Meant to Live
I’m just going to come out and say it: I hate going to Six Flags. To me, it’s just slightly better than getting a filling done.
A number of years ago, when I was starting out working at a church, I found that you do what no one else wants to do , a bunch of churches got together to take our youth groups to Six Flags Magic Mountain. But, teenagers, they like going, and as a youth worker, you kind of do what teenagers like to do.
So you drive them hours and hours to go to a place that you hate, with them loud and obnoxious the whole time you’re driving them up. Then you worry about them the whole time they’re in the park, hoping they’re okay. Then, maybe the worst part, they sleep the whole way home, while you’re stuck trying to stay awake, propping your eyelids up with toothpicks or something. It’s miserable.
So, one year, having hated every minute of our drives the past few years before, we decided as a group of youth leaders that we would charter a couple of buses to drive all of us so that we could sleep on the way back.
It felt like such a good idea as our groups were all hopping onto the bus at midnight. It had been a mostly-uneventful evening at the park, but I was exhausted all the same and ready to catch some z’s.
I found myself sitting in the front seat of the bus trying to sleep, but my bus driver muttered to himself – like the whole time – making it quite difficult. But I finally did around two in the morning. And it wasn’t a light sleep. It wasn’t a power nap. I was really asleep, like that sweaty-car-ride, drool on yourself, REM sleep that becomes increasingly difficult to achieve as we get older. I mean really asleep.
But, as soon as we pulled into the church parking lot at around 4:30 a.m., our bus driver, having barely set the parking brake, stood up, faced his sleeping assembly of passengers, and like an evangelical preacher in a southern congregation, he shouted: “WAKE UP, Y’ALL!”
Wake up, y’all. It felt like being assaulted. I may have never been that angry before. With these three shouted words, not only was I rudely awakened, but everyone else on the bus was shaken awaken and had drowsy eyelids and the fluttering treble that comes when you’re awakened suddenly and filled with adrenaline. Wake up, Y’all! How rude!
It’s the message that we receive from 1 John. How rude of him! Just like when we hear from the bus driver, “Wake up, we, likewise, find ourselves be roused from sleep too quickly and the adrenaline flows and our eyelids still want to droop, we want to pull the pillow back over our heads, but John says that our God is light – there is no darkness – and this is not the time to be sleeping. Wake up. Wake up, y’all.
In our Go,d there is no darkness at all. The long night in which we waited for salvation has become morning. Not only is the light here, our God is the light and we will wait no more. How rude to wake us up so suddenly!
Because we’re drowsy. We’ve been lulled by that darkness for a long time, we struggled to sleep in the first place because of our despair, and now we struggle to see the light, struggle to recognize what is already here and we bury our heads, digging them more deeply under our pillows, hoping for just five more minutes. We desperately want to hit the snooze bar on God. But John asks us to roll over, get out of bed, look to the light, get a move on.
Is it possible that for us, the mature Christians in the room – maybe too big of statement – should we say the seasoned Christians in the room… is it possible that our biggest temptation isn’t the big ten that we studied a few weeks ago. Is it possible that it isn’t the no other gods, no graven images, no murder, no theft, no covet… kinds of sins that hold us down. Is it possible that our greatest temptation is to go back to sleep when we have already been awakened to the light of God.
I always joke that I’m preaching to myself. This week’s no different. This is my anniversary Sunday. This is one year since I was first appointed. In some ways it feels like yesterday and in others it feels like I’ve never been anywhere else. I often say this about being married. Christina and I have been married for seventeen years and, on one hand, I feel like it happened yesterday and, on the other hand, I feel like I was born, the doctor smacked me on the behind and said, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
That’s the feeling I get saying that I have been your pastor for a year. It’s been forever and it’s been a very short while all at the same time. So many things have happened. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know most of you quite well and, together, we’ve seen transformation. I know that I’m a changed man from this year. It’s exciting, but, here’ my admission: my greatest temptation is to let things rest now. Not necessarily to go back to sleep, to go back to the way things were, but to stop striving like we have been together. It’s tempting to see all that has happened and say “good enough; we can rest on these successes; we can stop pushing so hard, stop reaching out so much. But we have to push away that temptation. Because just as John said in this chapter, when you have seen the light you must walk in the light.
And we have seen the light together. So much has happened this year. From the seeds that we’ve planted, we’re starting to see the beginnings of life growing and blossoming in the relationships between our church and this neighborhood – some of which is happening as a result of the relationships built with our preschool. Which is something that a lot of us didn’t think could happen. I have to admit my own skepticism even as I put on my Pollyanna glasses and assumed that it was possible. But, one of the ways that God has worked, one that God has shined a light on the situation, and began the work of making community with our group of committed United Methodist Women (honorary woman) who have been servant leaders to our sweet children and their parents, serving coffee and snacks and making relationships and learning names. Not just because they want them to be a part of our church, but because we are called to serve them. Because they have seen the light of God, they are walking in it and letting it shine.
In a similar way, we’re seeing this church hands-on meeting the needs of the people of our community. One mile from here, at Christ United, they have a free clinic on Thursdays afternoons where they provide healthcare to people who literally have no other options for care. They are doing something amazing and they need meals served for those people who come and are hungry, as well as the doctors and nurses who provide for their healthcare needs.
Starting back in January, our Compassionate Transformation Team stepped up and we’re serving our sixth meal this upcoming Thursday, led by Leeanne Ward. We had agreed to do six months, but when I checked back in and asked for volunteers, people stepped up and took responsibility for all of the weeks for the rest of this year. This is your church ministering in new and relational ways, seeing the light of God and letting it shine.
But, it’s not just the new ministries that are shining. Our church has a long relationship with God’s Extended Hand, the meal center and shelter a couple of miles away from here on Island Street. I have been preaching there basically every month since I started here. The people who go and serve (like Bill, Bob, Ken, and now Manny) see God reliably present there. They sing and they share and the serve meals. They see the light of God and it breeds a new level of commitment to caring for others. The light of God is there and we all carry it away with us, shining it to everyone we meet.
Over and over again in these ministries, and so many others that do as a church, we see the light of God reliably present (like in the communion that we take today). We see the light of God and we refuse to keep it from shining.
Every time I sing and preach at God’s Extended Hand, I sing This Little Light of Mine. At first, it seemed like they thought it was beneath them, but over time it has become an anthem of sorts for us. To close, I’m going to share it with you the way I share it with them. Singing: This Little Light of Mine.