Sending the Right Signal

This morning, I am pondering Matthew 5:14 and16

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Some Scriptures consistently evoke certain pictures. This one always shows me a lighthouse. I see crashing waves and flashes of lightning and ships venturing perilously close to a jagged, rocky coastline until a someone braves the weather to light the lamp that sends a clear beam across the turmoil of the sea to warn the struggling captain.

This is a good picture. It is a picture of faithfulness and compassion. I suppose I will keep seeing that picture associated with this verse all my life. But today, as I prayed, I saw another picture.

I saw city streets, heavily trafficked with horns blaring and people rushing in every direction. Tall buildings and blind alleys produced limited visibility, but thanks to the traffic lights suspended on every corner, things were moving along rather nicely. Even the most disgruntled and impatient of the people took their turn waiting and then speeding on toward their destination.

Then something terrible happened. Something failed. The system broke down, and in the same moment every traffic light pointing in every direction turned green at the same time. No one was restrained in any direction, and the chaos that ensued wrecked cars and lives. On every corner, people were hurt and killed. The injured cried out for help, and the surviving friends and family members of the victims roared their grief into the air.

In a matter of moments, angry drivers filled the streets, each pointing to his or her side of the traffic light as justification for their movement. “I had the right of way!” they screamed into each other’s red and battered faces. “It was my turn!”

No ambulances or police vehicles could respond. The streets were jammed at every intersection and the whole city was frozen in place. The chaotic scene went on for a while, until, at last, everyone came to understand that the problem had all started when the lights malfunctioned. With one voice the people turned and cursed the lights. They had served for years as instruments of safety and order; now because they restrained no one they paralyzed everyone. Now they had become worse than useless. The lights, themselves, had caused the destruction of the people they were designed to protect.

I live in the USA. There is a church on every corner. For generations, those churches have sent out a clear and consistent light. Their signal has restrained some behaviors and given impetus to others. Because of their clear direction and faithful rendering of the light of truth, we have enjoyed a reliable level of safety and order.

Oh, there have been mishaps, and some have ignored the signal and have endangered their own lives and those of others. There have been citations written and licenses revoked. There have been accidents, even some fatalities. But the general flow of traffic has been good.

God help us if the churches on every corner are giving a green light to every human behavior. Our system of life is too tightly knit, our community too compact, to survive the lack of order and restraint. We will see lives broken and communities shattered if we are forced to live in an atmosphere of mercy with no underpinning judgment, and affirmation without condition.

We need our lights. We need effective calibration to see that the right signals are being generated at the proper times. Our lives and our communities depend on it.

Green Lights

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