If you have ever had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, or have at least seen picture postcards of the historic port city, then you can no doubt recall images of revelers decked out in beads on Bourbon Street, or the famous beignets and coffee served at Cafe du Monde. Perhaps you will remember seeing the steamboats that cruise along the Mississippi River, the musicians playing jazz music, or the luscious green ferns hanging from many French Quarter balconies. Likely you will have also seen the picturesque Jackson Square, named as it is for the famous general and seventh president of the United States, who saved New Orleans — and our adolescent country — from the British in 1812.
Just beyond the statue of Jackson and his rearing horse is another image of the city, so very difficult to miss: the iconic and historic St. Louis Cathedral. In 2018, the cathedral celebrated three hundred years of proclaiming the good news of the gospel in a city more unique than any other in the country. I have had the joy of worshiping there on a number of occasions, and have always found it to be a blessing. What is lost in the picture-postcard images you may have seen of the cathedral is something you can’t miss if you ever visit for yourself.
Just steps away from the front doors of the cathedral you find magicians, tarot card readers, folks dabbling in voodoo, street performers, homeless men and women, tourists who have had one too many hurricanes and folks who are up to no good. It is a vast array of all kinds of people, who are looking for all kinds of things, which makes the presence of the church there, in that very spot, so very important.
For more than three hundred years, the church has stood as a visible beacon of light to a vibrant, yet sometimes dark city. It is a picture of the divine, in the midst of the messiness of humanity. It is a picture of God’s love that comes down into the mess of our lives and offers us new life. It is a wonderful image, and an important reminder, that the church stands as a witness to Jesus Christ, as “the light of the world.”
Jesus said that the church was just that; the light of the world. In saying this, Jesus wasn’t referring to the stones, bricks, mortar, and woodwork. Our physical buildings, impressive as they may be, are not the church. They are a place for the church to gather. And that is important. But when Jesus talks about the church, he is talking about those of us who, by grace, have come to faith. We are the church. And Jesus would say that we are light. You are light. I am light. And we shine when we live our lives in such a way as to bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ for this messy and broken world.
Jesus said we are the light of the world, so let your light shine. We are meant to shine so that others can see the source of our light. We are meant to shine so that others can see Jesus!
The words of a familiar church song encourage us:
“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.”