By Paul Lutter
Recently on Facebook, a friend of mine posted a picture he had taken of a lighthouse. In this picture we see small waves of water spraying against the snow-speckled rock upon which the lighthouse is perched. Taken on a sunlit day, the picture of the lighthouse looks quiet and still.
As beautiful as this picture is, lighthouses aren’t made for calm, sunlit days. Lighthouses do their best work in the midst of darkness and fog to illumine where there is hope of safe harbor. Lighthouses also shine light on those who are in trouble on the water so that others can identify where and when help is needed.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). It’s neither the first nor the last time in John’s Gospel that Jesus is identified as light. In the first chapter, Jesus is the “light (that) shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5). In the ninth chapter, Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).
As “light of the world,” Jesus Christ our lighthouse shines the light of his grace, love and hope into a dark, hidden world where people are hungry and thirsty, homeless and impoverished, abused and abandoned, dying and dejected and otherwise hurting and in need all over the world God so loves. When Christ shines in the darkness of our world, there is real hope for safe harbor.
In these hidden spaces, Jesus Christ our lighthouse reveals and uncovers the hurts and needs of the world so that the church may clearly see how and where we are called to live out what Martin Luther calls the “love and care of the neighbor.”
Jesus Christ is our lighthouse, who, as “light of the world” shines “in the darkness” not only in the world, but also for the church.
When “the light shines in the darkness,” though, it shines all over the place, identifying not just the needs and concerns of those whom we would serve. The light also shines on the church, revealing where, when and how we are in need of God’s love and mercy, healing and hope, grace and forgiveness.
One of the primary ways that Christ’s light shines for the church is to unmoor the church from thinking that we cannot be Christ’s torchbearers of God’s love and grace in the world because there’s just too much pain and suffering in the world to be at all effective. To that, Christ’s light points us not to the whole world but maybe to specific places and instances where our hands and feet, hearts and voices can be agents of hope for the sake of the gospel.
Christ’s light also scatters the church’s darkness of worrying that too much focus outside of the walls of a congregation will mean diminished ministry for the members of the congregation. This is a large concern for many. Yet when Christ’s love shines in such a way to call us outside our walls and into the world, Christ’s promise is that ministry will not diminish but flourish in ways we cannot even begin to fathom.
Christ’s light also clears the throats and voices of those who believe they have nothing to say — or that they might say the wrong thing — when speaking up and out in the name of Jesus Christ. While this is widespread, it is really born not out of faith but fear. When such fear arises, the church needs to hear again the good news of the gospel and receive again the Lord’s Supper, where Christ’s body and blood are given not abstractly but specifically to and for you. Because of this good news and these gifts given to and for us, there is much to share about how God loves and forgives us in Christ. Set to the tune of humility and thankfulness, the point of our message is not to inundate or intimidate but rather to invite people into the light and love of Jesus Christ by sharing how we have been wrapped in the hope of safe harbor.
When and where Christ’s light shines for the church in these ways and God’s Spirit is loosed amongst us in word and sacrament, we are set on fire, our eyes, hearts, minds, voices and lives are turned inside out, and we become actively and passionately concerned and involved in the world God loves.