Epiphany 5a, Sunday, February 9, 2014

February 10, 2014

LED’S – Light Emitting Disciples
Matthew 5:13-20

13 “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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I’m in my fourth year here at QQUMC, and as many of you have come to understand, I’m one of those dinosaurs who preaches from the lectionary. That means nothing to some of you, but the lectionary is this three year cycle of weekly scripture lessons. And while there are four different lessons each week — one from the Old Testament (sometimes known as the Hebrew Scripture), one from Psalms, one from the Epistles, and one from one of the Gospels – I almost always focus on the Gospel reading. There is interesting material in all of the readings, but I’m not just a dinosaur – I’m a scriptural snob. I tend to place more value on the Gospels than I do on the other parts of the Bible.

I know I shouldn’t be like that, but I am. Sometimes I’ll deviate from the suggested Gospel reading but not often. I like to wrestle with what Jesus is reported to have said or done. I hate that you don’t get a fair and balanced view of the Bible. When you hear me preach you get a very narrow view of the Bible. There are 66 books in the Bible and I generally preach from 4 of them. The Lectionary is a 3-year cycle, and as I said, I’m in my fourth year here, so that means you are now hearing sermons on passages that I’ve already preached from. I don’t simply recycle sermons, but I always take a look at what I’ve previously preached.

It’s not always a good experience for me to see what I’ve said. It frequently reminds me that you are a very gracious group of people, but even if I like what I’ve said I like to come up with something different. I’m not saying I don’t do any recycling of old sermon parts, but I try to put together a new creature each week.

You probably don’t remember my sermon from four years ago on this passage (I didn’t), but in that sermon I focused on the salt metaphor. How we aspiring disciples are to be the salt of the earth. I love salt, and it’s easy for me to talk about salt. I’ll probably share my passion for salt when this passage comes back around in four years, but today I want to talk about the other powerful metaphor that Jesus lifted up in today’s passage – light. How we are to be the light of the world.

Embracing the image of discipleship as light is a timely image because the world of lighting is undergoing a revolution. I don’t have a great understanding of how the various options for lighting actually operate, but please indulge me as I share my limited understanding of the new world of lighting. Our most trusted and familiar form of lighting is about to pass away, and it is being replaced by two relatively new options for lighting. As many of you know, the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs is currently becoming phased out here in the United States. Some larger wattage bulbs have already been banned from production, and in the coming years they will all disappear.

Thomas Edison’s bulb has served us well, but the truth is that his bulbs create more heat than light. When you see an incandescent light bulb you are witnessing a tungsten wire having enough electricity passing through it to make it glow, which means it has reached a temperature just over 4000 degrees, but it doesn’t burn up because it’s in a vacuum and there’s no oxygen to enable it to actually catch on fire. It was an ingenious invention, but it’s not the most efficient way to generate light, so we now have these new options.

Flourescent bulbs have been around for a while, and they are much more efficient because they create light by passing electricity through a gas that glows under very specific circumstances. It took a while for scientists to figure out how to package that process in a bulb small enough to screw in to a conventional light fixture. These are called compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs, and those are what you will now primarily find on the lighting aisle at Target or Wal-Mart. To give you an idea of how much more efficient these bulbs are, you generally get 16 lumens/watt from an incandescent bulb, but you get about 60 lumens/watt from a CFL. You don’t have to know what a lumen or a watt is to know that you get a lot more light from the same amount of energy. And that’s a good thing.

The unfortunate thing about CFLs is that they contain a trace of mercury vapor in each bulb. There are stores that provide recycling opportunities, and I’m sure that will become a larger opportunity as more and more people come to use those squiggly bulbs, but these bulbs are somewhat fragile, and because of the presence of mercury they are not providing an optimal solution to our lighting needs.

Fortunately there is another form of lighting that’s becoming more affordable and accessible. LED’s are coming our way. Light Emitting Diodes are finding their way in to our world. I don’t understand the science, but what I do understand is that they are even more efficient than CFL’s, they are more resilient, they are smaller, and they can create some cool colors. When you see those cool colors lighting our local bridges you are looking at LED’s. And at this very moment there are some LED’s shining on me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how bright and shiney our chancel area is, but that’s due to a bank of LEDs that we’ve placed in the balcony.

In fact the trustees are generating a plan on how to replace the bulbs in our chandeliers, and we will probably be putting LEDs up there. How we are going to do that is an adventure of it’s own and one you will probably hear about in a sermon sometime, but for now just know that LEDs are on their way and I’m excited about it.

But the truth is there have always been some LEDs in this sanctuary. Because this is a place where light emitting disciples have been gathering for decades. You may have been wondering when this science lesson was going to turn back in to a sermon, and this is that moment because I see a lot of similarity between theses two types of LEDs. These new light bulbs that we call LEDs are are efficient, robust, compact, colorful, and costly and I’m thinking these same characteristics apply to disciples.

Disciples are to be efficient. Jesus called for us to be singlminded in our efforts to serve God. He didn’t have much patience with frivolous religious observations, but he was a teacher of the truth that had come through the people of Israel, and he wanted us to hold fast to those essential truths. Jesus doesn’t want us to waste our time and effort on meaningless pursuits. Jesus wants us to pour our energy in to the work of revealing the truth of God’s love for us all. Israel itself was established to be a light unto the world, and we are to do a better job of sharing that light than the scribes and Pharisees.

Disciples are to be robust – Jesus wants us to be strong. There are a lot of good hearted people who collapse when things get difficult. And following Jesus is not just hard – it’s all but impossible. We’re going to fail as individuals – we’re going to fail as a church, but we don’t need to give up when we fall short because we aren’t alone in this endeavor. We aren’t to be like those bulbs that shatter when they hit the ground. We are to be solid light-emitters that can hit the ground, get picked up, dusted off, and used again.

And when I think of what it means for disciples to be compact I think it means that a little light can go a long way. The other night I went to sleep without covering up the little green diode that’s on one of the electronic devices in our bedroom. I woke up in the middle of the night and found myself wondering who had turned the light on in the bedroom. That small light that I hardly notice during the day or even when I first turn the light off had filled the room with light. A little light can go a long way in a dark world. A kind act can have implications far beyond it’s immediate circumstance.

The different colors that come from LED light bulbs reminds me of the different ways disciples are configured. We are engergized in different ways and we are called to different work. Some people have the mistaken belief that Christians all behave and believe the same things. Yes, there is a basic foundation – our foundation is the love of the one God who made heaven and earth along with God’s revealed desire for justice and peace to prevail, and we are to build on that foundation in as creative a manner as we can. We are free to express our faith in God as beautifully and diversely as we can imagine.

But none of this is easy or cheap. The price of an LED light bulb surpasses the price of an incandescent or a CFL, and the reason is that they shine brighter, they last longer, and they are more complex to create. All of this can be said of a light emitting disciple. It’s not easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It requires us to navigate a world that wants simple answers for complex problems. It requires courage to go against friends and institutions who don’t recognize what love requires in this day and age. Discipleship calls for us to abide by ancient wisdom in the face of shallow trends. It’s expensive to be a disciple and we must invest in enterprises that provide the best dividends for people we don’t even know. Discipleship is costly – but worth it!

So, don’t be a fragile incandescent disciple that generates more heat than light. Don’t be a bulky CFL disciple that is filled with bad gas. Be an efficient, robust, compact, and colorful light emitting disciple. It will cost you – but your impact will be priceless and eternal.

Thanks be to God – Amen!


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