Be a Little Salt, Be a Little Light

Closing Candlelight & Annointing Service at the Massanetta Springs Middle School Conference, Harrisonburg, VA

Sermon for Sunday May 16, 2010, Psalm 19:1-4 and Matthew 5:13-16

One Friday morning a few weeks ago, Elizabeth and I were awakened by a wonderful sound that was more splendid than “three little birds… singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true”[1]the lovely voice of our almost two-year-old Katie who was singing songs and cheerfully greeting her stuffed animal friends and books who share her crib:

“Laloobabaupinairwheelsdabusbababeee…Hello Goofy! Hello Mickey! Hello Cat in Hat! Dooodaaadeeeeeee. Hi fire truck book! Weooweooo!”

With smiles on our faces, Elizabeth and I listened to Katie’s sweet banter for a few minutes until she shouted loudly “Milk, mama? Cup, daddy? Down…down…down.” At that point, I got out of bed and walked quickly to Katie’s room.

Upon opening the door, I was greeted by our bright-eyed and grinning daughter who was sitting on her knees in her bed: “Hi Daddy!” Her Goofy and fire truck book in hand, she stood up and then excitedly bounced back down onto the mattress.

I reached down and tickled her for a bit, and then scooped her up and laid her on the changing table. Just as I was fastening on a new diaper, she asked sweetly, “Playground Daddy?” I gave her a smile and a resounding “Yes!” and after a hearty milk cup and bowl of raisins, we headed to the Mountain Park playground in Lilburn where Katie went on a joy-filled romp from one activity to the other—swings then slides then a ride on the bouncy rock’n’rider that is shaped like a zebra!

Later that afternoon, following lunch and a nap, we went back outside to play in the front yard of our home. Katie picked up pine straw, kicked a ball across the grass, danced on the front stoop, pushed her toy lawnmower across the driveway and colored the sidewalk with blue and pink chalk! As I joyfully watched Katie immerse herself in play amid the beauty of God’s creation, I realized that this month of May is spring loaded with excitement and wonder!

May is a time when flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and special events are occurring in our lives and the life of the church—graduations, weddings, retirements, family picnics, anniversaries, elder installations, Choir-led worship, births, birthdays, baptisms and the receiving of new members.

On this 16th of May, we have much joy and excitement in our hearts as we celebrate two important occasions in worship today: the receiving of the 8th Grade Confirmation Class as confirmed members of the church, and the baptism of Christa Prater. Both events are such a powerful testament to God’s love in our lives that it may be difficult to put this holy encounter into words that would make sense.

It’s not uncommon during sacred moments like baptism and Confirmation—when God’s presence captivates our hearts and overwhelms us with sheer joy—that God is often indescribable.[2] Sometimes there are just no words that can adequately sum up our experience of God. Sometimes, the only way to speak of God is through our actions.

The writer of Psalm 19 tells us that while the heavens and earth have no words or voice to speak of God, they still tell the glory of God and proclaim God’s handiwork. They simply do what God created them to do—the heavens burst forth with sun & clouds, moon & stars; the earth tends to the growth and nurture of plants, trees, and all living creatures.

Even when we have no words to speak of God, we also can tell the glory of God and proclaim God’s handiwork. We simply do what God created us to do—we go and serve others with a flavorful dish of God’s love; we go and serve others with the illuminating and transforming light of God’s mercy!

We smile, we dance, we laugh, we cry, we leap, we hug, we give pats on the back, we reach out a hand, we lend a shoulder to cry on, we cook, we visit, we play music, we go on a nature walk, we pray, we teach, we nurture, we hope, we forgive, we love…we live out our faith!

Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel that his followers should live like the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He tells us that we should season our life and relationships with God’s love, and shine our light for others so that they may give glory to God. Jesus cautions us to not lose our zest or hide our gifts for ministry. That is Jesus’ message and vision for the Church and its members. We have been baptized and called for no other purpose than to be salt and light. As the Amy Grant song goes:

We all need a little salt, need a little light

Need a hopeful word shining bright
We can be a little salt
Be a little light
In this darkened world
We can shine, oh oh, shine so bright
Shine, oh oh, just like the starlight[3]

Similarly, there’s a popular quote that usually surfaces in graduation speeches and sermons this time of year. It’s an excerpt from a book by spiritual teacher and author Marianne Williamson in which she tells readers:

You are a child of God. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.[4]

I was reminded of the impact one’s shining light can have on another three weeks ago when the 8th Grade Confirmands shared their expressions of faith.

