2 Corinthians 9:11-13 & Matthew 5:14-16
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 8, 2017
We who follow Christ are here for a purpose: to shine the light of God’s love and life on to our neighbors.
Jesus is the light of the world, but we become that light as we reflect His light on to others.
So, how are we doing in that regard?
Astronomers talk about the “albedo” of celestial bodies. The term indicates the degree to which, say, a planet reflects the light it receives from the sun. Thus, Venus has an albedo of .65, returning to the universe almost two thirds of the light the sun shines upon it, while the moon has an albedo of only 7%.
Every Christian and every church has a spiritual albedo, and is asked to aim for 100% reflectivity.
A valuable, albeit imperfect, means for measuring our albedo is whether our neighborhood is glad we are there. It is of course an imperfect measurement since even the best churches get mixed reviews from the larger community. For there are always neighbors whose agenda is antithetical to God’s. That means, by the way, that annoying certain neighbors might be a back-handed confirmation that a church is on the right track!
So, what about this church? The truth is that there are some neighbors who are not glad we’re here. Some see us as an impediment to the triumph of certain progressive values. Others see us as a business that uses up scarce community resources such as street parking (neglecting to notice we actually increase the stock of neighborhood parking by making our lot available to the community every night); others see us as one that free-loads by not paying its fair share of taxes for governmental services (neglecting to notice we actually pay quite a few taxes and we reduce the need for some governmental services in the area such as policing); and still others see us as one that draws into the neighborhood undesirable people such as rowdy kids (neglecting to notice we actually engage them in constructive activity when they might otherwise be up to no good).
Conversely, many community members see Covenant as a beneficial asset to Long Beach. Just a month ago, City Council Representative Lena Gonzalez, in remarks at a City-wide meeting, gratuitously singled out Covenant three times as a great partner in serving the needs of Long Beach and enhancing its well-being. She is joined by many who thank us for the arts and music events we put on for the community, the after-school program with which we help families regardless of whether they belong to the church, the way we’ve improved our block to increase public safety and neighborhood pride, and the way we contribute through involvement in community organizations to the development of downtown Long Beach.
Of course, ultimately Christians don’t live for the affirmation of anyone but God the Father. Nevertheless, Jesus tells those of us who live for God’s glory to be concerned about our image in the eyes of a watching world, not for how it might affect how people think of us, but for how it might affect how people think of Him.
Thus, when Paul urged the Corinthians to generously give financial aid to help the poor, persecuted Christians of Jerusalem, he didn’t speak only of their meeting desperate human need, but also of their moving people to give God thanks and praise.
Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount – just before He warned them about practicing their piety before others for the sake of getting people to admire them – Jesus urged His disciples to practice their piety before others for the sake of getting people to admire God. Jesus told them to pay attention to their visibility and to the impression they leave with others, in order that they might give God a good name. He commanded them not to hide their light but to let it “shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Church and Christians exist to commend God to others. We commend God by shining forth the light of His love and life: as we build an open and inclusive family where anyone is welcome to find encouragement and support, as we work at our paying jobs with integrity and diligence and concern for the community as a whole, as we volunteer in that larger community with kindness and respectfulness and a concern for justice, as we create marriages and circles of friendship that bring out the best in everyone involved, and as we sparkle with the joy and peace that comes with knowing Christ and His grace.
If we live like that, some people will think better of God. And if some people think better of God, some of them will seek God. And if some of them find God, the world will grow brighter and warmer.
Jay and Michelle lived together in a “friends-with-benefits” arrangement, sharing a common interest in living full-bore the life of partying and drug use.
The Allens, Jay’s parents, were gracious followers of Jesus who, with a high albedo, let His light shine through them. Though they felt dismay and anxiety over the lifestyle choices their son and his girlfriend were making, they never judged or criticized Jay and Michelle. Rather they treated them with respect, consideration and patience. They frequently invited them over for dinner, often provided them groceries in emergencies, and kept telling them they were praying for them. They made God’s love visible to Jay and Michelle.
So, when Jay and Michelle began to reap what they had long been sowing, and their lives began to fall apart, and their hearts grew sick, they turned to the Allens for help and guidance. Seeing the Allens as steadier supports than anyone else they knew, feeling the genuineness of their caring, and sensing the vibrant hope they had, Jay and Michelle even began attending church sometimes with them.
One thing led to another. Jay and Michelle grew scared of their own behavior, and of their inability to change the trajectory of their lives – even while they grew daring enough, out of their desperation, and out of their faith in the faith of those they admired, to try to avail of the supernatural presence of which the Allens and others at church spoke. Eventually, Jay and Michelle each struck up a friendship with Christ that transformed who they are and what they do.
They both now are caring, kind, gracious, generous-hearted and happy people. They both now hold down good-paying jobs; and in their spare time they both mentor young people, speaking freely about the foolishness of their youth, in order to encourage the new youth to find the best path. Jay and Michelle have become the kind of people anyone would be glad to have in the neighborhood.
And it all happened because some folks had a pretty good albedo and reflected on to them the light of God‘s love and life. Let us follow their example!