How Will We Invest Ourselves?

Matthew 5:14-16

January 27, 2013

A scary thing happened on the way to center court after the Duke vs. NC State college basketball game a couple of weeks ago. At the time, Duke was undefeated and the number one ranked team in the country. That is until NC State defeated the Blue Devils in what at the time was a major upset. With the game being played in NC State’s home arena, students began to rush toward center court to celebrate the big victory. Included in the group was wheel chair bound student Will Privette.

Privette would later say the decision to allow a friend to push him toward center court and the celebrating masses “was the dumbest decision of his college career.” As you might imagine, with so many people jumping up and down, Privette was quickly knocked from his chair and was in real danger of being lost in the midst of his schoolmates and their celebration. Without a doubt, he stood a strong chance of being trampled and seriously hurt as his cries for help were lost in shouts of joy.

Somehow, however, NC State’s star play CJ Leslie noticed Will. At first he picked him up and held him close with plans to deposit him back in his chair safely. But sensing Will’s sheer joy over what had happened, Leslie simply carried Privette in his arms and lifted him up, keeping him safe, while they both celebrated with their friends and fellow students.

In writing about what happened in an editorial the very next morning, the Raleigh News & Observer said that what CJ Leslie’s act reminds all of us of is that far beyond winning a basketball game “we rise the highest when we bend to lift another.” (“C.J. Leslie’s Lift of a Fan Lifts the Spirit,” Raleigh News & Observer Editorial, Sunday, January 14, 2013)

Without a doubt, the New Testament and particularly the gospels teach this lesson over and over again. We truly are at our best as both human beings and as people of faith when service to our world is at the very heart of how we choose to approach each day and to live as God’s children.

Today is our final Sunday of focusing on goals for this new year that stretches out before us. For a month now, we have wrestled with the questions of both what it means and what it looks like for us to be all that God wants us to be individually and collectively in this year.

This morning, we conclude our reflections on this question by being reminded that one of the goals that must be before us both this year, and quite frankly every year, is the goal to serve. One of the great aides in our remembering what we are called to do is the challenge of the first sentence in Matthew 5:14 to remember who we are. That one sentence is crucial if we are to become all that God wants us to be and it says simply this “You are the light of the world”. Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message, “You are here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.”

Now, I hate to be the ultimate poster child for Baptist preachers with my three points, but, there really are three things to quickly see here in Jesus’ words. First, Jesus is very clear—“you” are the light of the world. He doesn’t say “they” are the light or “somebody” is the light. He says “you are the light” and that means all of us who claim to be people who are Christ’s followers and who are sitting in this room.

Second, Jesus is also very clear that we “are” the light. The text does not say that we “could” be the light or that one day we “might” be the light. Rather, as people of faith our being light is already a given and it doesn’t hinge on what we may have done in the past or what we may do in the future. We simply are light.

Finally, the statement is also very bold in saying that we are the light of the “world”. Did you catch that—the entire world! The verse doesn’t say that we are just the light for West Main Street or for Laurens or for South Carolina. It says we are the light of the entire world.

This is who we are and this is what we are called to be. We are called to shine. But, what is so important is that this verse invites us not to shine for ourselves but for others with the idea being that as we care for others, we shed light for our world on who God is and how much God loves all of us.

Two or three years ago, I was with a group of friends in southern New Mexico. While there, we took a couple of hours to go to Carlsbad Caverns. If you have ever been in the deep interior or a cave, you know just how dark it can be. Once inside of the cave, I suddenly realized that I was one of the only folks in our group without a flashlight—it was a very boneheaded move to say the least. While there were some low lights to mark our way, really seeing and discovering all that was in the cave required extra light. Without a flashlight, I was totally dependent on others. Luckily I was with friends and they shared their lights with me. Had they not, much that was there would have remained a mystery to me.

It is no overstatement to say that the same is true in our lives of faith. We who are people of faith are bearers of the light and the rest of our world is dependent on us. If they are going to ever truly appreciate all that God is, it depends on our light helping them to catch a glimpse.

So, how to we go about this? On the one hand, we do so by always keeping the greater world in front of us. Every day, the call is for us to be mindful of what is happening in our world and that means both our nearby world and the extended world. Each day, we must ask ourselves the question, what does it mean for me to serve at this time in my life? Who in my immediate world and who in the greater world is God calling me to care for and how am I uniquely prepared even in these days to do that work? Who can I serve? And, as I do so, how can I share God’s love and God’s light in the process.

Together for Hope is the name of a little known commitment between Baptists and the twenty poorest US Counties. The work of Together for Hope spans the gamut from building projects, to literacy work to sports camps for children. The work in each of the individual counties is uniquely shaped for its own context and needs. What I have always admired about Together for Hope is that whenever new work is being considered in any of the twenty counties, the first task is always the same—to listen. Listen. The first task is to listen for the needs that are present and then to listen for how God invites us to respond.

For all of us here today, are we listening to our world? Are we listening for the needs that are calling out to us? And, then, are we listening for how God calls us to be light in those situations?

On the other hand, we also become light by actively engaging in serving our world once we have heard God speak. Once we have listened, and once we have heard God, our task is to go to work. Our task is to commit ourselves to serving others and to being a source of God’s light and God’s love in our world.

As was the case last week, let me be as practical as possible again this morning. Just as we cannot win the whole world for Christ and just as we cannot be involved in every ministry of our church, we cannot serve every need either. But, once we have heard God speak, we can commit ourselves to being involved in at least one way of serving our world. And, as we have said each week, imagine just how different our world would be if we all found one way to serve the needs of others and in so doing became light for our world.

Brian Mullenbach is a cereal salesman who lives in Atlanta. Several years ago, in a conversation, Brian heard that the number one gift request in North Atlanta at Christmas from underprivileged children was bicycles. Each year, the primary organization in the area who provided gifts for needy families ran out of bicycles during the holidays. They never had enough bikes to meet the demand. When he heard this, Brian listened and then he went to work. This cereal salesman became a bike guru as he challenged neighborhoods in North Atlanta to do holiday collections of good used bikes that could be restored and as he encouraged local corporations to do holiday community service days through buying new bikes and taking an afternoon for goodwill and team building by putting them together. Through a willingness to listen for a need and then go to work by acting, this cereal salesman erased the shortage of bikes in less than five years. In fact, within five years, Brian’s grassroots group of church friends, neighbors and fellow citizens were annual contributing 500 to 1000 bikes to the organization.

The only thing special about Brian is that he let his light shine by listening and by acting. He didn’t try to serve the entire world but he did commit to serving children at Christmas and as a result the love of God was shared in a profound way.

Worship, Minister, Share, Serve. These are simple but profound goals for a new year. The call is to come and weekly renew our light that we might not only light our way but that we might help others find the way to Christ as well. This year, will you be faithful to tending the flame of Christ in your life? Or will you let the light go out for you and in turn for others? Amen.