Saturday, February 25, 2017

No One Except Jesus

A threshold day.  Or weekend.  A chance to mark a step from one reality into another.  When change happens we often miss it.  All of a sudden we look around and think to ourselves “Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore!”  And we aren’t.  The colors are different, the sounds are different, the feel is different.  How did we get here?  Who knows?  But we’re here, in this not-Kansas place and time.  And somehow we missed the doorway from that to this, the threshold from one life to another.  It is the way of things, it seems.

The shapers of the Christian calendar, however, seemed to think threshold experiences are important, for some reason.  We can’t go long throughout the Christian year without stumbling through a doorway, from one mode to another.  Tripping over a threshold from what was into what was or even what will be.  There is something about the faith that demands we pay attention.  We are asked to choose with eyes wide open.  And then to walk aware every step along the way.  Be alive to each moment, be present in each encounter.  

So, this weekend we step from Epiphany into Lent.  From an adoration of the light into an encounter with our own personal darkness.  And if we pay attention we will discover we are not as alone as we sometimes feel when we examine our darkness.  That the light that sustained us before, now lives in us, is not quite obscured by our own failings.  And that if we stay alert, we can navigate even the broken pavement of our own sinfulness.  Because we walk in the path of the one who goes before, carrying our cross.  At it’s best, most significant and most helpful, Lent is a difficult journey.  It involves a willingness to be honest, which a difficult task at the best of times.  But this honesty is self-directed.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  Honest in our assessment, honest in our helplessness, honest in our commitment to the path that rises out before us and our utter inability to walk that path on our own.  That kind of honesty is rare, to say the least.  So what did the framers of the Christian liturgical year tell us we needed for this?  Transfiguration.

Matthew 17:1-9 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

Transfiguration.  An odd little mystical moment on the top of a mountain witnessed by only a few. And those few were so bewildered by the event it was a kindness when they were told not to talk about it as they walked down the mountain.  But if they were troubled by the vision in an era when those things might not have been common, but certainly a part of the culture, we on the other hand would be questioning our sanity and looking for therapies or medications to remove the moment from our minds.  Such things don’t happen, we believe.  Lights and clouds and voices are signs of some instability, we are convinced.  Maybe it would help those simpletons in a more innocent age.  But we know better.  We know such a sight is a trick of the light, or a product of stress, or a reaction to medication, something we ate.  If we did see something like this we would close our eyes, rub them real hard and then count, maybe even turn away before opening them again.  Wouldn’t we?  

Of course we would.  No one sees visions these days.  No one experiences the light.  No one sees Jesus, glowing or not, with their eyes anyway.  Now Jesus is an idea to consider.  A concept to grasp. Or at best a history to learn.  So, lets look at the history Matthew records.

Six days later.  Later than what.  Later, after Peter’s confession.  Who do you say that I am? Jesus asked his disciples.  Peter jumps in with “You’re the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One!”  OK, he didn’t say three different things, but we hear three things, or more, from that one thing.  Christos.  He sounded so certain.  So confident.  Jesus pats him on the back, gives him a gold star and Peter beams ... metaphorically.  Orthodontic-ally.  Had the event ended there, it would been a highlight in Peter’s lifetime movie reel.  But Jesus goes on and says it’s going to get bad, going to get dark.  He decides to be open to them about the truth of his journey and the suffering to come.  He doesn’t hold back, doesn’t pull punches, and Peter can only take so much.  Peter says, “No way!  It isn’t going to happen.  You’ve got it wrong!!   This isn’t how it goes. Just stop, Jesus, just stop.”

Actually he doesn’t say all that.  Matthew says that Peter’s words were “God forbid it, Lord!  It won’t happen.”  But I think it was the same thing that he said before that got him the gold star.  “Christos!” This can’t be how the story goes, he thinks.  The anointed one doesn’t get His oil drenched head taken from him!  The Messiah isn’t squashed!  The Christ doesn’t descend into death.  That isn’t the narrative, that isn’t the script.  He doesn’t know what He’s talking about, thinks Peter.  Even when he gets rebuked.  Even when the Christos calls him Satan, the adversary.  He still mutters to himself, no freaking way.  He’s just confused, just fooling with us, just ... wrong.

Six days later they climb a mountain.  Did they draw straws to decide who got to go along on this field trip?  If they did, I’m pretty Jesus did some slight of hand to make sure Peter drew the right straw.  Maybe Peter was the whole reason it was planned.  Peter and the Zebedee boys who nodded along to everything Peter said.  Maybe it wasn’t a reward trip, but a remedial one.  The world’s highest woodshed.  Time out mountain.  

