Why Hide It?

February 5, 2017

Category: Test Category

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Tags: help, light, patience


Why Hide It?
Forgive me, I was a little thrown last week. In worship I kept looking down and seeing dirt on my shoes. It was from the graveside of Dylan Krings. I just couldn't bring myself to polish them, still haven't. Dylan, as many of you know, was a 22 year old child of this church, who died suddenly a couple weeks ago.
You see, what we're doing here really matters. I don't mean that in a “better get right with God” sort of way. More, that life is filled with the unimaginable and it's important to have people who will love you through it, not fix it, not pretend the unimaginable is not there, not pretty it up, love you through it, and keep loving you when the sharp pain of the moment has given way to the dull ache of living on.
Even if you don't participate much in the church, it's important to have a place where you can be reminded that you were made of God, that you are the result of the outpouring of God. I'm always looking for images for God. Jonathan Edwards once described God as a fountain who is “inclined to overflow.” At the funeral home last week, the window in the gathering space looked out to a fountain, a waterfall cascading down the hillside. In that painful moment, I was reminded of Edwards' image of God, inclined to love that it was just spilling out over the earth.
We gather here as we do if only for the reason of reminding one another of the fountain and that we are of it. This goes for the good times too. One of the things I appreciate about you is how much you laugh together. We need more of that. I've just begun a book that features conversation between good friends Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Their interactions are filled with laughter. It's astonishing considering each has seen more pain than I can imagine, Tutu through the hardship and bloodshed of his beloved South Africa and the Dalai Lama who has been in exile longer than I've been alive. Yet, still they laugh. They are a model for us because they know the importance of relationship, of having what the Celts call anam cara, a soul friend. What we are doing here matters.
I know you appreciate what we have here, so why would we hide it? Think of how many people would be blessed by a community such as this. Jesus uses a different image for this gift we share. He speaks of a lamp, a reminder of the light at the center of all things, a reminder of the direction that mysteriously comes to us in life, and the glow we share when we truly love another. He says, no one puts this under a basket, where it cannot be enjoyed, where it is of no use, where it can't be shared (Mt. 5:14). Right after offering all those blessings, those beatitudes, we heard about last week, he asks, “Now why would you hide this light?”
Jeff Shankle, our Youth Director, tells a story of visiting a church that reminds me of you – open-minded, caring about the community and larger world, accepting. Sadly, however, for all the good these churches do, and are, they are also particularly good at hiding. They don't want to be seen as proselytizing, forcing their way upon others, which I both understand and appreciate, and yet if we don't believe in this enough to share it, let's go home. The world could use our energy elsewhere.
In the story that Jeff tells the pastor says to the church something to the effect of, “Are we going to just trust that people will walk in and find that we love them as much as we say we do?” It's a daring question, not just because it points out what a poor strategy it is to hide our lamp and yet somehow expect to shine. It's a daring question because it recognizes that in the reaching out to others it calls us to live up to the claims we make about who we are and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Do we truly stand with the least of these? Do we truly resist the temptation to judge others even as we stand for what we believe? Do we truly welcome all? Or, are we more comfortable with a basket just big enough to fit over our like-minded heads? Don't get me wrong, there is an importance to “tribe,” but we can't live there all the time.
I suspect there is another reason Jesus gives us this image, because I don't think Jesus' ultimate concern was our growth strategy (his congregation was smaller than this). Yes, Jesus may have been saying there was something good they'd been tapped into, something worth sharing with the world, but perhaps Jesus also knows there is something good flowing through the world and we are called to go out and dip into it, and be changed by it, as well. Or, to use his light metaphor, you have to tend the hearth, but you also have to go out and build stories to come back and share as you sit around it. The light we offer will be colored by the hue of the light we encounter. Putting a basket over our light stunts both.
Jim McDonald, President of San Francisco Theological Seminary, recently wrote an article about vital congregations. He doesn't focus on numbers of attendance or giving. Those are strong here, by the grace of God, but most places in the denomination they are quite discouraging. No, he focuses on important characteristics through questions, and what's interesting about them is how many of them direct us outward. How are the prayers of the people? Is it connected to the community? Is prayer about getting one's way or does it seek to open the self and community to transformation? Does our prayer seek justice? Does it include the enemy?
Some more – Is the congregation multicultural? McDonald acknowledges the challenges of this given our segregated living, which we certainly experience in Marin. However, I'd like us not to hide behind that. Do you know where there is more diversity here than Sunday morning? Monday and Wednesday nights, when AA meets. What if the church were as indiscriminate in its loving and building relationships as addiction is in its afflicting and destroying relationships?
More questions, does the church engage the marginalized in the local community? Notice, McDonald doesn't say merely feed, or serve, or support, as important as those are. He chooses the word “engage,” connoting mutuality.
Is the congregation invested in a mutually transformative relationship with a partner in a different part of the world? Not just a visit, investment.
In fact, all the questions but one explicitly address outwardness. “Vital congregations,” he says, “do not exist for themselves.”
The lessons which are good for the church are just as relevant for your life. Do you exist solely for you? Yes, be sensitive to others, but you were put here to bless the world with a unique gift. We were too. Treading lightly is fine, but don't think you can avoid having an impact, so why not let it be one filled with intention? If we are quiet, other voices will fill that void. We season the earth with our lives, let us be mindful of the taste we leave.
That's what you read at the graveside. It's what I read at Dylan's – Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. Don't lose your taste, don't be bashful about sharing it, and practice inviting people to come to the table with you…wherever you go. It matters. Amen.