Darkness to Light

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

—Matthew 5:1-2

As far as we know, only two sermons by Jesus were ever written down: The Sermon on the Mount and The Sermon on the Plain. The Sermon on the Mount is one of my favorite passages from the Bible, and I try to live my life based on its teachings. Jesus seemed to teach more through parables than through sermons. Thirty-seven parables are present in the canonical Gospels. The two sermons are to guide us in a life of discipline based on a new law of love, even to enemies, as opposed to the old law of retribution. The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount have been a key element of Christian ethics, and for centuries the sermon has acted as a fundamental recipe for the conduct of the followers of Jesus. 

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says believers are “the light of the world.” We are to be as “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Etty Hillesum, a Dutch author of confessional letters and diaries describing both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amsterdam during the German occupation, said, “If there is ever to be peace, it won’t be authentic until each individual achieves peace within [them]self, expels all feelings of hatred for a race or group of people, or better, can dominate hatred and change it into something else, maybe even into love- or is that asking too much? It’s the only solution.” There is so much hatred in the world today, much of it at the hands of “religious” groups. Whether they claim to be backed by religion or their own fears of inferiority, hate groups are the darkness of the world. If you shine light onto the darkness, what happens to the darkness? It disappears. As the light of the world, we cannot be hidden. We must shine brightly enough that darkness disappears.

Matthew 6:1-4 tells us to do good to please God: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. This is especially true for gay Christians because we have to work harder to be accepted. In his book Jesus Acted Up, theologian and author Robert Goss wrote, “The Bible is a justice resource in the queer battle for Christian power/truth in two areas: (1) in our dismantling of the Bible as a homophobic/heterosexist and terrorist weapon of oppression; (2) in our reappropriating the Bible as a resource for the critical practice of justice. The texts of the Bible are critically read both as subversive and empowering practice.” 

I have to admit that in the past several years, when someone tells me they are a “Christian,” I have a visceral reaction and automatically do not trust them. Too many people who call themselves Christians are anything but, so as a gay Christian, I feel as if I have to be cautious around people who claim to be Christians because I fear they will use their religion to bludgeon me to death. That is only a slight exaggeration, as a number of so-called “Christian” leaders have called for the stoning of LGBTQ+ individuals. They judge us not based on of the teachings of Jesus but on their own prejudices and hatred of anything they do not deem “normal.” Jesus is very clear in Matthew 7:1-5 that we should not judge others, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’” I realize I am guilty of judging others on their beliefs or rhetoric, but it is increasingly difficult not to judge others by their actions and deeds. 

The current Republican rhetoric and platform in the United States is the opposite of the teachings of Jesus. Matthew 7:15-20 tells us that we will know them by their fruits. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” If someone claims to be Christian yet votes in a way that harms others, then you know that they bear bad fruit. The greed and hatred that have taken over so many in the United States and around the world who are embracing fascist philosophies are “ravenous wolves” who will do anything to add to their riches or make sure less fortunate individuals do not do better financially than they do. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and riches simultaneously, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Life isn’t an easy road, and sometimes we have to sacrifice to do what is right. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says we should, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The poet and author C. JoyBell C. wrote, “I’m not in search of sanctity, sacredness, purity; these things are found after this life, not in this life; but in this life I search to be completely human: to feel, to give, to take, to laugh, to get lost, to be found, to dance, to love and to lust, to be so human.” It is not always the easiest way to live our life, but we need to trust in the Lord to know our correct path in this life so that we can enjoy life in the hereafter. We want Jesus to know us for the wonderful things we have done to help others. Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

I will leave you with the final words of the Sermon on the Mount, “‘Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.’ And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:24-29) Let us follow Jesus’ authority and be “the light of the world” that He says we are.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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