Once they arrived at the peak, there wasn’t any small talk.  It just happened.  IT happened.  The light-show.  The vision.  The ... whatever it was.  Matthew says “He was transfigured before them.” Just like that.  Like it happened every day or something.  Like He stood there and slipped off the human skin and let the God bones show through.  Easy as that.  Except He didn’t do it.  He was transfigured.  Angels maybe, like backstage dressers, reached up and pulled the dull and dirty human robe He wore and slipped His divine vestments back on.  I wonder if it felt comfortable to Him at that point, or whether He was more used to the everyday work clothes He’d been wearing for the past thirty plus years.  

This event, however, was not really for Him.  He wore the glory as comfortably as He wore the shame of humanity, and managed to glorify even that.  He was, that’s all we need to say, He was.  He was who He was.  No, the transfiguration was for them and not Him.  For them to see Him.  For them to know Him as much as their human brains would allow them to know Him.  They stumbled a little, trembled in their mountain climbing boots.  Peter cleared his throat and put his foot in his mouth. Again.  Let’s camp out, he says.  Let’s hang.  Here.  In the light and the cloud.  Settle in.  Bask in glory and wonder.  Uh, no.  Peter, this moment is the starting pistol, the train whistle as it pulls out of the station.  This is change for moving, not for staying the same, not for settling in but for moving on.  And it’s certainly not for going back to the good old days.  Nothing remains the same after the mount of transfiguration.  

And then, so they didn’t miss it, the Voice comes.  Telling them to pay attention.  Telling them to get moving.  Telling them to trust.  And that nearly killed them.  Flat out on the ground, a heart attack in the making.  Until they felt a gentle hand.  And they looked up and saw only Jesus.  I love that phrase from Matthew.  They saw no one except  Jesus.  What else could you possibly need?  How could you be better equipped, more prepared with anything else?  They saw no one except Jesus.

Open your eyes.  There is glory all around us, light and color and wonder and beauty.  But we have to want to see.  We have to set aside the skepticism that says there are no mysteries anymore, and lean into the real behind the reality we think we know.  The message of the Transfiguration is simple.  And that is: Jesus is trustworthy.  You can lean on Him.  You can trust in Him.  You can put your life in His hands.  Now, get up and don’t be afraid.  And everywhere you look, even in a messy world, when you seek a leader to follow, you will see no one except Jesus.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Rain on the Righteous

59̊ at 1pm in the afternoon.  In the middle of February.  In Indiana.  And a forecast for mid sixties for the coming week.  Something seems ... wrong here.  Nice, a beautiful day to be sure, a blessing of spring in the heart of what is usually winter.  But I can’t but help and be uneasy.  You know how we are, expect the worst.  We’ll pay for this.  It can’t be this easy, this good, this blessed.  

We aren’t made for grace, it seems.  Or, maybe, to grab hold of an often misunderstand and neglected doctrine of the faith, maybe this is what sin has done to us.  Made us suspicious.  Made us live our lives waiting for the other shoe to drop.  We were created for grace, for blessing and wholeness and joy unbounded.  But something happened.  A fruit was eaten, a choice was made, or a history was lived that made us suspicious, made us enemies of those who were designed to be us, to be family, brothers and sisters.  They were designed to be a part of the rich tapestry of creation, in language and culture and color and shape and sound.  But now, they are enemies.  The other.  The ones we protect ourselves from.  The ones we build walls against.  The ones who hate us as much as we hate them. Maybe more, at least that is what we assume.

This is the world we have fallen into.  No sense romanticizing about it.  No sense burying our heads in the sand about it.  They are out to get us.  Aren’t they?  Of course they are.  They hate our way of life.  And we hate theirs in return.  Don’t we?  Of course we do.  For protection, if nothing else.  It only makes sense, we’ve got to keep what’s ours.  We’ve got to stay safe.  It is just the way it is. Let’s be real about it, can we?

Except then Jesus comes along and wants to change everything.  We’ve got this figured out, Jesus, don’t be messing with us.  Don’t be asking for something we can’t ... won’t do.  We understand you have to push, you have to challenge us.  That’s OK.  To a point.  But don’t go overboard.  OK? Whatdaya say?  Jesus?

Matthew 5:38-48 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Crickets chirping)

Very funny Jesus.  If anyone knows that we can’t be perfect, it would be you.  Right?  Are you trying to make fun of us?  Are you trying to make us feel inadequate?  Are you making some larger point here that we’re missing?  Because we got nothing.  Just years of struggle, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, doing our best, soldiering on, putting on our big girl panties, our big boy boots and all that stuff that we say that supposedly motivates us to try again.  To take that hill.  To climb every mountain.  And you know what?  It works.  To a degree.  We can be better, we can be more, when we expend a little effort.  We can be stronger, and more loving.  We can be smarter and kinder.  We can do that Jesus.  We have done that.  Regularly.  But we lose our grip on it so regularly.  It seems you’re never satisfied with small steps.  Never content with feeble efforts.  You seem to be calling us to an all or nothing approach.  Can’t you give us credit for the attempt and overlook the detail, overlook the shortcomings?  

