Jesus said, “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. 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.”

This is what I’ll be talking about this evening. 

Jesus shares this lamp metaphor with his disciples, with his friends, for two reasons: he’s trying to teach them something about their past and he’s trying to reveal something about his identity, about who he is. Jesus’ friends knew this imagery well. A lamp lighting your path was an image for the ten commandments and the law, the instructions laid out in the Hebrew scriptures that they would have learned from their elders. Maybe you know the line from the Psalm: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Think about this line for a moment—what images of lamps come to mind for you? I think of the lamp that Frodo carries through the forest in Lord of the Rings. I think also of the kerosene lamps my mom would pack when we went camping as kids. When I was reflecting on this image, I was also mindful of the lights flickering at dawn inside the camps where the Wet’suwet’en protesters were arrested this week.

When we think of lamps, lots of images come to mind. For Jesus’ friends, the image that would have been most familiar was the menorah, a multi-prong lampstand which was used (and continues to be used) in Jewish rituals as a reminder that whenever they felt lost, the law, the teachings given by God would light their way.

Now, when Jesus comes on the scene, he sums up the commandments he and his friends would have learned in childhood, and he says, “Love God and love your neighbour.” It’s not that Jesus is saying “take everything you’ve learned and replace it with my teaching.” Jesus is saying, “Whatever principles you were raised with, remember that they exist to bring you into greater community with God and with your neighbours.” It was tempting, I think, for the disciples to take what they’d learned growing up and build a wall around their community, to keep some people in while pushing others out. Who among us doesn’t know that temptation? But as Jesus reminded them over and over again, neighbours aren’t just the people you get along with; your neighbours are your enemies (oof, that’s a hard teaching), your neighbours are anyone who lives outside your purview. Don’t build a fence around, don’t put a bushel basket over the light God has given you to see the people who might not otherwise be on your radar.  

Jesus also shares this imagery with his friends because he’s trying to disclose a part of his identity. What he’s saying is complex, it’s really quite difficult for his disciples to accept. Each time he meets with them, Jesus has been lighting little metaphorical lamps along the way, slowly revealing that he has been called as the Messiah. For the disciples, this meant Jesus was appointed by God to lead a particulalr ethnic group out of slavery into freedom. And they can get behind that part; they’ve been waiting for emancipation for a long time. But when Jesus starts talking about how this freedom is for everyone, they start to get a little nervous. Because in their day, that’s the kind of talk that gets you killed. 

They live in a society where one ruler has a monopoly on freedom. There is always an oppressor and an oppressed; there’s always someone who lives in the light while others dwell in darkness. So when Jesus comes and says he’s there, not simply to usurp power and take over the old system, but to build a new way altogether, when Jesus comes preaching that message, his disciples get scared and they try to snuff out what Jesus is saying.

But if we know anything about hiding parts of ourselves that are destined to be free, hiding the light sometimes just sets the whole bushel basket on fire! Which is exactly what happens with Jesus’ teaching. The light just gets bigger and brighter, the message of freedom becomes more and more expansive. There’s no point snuffing out a light that God has put on a lampstand for all to see. The light of God cannot be extinguished!   

So what is the wisdom in Jesus’ teaching that we need to receive this evening? What is it about yourself that’s been in hiding that needs to be put on a lampstand? Sometimes when we have moments of self-realization, whether it’s about our gender or sexuality, or perhaps a calling to a certain career path or an important decision, sometimes we feel we’d really rather run away from our humanity than live into it. But here’s the beauty of what Jesus is saying: the incarnation is the lampstand. It’s the God becoming human and dwelling among people that lights our way, that draws us close to the heart of God. Don’t believe the messages of this world that say you’ve got to snuff out what makes you human, that you’ve got to hide who you are or what makes you vulnerable in order to be embraced by God. You are loved just by nature of being human. 

Jesus said, “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. 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.”

One of the gifts we can give each other in this community is to recognize the places where there’s a light that’s trying to shine. When it comes to what we’re facing in our lives, we can encourage one another to put our lamps on a lampstand, as it were. You may have noticed this candle and stand. [gesture to paschal candle] Maybe you recognize it. This is a paschal candle, which we typically light at Easter and at baptisms. It’s similar to what the menorah represents in the Jewish tradition. The paschal candle represents the teachings central to the Christian faith, the wisdom that lights our path: that God chose to become human; that vulnerability resides at the heart of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension; and that each time we let our true selves shine we reflect the very heart of God. So to close my sermon this evening I’d like to invite you to light your neighbour’s candle and as you do, to say: “Let your light shine.”