Steve Lindsley
(Matthew 5: 14-16; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27)

Even if you’re not there for the youth conference – even if you’ve just stopped by for the evening and happen to find yourself in the middle of it all – it’s still a pretty amazing sight.  A thousand-plus teenagers, leaving the comforts of Anderson Auditorium at Montreat on a Friday night.  They walk out en masse into the cool summer mountain air and head toward Lake Susan.  It takes a while – there are a thousand of them – but soon they are all there, encircling the lake that rests in the middle of the campus. 

By now the sun has settled back behind the mountains, casting the valley into a premature dusk.  There is soft music playing.  And then, somewhere off in the distance, a tiny light appears.  It is a candle, barely visible.  But as candlewick touches candle wick, the illumination spreads; and slowly it fills the valley as if the setting sun has decided to reverse course. 

And eventually, that light makes its way to you.  And you realize, as you tilt your unlit candle into the lit one, that you are part of something bigger than just you.  You are part of the light, and you are letting your light shine.\

I’ve been to more Montreat candlelight services than I care to count, and I doubt I will ever tire of them.  The light is what it is all about – the light that Jesus speaks to in our passage today.  You just heard it in from the familiar NRSV, but I want to read it again, this time from The Message translation:

You are here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.
For God is not a secret to be kept.
We’re going public with this
You don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?
No! I’m putting you on a light stand.
And now that I’ve put you on a light stand,
All I need you to do is shine!

Have you ever thought about the fact that, when you get right down to it, that really is what we’re called to be as followers of Jesus Christ?  I mean, consider the crowd Jesus is speaking to here.  This wasn’t some cream-of-the-crop gathering; an esteemed lecture at an Ivy League school.  No – this was on a hillside with whoever happened to wander up.  So it was the poor and despondent, as well as the content and happy.  It was the powerless and the powerful.  Jews and Romans.  And Jesus is telling all of them to shine their light.  Each and every one, a single lit candle, a unique and distinct light; but also a light that blends with the others to illuminate the world even more.  Because that, Jesus says, is when the light shines brightest.

So while the apostle Paul doesn’t specifically mention “light” in his first letter to the Corinthian church, I cannot help but think he’s talking about the same thing.  All this about hands and feet and eyes and ears, all individual parts of the same body but equally valued and important to the greater purpose. 

Paul was using this body metaphor to communicate two things to the early church: first, the value of individual distinctive gifts and skillsets in the church’s mission; and second, that no gifts are more or less important than any others. And like so much of what Paul says about churches that existed nearly 2000 years ago, his words still ring true today. We need this notion of the body of Christ for the church, more than ever.

I once heard someone say, perhaps in a more cynical moment, that the church can sometimes look like a basketball game – you’ve got ten players on the court who need a little rest, and thousands of spectators in the stands who could sure use some exercise!  I do get the point: Christianity is not a spectator sport.  Light-shining is not a passive activity.  If it were, we’d be talking about a city hidden in a valley instead of high on a hill.  Or a lamp that’s tucked away in some corner instead of resting on a stand.  Or a thousand teenagers around Lake Susan at Montreat holding unlit candles.

More than ever, perhaps, churches of the 21st century need to shine their light in the kingdom-building of God.  God needs all the “hands,” all the “feet,” all the “ears,” all the “eyes.” God needs them all.  That’s what Paul was trying to tell those Corinthians, and us: Now you all are the body of Christ and individually members of it. So everyone has a place.  Everyone has a gift.  Everyone has a job to do.  Young, old; long-time members, members who joined last spring, people who aren’t even members at all.  That’s when the light shines brightest, and that’s when you and I can make the biggest difference.

There is a tiny village in Ohio called Yellow Springs where people are continually touched by a particular light.  The light comes from a man named Wheeling Gaunt and an amazing thing that happens every year because of him.  Every Thanksgiving, thousands of the community’s poor are fed a full-course Thanksgiving meal and their children receive Christmas presents – all made possible by Mr. Gaunt’s generosity. 

But you know what the best part is?  Mr. Gaunt has been dead since the 1800’s!  See, just before he died, he deeded nine acres of land at the south edge of town to the village of Yellow Springs, the proceeds of which were designated to support Thanksgiving meals and Christmas gifts for the poor, in perpetuity.  Over a hundred years later, the village still feels the effects of this man’s kindness. Even the inscription on Mr. Gaunt’s tombstone bears testimony to the light that continues to shine long after his death.  It reads: Not what you get, but what you give.

The light shines!

Want to hear another one?  Sometime a while back, I witnessed a light in the form of a little three-year old girl, the daughter of a member of a former church of mine.  She’d come to church that day with her big sister and Dad, and I happened to be outside when they pulled up in their car.  As soon as the car stopped, this little girl bounced out the door, her tiny feet hitting the pavement, her brown hair flopping about and her face beaming with joy, as she raised her arms high in the air and yelled to no one in particular, “This is my favorite church!”

The light shines! 

Don’t you see it?  Jesus tells us loud and clear: The light shines.  And it comes from you.  It comes in the way you love each other and treasure each other.  It comes in the way you worship God, whether it is under the oaks or in our lovely sanctuary or even on your computer or TV screen.  It comes in the way you serve others through Room In The Inn or NationsFord during non-Covid times and mask and water bottle donations during it.  It comes in the way you welcome a precious child into the church family in their baptism as last week.  And it comes when, as a member of this church, you support all of this and more with your heartfelt pledge on this Response Sunday.

I am telling you – one of the great joys of being your pastor is seeing the way you shine your light.  I mean this!  You are a kind congregation; a friendly congregation.  You do not let your unique and various gifts become sources of division or discord.  You are concerned about the needs of others.  You don’t let personal agendas and wishes supercede the greater purpose of the church to minister to a broken world.  You shine your light, and most of the time you don’t have a clue how bright it is!

I want to share with you a song about the light, a song I learned a while ago from a friend of mine.  The words to the chorus are in the order of worship, so feel free to sing along with me when the time comes.

You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light
You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light
You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light
You got to open the door, now, and shine on your light

Well, I look all around me, see the hurt and the pain
And Lord, the way we treat each other, it’s a dirty rotten shame
So I went to the doctor, doctor said that it’s true
Said the world is in trouble, boy, now here’s what to do

You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light…..

Well, the prophets of doom say it won’t be too long
For the battles are ragin’ and the lines have been drawn
Now, I ain’t for choosing sides and saying who’s right
But there sure ain’t no darkness Lord unless there is light

You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light…..

All the world over, people, hear what I say
We gotta pack up our troubles and put them away
Sing me the truth out, children, sing it out strong
If you believe in love, then join in our song

You got to shine on, you got to shine on your light…..[1]

Beloved, on this Response Sunday and on every day, let your light shine! In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

 

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

[1] “Shine On”, music and lyrics by Gene Cotton.

Featured image from https://firstpreslibertyville.org/photo-gallery-youth-trips-2019/