Sunday, February 9, 2020: 4th sun aft Epiphany “This Little Light of Mine”
( Sing “This Light of Mine” song, see if congregation will join you.) One of the things I’ve always been intrigued by is that most of the catchy children songs of faith actually teach an awfully important adult faith theology.
“Jesus loves me… this I know… for the bible tells me so.” So quickly and easily sums up the truth of the gospel- “Jesus loves me!” The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about our impressing God, or somehow measuring up to be loveable in his eyes- it’s the fact that God loves us, we love Because God first loved us. The first and foremost thing we need to know about the gospel of Jesus Christ is he loves us!
The second foundational principle this simple song teaches is the answer to “how do we know this?” Not through some complicated scientific calculation, nor some elaborate elusive spiritual discipline or exercise or experience… which some people try to make it out to be. Nope its right there in plain English, “the bible tells me so!” God’s good book tells us the good news.
In a similar way the children’s song “This little light of mine” teaches some very important foundational aspects of faith for children AND adults alike. First off, Every Christian has a light. God in baptism has placed his Holy Spirit in us. Every baptized believer has God’s light of love and grace in them. It may not be as big and bright as they think it might be but its there none the less. And that light doesn’t have to be doused because of what goes on around us (Don’t let Satan blow it out, I’m gonna let it shine).
I remember visiting with a long time member of Greenford, Leona Slagle who was wondering what she was worth now that she’d had to move to a nursing home. It felt like this wonderful faithful vital woman was saying she had no purpose, no light in her life anymore. Her light that God gave her had aged out.
I responded to her “Leona you have something you’ve told me a thousand times you’re thankful for that others in this place don’t have. You are loved. You’ve been telling me that there are folks in here that never get a visit from family, and you have visitors every single day. I think God still has a mission for you. Just let people know they’re loved. Share that love you have for your family and your family gives you. You’re never too old to share God’s love. And you don’t have to jump up and down or have the best eyesight to let people know you love them and God loves em too.
She seemed to enjoy that idea and we continued our visit until I had to leave. So, as I said my goodbyes and got to the door, she suddenly shouted out “Pastor Mike!” like I’d forgotten something. I stopped and asked “what?” She wryly smiled and said, “I luv you Pastor Mike.” I smiled and said, “Leona, you just made my day!” Do you know how much I looked forward to visits with her, knowing she’d sweetly catch me at the door before I left with “Pastor Mike, I love you.” MMMMMM I loved it. I love you too Leona… and God loves you most.”
After that I wouldn’t always find Leona in her room, but rather wandering the halls like a little ray of sunshine, telling people God loves em. Not only did this octogenarian make my day regularly but provided a ministry sorely needed for those people on those hallways. “Let your light so shine before others so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”
Yesterday, I was at a 50th anniversary luncheon celebration for the church in Virginia I served as an Associate Pastor back in 1993 to 1997. Their light had been shining bright for 50 years and it was time to celebrate. I had a chance to catch up with the Senior Pastor I’d served under and thank him for the gift he gave me of seeing what happens when someone continuously asks, “What is God calling us to do?”
His continuously asking “What is God calling us to do?” helped cast a vision forward rather than longingly looking backward. The second thing I told him was I was always amazed how that vision seemed to call forth people from the congregation. I should have expected his response, but it’d been some time since I’d heard his familiar mantra “Well, of course! I have too many deficiencies to do God’s mission alone!!” A highly successful Pastor of a major metropolitan Lutheran congregation openly admitted “Of course I have too many deficiencies to do God’s ministry alone!”
I remember how that mantra morphed into an amazing ministry called Village of Hope in Haiti. The church youth had for years been doing mission trips and had wanted to do an international mission trip. So they’d picked Haiti only to have the Youth pastor take another call and he, the senior pastor, had to go as the spiritual leader. He described it as the most “inspiringly miserable” mission trip he’d ever been on.
He said first off it was definitely a third world setting. No amenities, there was a pump house for water and an outhouse for bathrooms. He described it as “seeping” in mosquito netting because they didn’t sleep. They just laid there and sweated… listening to the hungry mosquitoes waiting for them to wake up and welcome them for a bite for breakfast!
It was shocking conditions with lovely people that you felt so sorry for. You wanted to pack them in your bags and take them home with you. He apparently had thought or said that once too often because he told the heart wrenching story that as they were going to the airport a woman took her sick malnourished child and put it in his arms and said, “take him with you.” It stuck with him and he often teared up as he recounted, “I couldn’t take that child and it broke my heart, but what broke my heart more was a mother would be in such a position that the most loving thing she could do was to send her child away from home and family to give him a life she couldn’t.” A life that had medical care and nutrition and education. That mom knew that her town, her community, herself could never give him those life sustaining gifts.
