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Matthew 5:13-20

Energy saving light bulbs

          Recently I heard a report that said if you’re someone who is big on turning off lights in the house in order to save on electricity, it’s no longer as helpful as you would think. That was true before we had LED bulbs that now use a fraction of incandescent bulbs, but now lighting isn’t one of the bigger energy uses in an average home. Instead it’s typically heating homes and hot water that tend to be the bigger energy draws. At first that irked me a bit because I am someone who turns off lights in rooms no one is using. And now I’m told that isn’t helping as much as I think it does. Turning down the heat helps or taking shorter showers but if you are someone who shares a household with others, those are harder things to negotiate.

          However thinking about this study in light of today’s gospel reading, something encouraging was revealed. Just as lighting a home doesn’t need to cost us a lot with energy saving lights, so too letting our light shine as Christians also doesn’t have to be a drain. We don’t have to worry that sharing some part of ourselves with the world means we have nothing left over for ourselves. And each of our lights shines differently than someone else. That means each of our uniqueness, weirdness, whatever makes us distinct is a gift from God. Each of us has a shine, a gift from God, that we can share with the world.

          In the gospel passage, Jesus uses the example of not hiding our light under a bushel basket. We read this gospel reading at Inclusive Christians at UVic and one student asked what a bushel basket is. This makes agrarian parables tricky to interpret when Jesus speaks using images no longer current for many of us. I like to think of an apple picking basket if you’ve ever picked apples or anything else in a garden. How we wouldn’t put a basket over top a light if we’re having a dinner party for example. That would be strange if someone just started covering all the lights with baskets. We might wonder what had gotten into them.

          On a more relatable level some of us may feel that we have experienced the equivalent of putting a basket over our heads with the pandemic. A sense of just wanting to go to bed and not get out again until all this stuff is over. And I think some days we’re still half in bed. We’ve emerged back in the world, maybe even attending in-person events again normally but we feel overwhelmed. The world is too much. Maybe we feel that turning on the lights requires too much energy. And yet the one thing so many of us miss is feeling more socially connected to others. For some of us it might be a mild depression. A sense that we want to be present in the world, but that requires energy and vulnerability, putting ourselves out there.

          The gospel message is one of reassurance and of grace. No matter our energy levels, the light we have to shine, the gifts God gives to us is enough. We are enough. Who knows what is possible when we risk sharing more of ourselves with the world, with the church, trusting that God is using us to increase love and friendship.

          And it’s also okay that we sometimes need to hide under a bushel basket. Sometimes we want to pull the cover over our heads and read a book or watch Netflix. But we also know that we need more than this to lead joyful and flourishing lives. God has more in store for us that includes wider communities.  

Lutheran Water Protectors

          February is Black History Month and one story that stands out to me is Cross Lutheran Church, a historic Black Lutheran church in Milwaukee where leaders have become water protectors. We’re hearing more about land-based stewardship in the church. Where Christians are getting to know the water sources in their neighbourhoods, places where they walk and hike. In BC we increasingly here about water protectors as Indigenous people who are fighting to protect clean water on their lands, threatened by pipelines and energy production. The leaders at Cross Lutheran have a similar interest in protecting water. Too many of their children became sick by lead poisoning because water from the river and the city’s water system contained high lead content. This is entirely preventable and yet problems with clean drinking water persist in predominantly Black communities. And before we think of Canada as being better than the US when it comes to water, we are reminded how many Indigenous communities in the North are still without reliable clean drinking water.

          One image in the short documentary from the “Talks At the Desk” series that caught my eye was them pouring water into the baptismal font directly from a water filter. So that the water they baptize with is clean. We’ll share a link to this mini-documentary on church platforms.

          As someone who grew up in Canada and has served Lutheran churches in both the US and Canada, I am reminded how we are stronger working together. While we don’t have a lot of historic Black Lutheran churches in Canada, they have a lot of representation in the US. Problems persist as well, where Black church rostered leaders historically have earned less than white colleagues, are excluded from positions of leadership, and more quickly subject to discipline for infractions that white colleagues often get off with a free pass. And yet the opportunities for work on solidarity are enormous. Thinking about the increased strength of fighting for water security for both Black and Indigenous communities. That kind of solidarity emerged during the standoff at Standing Rock just a few years ago, where Indigenous groups and allies opposed building the Keystone XL pipelines across Indigenous land.

          And we’ve seen similar crossover in Victoria when Indigenous youth camped out at the legislature a few years ago. And the Black Lives Matter movement organized its biggest rallies in the area around the same time. The reality is that when we work together everyone’s boats get raised. And the same goes for white allies, where we find inner peace and flourishing by knowing we are part of God’s plan for justice and flourishing. We all shine when everyone’s lights shine brighter.

          As a side note, the whole light-dark imagery remains fraught. We talk about shining while also recognizing there is love and beauty in darkness. We want to avoid the binary of valuing light over darkness, which is rooted in a history of racism.  

How is the Holy Spirit shining through you?

          How is the Holy Spirit shining through you? God is at work within you, sharing gifts with others. Many of you are already sharing your gifts. Perhaps you’re tired and need a rest. That’s okay too. But we shouldn’t be afraid and be held back out of hesitation, fear, or not being sure whether we matter.  

AM Radio good enough

          Shifting things from a visual metaphor to an audio one, the other day I was driving and the radio was set to AM radio. The local CFAX talk radio station. It was their business show and they were doing a roundup of recent real estate sales and tips from a UVic business prof on attracting and retaining employees. The other thing that stood out was the sound quality, which generally sounded like listening to a CB radio from the 1980’s. Clearly high fidelity is not the concern of AM radio. It’s just good enough that people can follow a conversation. It’s 2023 and there is all manner of ways to get high quality audio out there and at AM radio they simply don’t care. And they still have their dedicated listener base.

          The upshot for me about AM radio is that whatever we have to give is good enough. These people produce audio for a living and they’re using a platform that began in the early 1900’s. They’re likely also broadcasting on FM radio, podcasts, streaming online, etc. But the point is we can start wherever we are. We don’t have to wait until we’ve got the slickest website, the best online presence, the best small group communication channels, etc. We’re unlikely to outdo the evangelicals in terms of new technology adoption, given the size of their budgets and platforms. But I’ve learned it is possible to do something smaller better. At Inclusive Christians at UVic we’re doing small things well. We’re building relationships with queer Christians and allies in ways conservative Christian groups can’t. Not for lack of trying but because conservative Christians struggle with accepting the breadth of God’s love. They need everything to fit into rigid categories, but that’s not how unconditional love works.

          With a Lutheran theology of love we can proclaim the gospel in its fullness. And that’s not to say we don’t want other churches to join in proclaiming God’s love more fully. We very much desire this, but it can’t be done through manipulation. Eventually people see through that. Let us embrace our strengths and share them with the world.  

Wrapping Up

          Wrapping up, let God’s light shine through you. The time to share the gifts God has given us is right now. Let’s keep learning along the way. Take heart knowing that God is lifting up gifts within you and also renewing you in wholeness and love. Amen.