And of course we know He does.  He doesn’t love us because of what we do or don’t do.  We know that.  He loves us for who we are.  Whether we’ve climbed the hill or not.  Whether we’ve loved our neighbor, let alone our enemy.  We are loved.  We don’t need to do anything to get it, we can’t earn it, or be worthy of it.  Except that we are made worthy by His love, by His choosing of us.  Even soaking wet.

No rain in the forecast today, but you can bet it’s not far off.  The rain falls.  When we’ve chosen to embrace the sunshine, to live in the light, the rain returns.  Regularly.  Our fears return, our suspicious nature takes hold of us, the desire to protect our own lives grab hold of us and we forget to live in Him, the One who promises to love us, to hold us.  We act as though we are on our own, our fate is in our own hands rather than in His.  We live as though the boundaries that we have drawn, the company we choose to keep, the colors we prefer is what defines us, rather than truth that our identity is in Christ.  

The Sermon on the Mount isn’t really an “ought” kind of sermon.  We ought to do this, we ought to think that.  No, it’s an is sermon.  This is what we are.  What we already are.  We are perfect in His love.  Perfect.  His love has been poured into us.  His vision has transformed our seeing.  His will has shaped our longing.  When we claimed Christ, that happened.  Be perfect, be the perfect instrument of God’s grace and love that you are.  That you are.

The problem is we don’t believe it.  We listen to too many voices.  We lean in too many directions. We succumb to too many fears.  We surrender the perfection we’ve been given to live in the brokenness we prefer.  It seems safer.  And it is.  In the terms we’ve defined for ourselves, in the short term, this world kind of safety, being wary of the stranger is a safer way to live.  But not a richer, not a deeper or more abundant way to live.  And that’s the invitation that Jesus is giving us in the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s not really a challenge to try harder, to be better bit by bit.  It is instead a call to accept grace, to get wet.  It’s going to rain, that’s the promise in these verses.  It’s going to rain, and we are going to get wet.  And we may think we don’t deserve it.  That we should always live in the sunshine and the warmth.  But it’s going to rain.  We’re going to get hurt.  We’re going to carry a wound.  Be disappointed.  Knocked down.  It’s going to rain.  So, the choice is not really how to keep ourselves safe.  The choice is really how will we live, rain or shine?  

Jesus says He came to bring us life, abundant, rich, satisfying life.  A perfect life.  When Wesley wrestled with this perfect idea, he decided it didn’t mean error free.  That won’t happen, he says. There’s too much we don’t know.  Too much that can get in our way.  Too much that trips us up in a messy world, a fallen world.  But in this fallen world there is the grace of God.  There is the light of Christ.  Perfection, Wesley argued, is not about doing everything right, but about wanting to.  About desiring the good for all.  About wanting to act in love - even when we don’t know what that is.  It’s about willing God’s will in every situation.  

The word we translate as perfect can also be translated as whole.  Be whole, as you Father is whole. Be complete, be mature (maybe Jesus is saying “grow up!”), be finished.  Be single-minded, focused on the goal of loving into wholeness.  Teleos.  That’s the word.  Let’s love like God.  Let’s choose, right now, in this moment in the history of the world, of our nation, let’s choose to love like God.  To see like God.  To risk like God.  

It is asking too much, I know that.  So did He.  But He asked anyway.  No, He didn’t ask.  He told, He invited, He revealed the secret to living the life we were created to live.  On this unseasonably warm and sunny day, He invited us to let it rain.  


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Let Your Word Be Yes

A busy day.  At Aldersgate, we hosted the district in an event titled “Back to Basics.”  Around 200 folks were expected to come and learn and grow together around the idea of becoming the church we were called to be, the church that is within us to be.  Built around the basics of being church, the participants were invited to consider just how we go about “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World!”  That’s the mission statement of the United Methodist Church, but we don’t often stop and think about how we go about doing that exactly.  Fundamental, yet perhaps forgotten.  I’m sure it was a good event.

