Sunday 29 January 2023

Jesus bids us shine

Jesus bids us shine with a clear pure light

Like a little candle burning in the night

He looks down from heaven to see us shine

You in your small corner and I in mine.

Yes. It’s a children’s Sunday school song, a song of encouragement. Potentially there exists a purity, a light that lies within us and can shine through the day-to-day darkness of our lives, shine through the darkness of this world. If we kindle or rekindle this light it can be a work in progress hopefully growing ever brighter through age, experience, and faith. You will remember those words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount those words of letting your light shine before you, he said:

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

What we can we say about this light is that this light is an inner light, and when we are aware of this inner light, that divine spark as it sometimes known, we have to know, we have to recognise that this particular light needs to be nurtured and grown. This inner light which is really our connection with God. It’s a light that not only needs to be nurtured, fed and fanned into flame it has to be protected and sustained. So as in the words of that other song we sing, This Little Light of Mine, we sing ‘ain’t nobody gonna blow it out, I’m going to make it shine,’ In other words we are not going to be discouraged, we are not going to be taken off that path of righteousness, that path that Jesus lays before us when he said, ‘take up your cross and follow me’ in the words of John Bunyan who in the same spirit wrote those famous words: ‘There’s no discouragement will make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.’ The spiritual life is therefore not a passive thing not something we can simply take for granted with ease, but something we have to strive for.

When Jesus sought to encourage his listeners, he prefixed his stories his parables with that phrase: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like,’ or ‘The Kingdom of Heaven will be like.’ For example, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustards seed planted in a field’ (Matt 13:31), The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a women used in baking bread (13:33). Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like the ten bridesmaids who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. (25:1)

The New Living Translation Bible gives us the Parable of the Three Servants (14-30) traditionally we’d probably remember it as the Parable of the Talents, but again, it begins with these words of Jesus saying, ‘The kingdom of Heaven will be like,’ or in this particular translation it reads as follows:

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ 

Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Now we can read and understand the meaning of this story in more than one way. You can read it and take your own meaning from it. But we have to understand, the Parable of the Talents or the Parable of the Three Servants in its true meaning. We can do this quite easily if we take Jesus at his word because he says right at the beginning of this story that it’s a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, he says:

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.

So, when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of Heaven, I can assure you that in regard to this last parable mentioned about bags of silver, that that he wasn’t acting as a property guru when he told this story. He wasn’t some prosperity gospel preacher telling everyone that God wants to make us all rich and that what we in our prayers should demand wealth riches and worldly success from him because real faith isn’t about getting rich, real faith isn’t about getting in with the in-crowd and the pages of the Bible are not copied from the money pages of the Daily Mail. We should remember that only one of the twelve disciples who was concerned with money was Judas Iscariot. If getting rich and having lots of money was what Jesus wanted for us, he would have said so, but he didn’t. In fact, he said quite the opposite. We’ve only got read his Sermon on the Mount, words that are central to the Christian faith to know this so he said:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths can eat them, and thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Just think about those words! A few weeks ago, I asked that question, ‘where is your joy? If you don’t know, where that joy can be found, may I suggest you might find it in that four-letter word, that four letter word that spells l-o-v-e, love. It’s printed on that plaque right outside our chapel doors, go and read it, ‘to love God and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.’ Such poverty it is to live without love or to love inadequately, to let resentment and anger get in the way, to blame others for our own discontent; to blame God even. That’s what Adam did. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve, he said, ‘It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Eve who succumbed to temptation, in the garden of Eden. The third servant in the parable we have just heard was given a bag of silver. He played the blame game too. Never mind what the other two servants were given, because he too was given a precious gift all the same. You know, our God doesn’t work on the basis of fairness as we understand that concept in our own limited way. God’s ways are not our ways, if we don’t understand that we will never grow up, we’ll remain forever like children with that plaintiff whinge, ‘its not fair’.

