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~ Light of the World Under Maintenance ~

     A lighthouse with which I am very familiar is undergoing a facelift. Ringed with scaffolding every fifteen feet or so, 172 feet up, it reminds me of an oblong planet Saturn with more than ten rings.

     The year round residents take the distraction in stride, knowing their landmark must be preserved in beauty and presence, though it takes the occasional season of workers who temporarily shroud the lighthouse’s magnificence with their scaffolds and dangling ropes. It’s all good, as a friend of mine likes to say.

     The tourists, however, tend to be annoyed. They expect all their attractions to be in their final state of beauty and function. When they encounter maintenance, they feel as though something is wrong and they have been cheated from an experience they counted on happening. The wiser ones understand and see past the scaffolds and ropes to behold what the lighthouse is now and will become in the near future.

     Lighthouses remind me of Christ’s declaration, “You are the light of the world.” The functional lighthouses of the past needed frequent maintenance, but their lights always had to continue burning. Sea voyagers counted on them and they didn’t care if the lighthouse was under repair or not, so long as its light marked their way. Appearance was not as important as function. No matter if the lighthouse appeared beautiful as long as it was the light to mark their path.

     As declared lights of the world, few of us are not ringed by scaffolds of maintenance. The Holy Spirit and His instruments are all over the outside and inside of His lighthouses, cleaning, strengthening, and refurbishing. We are summoned to be lights in the dark landscapes and seascapes of this world.

     That summon requires more of us than to only turn on our lights. Lighthouses turn on only in the night. Those that look for the lights can’t see the scaffolding and don’t care to. It is light in which they rejoice. Bearers of the light of the Gospel, Christ’s light of the world, must then be willing to courageously and in faith venture into the darkness. Not to join it, however, but to dispel it.

     Rather than set up an office in the sacred environs of the temple city of Jerusalem to educate an elite school of theological scholastics and receive pilgrim seekers of light, Christ penetrated the darkness of the slums of the city, of the shunned people of Samaria, the homes of corrupt public officials, the hangouts of prostitutes and highway bandits. He sent His disciples into the same kinds of places, two by two, with no provisions except that of His promise to provide in return for their trust and faith.

     When questioned about this by the religious establishment of His time on earth, Christ asked, “Do doctors tend to the healthy, or to the sick?” Because of Christ’s preferred associations, they tagged Him as a “glutton and drunkard.” Sea voyagers are heading for death when they pay more attention to the paint job on the lighthouse than to its light. Christ pointed out that “John [the baptizer] came neither drinking or eating” but they dismissed him also. The apostle Paul asserted, “If I am pleasing men, I am not a servant of God.”

     After his personally traumatic denial of knowing Christ just after the Lord’s arrest, Peter needed a relational restoration. The book of John concludes with a remarkable exchange between Peter and the Christ, where Jesus asks Peter three times if the apostle loved Him. Biblical expositors note that the three questions and the three affirmative responses from Peter were an “undoing” of Peter’s three denials of Christ. I have never heard any, however, point out Peter’s obvious agitation. Peter’s scaffolds were still on and he was in the process of coming to terms with his own devotion and depth of love. In the original Greek, Peter kept cautious, using the term “as a friend or brother [phileo]” when declaring his love, while Christ used, in His questioning, the term “unconditionally, as God loves us [agape]” for love. During the Passover meal before Christ’s arrest, Peter was bold in his verbal allegiance to Christ, declaring he would even die with Him. Well, he couldn’t even stay awake during Christ’s incredible suffering just before His arrest, and denied having anything to do with Him afterwards, using profane language to try to sound convincing. Of course Peter was agitated during this exchange with Christ; self confidence was gone and self questioning was at its heights.

     In effect, Jesus may have said to Himself, “Ok, Peter, I’ll give you a break and teach you something as well.” So His third question used the same form of the word “love” that Peter used in answering the first two. The inference: “Ok, you don’t have to commit to loving Me unconditionally with all your heart, mind and soul, as I love you; love Me as a brother, but feed my sheep anyway.” Later, Peter did grow into and demonstrate agape love, but he was taught it wasn’t a requirement to act upon Christ’s dictate, “Be the light of the world.” Upon his execution, Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he still didn’t feel worthy of dying in the same manner as the Lord.

     Peter apparently didn’t feel like he grew into Christlikeness enough to say, “I am honored to die like my Lord and Master.” Some of us would. A reading through the book of Acts reveals that even after the infusion of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s light stand was still ringed with scaffolds and refurbishing was ongoing. Are we not all in the state of process, of sanctification, of being made perfect?

     There’s an old show-biz slogan, that despite the challenges and problems, despite the personal tragedies of the actors, “The show must go on.” Why? Because the audience is counting on it. The audience needs it to go on. Despite the work that is continuing inside and outside of the lighthouse, “The light must shine on.” Because others are counting on it, others need it to keep shining in the darkness. Denied the Christ in word or deed? Come short of demonstrating that unconditional, agape love? Don’t love your enemies as Christ loves you? “Feed my sheep anyway...let your light [however intense] shine forth in the darkness, anyway.” Don’t feel worthy of dying in the Name of Christ? Then choose to die upside down.

     The more intense the darkness, the more intense the light...that of our Lord’s who is our Light (“where sin abounds, grace abounds even more”) and that of our own for others, which is really only Christ’s circuited through us.

     Some businesses undergoing renovation post a sign in front, “Pardon our dust...” with a reassurance that renovations will improve service. When Abraham was discoursing with the Lord concerning the fate of Sodom, he said, “I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes...” (Genesis 18:27, NIV). Abraham was, in effect, saying, “Pardon my dust.” Christ has given us not only permission but the mandate to say to the world, “Pardon my dust, my scaffolds and dangling ropes and buckets, and pardon my boldness, but here is some light; please look past me at that light and its Source. And I will look for that same light in you. Christ is found everywhere, shining more brightly where it is most dark.”

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © July 5, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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