Isaiah 40: 27 – 31
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Matthew 5: 13-16
“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 under foot. 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.”
I knew that Wednesday was going to be a long day for me. With prayer group in the morning and council at night, I knew I needed to break up the day. So midafternoon I decided to head over to the Chestnut Hill Mall to brave a trip to Sephora (a top end makeup and beauty store). I decided that I needed to find some miracle cream to deal with a persistent red blotchy patch by the side of my nose. My grocery store skin cream did not seem to be making any difference and so I decided to go straight into the source of all things beauty to see what potion I could purchase that would promise to bring radiance and glow to my skin again.
As I entered the store, I was dazzled by the displays that are just jam packed into the store space. Everywhere I looked, beautiful faces, beautiful skin, amazing eyes. Glowing smiles — all shinning back at me. So many potions, and colors. It was a sea of shinny, shinny, shinny.
One display in particular caught my eye. It was of an array of eye shadow, but not the powdery eye shadow of my adolescence, which was probably the last time I wore eye shadow, but these new and really slick pencils that were creamy and laid down a really vibrant and intense color. The silver, sparkly pencil in particular caught my eye. I streaked it across by hand and marveled at the color. This is it! I thought. This is just what I need!!
I mean, who wouldn’t want shimmering silver eye liner? I was not in that store more than 10 minutes before I was completely convinced that I too could shine like the faces around me if I just purchased that silver eye liner pencil, some super expensive face cream, and a lovely kind of burnt orangey lip paint color. I was definitely shinning when I headed back to my car with that little black and white signature Sephora bag in my hand. .
Shiny is good right? and Sephora was so generous is showing me how to get there. Took a bit from my credit card, but no matter after all shinny comes at a price,right?
But before we go any further: let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In our Gospel passage Jesus is not speaking to the “Bright and Shiny People” of his day. He is speaking to people who have never set foot inside of Sephora. Jesus is addressing a crowd that is tired, and despairing — people on a hillside on above the Sea of Galilee an area that was deeply impoverished and suffering under the oppressive rule of Rome. He was looking at these bedraggled people and sees something of beauty deep within them. He see them truly and fully and says to them “You are the light of the world”! “Let your light Shine!”
Same with the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is coming along people who are in a refugee camp in Babylon. Isaiah is speaking to people who are war refugees who have been displaced from their homeland and taken into exile. He is speaking to them a truth that is not contingent on circumstance. Wait upon the Lord, he says and you shall be renewed. You shall mount up with wings like eagles, and run and not be weary, walk and not be faint,.
Both Isaiah and Jesus see a deeper truth. Jesus sees through the concealing and the covering, through the shame and the hiding and sees the beauty, the light that God has seeded within each and every one of. A light that is to be put on the lampstand so it can be a gift to the world.
For the lampstand is also where life in all its messiness and true beauty shows up. The lampstand, that place where we show up most fully as our most authentic selves, is a generative place. A place where the human and divine meet and where new creation breaks forth. To take up ones place on one’s proverbial lampstand is to be in what some call the flow, to be in alignment with the energy of the universe, to feel the power of the Christ moving through oneself. It is the manger that most vulnerable of places to have been born but nonetheless the birthplace of Jesus, the love of God made incarnate, that leads us out of night we are in and into the light of new birth.
At our all church retreat last week, we spent quite a bit of time considering Jesus’ call to let our light shine. We made the lanterns that line our sanctuary today, as we reflected on how we as individuals and as a community are the vessels through which the light of God shines. It was a lot of fun to make these lanterns and it was not hard at all for me to string them up in the sanctuary here for us to enjoy, but let me be clear.
What Jesus is asking is hard. Sephora shining is easy. Gospel shining is not. Coming out of our places of hiding takes real work. It is not easy. And taking our place on our proverbial lamp stand, can be scary leaving us feeling exposed and vulnerable as we no longer try to conceal our imperfections and stop pretending to be something other than who we are.
