Based on a sermon from the Salt and Light resource kit, adapted for Gordon United.
One stormy night a mother was tucking her little girl into bed. As she was about to turn off the bedroom light, the child asked tearfully, “Mommy, will you please stay with me all night? I’m afraid.” The mom smiled and gave her little girl a reassuring hug. Then she said, “I can’t stay with you all night. I have to stay in the room with Daddy.” There was a pause and then a shaky voice, broke the silence: “The big fraidy-cat.”
The truth is, these days there is much to be afraid of – even for us adults. I’ve been watching a documentary series that’s been looking at terrorism around the world – and if that isn’t going to give you anxiety, I don’t know what will! Add in wars and rumours of wars, massive migrations of refugees, world hunger, poverty, abuse, loss of loved ones, family break-ups, adults and children battling cancer, people struggling with mental illness and they stigmatization they suffer… Let’s face it – it is easy to get overwhelmed today just listening to the news. Or worse yet, we can get desensitized and just go numb from the pain.
Last week I talked about being a blessed people. The world is so much in need of blessing! Humanity is desperate for good news. We so long for hope and peace! For many of us the Christian response to something so huge is to pray, to seek God’s help. Personally I think that’s a great idea! I am a big believer in prayer. But you might have noticed that I often end the prayers of the people with a request that God would show us ways that we might be an answer to the prayers of others. I believe God expects us to get involved.
Even in this little story of the widow who gave her all, I believe there’s a subtext we often miss. The temple survived off tithes and offerings, just as our churches do today. We praise this woman’s self-sacrifice, but there’s another piece to this picture. The prophets are adamant that the people’s leaders must care for the poor, and especially for widows and orphans, who had little or no means of survival in that society. Yet these religious leaders were flaunting their own generosity while allowing this poor woman to suffer because she wanted to support what she believed was God’s work. To me there’s a religious obligation here that both the leaders and the people are missing. If this woman has given her last to the work of God, then it is up to Godly folk to take care of her – to help her through until she is able to make ends meet once more. We are not in the business of bankrupting those who’ve hit hard times to prop up the church. Instead, the church is commanded to use our resources to help them through.
That’s part of what it means to be salt and light in the world. God has given us the ability and the resources to make a difference, to live our faith and see some real, concrete results.
In today’s passage Jesus says “We ARE LIGHT.” Notice that he does not say we CAN BE light or we SHOULD BE light”. No, as believers of Jesus Christ, we ARE the light. The passage then goes on to lift up the key question: “So, what are we doing with our light?”
As people of faith, we have choices. We can, for instance, deny our light. In most United Church congregations that might sound like, “Oh, I don’t have any gifts to share.” “What? Me, be a Sunday School teacher? But I don’t have kids!” or “I don’t have the time…or the talent…or the money…” We can – and do – deny the light in us, the blessedness we have been given.
Jesus shows us another way. He tells us to live differently, confidently, in faith. Jesus says, ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket.” We are LIGHT! God needs what we have to offer – God needs us, to help bless and heal the world. So go ahead, set your light up on a lampstand – even if you feel like it’s barely as much light as a sputtering birthday candle. You don’t have to be a powerful flood light like Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa or Lois Wilson. When your light’s held up high, it illuminates quite a space around it! Our prayers and the prayers of others are so often answered by shining of another’s light!
When we share our light, another miracle happens. We encourage others to share theirs! Good news and good deeds are contagious. Light begets light. Faithful lives inspire others to act.
It is not enough to ask people to join the church and engage in ministry together in this place. We have to show people! For instance, when Benjamin Franklin wanted to interest the people of Philadelphia in street lighting, he didn’t try to persuade them by just talking about it. Rather, he hung a beautiful lantern on a long bracket in front of his home. He kept the glass highly polished. Every evening at the approach of dusk, he carefully lit the wick. People saw the light from a distance, and when they walked in its light, they found that it helped them avoid sharp stones on the pavement. Others soon placed lights in front of their homes, and soon all of Philadelphia recognized the need for street lighting. We too need to inspire people with our actions.
Sometimes we United Church people are just too modest. We resist sharing the ways we are making a difference in people’s lives. Here at Gordon United, and through the ministry of each individual here, we make a difference every day. Lives are being changed, and light is being revealed both far and near. That’s one of the reasons I thought having our Annual Meeting in worship was a great idea – because it gave us all a chance to hear and celebrate the ministry that’s happening in this place. If we know about it, we can become part of it. If we know about it, we can tell others about it. People know that we gather and sing and pray at Gordon United – people take it for granted that that’s what a church does. But do they know all the other ways this church makes a difference? I don’t think so.
One of the things we’re going to try this year is a Narrative Budget. It takes the dollars and cents of the budget we approved last week and translates it into actual ministry. It’s hard to get inspired by stationary supplies and maintenance costs; but if we know that stationary supplies contribute to worship, children’s ministry and adult faith formation, that maintenance costs mean we can host 12-step groups and a book club and the preschool and Kids Klub and worship and Sunday School and Messy Church and a community dinner….that’s way more exciting!
Gordon United Church does shed light in this community. You, members and adherents and visitors to Gordon United – you shed your light, too, in your own places and activities and ministries. Together and dispersed, we are the light of the world. I love this quotation from Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So let your light shines, friends. Let it shine, for you ARE the LIGHT OF THE WORLD!.