I say I’m sure because I wasn’t there.  Not because I didn’t think it was worth attending.  I attended the West District’s Back to Basics event last Saturday, in Terre Haute.  I even presented a workshop on taking a look at our Membership Vows to see what they say, to see what we promised to do, about making disciples and about being the church.  It was a fun exercise and I was on the schedule to do it again here.  Then I noticed that this is the same Saturday that I was supposed to be teaching in Indianapolis.  For many years now I’ve teaching in the Course of Study, which is the educational program for Local Pastors as they serve our churches.  A Local Pastor is a bridge position between laity and clergy.  They aren’t ordained they are commissioned for service.  They don’t always have a seminary degree.  But they attend the course of study which covers many of the same subject.  For at least 10 years I’ve been teaching the preaching course for the Course of Study.  And this was the first weekend of the new term.

So, I spent the day talking about preaching, instead of working on a sermon.  Ironic, I know.  Plus, I was hours away from my church talking about the basics of being the church in regard to the pastor’s role, while my church was hosting a conversation about the basics of being the church from the laity point of view.  Interesting symmetry.  All of this instead of concentrating on a passage about the basics of being a follower of Jesus before the church even came to be.

Matt. 5:21-37 21 "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 

31 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Whoa, slow down there Jesus.  I mean rules are one thing, but this, well, this goes way deeper.  This is moving from preaching into meddling.  Don’t you think?  I mean it is not just what we do that matters, but what we think, how we feel that seems to matter to Jesus.  That’s a bit much.  A bit intrusive, really.  I mean who can really control thoughts?  Things just pop into our heads.  We’re conditioned to think certain ways.  Right?  It’s not really our fault.  Our brother does something that he knows we don’t like, and he does it intentionally, most likely, trying to get a reaction from us, trying to see if we will stand up for ourselves.  And so we do, we have to, right?  We have to stand up for ourselves and get back at the little twerp for making us mad.  So we do.  But, I mean, we don’t, but we do, sort of.  Nothing bad, I mean, really bad.  We don’t kill him, or even permanently damage him.  But he’s got to know the boundaries, right?

And then that second one.  Hey, God, you made us this way.  Attracted to the one we think is beautiful.  We can’t help it really.  We’re drawn.  We’re helpless.  It just happens.  Surely you can’t be blamed for a stray thought, right?  A really nice, but random, out of nowhere thought.  A what if?  Or how about?  Or suppose it was a deserted island, or if you were the last person on earth, that kind of thing.  You know ...

And there’s the problem Jesus would say as he looked you right in the eye and raised an eyebrow. Truly random thoughts are dismissed as quickly as they arise.  Truly emotional responses fade away without a rational thought.  But that’s not how we deal with “random” thoughts or physical reactions. We tend to dwell on them, to nurture them.  To play them over and over in our minds until they become second nature to us, until the object - and the person we are angry at or lustful toward stops being a subject and become an object - until the object can’t be thought of in any other way.  We’ve killed our brother in our hearts, because he is no longer our brother but the object of anger and scorn and name-calling.  Read the passage as a progression.  It gets worse and worse.  So why not put it back together while it can be put back together?  Why not get over it?  Just let it pass through unremarked, unadorned, un-contemplated as though it wasn’t real, it wasn’t there.  

Notice that the first two come from the ten commandments and the third “you heard...but I say” comes from the statutes.  And it is the most confusing.  And I don’t propose in the space allowed here to explain it.  Since I don’t have an easy interpretation.  Except to say, that when human relationships are involved our actions, our decisions, our choices have implications and those implications can cause hurt even if unintended.  Especially when subjects become objects.  So pay attention.

Which is where we end up.  Paying attention.  To our words in particular.  These are the basics, says Jesus.  Let our words come from our heart, come from our soul.  Let our words honor the other.  Let our words reflect the source of our hope.  Let our word be yes.  Yes to faith and integrity, yes to hospitality and inclusion, yes to community and service.  Let our words go back to the basics.  Let our yes be yes, our no be no.  Can’t get any more basic than that.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hiding the Light

February 5th is my mom’s birthday.  Was I should say.  It was her birthday.  Do you still have birthdays in eternity?  The counting would get impossible, I would think.  And every day is like a birthday when you’re in the presence of the Light that loves.  So, probably not.  But we remember.  Here in this life, the life we shared with her for most of our lives, we remember that this day is special.  It is her day, the day of her.  As if every day wasn’t of her.  As if somehow her birthday is a different grief, a different experience of the loss of her.  I was asked recently if I wouldn’t rather be somewhere else than where I currently serve.  If perhaps the grief I carry would be less in a new place, the memories of what I’ve gone through here could be set aside in the transition.  Which frankly, seemed like a terribly naive understanding of grief and struggle and loss.  Like you could run away from it.  Like, yes I was in this place when this hurt happened so going to a new place would remove the hurt.  