Several Confirmands explained how God placed a variety of people in their life that helped shape their faith.  One Confirmand said that he sees God in all people—the lunch lady, the policeman, and the neighbor. Other youth spoke about God’s loving presence in their lives and how they felt a sense of belonging in the church at Pleasant Hill.

As I listened to the Confirmand’s express their faith, I heard and felt God reaffirming my calling to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament, particularly in Youth Ministry and Mission. I realized once again the unique opportunity I’ve been given to do ministry for and with other people.

And I’m able to do what God created me to do because the light of God that is within these Confirmands (and so many people in my life) has given me the permission to shine the light of God within me. Without all of you shining light into my life, I would hardly be able to flicker much less relight the oil for my lamp.

Sometimes folks worry that I’ll get burned out going with the youth on various summer conferences and mission trips—especially after a year that has been packed with weekly Middle and High School Youth programs as well as local and global mission projects with the congregation.

But the reality is that the four trips I attend from June to July are when my light shines the brightest! And it’s because of the light that radiates from the youth through some amazing moments! The stories that immediately come to mind are experiences that two Confirmands, Kelly and Martha, shared as part of their expressions of faith:

Kelly’s story took place last summer during the Middle School Mission Trip in Nashville when she and her mission group delivered lunches to home-bound senior citizens via the Meals on Wheels Program. One of the residents on their route was a blind woman in her 80s who lived alone in her apartment. While visiting with the woman, the group learned that she had some packages of food in her freezer but was unable to identify the items because of her blindness. As a result, the woman never tried to cook for herself. She ate only the one daily meal brought to her by the Meals on Wheels volunteers.

Kelly and her peers decided they would re-organize the freezer food so the woman would be able to remember the items and thus be able to make her own meals: Frozen peas in the left hand corner, frozen chicken in the right hand corner, frozen fruit in the shelf on the door. This small act of kindness, seasoned with love, brought much joy to the blind woman who couldn’t stop thanking the youth for their help. Eyes were opened, especially Kelly’s, as she discovered how just a little light can bring a great amount of warmth, comfort and love to another.

Martha’s story also occurred last summer, about a month earlier, at the Massanetta Springs Middle School Conference in Virginia. On the last evening of the conference, everyone gathered in the outdoor auditorium that was lit only by the glow of numerous candles.  It had already been a long and active day and Martha wasn’t sure she was going to make it through this closing activity with her eyes opened. She preferred to be back at the Conference Center hotel where she could get ready for bed.  [5]

But a few minutes later, after 300 or so youth and adults had sat down amid the glimmering light, the music leader began playing hymns on the piano. And then small group leaders, high school youth, started to anoint each middle schooler in their group with oil—reminding them that they were a child of God. Martha was awestruck as her leader made a sign of the cross on her forehead with oil. Eyes were opened, especially Martha’s, as she discovered how just a little light can bring a great amount of warmth, comfort, love (and even tears) to another.

Never underestimate the light of God that is within each of you and the incredible impact that the light has in the world. Often the light of God is needed in the places that are closest to us like our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools and our church.

Never be afraid to shine that light before others, particularly those in this very sanctuary—the folks you know by name but may not know well or relate to because they wear different clothes or listen to different types of music or have a different political view.

Because when you shine that light, you help people see their connection to God and one another as beloved members of God’s community—as “individual masterpieces”[6]. You help “make manifest the glory of God” that is so powerful and awe-inspiring there won’t be words to describe it.

“‘You are the light of the world,’” says Jesus. “‘…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’”

May your light always, always shine on![7]

Amen.



[1] Phrase from the popular song “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley,  1977. Andrew Warner played the song on the jimbay drums as part of the Confirmation Class’ Expression of Faith on Sunday May 2, 2010.

[2] Intentional reference to the song “Indescribable” written by Laura Story, 2002, and performed by Chris Tomlin. This song was used on the Confirmation Retreat and continues to inspire the Confirmands. Alison Kaman shared the song as part of her Expression of Faith on May 2.

[3] “Salt and Light” by Amy Grant, 1992,  a popular praise hymn sung at youth conferences, published in the PC(USA) Youth Connection songbook “New Song.”

[4] http://www.marianne.com/. The quote is also used in the movies Coach Carter, 2005, and Akeelah and the Bee, 2006

[5] Following the preaching of this sermon at the 11 am service, I discovered I had a few details wrong on Martha’s story so I updated for the version published on this blog.

[6] Molly Tickle’s description of “child of God” which she shared when she gave her Expression of Faith on May 2.

[7] Inspired by the song “Shine” by Trey Anastasio, 2005.

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