Now I feel compelled to pause for a moment just to be clear that when I speak of moving to a place of exposure and vulnerability I am not speaking of being unsafe or putting oneself in harm’s way. Vulnerability has nothing to do with being victimized, taken advantage of, being diminishment in any way. What I am trying to talk about is just the opposite. We cannot be vulnerable in this open hearted way if we are unsafe or unwell.
What I am talking about when I speak of vulnerability is instead an emotional disposition of open heartedness (to borrow a phrase from Brene Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston). Vulnerability is about showing up, being seen and saying yes to what God would have us do. To come out from under the bushel basket, to come out from places of hiding, to take our place on the lamp stand of our lives and let our light shine asks a lot of us. It does not just happen. It requires intentionality and for me at least, it requires the cultivation of four key qualities of being. Qualities of courage, compassion, community and care.
Let’s take them one at a time:
First Courage: shining ones light takes courage. Brene Brown who has spent the last 20 years researching vulnerability speaks of a time when she addressed a large gathering of army officers. She asked them if they had ever witnessed an act of courage that did not involve vulnerability and no one in the room spoke. Courage and vulnerability are best friends. They go together. On this weekend when we remember our veterans we remember not only their courage but also how that very same courage brought them into situations of vulnerability. Courage, daring to show up.
Then there is compassion. To be vulnerable requires compassion first of all towards ourselves. Compassion for our imperfections and blemishes. Accepting that we are not perfect but that in our imperfection we are still perfectly acceptable to our God. Compassion is also about uncoupling circumstance with the certainty of being enough. If you are like me, I can play out this narrative of when/then. WHEN I am finally thin, devoid of this blotchy skin, able to have my sermon done by Thursday, THEN I will be ready to show up fully in my life. Until then I need to keep a low profile. Compassion is about releasing this When/then brokering and welcoming God into the mess that is now.
Third for me is Community: this week as I sat at my desk and looked out the window I watched the Riverside toddlers coming back from an excursion to the library. There they were two by two holding hand. As they made their way down the steep slope of the drive way, one little boy fell backwards and landed with a plop on his back side. The slope of the drive way made it hard for him to center his balance to stand up again. He tried and tried again until his little partner realized his distress and came from alongside him to in front of him and grabbing his two little hands in hers and tilted her weight backwards as she pulled him forward until the one who had fallen was standing again. She then drew along side, taking his right hand in her left and everyone proceeded their walk back down the driveway.
As we seek our lampstand we are going to fall on our backsides to be sure. And when we do, we need others to notice, to come and take us by both hands and help us to stand again. And it takes a community to give that space. To wait patiently and honor that good work until we can again continue our walk together.
And finally, standing on that lamp stand takes care. We have to take care of ourselves and each other. Shinning is hard work. It can be exhausting. What does taking care look like for you? Is it keeping Sabbath? Is it getting regular exercise? Is it getting enough sleep? Is it recognizing our limitations and being good stewards of our energy? We need to care for ourselves so that we have the physical, emotional and spiritual stamina to fully show up in our lives.
Gospel Shining is the walk of faith. It is not accomplished over night but it is the slow work of transformation that is the gift we are given and the gift we have to give to the world.
Did you know that according to demographic mapping data available through the United Church of Christ, 2/3 of those who live within a 2.5 radius of the church reported in 2017 that religious faith is of significance to them. But that only one third of these our neighbors are involved in any religious congregation or community. So if I am reading that data correctly that means that there are a lot of people out there who, could very well be hungry for a community of faith. There are a lot of people out there who may be hungry for a place that will nurture the light within and help it to shine.
So here is what I am thinking. What if in addition to Tom who so faithfully opens the door and hands out bulletins week after week. What if in addition to Judy and others who give big hugs and wide welcomes. What if we started handing out cotton balls saturated with make-up remover to everyone who comes in. What if in this way, we made it clear than in here there was no need to cover up or conform. In here we are invited to fully show up truly as we are? So that who we truly are can shine!
And what if, when it is time to leave again, what if we imagined taking with us one of these lights that line our sanctuary today. What is we imagined that we understood ourselves to be such lights. It is a beautiful but wounded world out there, a world longing for the light of God’s love. May we be bearers of it. May it be so, Amen.