One of my favourite hymns is “I am the light of the world. You people come and follow me. If you follow and love you will learn the mystery of what you were meant to do and be.” This song alludes to Jesus who said “I am the light of the world” in John’s gospel (8:12). What he said in Matthew and Luke’s gospel, however, was “You are the light of the world.” He said this on the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel and the sermon on the plain in Luke’s. Biblical scholars stated that Jesus would have taught the same teachings in variety of places. What is also remarkable about this statement is that Jesus taught this message when the multitude of crowd had gathered. So when he was saying these things, he did not speak to the first row of people who were his disciples. This teaching went out to everyone who gathered. To them, he said plainly, “You are the light of the world” even though they may have heard Jesus for the first time, even though they had not dropped their nets to follow Jesus, and even though they may have been prostitutes, or collectors and other sinners in the crowd. He said to them all, “You are the light of the world.” In other words, the Divine light is in you. It is your birth right. It is in your constitution. It is in your blood, bones, and DNA. It is in your breath, your strength and in your soul.
Can you imagine a television evangelist addressing non Christians, atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions “You are the light of the world!?” He would never say it because he would believe that only Christians are the light of the world. He would go on at great length to talk about who would be in and who would be out, who would be qualified and who would not. Jesus, however, made no such distinctions. Most of the people in the crowd were not Christians. Some were outcasts. Some were poor, deaf, emotionally distressed, and some were considered ritually unclean. Some were sinners, and some were pagans following Greco Roman religions. Knowing that Jesus did not say “Only some of you are light of the world.”
The other thing that Jesus did not say was that “You must become the light of the world.” If he said that then, it becomes a challenge that we need to strive for. It would be very difficult for the most of us. Rather Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” Not, “You can become the light of the world.” Or “With the right beliefs and hard work you can achieve being the light of the world.” Jesus simply said, “You are the light of the world right now.” Some in the audience might think. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not even one of your followers. And even if I was, I don’t feel holy. I am not qualified. I am poor, sick, crippled, and ugly. I don’t keep all the rules. I had sinful thoughts about my neighbour’s wife last night. So, come on, Jesus. Get real.” What is real is that Jesus said that you are the light of the world and he did not make any exceptions.
What is remarkable is that Jesus used the same words to describe himself when he said, “I am the light of the world.” Similarly, we too are divine spiritual beings living a human life just like he was. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955), philosopher, paleontologist and Jesuit priest said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” The wisdom, the love, and compassion with which Jesus lived are available to us as well. Or as mystical poet Hafiz said, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your being.” God lives inside everyone of us. God wants the light within us to shine. The Spirit wants us to be connected to that light within and be transformed by it.
The light is already inside of us. It has always been there. It has never left us. We do not need to get it. It is already there. Jesus simply said, do not put your lamp under a bushel basket but on a lamp stand to give light to all in the house. As we are conscious of the astonishing light of our being, then we can begin to radiate it out everyday. We can become much more conscious of the Divine light in the depths of prayer, reflection, and worship and come to the realization that our light comes from God of All Light. The light of God shines from the depth of our true self. God’s light shines in more ways than we can imagine. When we went to Art Gallery of Ontario last Sunday to see the Mystical Landscapes special exhibit, some of the artists painted pictures of landscapes as if they were radiating the light of God. The pictures were vibrant, filled with certain energy, and vitality. The paintings made me realize once again that God’s love and spirit, life and vitality expresses itself all over the world and throughout the universe, including our own human selves and human lives.
We do see the light of God shining in all kinds of ways. We see the light shining through in the meals that the UCW prepared and were served at the Out of the Cold on Friday. We see the light in the compassion that has been shown to the Muslim community after the massacre at a mosque in Quebec City. We see the light when we are moved to the suffering of the refugees and we respond with generosity.
I saw this in an individual when I went to a funeral this past Wednesday. I attended the funeral service for The Very Rev. Sang Chul Lee. He became the moderator of the United Church in 1988 and later the chancellor of the Victoria University. I was very fortunate to have him as my minister when I was growing up. When I was graduating from Emmanuel College, he was the one who conferred my Master of Divinity degree. At the funeral, I was amazed to hear the stories about his ministry, his big heart as well as his sense of humour. One of the stories was about the time when he was nominated as the moderator. Someone asked him on the floor of the General Council, “You are a foreigner, you are not born in this country. You don’t even speak English properly. So, can you tell me why you feel qualified to be the moderator?” Rev. Lee replied, “I am qualified because I am short. I am qualified because I have a beard. But most importantly, I am qualified because I have a big heart – to care and love the people from all different backgrounds.” In hearing all the stories about the work he did and who he was, I was able to see God in him, and that he shone the light of God in his life and ministry. Indeed, he was able to do all those things because the spirit of God was strong within him.
The other thing that I felt at the funeral was how puny my ministry is in comparison. It is never good to compare myself with a spiritual giant like Rev. Lee. At the same time, he has inspired me, no not to grow my beard like him, but to shine the little light of mine however tiny it may be. The light of God is within all us to shine. It needs to be put on a lamp stand. It must not be hidden. We must not be shy about shining the light of God that is in our true selves. So let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Thanks be to God.