September 27, 2020 Sermon
“Pursuing Change for Christ: Provide a Good Example”
*Scripture Reading – Matthew 5:13-16
13 “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.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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.
“Pursuing Change for Christ: Provide a Good Example”
I read an article this week encouraging parents to model the behavior they’d like to see in their teenage children. The article begins:
Have you ever noticed how kids like to copy their parents? Whether it’s a 4-year-old who enjoys pretending to shave his face next to Dad in the bathroom mirror, or it’s a 6-year-old pretending to vacuum the living room as her parents do, kids learn how to behave by watching their parents.
Whether or not you have children, I’m sure you’ve noticed this phenomenon in society. Surely you’ve witnessed children mimicking their parents. Maybe you’ve even witnessed adults doing the same with other adults. Have you ever noticed that if a group of adults is seated in the same room and one suddenly crosses her arms, pretty soon most of them will cross their arms? People are relational, and one aspect of relationality is the behavior of mimicking, sometimes conscious and sometimes subconscious.
Which means our behavior, especially our behavior as followers of Jesus, MATTERS, maybe matters quite a bit more than we tend to think…because other people just might copy, might follow, OUR behavior, might imitate what we do as Jesus’ followers, might even imitate us BECAUSE we are Jesus’ followers.
Today is the final Sunday of a sermon series that seeks to answer one of the most fundamental questions of our faith: given that we live in a world that God desperately desires be transformed into something different, something BETTER, the kingdom of God, HOW are we supposed to pursue change to and in this world? Are we supposed to pursue change the way people around us are pursuing change, or are we supposed to pursue change in ways that are DIFFERENT – meaning, what kinds of strategies and tactics should we be employing?
We’ve looked at quite a few different aspects of and approaches to our pursuit of change for Christ so far. Today, we complete our sermon series with a reminder from Jesus that HOW we choose to pursue change MATTERS…because a great big part of our role as Jesus’ followers is to be what Jesus called “light to the world”. Meaning, we are Jesus’ representatives on earth. People will come to know God and God’s desires through US, the Church, as much as anything or anyone.
You’ve heard me say this before – and it bears repeating often – that after Jesus ascended into Heaven, God left the transmission of the gospel; the transmission of the stories of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection; the continuation of Jesus’ ministry…God left the transmission of these things to Jesus’ followers, to the Church, to US. Which is pretty much EXACTLY what Jesus was telling his disciples in our gospel reading today. God has given us a command – which is also a great responsibility – to let our light SHINE before others. We have a responsibility to be good role models for Christ, to model the behavior of Christ for others to follow, for others to KNOW who Jesus is and what Jesus is about. That’s what this light shining thing is primarily about – providing a good example that others will follow.
Nowhere, I think, does this matter MORE in our society right now than in the realm of pursuing change.
Take a look around at how people in our society are pursuing change. Do the approaches you see all around you reflect what Jesus called “letting your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”?
That’s why I chose this as the final topic to address in this sermon series. Regardless of what you’ve heard up until now, regardless of how much you remember about what it looks like to pursue change out of love, to seek reconciliation with those who’ve harmed you, to engage with those who disagree with you…regardless of what you remember about all those other things, as you pursue change going forward, I hope you will AT LEAST remember to ensure you’re pursuing change for Christ by evaluating every change you pursue and how you pursue that change through the lens of letting your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven:
- If you’re ever inclined to call people names as you pursue change…ask yourself if others will give glory to God as a result of your name-calling.
- If you’re ever inclined to falsely accuse someone to get your way – or even make an accusation that might not exactly be false but of which the truthfulness YOU are unsure…ask yourself if others will give glory to God as a result of your accusation.
- If you’re ever inclined to get what YOU want instead of checking in to see what God wants…ask yourself if others will give glory to God as a result of your getting what you want.
Y’all, as we pursue change, the ONLY way we will know that we’re pursuing change FOR CHRIST is by ensuring that the changes we pursue and the means by which we pursue these changes constitute light that will give glory to God. If our pursuit of change will do ANYthing else, we should pause, prayerfully reflect, and either make modifications to our pursuit of change or start anew.
But – beyond the call to ensure that the changes you pursue and how you pursue them give glory to God – there are at least three other implications to this “let your light shine” thing as you pursue change.
One implication concerns how I began the sermon – how we pursue change provides a MODEL for others to follow. I know a great deal of the press out there in the world is trying its best to convince our nation – even our world – that faith is no longer relevant in the 21st century, but the reality is quite different. In the United States, 65% of the population identifies as Christian. Clearly, that’s significantly more than ANY other religion, even non-religion. Worldwide, 31% of the population identifies as Christian, while the next largest religious group – Islam – comprises only 24% of the population, and only 16% of the world’s population has no religious affiliation. Why do I tell you these statistics in a sermon about letting your light shine? Simple: more people in the United State and world identify as Christian than as any other religion…which also means people are WATCHING us in the Church to see what we do, how we respond to world events, what kinds of changes we pursue and how we pursue them. New Christians and people who are interested in Christianity are watching how we in the Church are approaching and pursuing the needed changes in the world. Many will follow our lead…which is exactly what Jesus WANTED to happen.
