Our confirmation students provided the theme for our Lenten services this year. They fill out confirmation credit sheets, reflections on their service, learning, or worship experiences. They also get to ask questions on these sheets. So many of them asked such good questions that Abby, our youth director, started to gather them up in categories. She saw themes in the kinds of excellent questions our young people asked, and decided to use those questions as a guide for what the students would discuss with their mentors during Lenten Mentoring. Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we pastors decided to follow suit. The texts on which we preach mirror the conversations our young people have on Wednesdays in Lent.
This week, we’re looking at questions regarding calling and purpose. How do I know what God asks of me? Who does God call me to be? What is my place in the world? How can my life witness to my faith? Excellent questions for our young people to ask, right? It’s good for these wise and thoughtful students to start thinking about their words and actions and how they might witness to the goodness of God in their classes, their college choices, their careers, and their relationships.
But then, it’s not just young people who ask those questions. I mean, I’m still wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up – and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not a young person any more. God is active in our lives, and our response to God’s call moves accordingly. A life of faith is not stationary, it’s dynamic. God calls us to listen and to respond.
So I hope you’re listening to this passage. These words are so familiar that you might have let them just fly right past you. “You are the light of the world” – well, we say those words to the newly baptized every Sunday as we hand them a lit candle. “You are the salt of the earth” – we use those words whenever we describe someone who is the salt of the earth, someone just hard-working and humble. But what does it really mean? When Jesus charges us to be the salt of the earth – the light of the world – what does he mean?
We are the light of the world because Jesus, the true light, shines through us. Any light we radiate comes from him. This is where our calling and purpose come into play. Our mission as Christians in the world is not to make it about ourselves. Our work is not to show everyone how special and important we are. We have one job, and one job alone: to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. You do that when you “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
You don’t figure out what you’re good at and what the world needs so that people can give glory to you. Your gifts are not a commodity that can be bought and sold. The work you do in the world you do so people can give glory to God. Your work, your words, your relationships, they all bear witness to Christ and preach him to others. The light you radiate is not your own, but his. You are the window that lets the light shine in, you are the mirror that reflects the light into dark places, you are the candle that bears his light into the world. This is your mission: to shine the light of Christ, no matter what you do, and to do so with integrity and purpose.
Don’t buy the lie that God has one select area of service for you and won’t show up if you choose poorly. It’s not like God has already decided that the only way you can shine the light of Christ is if you work as a nurse, or a construction worker, or heaven forbid, a pastor, and that if you pick the wrong path God will kinda shrug and say, “Well, bummer, looks like you won’t be serving me after all.” You can serve God as a nurse, or a construction worker, or a pastor – or a husband, or a teacher, or a banker, or a politician, or a lobbyist, or a middle-management employee, or in any profession. When you consider truly and prayerfully if this is what Jesus calls you to do, if this is where God’s gifts are best put to use, if this is what the world needs of you, and if that work stays in keeping with a faithful Christian life, there might be many right answers to those questions. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory not to you, or to your company, or to your organization, or to your bank account, but to God in heaven.
I preached a sermon on Sunday which has gotten me the most feedback ever in my roughly ten years of preaching. In it, I called us to faithful action in the face of gun violence in America. One thing that I’ve had several people say to me about it is: but you didn’t tell us what to do. You told us to trust that Jesus calls us to move from death to life, to come out of the tomb, to be the light of the world – but what does that mean? What am I supposed to do? Just tell me what to do!
Beloved in Christ, I won’t tell you what to do. I could, but I won’t. Anyone who presents their opinion as the definitive truth is selling something. I can give you some ideas, but this work of discernment is yours. I am your pastor, and I am here to comfort and challenge you. That is my call. My mission and purpose is to continue prodding you, to continue bringing God’s word before you, to remind you of God’s promises as well as God’s judgement, and work together with you on becoming a community that is like a city on a hill, that does not hide, that serves as the salt of the earth, agitating and seasoning and spicing things up, not for our own glory, but so that God would be known and God would be glorified.
Your mission and purpose is to go from here into the world, to wait and listen in prayer and devotion, to be in holy relationship with others who know you and hold you accountable, to read God’s word, and devote yourself to love for God and love for neighbor. You are called to shine your light in the way that is most true and authentic to God’s action in your life, to the way God made you, in the way the world most needs you’re your mission is to serve God alone for the sake of your neighbor, whatever your work may be. Let your light shine – your light, the light of Christ in you – because in this, others see God in the world. For the light of Christ, which shines through us, thanks be to God. Amen.