We carry with us, wherever we go, the accumulated hurts and joys that make up our lives.  We carry with us the conflicts engaged and the love shared no matter where we are.  I remember conversations I had as a child, as a youth, throughout my life, they remain with me, these encounters, for good or for ill.  I am who I am because of the light that has shown on my life.  I am flavored by the salt that has been sprinkled on me and over me, sometimes by surprising people in breathtaking moments.  Or as Elphaba sang to Glenda, I am who I am because of the handprints on my heart from those who flowed into and sometimes out of my life. My mom is but one, brightest perhaps, but only one of those lights that shown.

Matthew 5:13-20 13 "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 under foot. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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. 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Jesus turns, in the sermon on the mount, from blessing to instruction.  From beautitude, with a surprising hope and a sharp warning, to a call to live into the life we’ve received.  That’s what the rest of the sermon is about.  Claiming a legacy, living out the gift that has been given.  And it isn’t presented as a possibility, but rather as a reality.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  Not you could be if you do it right, or you might be if you choose to do so.  But, you are.  You are.  Already are.  You are shining, you are seasoning.  So why not be aware of it?  Why not choose your flavor?  Why not select your lumens?

Certainly there is a choice to be made here, I don’t mean to imply that it’s all done and nothing needs to be done on our part.  He wouldn’t be telling us this if it were automatic.  If it were built in and we don’t need to engage anything to make it happen.  No, something is built in, the mechanism is at work.  But we get to decide something.  We get to choose what kind of light we want to shine on others.  We get to choose what flavor we give to God’s world.
Which is another point to note.  God’s world.  Thankfully, we’re in Matthew’s Gospel and not in John, or in the letters of Paul.  In those latter works the world comes across as the antithesis of the kingdom.  And that our main responsibility is to stay clean from the dirty world that surrounds us, to stay aloof and unattached.  But in Matthew, the world is God’s, it is the arena within which   we are called to live and work.  It is where we encounter God at work and then roll up our sleeves and choose to work alongside, helping the kingdom be experienced in the reality of this life.  So, you are the light of the world, not some heavenly other-worldly place, not some reality that we conjure up in our minds and souls longing to be taken out of here so at last we let the light shine without fear, because all there will be is light.  No, we are light here where there are shadows, where there is darkness, that is where the light is needed.  And where light is possible.  We’ve seen it.  We’ve been led by it, redeemed by it, loved by that light. And that happened here in this world.

So, get out of your bushel!  Get out of your bucket.  Let your light shine.  Get connected with those who don’t know what you know, who slink around in the shadows because the light seems to painful, too unwelcoming, too demanding.  And get invested in their lives, help them find their way into the glorious relationship with Christ that you experience every day.  Let your light shine!

Yet, we hesitate, we wonder.  What gives us the right to help shape someone else’s life?  What do we know about that life so that we can share it, we can shine it in another’s life?  Wouldn’t it be better to just make sure we’ve got it right?  Isn’t my real responsibility to myself, my faith, my walk with Christ?  After all “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Paul wrote.  Thanks Paul (Philippians 2:12).  And if there is fear and trembling in working out my own, there must be stark raving terror in working out someone else’s.  Right?  

Except that’s how this thing works.  No one works out their own salvation, we are in this together.  We are influenced and we influence.  That’s how it is supposed to be.  That verse from Paul was never meant to be a call for spiritual isolationism.   It is more a recognition that there is a process here.  That we are patterning our life after the One we follow.  And He tells us that the pattern is to be found in the law.  Don’t give up on the law, that’s why he shifts into that here.  We’re not done with the law, it’s there as a pattern, as a model.  It’s role too is to help us know when we’re off track, not to drop a hammer, not to point a finger or cast into outer darkness.  Because none of us are good enough by that measure.  We can’t earn our salvation by the law.  But law draws a picture of what life ought to be like in God’s kingdom. It casts a vision of what the community could look like if we are all letting our light shine, if we are all guided by the Spirit.

So take the law seriously, says Jesus, let it help you figure out what it means to be the light of the world, to be the salt of the earth.  Pay attention to how the law tells us to live in community, caring for others, welcoming the stranger, sheltering the refugee, building up the body, comforting the grieving, binding up the broken.  The law draws a picture of what living in the light looks like.  But it’s better if we don’t just read the law, but see it at work.  We’ve all had the light shined on us by those who have gone before.  And we are better because of it.

So, Happy Birthday mom, you were the light that shined the brightest in my life.  The one who showed me how to live, the one who showed me how to love.  And though I miss you terribly, that light is not gone.  Because I have it now.  And I pray every day that I am letting it shine, just like you did.  Just like He did.