That bag of silver, given to the third servant, that gift of trust should have been used, it should have been burnished, it should have been polished it should have been lovingly invested in. The third servant should have found joy in that gift. That gift that the master gives, the gift that God may give to each of us in varying proportion according to his judgement not ours. All we have to do is to realise the enormity of that gift, the privilege of life itself, that bag of silver, waiting to be discovered, to discover that inner light, our own inner light and power it with love and gratitude that is the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven here and now and in the promise of eternity. Remember those words of Jesus:

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:21

That is our treasure from God, and our task and our duty, our joy is not to turn our back on him not to bury him in the earth, not to blame him for our own neglect and wickedness and say, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate’. No! not to do or say any of these things but rather to acknowledge the gifts we have been given in this our earthly existence, to acknowledge what privileges each of us has been afforded by the providence and the grace of God. We can love, we should love God, we must love God because he loved us first. (1 John 4:19)





The Light Shines in the Darkness

Micah was a prophet of the eighth century BC who prophesied in Jerusalem against those who were ruthlessly exploiting their fellow citizens, he prophesied against the tyrannical ruling class, against the rapacious landlords and the injustices that took place in the courts. The prophet Micah, also spoke out against the priests in the holy city of Jerusalem, those priests who were motivated by personal gain, those priests who used their influence as men of God to support the highest bidder: those who would pay them the most to publicly preach what they wanted to hear. Micah prophesied that all of this wickedness would lead to God’s punishment, the destruction not only of Samaria in the north but also of Jerusalem itself, but in spite of all these dire warnings, Micah said that there would come a time; a new age when the ruined Jerusalem would be redeemed by God and that a saviour for Israel and the world would be born in Bethlehem. Through Micah God said:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

are only a small village among all the people of Judah.

Yet a ruler of Israel,

whose origins are in the distant past,

will come from you on my behalf. (5:2)

There is an interpretation of these words in that well known carol:

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

I mention this because this carol is inspired by that particular text from Micah (5:2), his prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Hundreds of years later, after Micah, Israel was under Roman rule. But the prophecy had not been forgotten and indeed there was an expectation that Christ would be born in Bethlehem, that the birth of the Messiah was imminent. Indeed, in the Gospel of Matthew we have that account of the Magi, the wise men seeking that child who was born the King of the Jews and we remember those chilling words of King Herod, by whom they were summoned. Herod said, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back, and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

Chilling words we know, because Herod was later to send soldiers in and around Bethlehem to kill all the male children who were aged two years and under. Herod’s vain and bloody attempt to forestall the prophecy. Herod’s attempt to undermine what had been divinely ordained, Herod’s attempt to undermine God. Herod failed to kill the infant Jesus as we know. Thus, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, Jesus of the royal line of David, in the town of David, Israel’s greatest king.

 Mostly at Christmas we revisit the Christmas story, the two stories actually, the first one as you know, from the Gospel of Luke, the visit of the shepherds to the infant Jesus, lying as the angels said he would be, in a manger and then of course the later visit by the Magi who brought the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Turning now to the Gospel of John which offers no nativity story. But rather with John, we are provided with a spiritual portrait of Jesus as the light, thus:

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

John in his gospel, his account of the life of Jesus, wanted his readers to know for sure that John the Baptist, although he had a great following and his own disciples, that John was not the Christ, but that he was only a witness to the life and future ministry of Jesus: the true light, Jesus, the light of the world. What John wants us to know, is that in that event he writes about, that night in Bethlehem; God was breaking into human history. Jesus the Son of God was born and was the light that the darkness could not overcome. This is John’s spiritual portrait of Jesus. Jesus was not just born simply as the fulfilment of a prophecy, not just born from the line of David the greatest king, but born of God, born of the Holy Spirit. Both man and God, flesh and spirit, this is what the Gospel of John tells us, this is who John tells us Jesus is.

John said that Christ came into the very world he created but the world didn’t recognise him. He said that Jesus came to his own people and even they rejected him. Let’s think about those dark narrow streets of Bethlehem, and another kind of darkness, the darkness of sin, the darkness of cruelty, the darkness of the crimes against humanity and all the things wrong with the world. The darkness of sin; everybody, even the worst sinners, want to have a good opinion of themselves, to be praised, to have nice things said about themselves. We all do. Nobody wants to be told what their faults are or even wants to face up to the fact that they are less than perfect, the truth is we are much worse than that! Far less than perfect. When you live in that kind of darkness, and are confronted by holiness it’s like coming out of a dark room into intense sunlight, when confronted by holiness, it’s too much to bear when that light of truth, that revealing light comes to shine on us. So, Christ came into the world, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. Perhaps it was just too much for most people. Even so, John said:

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born in us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel Amen


Photograph by Gustave Doré - Bible by Doré, Public Domain,