SERMON FOR THE LAST SUNDAY OF THE CHURCH YEAR
SERMON FOR THE LAST SUNDAY OF THE CHURCH YEAR
Title: LIGHT FROM A LITTLE CANDLE.
Pastor Michael Jarick.
Once upon a time, a little candle stood in a room filled with other candles, most of them much larger and more beautiful than she was. Some were ornate, and some were simple, like herself. There were white candles, blue candles, pink candles, green candles. She had no idea why she was there, and when she looked around at the other candles, she felt insignificant.
When the sun went down and the room began to get dark, she saw a man moving towards her. He carried a little ball of fire on the end of a small stick. As he drew close, she suddenly realised that he was going to set her on fire. “No!” she cried out. “Please don’t burn me!” she begged. But she knew that the man could not hear her, and she prepared for the ordeal that was coming.
To her surprise, the room was suddenly filled with a warm and beautiful light. She wondered where the light had come from, as the man had extinguished the little fire on the stick. To her delight, she realised that the light was coming from her.
Then the man struck another fire stick, and one by one, light all the candles in the room. Each candle gave off exactly the same light as she did. The room was wonderful. After a while, she noticed that her wax was no longer firm. Some of her wax had begun to melt. Soon she realised that once all her wax had melted, she would be no more. She would die.
But with this realisation, she came to understand why she was made in the first place. “Perhaps my purpose is to give out light until I die.” And that is exactly what she did!
You and I have been made by God to produce light in a dark world, to give out light until we die. Like the little candle, it doesn’t matter if we are fancy or plain. We might not be as grand or impressive as others, but we all produce the same light. That is our purpose.
In the Gospel from Matthew 25, Jesus describes the Day of Judgement, when he will separate people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are placed at his right hand, the place associated with honour. These are the ones who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison.
These are pretty sobering words, aren’t they? Last Sunday, I spoke about the climate of tolerance in Western culture. The Church is regularly told the Bible’s teachings about right and wrong are outdated and irrelevant, because the truth is whatever is decided by an individual. Ironically, the same people telling the Church to shut up are so sure of the truth of their own moral standards that no other points of view are allowed to be expressed.
So what do we make of the apparent anti-goat discrimination of the parable? And what makes sheep more worthy than goats?
For one thing, typical Hebrew poetry has no shades of light and dark. In order to make his point powerfully, Jesus paints this picture in sharply defined contrasts of black and white. All people fall into one of two groups, which are distinguished as a shepherd distinguishes sheep from goats.
The sheep are the righteous. It is not because they constantly called out “Lord! Lord!” It is not because of their verbal expressions of faith. It is by their acts of self-sacrifice, humbly rendered to those in need.
Because Jesus came into the world to suffer and die, he refers to those who suffer as his brothers and sisters. Consequently, when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and the like, we are actually serving Jesus.
Those on Jesus’ left side, the goats, are banished from the presence of the king. They are cursed, rather than blessed, because they followed the devil’s advice that life is all about looking after yourself, about doing what’s best for you. As a consequence, they have shut their eyes to those in need, and closed their ears to their cries.
When we look at the previous two parables, the Ten Virgins and the Talents, it is interesting that in all of the parables, Jesus’ condemnation is not directed at those actually doing evil. Jesus is addressing religious people and condemns those who fail to do good. To use traditional language, the sins of omission are just as damned as the sins of commission.
The door is shut to the foolish virgins, because they didn’t prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival. The servant who buried his one talent in the ground is condemned because he did nothing with it. Earlier we read about the fig tree that was cursed because it did not bear fruit. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, those on Jesus’ left hand are condemned because they did not show the same love and mercy they had received.
Because we are saved by God’s grace through faith we cannot then ignore those in need. Faith expresses itself in action. We should be making a difference in the world. Imagine if our congregation were to completely close down. Would the people of this part of Brisbane notice?
When I look around the people of this congregation and what they do, I do see a spirit of self-sacrifice, rather than self-service. But this age in which the church is under fire from many directions, we can easily retreat behind our safe walls, so that the light of Christ shines brightly in here, but is barely visible in the darkness outside.
God doesn’t expect us to solve all the world’s problems, or even all of problems in Corinda. However he does charge us to burn faithfully and to provide light.
A candle can’t light itself. The fire comes to it from someone else. Likewise we can’t produce light, unless Christ the Light of the World sets a fire within us. God use his word, the waters of baptism, and the bread and wine of Holy Communion to ignite faith and to fan its flame.
When the two disciples met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t recognise him, until he broke the bread and blessed. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him. They said “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he spoke to us on the road, while he explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32”)
May we be faithful, Jesus, in meeting you in the pages of the Bible and in the breaking of the bread. May we listen to you and talk with you. May we daily put to death our natural desire to serve ourselves.
Burn in our hearts. Burn in this congregation, so that we may shine for all to see your light, and to be warmed by your love. Amen.
Come join us in worship...together in Christ, caring, sharing and growing...