alone is sufficient source of light, in his light all things gain life.

When we think about our spiritual essentials for the journey of life, it is a helpful reminder that ultimately it is Christ who is our light. There are times when we can become overly dependent on others to carry us in our faith, to inspire us or show us the way. We may rely on others in our family, or others in our church who have a strong faith, and whilst there are times of darkness that all of us go through where we need the light that their faith can provide, if we come to rely on them to provide the permanent source of light we will end up being disappointed. For all of us are just reflections on the one true light, and none of us can do that fully without distortion or detraction. So this Lent, bring your focus back to Christ. Allow his light to fill you, to nurture you, to help you grow.

So let us give thanks to God for those who are lamps in our lives, guiding us, helping us live out our faith. Let us seek to be lamps ourselves, allowing our words and actions to shine forth with the light of Christ. And let us continually come back to Christ, focusing on him, as the one who alone can dispel the darkness of our lives and bring us to a place of life and growth.