For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.
1 Timothy 4:12-16
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
“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 underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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. 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.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
We’ve had and awesome Winter Youth Assembly 2014, haven’t we? We’ve done so much together – we’ve laid down our burdens together, we’ve sang with the awesome band together, eaten milkshakes together, eaten together, played games together, read the Bible together, talked about issues we are deeply passionate together, worshipped together, prayed together, learned about what the wider church is doing together, had too little sleep together – we’ve been the people of God together for the last thirty-six hours. And it’s been awesome. But now you have to leave.
In just a couple hours, you’ll be on your way home or home already, back to your own house and your own family and your own bed, with homework waiting to be done before school starts tomorrow. In just a few hours, we’ll all be back to our regularly scheduled lives. You’ll be back in a world that we talked about in open space yesterday – a world full of stress and scary things and big issues and everyday obstacles. That world waiting for won’t be any different from the one you left. But maybe this time, upon reentering that world, you’ll know who you belong to and who is the one walking with you in the chaos.
Today, before we go, Jesus has some words to say to us. What we just heard a moment ago and what you read in your small groups is from a larger section in the Gospel of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s pretty much what it says it is – its Jesus first sermon, and he preaches it on a mountain. Well done, Bible scholars. Last we you might have hard your pastor preach on the Beatitudes, the “blessed are the ‘fill-in-the-blanks’” section. And this week, we hear the next movement of the sermon, about who we are and what we are for in this world. Jesus knows that up here on the mountain, things can feel pretty safe. We may even want to stay up here forever, chillin’ with Jesus. But we have to go down the mountain sometime, and Jesus is getting us ready.
Jesus tells us, “You ARE the light of the world.” Jesus did NOT say, “you are the light if you do A, B, and C.” He didn’t say, “You’ll be the light when you get older.” He didn’t say, “You’ll be the light when you get confirmed.” Jesus said, “You ARE the light” as in RIGHT NOW, this very moment.
That light does not come from you. It doesn’t come from how awesome you are at sports, or how good you are in school, or how many friends you have, or if you are good at singing or video games or knitting. It doesn’t come from doing everything right, being the perfect son or daughter or student or athlete. If it did, not a single one of us, even the adults, would be able to generate even the tiniest spark.
Instead, your light comes from being a child of God. Last night we remembered that God created us and knows us each by name. We remembered our baptisms, where God claimed each of us as daughters and sons through water and the Holy Spirit, who keeps that light burning in us. Our light comes from the source of all light, from the one who we are called to follow, Jesus.
Right now we’re in that in-between season of the church year, between Christmas and Lent, with the funny name – Epiphany. It is a time that is all about light. How the light of Christ first dawned on us as he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, how his light shone out during his ministry in his preaching and teaching and feeding and healing, how that light could not be put out even by death. Jesus entered into our darkness, bringing God’s healing light to all the dark and broken places. And by being a child of God, you become a bearer of that light to all the world.
You are shining that light right now, even as we speak. That light might be a bright spot light, a flashlight, the light shining through the window, blinking colored Christmas lights, or a dimly burning candle flame flickering in the wind, but you are the light if the world, and you have the light of Christ in you.
Just a little light goes a long, long way. Think back when you last lost power – whether it was during Hurricane Sandy or even this last week during the snow and ice storms. When it got dark, just a little bit of light could give you enough to see by, even by just turning on the tiny light built into your phone.
But what is light for? It’s meant to shine. The light is not meant to stay in one place, to be hidden away – though it is really tempting to hide your light. God did not give you the light to put a basket over it, though that is what happens sometimes.
What are the bushel baskets in your life? Think about that for a moment. Only you know what is in your life that can hold you back, that can make you want to hide. For Timothy, who gets a letter from his mentor Paul, it was his youth and inexperience. Fortunately Timothy had someone in his life to remind him of the gifts that God had given him, to remind him to let his light shine, no matter what, so that everyone might benefit.
You are the light OF THE WORLD. It’s for the sake of others. And it’s not about shining bigger and brighter than the next person. It’s about shining enough for what that person needs right now. Its stuff that you are already doing – like service projects in your church or youth group, or seemingly little things like welcoming those who are different from us or trying to get to know people we don’t understand.
And it is also stuff you were inspired to dig deeper while you were here – being involved in the continuing Hurricane Sandy relief effort, fighting human trafficking, or world hunger, or bullying.
You are the light of the world. And when you let your light shine, you are pointing to where that light comes from. And you are not shining your light alone. On our own, shining our light in the world may seem like a tall order, something totally overwhelming, especially after seeing this weekend that there is so much to talk about, so much darkness that is still out there. But my light, plus your light, plus your light, and yours and yours and yours adds up to something really bright and strong. And together, we are enough to shine into the dark world. A wise singer once said, “You’re beautiful, like diamonds in the sky. Shine bright like a diamond.”
We may not know what the future holds for us as we shine. But we do know that God intends our future to be for good, and not for harm. And we know that Jesus walks with us into the darkest places of our lives even as we leave this place. Like Timothy, don’t neglect the gift that is in you, and don’t forget to let yourself shine. Amen.