Isaiah 60:1-3; Matthew 5:14-16
Rev. Tom Herbek
April 2, 2017
Jesus was very clear that there is light in each one of us, and that we are to let our light shine, not hide it underneath an overturned basket. Today is a day of special celebration, celebrating the light and the life in the people around us. We celebrate the light that our confirmation students bring to our church family, with their energy, enthusiasm, thoughts and questions.
In many cultures in our world, people greet one another not by saying, “Hello,” but by saying: “The light in me greets the light in you.” What a beautiful greeting! Jesus calls us to let our light shine. And we are called to remember, to respect, and to recognize the light in those around us. Jesus was clear that he saw light in every person he met, and he crossed all of the boundaries of his day to greet the light in people.
When I was growing up, we sometimes put the extra leaf in the dining room table. This always meant something really special was going to happen. It often occurred on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or whenever either set of grandparents, or my aunt and uncle visited. It always meant great food, (maybe even an extra dessert) and lots of laughter and fun.
Both the Old and the New Testament are filled with instances of hospitality, the welcoming of people to your table. And when we welcome new people to our table, often times, surprisingly good things happen.
Today, we gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate this special memorial meal. And, at this table, we welcome all people. We are delighted when family and friends visit, and we put the extra leaf in the table. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have strangers visit, and we put in the extra leaf for their visit, as well. We never know when family or friends or strangers will bless us in special ways, will be angels to us. But one thing we know for sure: the extra leaf should always be in place at our Lord’s Table.
I get terribly depressed and frustrated and angry whenever people use organized religion to exclude people. To me, that is the antithesis of what faith is all about. When some religious figure says that certain people are not welcome to take communion in their church, I shake my head. When some zealous religious man or woman says that we are all going to hell unless we believe, say, feel, think and do as they do, I cringe.
When people justify killing and war and terrorism and physical and emotional abuse in the name of religion, I almost feel like giving up my ordination. If this is a necessary part of organized religion, then I want no part of it.
If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we must also remind ourselves, every now and then, that we follow one who was a notorious boundary-crosser. He was forever making people uncomfortable because of his willingness to spend time with “those people”, the ones that make people uncomfortable to eat with, to socialize with.
The New testament describes him eating with tax collectors, sinners, and other riff-raff. Not only did he tolerate these people, he even welcomed them, and he calls us to do so, as well.
And when we find ourselves being perceived as “those people”, he lets us know that we are always welcomed, always family. There are times in all of our lives when we need to feel welcomed, to be accepted as family, no matter what.
We all have a place at the table of God. We all are called to open our hearts to anyone who needs us, to be the light of God and not turn anyone away. This is, indeed, the peace of God. Jesus, the notorious boundary-crosser calls us to be notorious boundary-crossers. And Jesus, who invited everyone to his table, calls us to make a place for all people at his table. It is the only way for them to experience the peace of God. In fact, it is the only way for us to experience the peace of God.
Welcoming, open, hospitable, always ready to put the extra leaf in the table: this is what faith is all about. And we must always make room for anyone who comes to our table.
And at this communion table that is right in front of us today, everyone has a place. No one- absolutely no one- is excluded. So let us be clear with ourselves and everyone with whom we come in contact. There is room for everyone at this table. In fact, we can always put another leaf in this table – gladly!
There is light within every person we meet. So let us remember to respect and recognize the light in those around us. And we are also called to do what we can when we see things that keep people from expressing their light, from becoming the light that they are. When Joan and I went to Ethan’s graduation from Brown in 2012, several people received honorary doctorates at graduation, among them Diane Sawyer. Of the people receiving honorary doctorates though, only one of them spoke. He spoke for less than one minute, yet what he said was inspirational. Civil rights leader John Lewis has lived his life by making sure that no light is stuffed under a basket. After receiving his honorary doctorate, he said:
“We have a mission to stand up, speak up, and find a way to get in the way. We must do what we can to look out for all humankind, to respect the dignity and worth of every human being.”
Find a way to get in the way. I would urge us all, each in our own way, to find a way to get in the way, whenever the light within another human being is not recognized, respected, and encouraged.
Let us find a way to get in the way…
- when a member of this church family is not treated fairly,
- when a youth’s ideas are not considered thoughtfully,
- when a veteran is not welcomed home,
- when a parent loses a job and has nowhere to turn,
- when a child in Haiti has no food,
- when a senior citizen has to choose to eat cat food in order to pay for medication,
- when a woman, in desperation, decides she will not be abused again and leaves her husband in the middle of the night, with nothing but what she can carry in her hands,
- when the dignity and worth of any human being is not respected.
So let us celebrate the light in us on this day, and whenever we need to, let us find a way to get in the way!
And, as our table gets bigger, our welcome gets wider, may the light in us greet the light in those around us!