Just like a 4-year-old boy will put shaving cream on his face and pretend to shave like his dad, a great many people out there will imitate how YOU pursue change in the world. If you’re pursuing changes that will bring glory to God and in a WAY that will bring glory to God, others will imitate you and bring glory to God, maybe even others who don’t yet identify as Christian. It’s a big responsibility to get this right.
Another implication is that Jesus told you to shine YOUR light, not somebody else’s light. This reminds me of Spiritual gifts – develop and use YOUR gifts, but it’s a bit more encompassing than that because it’s not about gifts exclusively.
I hope you know that God made YOU very specifically. God has given you a unique experience in this world. No one else has EVER or will ever live your life; it is unique to you. Which means YOU have a perspective no one else has. You have a light to shine that can’t shine through anyone else. And Jesus told YOU to shine your light in a way that brings glory to God.
Which means there are some serious implications if you rely on everyone ELSE to let their lights shine but you decide to not shine your very specific light. Somewhere – out there – there is at least one person who needs YOUR light to shine in order to come to know God’s love as made known in Jesus. Somewhere – out there – there is at least one person who will join in the chorus of bringing glory to God if they witness YOU pursuing change for Christ in the way God made you to shine. If you decide to pursue change in ANY other way, that person might miss the opportunity to know God’s love and to participate in God’s kingdom. So let YOUR light shine – don’t try to shine someone else’s light.
There’s one more implication to Jesus imploring his followers to let their light shine when it comes to pursuing change. It has to do with what Jesus said right before “you are the light of the world”, and it’s a nuance I think we often overlook.
With everything I’ve said so far about being certain that the changes you pursue and your chosen approach to change being things that are actually affiliated with LIGHT instead of darkness – you know, bringing glory to God instead of doing something else – you might get the impression that this light-shining thing is a little bit milquetoast, that it requires you to be bland, that the only way to bring glory to God is to NOT do anything that might disrupt the status quo, the powers that be or even to not do anything that might offend someone.
If you’re thinking like that, let me ask you a question: would you describe Jesus as milquetoast?
- Would you call the guy who overturned the money changers’ tables as “milquetoast”?
- Would you describe the guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners – something prohibited by the religious powers-that-be – as milquetoast?
- Would you describe the guy who turned water into wine – not just a little wine but wine to the point of overflowing and the best quality of wine at that – as bland?
- Would you describe the guy who re-defined FAMILY as having to do with faith instead of biology as pursuing bland CHANGES? Or what about the guy who told people to drop everything – at a moment’s notice – and follow him, not even allowing for time to bury the dead?
- And would you describe someone who piqued the ire of the power brokers so much that they had him crucified as bland?
Uh. NO!!!! Jesus was not milquetoast; Jesus was NOT bland. And remember, just as Jesus told us that WE are the light of the world, Jesus also proclaimed himself to be the light of the world. Which makes sense. Jesus was OUR model, and we follow Jessu to be the model for others. And Jesus – the light of the world – was NOT bland. And just before calling us to ne the light of the world, Jesus even COMMANDED us to not be bland, saying, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Y’all, bringing glory to God doesn’t mean shying away from the tough issues, shying away from the difficult changes needed in our world. Quite the opposite. Pursuing change for Christ means pursuing the kinds of changes that are so vital and so DIFFICULT that pursuing them led Jesus to the cross.
So…when it comes to pursuing change:
- Don’t shy away from racism…if racism is an issue about which God calls you to pursue change.
- Don’t shy away from politics…if God calls you to pursue change in the realm of politics.
- Don’t shy away from reforms within the Church…if God calls you to pursue reforms in the Church.
- Don’t shy away from calling out violence or injustice…if God calls you to pursue changes in the realm of violence and injustice.
In other words, don’t be MEEK. Don’t shy away from the tough issues because you think LIGHT means WEAK, LIGHT means MEEK, light means bland. In fact, it is the DARKNESS, not the light, that tries to keep difficult but necessary changes from being pursued.
“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
My friends, God calls us through Christ to follow Jesus’ example of pursuing the changes that NEED to be made to help transform the world from what it is presently into God’s kingdom on earth. That’s gonna take some light – some very specific kinds of light in the form of you…and you…and you…and you…and you. It’s gonna take some very specific kinds of light following Jesus’ example of pursuing change – not the easy changes but the difficult changes that will make all the difference; it’s gonna take some very specific kinds of light following Jesus’ example of pursuing change. Which might sound like a big responsibility – because it is – and might even sound more than a little scary – because it is. But that’s what we’re called to do; light is who and what we’re called to be…that glory might be given to our Father in heaven.