City lights and flickering lamps
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –
Except for the rumble of jet engines, the movement of flight attendants through the darkened aisles and an occasional crying baby, the cabin was quiet. As I peered through the portholes at the night-darkened landscape below, the seemingly endless expanse blackness that characterized the Great Plains had an almost hypnotic effect. Drowsiness overpowered interest. My eyelids were drooping when something below caught my attention: a shimmer of brightness in the distance, a lovely handful of brilliant gems glowing in their dark settings. It was my first night flight over the Midwest, and I was fascinated by the beauty of the tiny pools of bright light scattered over the blackness of the landscape, each one obviously identifying the location of an isolated midwestern town. I am still awed by the memory of the beauty of those lights – those small cities whose lights clearly testified to their existence.
Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16 NIV).
As those bright pools of light reminded me of Jesus’ words, so his words remind me that there is more than one critical issue to be identified in this brief passage. While his words make clear the importance of one’s individual witness, they also remind us that we are part of a community of believers whose very existence as a community bears witness to him who declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 NIV).
As Christians, we need to be sensitive to the fact that while yes, each of us is an individual—and as an individual is responsible to bear clear witness to the Light of the World—it is vital to the survival and spread of Christianity that we keep in mind we are also a part of the Christian community both in our own hometown and throughout the world. Participation in the Christian community, contributing our own small bit of light to that of the church as a whole, is an integral part of God’s plan for his people. As a member of the local community of faith, it is our individual duty as well as our personal privilege to see that our own lamp is kept trimmed and bright, so, in Jesus’ words, “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Far too often we hear the local church (think of it as your part of the Christian community) criticized as being of little value to the community at large. How many times has someone said to you, “I am a believer, but no, I don’t go to church”? “I find that it is too [boring; unfriendly; ritualistic; irrelevant or (fill in the blank – you know the complaints)]. It’s just a waste of time. Anyhow, I only have Sunday to relax.” That is truly sad. Also sad is the fact that the complaints may be valid, especially if we as a local community of believers have lost sight of the true benefits of being a part of an active Christian community.
Being an active member of a Christian fellowship should be considered a privilege accorded us by God himself. Because he knows us better than we know ourselves, God planned that we join in communal worship, where our private worship experience can be broadened as we join with our Christian family to sing and praise and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
God also planned that through participation in the Christian community we would be able to share our joys and our sorrows with others who are like-minded, and to support one another when the going gets rough.
What he did not plan was for his church to become notorious—to experience criticism, dissention and schism. His designed a helping community, a loving community, a community that would be as one set upon a hill, its lights shining in the darkest nights, drawing the wanderer to itself, where God could be found. He designed a healthy, functioning community, where Christ would be honored in word in deed. He designed a community inhabited by men and women determined to let their light shine so clearly that by observing their godly examples, by seeing their good works, others might recognize the hand of God, and honor and praise HIM.