“That they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen (during this cycle of devotions, Rev. Feddersen didn’t write devotions for the next couple of weeks since the Epiphany season was shorter):

Isaiah 58:5-9a
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-20

Every morning, the staff at LCMS World Mission meets for morning prayer. We pray for special needs of individuals and for the missionaries. We often also pray Luther’s “Morning Prayer.” He must have been a morning person, one whose feet hit the floor moving. He begins with thanksgiving and continues with a request for preservation. Personally, I need a jump-start. Beside the fact that I’m sure my sins are bigger than Martin’s and, consequently, so is my need of forgiveness, I need some push and motivation. Instead of the “Morning Prayer,” I probably need Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Celestial Surgeon”:

If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:
Lord, Thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit wide awake.

It is interesting that, in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus does not say we are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world — He says we already are those things. How are we doing? How salty is the old earth? How dark or light is the world?

Years ago, at the Thomas Edison Workshop at the Henry Ford Museum, a tour guide turned the crank on a small generator and a light bulb that Mr. Edison had made right in that room glowed. As you might guess, the filament barely glowed when the crank was turned slowly, and then brightened as the generator speed increased.

A similar thing will happen to an incandescent bulb connected to common household electricity. The power company can keep the rate of current fairly consistent, but the farther the wires are from the last transformer, the more that rate will decrease. An extension cord on the ground loses more power than
one stretched overhead but, in either case, the greater the distance, the dimmer the light bulb will become. If you go far enough, the glow will hardly be visible at all — sort of like a Christian getting farther and farther from the Holy Spirit. If Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount today, He might use modern day electric power to illustrate getting the light out into the world.

Robert E. Luccock did just that in his book Preaching Through Matthew. He told a story about a power outage in Boston that was the result of a snowstorm. He related some events from that night — the terror of one woman, the passing of an elderly man and the surprisingly minimal looting and vandalism. The problem began with transmission lines from a substation and resulted in the breakdown of a transformer at the main plant. Seeing it as a kind of parable, Luccock wrote, “Power has to come out into the world where we now live. That requires ‘transformers’ and ‘transmission lines’ (disciples) who will cause light to shine in all the dark where people live and die.”

I don’t think of disciples as transmission lines. We are, as Jesus said, the light — the bulbs, if you will. I see the allegory like this: The Holy Spirit is the power source; the Word and Sacraments are the transformers and transmission lines. The closer we are, the brighter we are.

What I wrote about a cable on the ground applies vividly. The more the world presses in on us, the closer we need to be to our Power Source. Anthony T. Evans illustrated that brilliantly in his book America’s Only Hope. He wrote:

“I’m a great basketball player when I’m by myself. The ball goes behind my back, under my legs and right into the basket. It is impressive to watch me play by myself. But one day Mark Aguirre of the Detroit Pistons came over to the house and wanted to play basketball with me. Suddenly I wasn’t good anymore. Every time I went up to shoot, I ate that ball. You see, the way I find out how good I am at basketball is to put me up against six feet, six inches of superstar.

“It’s the same with us spiritually. We aren’t spiritual just because we get excited about a sermon or a song on Sunday morning. Sunday is safe. We’re surrounded by people who agree with us. The test of how good we are spiritually comes on Monday morning.”

Sometimes we’re not all that good on Sunday morning. Sin isn’t on vacation while we are in church. We can be physically close to the Means of Grace, but mentally absent. Sin can bleed off all the Spirit’s power if we just sit and complain about the music, the preacher’s voice, or some aspect of his ministry and refuse to listen to the Word. We receive not so much as a sip of power if we refuse to commune because the service is too long already.

February is Black History Month. The book Encountering Jesus claims that the phrase, “If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out,” is an African American adage. In terms of worship, it means you have to bring something to the sermon to get something out of it.

An interesting story in the book tells about a college student, home for the holidays, who attended church with his mother. Afterward, the young man said, “The preacher was not too good today.” His mother responded, “Well, maybe not.” Later, he said, “I noticed that the choir was not too good today.” Mother repeated, “Well, maybe not.” Then she added, “Tell me, son, how good were you today?”

As we read the Gospels and see the life of Jesus unfold, we cannot miss the praise and glory He gives to His Father. But His main point of reference — His most profound source of motivation — is mind- boggling. We are His motivation! His love for us leads Him to abandon what we would think was common sense self-preservation. He gives Himself up for us, totally ignoring what might happen to Him and how. No matter how heinous or ludicrous death on the cross might appear, He accepted it for us.

In Sunday’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus makes a powerful point about the light we bring to the world: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” It is a fascinating thought. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, Jesus said that the good we do can cause people — not to notice or praise us, but to praise God! See how Jesus always zeros in on His mission? Even our good works are to turn people to God!

Elizabeth Taylor is said to have made an amusing faux pas one time during a television interview. According to the story, when she was asked who she would like to write her life story, the actress replied: “I haven’t decided who will write my autobiography.” While it is true that no one else can write my autobiography, I pray that the story I live will reveal Someone Else.

I know, Lord, that I often get in the way, so that people see the worst of me instead of the best of You. I know that the darkness of my own ego drains power from Your light and casts a cloud over it. It is not what I want, so why is it what I do? And so I pray again, in the bright daylight: “Lord, Thy most pointed pleasure take And stab my spirit wide awake.” Amen.

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