But I’m a preacher what do I know of nutrition on a Caribbean island? I’m a pastor what do I know of medical care for people in the tropics? But he called his congregation together and asked can we pray about “what is God calling us to do in Haiti?”
In that prayer and proclamation of the gospel to his congregation and casting a vision of “what is God calling us to do in Haiti?” He had a former Iowa farm boy now working for Exon Mobil, who’d been dabbling in his backyard for years with sustainable gardening techniques, step forward to start a sustainable garden for this community. He had a nurse who’d served in the military and now was working with the World Health Organization and was willing to share what she had learned at setting up clinics in third world. The Preschool director of the church was nearing retirement age and was interested in seeing what she could do to set up a rudimentary school. Together with the financial gifts of members and the personal gifts of these volunteers they set up a compound in Haiti called Village of Hope complete with a small school, garden training ground, and medical clinic. They even had a retired secret service agent that was willing to help set up the necessary security measures and training to keep these new ministries safe.
What could a preacher do alone?! Proclaim the gospel and wait for God’s people to respond. We have too many deficiencies to do God’s mission alone. Together we’re better. This little light of mine doesn’t mean shine all by yourself exclusively. I often think about how many folks look so forward to the candlelight portion of Christmas eve worship. When that single light at the front of the altar the light of Christ slowly makes its way around the darkened church and a once dark and solemn sanctuary slowly becomes a welcoming place lit with the warm glow of candles and smiles glistening on faces of God’s people singing God’s praises. “This little light of mine!” As the scripture proclaims we act it out “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This little light of mine also has a point. God has seen fit to put in you a light that no one else has. Yes, they have the love of God in Christ Jesus but it doesn’t shine in exactly the same way or shape as yours does. Yours is uniquely “your light” to shine. You can’t reason; “O everybody has this they don’t need mine.” Your light is so God given unique don’t you dare say God didn’t give you to especially shine!! Somebody in darkness needs that light.
There’s an old story of weary lost traveler in the early 1800’s on the outskirts of civilization known then as the territory of Ohio whose horse had come up lame in the middle of a blinding snowstorm. He had fallen down a ravine lost his horse and was expecting to freeze to death until he suddenly saw this beacon of light shining through the swirling snow around him. He eventually found a warm cabin because of this beacon.
The old gentleman who greeted him at the door welcomed the nearly half dead frozen man in putting him quickly beside the fireplace to bring him back to the land of the living. Finally, when the traveler was feeling better, he asked the old man about the beacon he’d made, where was it? The old man scratched his head and asked what beacon was that?!
The traveler got up, throwing off the warm blanket, searching the house for the beacon only to find a single candle in the back bedroom next to a window whose blind was half pulled. “That’s the beacon?” he asked. The old man scoffed and said, “And to think I’d forgotten to fully pull the blind!” To which he went over and pulled the blind all the way. The wanderer instantly scrambled to the window threw the blind wide open again. “For God’s sake man let your light shine who knows who it might save next?!”
Each of us baptized Christians has the light of Christ within us. We may think it doesn’t shine bright enough, or big enough or constant enough but even the smallest light can make a big difference in this big dark scary world. When we asked folks last fall in our survey “What’s the most important reasons you attend Greenford Lutheran” they often responded the People. Not that they are perfect, not that GLC people are better than others down the road but here people let the light of God’s love put in them shine… shine in their own uniquely God gifted way.
President George Bush (the first) used to speak of creating a country with a 1,000 points of light. I think people love it here cause of the 100’s of points of light we have. We don’t have one particularly bright beacon, the pastor has glaring deficiencies, the choir isn’t always hitting it out of the park, the youth group isn’t always the most amazing but overall, like the warm welcoming glow of a Christmas eve candlelit service, the folks are letting their little light shine.
Individually, it might not be impressive. Yet, together letting our light shine is beautiful, its heart warming and reassuring. It’s a reminder we’re family, we are the family of God in Christ Jesus letting our little light shine. I don’t know if you learned the upbeat version of this song “Hide it under a bushel? No, I’m gonna let it shine.” Yeah, that’s the regular version but the upbeat version I loved as a kid went like this “Hide it under a bushel? ARE YOU CRAZY!!???? I’m gonna let it shine!” (repeat).
Don’t be crazy, let you light shine. As little and lethargic as you might think your light in Christ might be it might just be the light of salvation to someone struggling in the darkness. Let you light shine, as along as we all share the light of Christ in us we will keep the light shining bright at Greenford Lutheran, Amen.