Scripture: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 139:7-12
In my last semester of seminary, there was a point when I wasn’t sure where I would be living or how I would be in ministry after I graduated. There were no appointments available for me in North Texas so I started looking in other conferences. Louisiana, southern and eastern Texas, Oregon, and I even briefly looked into Alaska. But I know myself and while I love the outdoors and nature, the thought that, during the year, Alaska ranges from 18-24hours of daylight to 17 – 24 hours of darkness, oof, I do not think I could take that. For the sun to rise at 9, 10, 11am and then set by 2:30 or 3pm? To know that the days will get longer, in fact so long there will be almost no night, but to have to wait so long for that to happen? Ooof. I have never experienced a physical long night like that, but I have, we have, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. We know what it is like, to hope for the light while feeling surrounded by night, and people have known that feeling for millennia. That is why we have such powerful scripture, like our passage from Psalm 139 offering hope, comfort, and strength:
“Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?” the writer asks. “You will be there to guide me; your right had will embrace me, for you are always there. Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me, the light around me will soon be turned to night.” For you the night is just as bright as the day.” While not a physical night, the dark nights of the soul we experience are real. The seasons where night feels ever present in our heart, where depression or grief feel like a thick fog, where illness, injustice, and fear feel like dense clouds, to our senses those times feel as real as 24 hours of night. Which is why the psalm author wrote about a deeper, more powerful reality, they wrote about the presence of God’s love, the presence of God’s light.
God’s light is present, guiding and embracing us. There is no where we can go a part from God’s light. In the midst of fear, in the darkest nights, there is no obstacle too strong for God’s light. No night, no cloud, no fog is so thick as to eliminate the light. But because it can feel like it, it can feel like the night will swallow us, we need reminders, we need reflectors of God’s light, we need little lighthouses, shinning into our lives. Those lighthouses could be friends, family, therapists, medication, pets, or taking a walk outside, and the church is that lighthouse too.
Last week, we talked about how God asks us to be a lighthouse shinning out, shining out to the ends of the earth, cutting through brokenness, pain, and injustice with the Good News of God’s love. The church is also a lighthouse shinning in, shinning into our hearts, shinning with God’s guidance and belonging. The church is a lighthouse shinning in, with care, compassion support, and also celebration, joy, generosity, and gladness.
Think about the other scripture we heard today from Acts chapter 2. It is a beautiful vision of community, connection, and support. Together they worshipped, prayed, and celebrated communion (broke bread). They gathered in fellowship, shared meals together, and shared their resources. It is a description of the earliest communities that we today would call the church. It is a vision of a community where, to paraphrase The Servant Song which we sang last week, they are “pilgrims and travelers together, helping each other, holding the Christ-light for one another, speaking peace, weeping together, laughing together, sharing joys and sharing sorrows.” The church is called to shine out to the ends of the earth and to shine in, to hold and nurture the Christ-light within each another, to be a space of belonging, of care, compassion, celebration, and support. And when I think of shinning in, so many ministries of our church come to mind.
I think of our Busy Bees group that meets in the morning the second Thursday of each month. They craft together making cards and placements for Meals on Wheels. Those Thursday mornings you see fellowship, you hear gladness and generosity, you hear laughter and prayers and sharing their lives with each other.
I think of our visitation teams that visit our members who are homebound or can’t travel from their nursing homes and care facilities.
I think of our children’s ministry and youth ministry and all the adults who work so hard to create spaces where all children and youth are welcome, where they know they belong, and have the freedom to question, learn, be creative, grow, and discover.
I think of all the different meals we have together, I mean we are Methodist after all food is basically an unofficial third sacrament. Meals in church and the meals you have with friend groups during the week and after worship.
I think of band and choir, our grow groups, our care committee and everyone that brings food or takes time to volunteer for funeral luncheons. I think of our mission groups like WIMPS, the missions committee, and Men in Mission. For sure, their light shines outside the church but also in, through fellowship, meals, prayer, and sharing resources just like in Acts.
In fact, in that early Acts vision of the church we can recognize our own United Methodist membership vows. We can recognize how they did what we commit to and do, giving of our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
God’s light is present, guiding and embracing, and the church magnifies and reflects that light. You are a necessary part of God’s light. You are important. You make a difference. You shape our church. You make the church a caring, compassionate, celebratory, and supportive community of belonging where we shine Christ’s light for one another and nurture Christ’s light within each of us.
As we look toward and plan for the new year, consider your role within God’s light and within our community.
How can you experience God’s light more fully?
What is your part in shaping our church community?
How can you feel, know, and believe in the light?
In 2024, may you discover and nurture Christ’s light within yourself and shine that light for one another.
Together all the people say, Amen.