Sunday, February 9, 2014

You are the light of the world

Matthew 5: 13-20, NT page 4 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Sermon This is an incredible day for our church. I am proud of our church staff for thinking of the idea, of our volunteers whose hard work with these children comes to fruition on a day like today. I am proud of our church’s parents who have made choir practice a priority on Wednesday night, and most of all, I am proud of the children of our church who know that leadership in a worship service is something to be taken seriously. One of the best stories I’ve heard from our church staff during the rehearsals that led us to this day had to do with choosing parts. Susie Baxter, our Director of Christian Education, or Marcy Lay, our Music Director, would ask the kids: “Who would like to lead the Call to Worship that begins the service?” Every hand would go up. “Who would like to lead the Prayer of Confession?” Again, every hand would go up. Franklin Walker raised his hand at some point in all of this to say, “Ms. Susie, I want to be the one who tells the story.” “The story?” Ms. Susie asked. “Like Pastor Joe does, when he stands behind the pulpit and tells everyone a story,” Franklin responded. I’m glad my Sunday sermon was described that way, and I’m even more excited that Franklin wanted to be the one to do it. I don’t imagine that any other group in our church would have been quite as excited about volunteering to preach the sermon. And that’s a reality. That while girls grow up to become young women, taking dance lessons while they grow, they may be incredible dancers willing to put their gift to work before hundreds at their dance recital every year, but then comes the Middle School dance in the middle school gym and all of a sudden all they can do is huddle in a group waiting for some self-conscious young man to invite them to dance. This is a reality – that sooner or later it feels like everyone is watching and judging everything that you do, so you stop dancing, you stop singing, you stop being so willing to tell your story, because you’ve learned that fitting in is better than standing out. Now that’s a dangerous idea indeed. Not simply because it will drive you crazy, but because God gave you your gifts so that you would use them, not so that you would hide them away. What good is your saltiness if you are more interested in looking and acting like everyone else than in adding your flavor to a bland and boring world? What good is your light if you are afraid to let it shine for fear of what everyone else will say? What good is your light if you hide it away to blend in to the darkness? Of course I know why you do it, because I do it too. When I was 9 or 10 years old, just old enough to worry about how I looked, my Mom tried to get me to wear some shorts that didn’t cover my knees. This was the 80’s, the decade of Jams, so not only were my shorts supposed to stretch down below my knees, but I wanted my shorts to cover up a birth mark that I didn’t want anyone to see. I refused to put on the shorts, and in fact, I refused to leave the house, because I was afraid that someone might notice this brown birth mark that made me different from the rest of human society. I didn’t want to stand out, and sometimes that is still the case even today. Last Thursday I was driving home from a Church Administrator’s conference, and I wanted to stop for dinner in Chattanooga, at a little Mexican restaurant that we always stop at when driving through Chattanooga. It was evening and dark out, so, not surprisingly, I turned off on the wrong exit and found myself in a rough looking part of town, but I was low on gas so I decided to stop at a gas station before turning around to find the restaurant. I knew it was a rough gas station because I could tell that there was a thick Plexiglas barrier between the cashier and the rest of the convenience store, so I decided to remain inconspicuous. I slipped out of the car, made my payment at the pump, and while the pump was filling up my tank I slipped back into the car and locked the door. A woman pulled up beside me, and it was one of those old Buicks with big heavy doors that creaked as she got out of the car. She walked into the convenience store and while she got back into her car to light a cigarette I heard the pump stop because my fuel tank was full. I opened the door, which of course, set off the car alarm. I leaned back into the car right in front of the woman whose lit cigarette was now dangling from her lips, and I heard her speak: “Young man, young man.” I turned around, disappointed that I’d blown my cover, and mentally preparing myself for any number of solicitations: “Yes mam.” “Young man,” she said, “You sure do have nice legs.” Then she drove away and I was left standing there thankful that I had been noticed. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket,” but some of you do hide your gifts away choosing to fit in rather than stand out. Maybe you can sing, but the only ones who ever get to hear it are the tiles in the bathroom because the only place you’ll sing is in the shower. Maybe you can dance, but the fear of anyone seeing you dance fills you up with such anxiety that the very best you can do is sit and watch. Or maybe you have a voice, an opinion that needs to be heard, a truth that needs to be spoken, but the fear of what they might say keeps you silent. That was the case with the Pharisees and the Scribes. They had plenty of thoughts about Rome which they shared with each other behind closed doors. They thought and they smoldered about Roman oppression, the unfair taxation, and the way they had to bow and compromise to avoid raising suspicion. Christ had his own opinions which he gave voice to: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Martin Luther King Jr. expanded on this same sentiment saying, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” ( When the Nazi’s invaded Poland and Austria, of course there were those who joined the sinister cause wholeheartedly, but there were others who could see evil for what it was but kept silent for fear of being noticed and labeled. Our middle schools are not so different. Neither are our high schools, our grocery stores, our churches, or our automotive plants. Evil exists, and it does not go unnoticed so much as it goes unopposed for the fear of speaking truth plagues our world. Watch our children then. Watch them sing because they are not afraid to sing. Listen to them speak truth as they are not so experienced as to fear possible outcomes, they are just bold enough to listen to their hearts. And hear them pray for a world not as it is but as it could be, if only the salt of the earth would stand up and be what it was created to be, if only the light of the world would burn brightly through your words and your actions. Do not forget that our Savior Christ chose to face the cross rather than be other than he was created to be. If you follow him know that while this world may reject you, the kingdom of heaven is yours. Amen.

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