February 4-5, 2017
Matthew 5:13-20 – 5 Epiphany A – 2-5-17
In the book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum tells how he found purpose in life. He took a course on Greek culture at an Orthodox retreat center on the Island of Crete. A man named Alexander Papaderos had built the center. After World War II, Papaderos became disturbed by the hatred his people still had for the Germans, so he built a meeting place where people could come to make peace, to talk, and try to understand one another. He built the center on the site where Nazi soldiers had brutally murdered thousands of Cretan civilians. For years, people had come from all over the world to share in the love and grace of Dr. Papaderos and to learn a better way.
Fulghum raised his hand and asked, “Dr. Papaderos, what’s the meaning of life?”
The class chuckled, but Papaderos nodded and said, “I will answer your question.”
Taking his billfold out of his pocket, he brought out a small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. He told about growing up poor in a small village on Crete. One day during the war, a German motorcycle wrecked near his home, and Alexander picked up a piece of the broken mirror from the motorcycle. He scratched it on a stone to round off the edges, and then began to play with the mirror as a toy. He became fascinated that he could use the mirror to reflect sunlight into places where light would never shine. It became a game to get the light into dark places.
As he grew into a man, Papaderos began to realize that this was more than a child’s game, it was a metaphor for what he wanted to do with his life. He understood that he wasn’t the source of the light, but the light was there—the light of truth, understanding, knowledge—and it would only shine in the dark places if he reflected it.
Papaderos told the class, “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the black places in [our hearts] – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. This may be confusing because, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Both are true. Our job is to reflect and shine Christ’s light into the dark places. What’s missing from the English translation and Alexander Papaderos’ wonderful story is that the text says, “You ALL are the light of the world.” There’s an African proverb that says, simply, “I am because we are.” One’s identity is connected to the larger group. We know that one candle can destroy a whole lot of darkness, but a city on a hill can be seen for 100 miles. Our church is that city on a hill reflecting Christ’s light into the world by what we say and what we do. This congregation is engaged in our community, our Synod, and the world. We are invested in Coleman Middle School and in the Community Breakfasts and in Mision San Juan de Dios and a host of other worthy organizations and causes. We support missionaries and new congregations and campus ministries. True to our mission, we are “Servants of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, to make Christ known.” We have learned that, together, we can do more than I could do or you could do alone.
The biggest limitation of our light is the absence of more of us. For that reason, I’m going to ask you to do something that I can’t (at least not yet). Look around you. Notice who’s missing who used to be there. Call them. Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you miss them. Look around you and see who is new. Welcome them. Exchange names. Tell them you’re glad they are here. Remember, we ALL are the light of the world.
This story is floating around the internet. It has been attributed to Billy Graham, but it’s not his story. It may be urban legend or the story of an exceptional pastor of a few generations ago.
A member of a small country church in the Midwest had suddenly stopped coming to worship. After a few weeks, the pastor made a visit to his home. He was invited into the living room where a fire was burning in the fireplace. The two men sat in comfortable chairs and watched the fire for several minutes. The pastor got up, took the fire tongs, and lifted an ember from the fire and moved it off to the side. Then he sat back down. The men watched silently as lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more.
The pastor got up to leave and his host followed him to the door. With eyes filled with tears he told his pastor, “I’ll be back in church on Sunday.”
You all are the light of the world. Shine. Reflect. Together. Amen
__ Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It (paperback), NY, NY: Ballantine Books, 1991, pp. 170-175.