When I look at you I see ...
Just before Jesus was to face his crucifixion, he did what he could to prepare his disciples for a life and a ministry without him. I wonder if Jesus was anxious about whether his disciples would be able to continue without him? Would they have the strength, the wisdom, the courage to carry on bringing Godís good news to the world? Were they ready to assume these new responsibilities without his presence, without his encouragement? Did they see within themselves the abilities he saw and believe they were capable to carry on the mission? Yet, Jesus must have known that while he remained with them, they would continually rely upon him rather than growing into their own, capable selves. Using Nancyís image from last week, even though they werenít perfect, even though they were broken candles in their own right, did they know that their light would still shine as the continued presence of Godís hope and promise to the world? Yet, in the midst of this preparation, Jesus made them a promise. ďAfter I go, God will not leave you alone. God will send another, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.Ē
Today is Pentecost, the day that we celebrate the realization of Jesusí promise to his followers. In The Book of Acts, chapter 2, we read about the coming of Godís Spirit into the world. It is a story that shows us God uniting a diverse group of Jesusí followers into a community of faith. People from different countries who spoke different languages, united by Godís Spirit all becoming one as the Church of Jesus Christ. So Happy birthday church! It is now our turn. As you know, my favorite thought about the church is stated by Biblical scholar Walter Breuggeman. He says, ďThat what God does best is to trust us with our moment in history,Ē our moment in Godís story. Or to use the title of our last sermon series, God trust us with our moment in Godís unfolding drama.
I want to continue with the theme of light again this week. Last week Nancy, in essence, spoke to the part of the passage from Matthew that refers to the lamp on the lampstand. That each and every one of us are a reflection of God to the world in our personal lives.† Once we accept our name as the church, as Christian, we now represent something and someone beyond ourselves. John Westerhoff is an Episcopal priest, seminary professor and author. He tells the story of how every time his children would get ready to leave the house, he would say to them, ďRemember, youíre a Westerhoff and that stands for something.Ē Remember, you are a part of this family and what you do, what you say, the values you live is a reflection of who we all are. Maybe one of our benedictions, those words we share at the end of our worship that send us back to live our lives of faith in the world should be, ďRemember, you are a Christian and that stands for something.Ē
Today, I want to broaden the discussion of Jesusí words, especially from the perspective of being the church, a community of faith. He says to the crowd, ďYou are the light to the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Let your light so shine that in all you do you glorify God.Ē I love the image, for a city is a collection of lights illuminating its surroundings. One spiritual writer states that the light Jesus talks about here is not a corollary of the direct light of the sun, but more like the light of a full moon. The light we shine is a reflection of Godís light to the world. Itís not as intense, it is not our own, but a soft glow of Godís love to the world.
At Church Council this past week, we were reflecting on the question of ďWhat would our church look like, what light would we be shining if we were living fully our call to be a kingdom building church, a reflection of Godís kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?Ē We filled two pages of newsprint in a short period of time. We recognized how many places and how many ways our light needs to shine. My suspicion is we could have filled a whole tablet. Then we discussed how do we become this church? How do we become this city on a hill for all to see? And maybe even more important, how do we become that church that people not only see but experience. In the midst of the discussion someone shared that sadly, one of the comments she hears that is the reason, or the excuse for why people stay away from the church is because it is full of hypocrites. I shared that the founder of our denomination, John Wesley, had a wonderful response to that age old statement. He replied, ďGood, then they are right where they need to be.Ē I believe, as Nancy shared last week, we are not hypocrites, but simply broken candles, human beings trying to do our best to reflect the presence of God in the world. I also believe that sometimes it is in our brokenness that we can be the full light of the moon to others as we reflect Godís encouragement, Godís strength and Godís compassion as it enters into our own lives and brokenness.
I also have another theory about why people make this comment. I believe that when they look at the church, they want to believe its all real. That there is a place or a group of people that can be a light different than what the world shows us about life. That people want us to be successful in what we do and who we proclaim ourselves to be, because then there is real hope in the world. We become that concrete reality of hope to a world of broken candles who desperately want to know that there is such a thing as resurrection and new life from the brokenness. Just look at the passage from Galatians. Paul has just talked about what the world shows in its life and then he shares what the fruits of the Spirit are. What this Holy Spirit that has formed us as the church can bring to our lives as the church. The fruits are ďlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.Ē What a light that would be if it shown in our world.
I would like to share an example of what I am saying. A pastor from Willow Creek church shared a poem written by a young woman named Maggie, who came to their church.† She was very tentative and skeptical.† She had been hurt badly by the world and she was looking for something, someone we call the Light of the World.† After being in a small group in the church for a while, she wrote this poem.
Do you know
As we now prepare to take the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we prepare to receive the promise of Godís love and grace to all of Godís children everywhere in Godís world. On this Day of Pentecost, we reflect that there are no boundaries in Godís kingdom, only the light of Godís love for all are created in Godís image. We join today with brothers and sisters around the world to celebrate our birthday, a day that brought us all together into this special community of people called the church. A special community that shares the last name of Christian making us all brothers and sisters in the family of God. As we now prepare to receive Godís grace into our lives, may we take that grace and reflect it into the world that God has entrusted to us. Amen.
Sermon delived by Rev. George Cushman on June 4, 2006.
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