February 5, 2023 ~ 25th Anniversary of St. Paul’s becoming a Reconciling Congregation: Part II
Rev. Beckie Sweet
There are all kinds of theories out there about how to motivate people, especially if one wants to motivate others to excel in some activity. A few weeks ago, I attended a Cornell Men’s basketball game. It was early in the season, and the team seemed to be having a hard time playing as a cohesive unit. During the first half of the game their defense wasn’t effective enough to keep the opponent from scoring from both the outside and the inside. Their shooters didn’t seem to be able to sink easy baskets. And their passing was sloppy, leaving them open to frequent steals and turnovers.
But after halftime they played like a different team! They started scoring consistently, their defense was tight, their effort was outstanding, and they ended up winning the game. I would love to know what Coach Brian Earl said to that team during their time in the locker room at halftime! How did he turn that team around?
Sometimes reminding folks that a group of people can do so much more than what any ONE person could do alone, motivates teamwork at its best. And reminding that team that like a chain, they are only as strong as their weakest link, can cause a rush of adrenaline that will give the weak ones Herculean strength. Oh, I wonder what was said in the locker room that day!
Yes, there are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people. For many generations, people tried to motivate others through guilt, through fear, through bullying, control, and shame. But these were not Jesus’ methods. Jesus motivated through positive messages of hope and encouragement. Consider our scripture reading for today. Just following the infamous Beatitudes, Jesus says to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world…” Can you imagine that? Here was a motley crew of farmers and fishermen, tax collectors and housewives, trades folks and young ones in a tiny, remote village in an obscure part of the world, and Jesus is saying to them, “You are the salt of the earth, You are the light of the world.” Talk about a statement of faith! It must have sounded absurd at the time – even to them! Only Jesus could have seen that through this motley crew God would indeed change the world forever. At the time, however, it probably sounded like so much idle chatter. “You are the salt of the earth, You are the light of the world,” he said and so they were.
Now, do you want to hear something really outlandish? So are we! We are the salt of the earth, We are the light of the world, too! Savor that thought for a moment! Jesus claims us, too, as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What does that mean for us? We have the responsibility for and the privilege of being the salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of the earth. We are the light, bringing out the God-colors of the world, and showing that TO the world. A light house warns the ship captain to steer away from the rocks. A light bulb lights up a room. Light does not exist for its own glory but to brighten the world.
“One night at the end of a special Saturday night worship service,” writes Warren Hudson of Ontario, Canada, “a thunderstorm unleashed a bolt of lightening that plunged the church into darkness.” With the congregation seated in total darkness, the pastor felt his way to the kitchen to find some candles. The pastor handed out the candles to everyone present. Folks lit their candles in much the same way as many churches do on Christmas Eve, each person lighting the candle of the person next to them. The worshipers then made their way through the church’s winding hallways to the front door.
“Peering out, we could see the rain doming down in sheets,” Warren remembers. With traffic snarled, people were running for the nearest shelter. Looking around they realized that the entire city was in darkness. “There in the darkness we stood,” Warren writes, “a little band of Christians, each clutching a light, not sure whether to venture out into the storm or stay inside the church in hopes that the storm would soon blow over.”
There in the darkness the light of truth struck him. In this most dramatic way he realized what it means to be the “light of the world.” He concludes, “It occurred to me then that this is the temptation I face every day. It is easy to play it safe and be a good Christian in church. It is a lot harder to venture out in faith into the storms of the world.”
Like a beam of light shining through the darkness, modern day followers of Jesus stand out and are visible for the world to see. Our temptation is to allow our light to shine only for those inside our church, while ignoring people outside.
During this second part of the celebration of St. Paul’s’ 25th Anniversary of becoming a Reconciling Congregation, I was asked to be prophetic – to address what it will mean for St. Paul’s to be a Reconciling Congregation for the next 5, or 10, or 25 years. The temptation is to be cozy and happy with the way things are INSIDE the church. It’s like the desire on a cold and stormy day to stay inside, curled up by the fireplace reading a good book about the courage and adventures of other people.
But the followers of Jesus are called to venture out into the stormy world with their light of love and hospitality, justice and change, to be a beacon guiding all persons to know the love of Christ in transformative ways. There is no doubt that it is uncomfortable, risky, and sometimes a little scary, to go where Christ’s message of love and acceptance may not be welcome, may cause disagreement, and may be rejected, but friends, I believe that is what we are called to do for the next 25 years. With our words we can tell others of God’s love which knows no boundaries and which is expressed by persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. With our actions we can show the world that we are not part of an exclusive club. The Church of Jesus Christ flourishes in the expansive richness of diversity where all are celebrated and accepted in their God-created uniqueness. And in that witness to the world we must intentionally reach out, even into stormy and hostile conditions, to remind the world that God loves us ALL, and All means ALL!
God has not equipped me with a crystal ball, and I don’t often have visions of divine revelation. What I do know is that we, St. Paul’s Church, need to remember Jesus’ encouraging calling “You are the salt of the earth, You are the light of the world.” And we are equipped with the most powerful gift and message and action plan the world has ever experienced. May the beacon of Christ’s love light shine through us!
Lord, Make Me a Channel of Disturbance:
The “Reverse St. Francis Prayer”
Lord, make me a channel of disturbance.
Where there is apathy, let me provoke;
Where there is compliance, let me bring questioning.
Where there is silence, may I be a voice.
Where there is too much comfort and too little action,
Where there are doors closed and hearts locked,
Grant the willingness to listen.
Where laws dictate and pain is overlooked…
When tradition speaks louder than need…
Grant that I may seek rather to do justice than to talk about it;
Disturb us, O Lord.
To be with, as well as for, the alienated;
To love the unlovable as well as the lovely;
Lord, make me a channel of disturbance.
~ Author unknown