Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lighting up the Cosmos

75th Anniversary Sunday—Immanuel of Wadena
October 16, 2011
Matthew 5:13-16

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells us here in Matthew chapter 5.   Ponder that simple statement with me for a few moments.  Notice some things that might easily escape us in this overly-familiar passage.

1.    First, you are.   You are the light of the world.

Our Lord Jesus doesn’t give us something to aspire to here.   He isn’t like the proverbial commencement speaker who challenges graduates bedecked in their caps and gowns to see that “the sky’s the limit—they can reach for the stars,” if they simply put their minds to it.

Our Lord doesn’t lay an assignment or a project or a “woulda coulda” on us, here.   Jesus doesn’t tell us:   you really should be light.  You oughta try real hard to shine.

No, instead Jesus says simply:  you are.   You are the light of the world.

It is a fait accompli—an accomplished fact.  It is a promise, not a possibility.   It’s true simply because the Author of Light and Life says so.  When Jesus speaks, things happen, identity is given, purpose is granted, reality is transformed in the most unexpected and amazing of ways:  you are the light of the world.

This morning we give thanks for the light that has shown forth from this congregation for three-quarters of a century.   This amazing historical booklet—one of the most thorough, most thoughtfully-put-together anniversary booklets I’ve ever seen—this booklet offers more than a Joe Friday “just the facts” rendition of information.  This is a journal of highs and lows, opportunities and challenges, even successes and failures—making it one of the most honest congregational histories I’ve read, as well.

But what shines through, again and again, is the giftedness of this community of light and life in Jesus Christ.   There is a givenness—a God-givenness—about your life as a church.   You came into being--in the Great Depression no less!--and you survived and thrived and weathered all sorts of storms and went through a killer tornado….because God apparently has wanted you to be here.

God has said to you, and God keeps saying to you:  you are!   You are the light of the world.   You are because I have brought you forth, given birth to you, kept you going, continued to trim your wick and replenish your oil so that your light might blaze forth--unabated, unabashed.

You are.  You are here.  You are Immanuel (God-with-us!), because God has seen to it.   Thanks be to God.

2.    But there is more here in this verse.   Jesus says YOU are the light of the world.

What’s curious about that is that, if we know our Bibles, we remember that elsewhere Jesus described himself in the same terms.   John 8:12 (my confirmation verse!) goes like this: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

So, here we were thinking that Jesus is the light of the world, as by rights it should be.   Jesus is the one who shatters the darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil.  Jesus shines the piercing light of God’s Word and God’s truth into all the dark corners of this world.  Jesus is the light of the world—according to John’s Gospel.

But this same Jesus puts a different spin on that phrase here in Matthew’s gospel:  looking us right in the eyes, telling each one of us and anyone else who cares to listen:  YOUyou are the light of the world.”

So, which is it?   Who is the light of the world—Jesus, or those to whom Jesus speaks when he says “you are the light of the world?”

The answer, I think, is that Jesus sometimes has a hard time telling where he leaves off and we begin—we who are his beloved ones, his sisters and brothers, his Body in the world.   Jesus identifies with us for whom he has suffered, died and risen again.   Jesus the Light “identifies” so closely, so completely with us, who now live in the Body of Christ, that he who is the light thinks nothing of calling us the light of the world as well.

Jesus takes us that seriously, don’t you know?   YOU are the light of the world.

Which is to say:  you shine in dazzling ways because you bear the light Jesus has put within you.   It’s a borrowed, reflected light that shines through us—always, always, always….and yet just because it is a borrowed light (we borrow the light from Jesus!) it shines no less brightly.

YOU are the light the world, declares Jesus….and there’s another thing we need to say about that YOU.  It’s a “you all” sort of pronoun.  It’s plural, not singular.   YOU ALL…YOU TOGETHER….YOU IN THE COMPANY OF YOUR FELLOW DISCIPLES…you collectively are the light of the world.

And that shines through in the story of Immanuel Lutheran Church, too, doesn’t it?   For 75 years you have learned and relearned how the “holy togetherness” of the church frees you to tend the gospel, encourage one another, create vital programs, and sustain sacred space for all those things to happen--while supporting God’s mission in the world.

You ALL….you together have borne and continue to bear the light of Christ in the world. 

I’m struck by how often in your history you grappled with the dilemma of taking care of internal matters in the congregation—while also finagling ways to reach out into the community and beyond.   That has been a lively debate, a healthy discussion here.

You’ve been unwilling to have it only one way—looking after yourselves.   You have persistently wanted to have it both ways:  tending your life right here as Immanuel Lutheran, but also expanding mission efforts beyond your four walls….whether through Habitat for Humanity…or generous mission support giving….or your “mission of the month” emphasis….or projects like Mission Jamaica.   You’ve been able to cover all those bases because it has never been about you (a single congregation all by itself)….but it has been about YOU ALL, you together, whom our Lord Jesus calls (collectively!) the light of the world.

3.    Third, Jesus says to us:  YOU ALL ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.   Your bearing of the Christ-light serves the cosmos—it’s the universe that you light up.

Rather an audacious thing to be thinking about, let alone speaking out loud!

I recall a phrase that the late President Pamela Jolicoeur of Concordia College, coined.   Coming from southern California—where everything is big and splashy and colorful!—and arriving in the harsh environment of the Red River Valley…..Dr. Jolicoeur observed that we northwestern Minnesota Lutherans are known for our “militant modesty.”

Our motto, with apologies to Garrison Keillor, might go like this:  “Don’t you be thinking you’re anything special!”

But Jesus isn’t buying any of that.    Jesus isn’t looking for wallflowers who blend into the background unnoticed.   Jesus, rather, audaciously tells us:  you are the light OF THE WORLD, you light up the whole cosmos!

Now, stick that in your pipe and smoke it! 

God lays no small plans for us.   God harbors no small expectations of us.   God intends for us to intrude upon the darkness of this world and let the dazzling light of Jesus Christ shine to full effect.

You, my dear sisters and brothers, you light up the universe.   So, please, never sell yourselves short.

And you here at Immanuel have lived that out in so many ways.   You have been not just a “consumer” of pastors—but you have produced pastors and other church leaders, other servants of the Word.  You have dispatched sons and daughters out across the globe.    Several of your pastors have wound up being called into wider-church ministries.   You have done things like “Miracle Sundays” (which doesn’t sound very “militantly modest”)….and when the Big One roared through town in June of 2010, you were bold in your efforts—with other neighbors  in Wadena—to declare, rather defiantly, that a big old tornado isn’t going to get you down.

Militant modesty may have its place, but Jesus our Lord calls us to something grander.  I love the fact that one of your goals for this anniversary celebration is “to create excitement for the future of Immanuel’s ministry.”

Well here’s what God has to say about that—God who called Immanuel into being, God who binds you in a holy togetherness, God who sets before you a whole world of possibilities for your next 75 years and beyond.   Jesus looks you in the eyes and says to you today:  “you are….you all are…the light of the world.”   Whatever awaits you, you will continue to arise and shine…for this is your Lord’s promise to you: you will light up the world, with God’s own dazzling brilliance.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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