Sermon for Epiphany 5A
Light: Public and Visible Witness
On February 5, the Church remembers the martyrs of Japan, particularly 26 martyrs, including 8 European missionaries, who were crucified in Nagasaki in on February 5, 1597. Siegfried Schneider tells a story from that day. "On the way up the hill a nobleman tempted the youngest boy, Louis Ibaragi, who was only twelve years old to renounce his faith, He would not yield but eagerly asked: 'Where is my cross?' When they pointed out the smallest one to him he immediately embraced it and held on to it as a child clings to his toy" (Sigfried Schneider, Ofm, The 26 Martyrs of Japan, Chuo Press, 1980, p. 16).1 That's usually the way we tell the stories of those who sacrifice their lives in witness to the Gospel. On the surface martyr's crisis is a choice between saving her or his live and remaining faithful to Jesus. Yet, the heart of the issue and reason for the persecution in the first place is often the church's public witness to Jesus Christ.
It's a public confession and a public witness to Jesus Christ, a sharing the good news of God in Jesus in word and deed that creates trouble for Jesus' disciples in the first place. The private and personal expression of religion doesn't usually make martyrs, but the public practice and overt invitation for others to join us in lives of fellowship and discipleship, faith and love for Jesus.
Few of us here have ever come close to the prospect of public execution because of our allegiance to Jesus and our association to Him through our baptism or our church membership. Yet, I would bet most of us would prefer to privately and invisibly practice our faith. We get uncomfortable when it slips out that we are Christians, members of church council, faithful worshipers, devout and fervent in our prayers and study of scripture, in our care and love and generosity. In those moments, maybe just for a split second, our connection to Jesus puts us at risk. Maybe it's an unfounded uneasiness or maybe we'll have to endure a snarky comment or little mockery or maybe we feel the pain of our own hypocrisy, knowing how we miss the mark, how mean and petty we can be or maybe ... there are thousands of things that can happen to you when someone finds out that you are what indeed you are -- a follower of Jesus, a baptized child of God. It's easier and a lot less threatening to quietly and privately follow Jesus.
No one would build a lighthouse and put a tent over it. God doesn't make Christians to hide them in churches, either.
Yet, when the child still glistens wet with the holy and God's-promise-laden water of baptism, we place in the hands of child's parents a candle, and we remind them what Jesus sends us to do and be together. We say, "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." In baptism, God joins us to Christ and open us up so that the light of Christ can shine through us for the sake of the world. In Christ, we are the light of the world. Picture a lighthouse, high on the edge of the sea, signaling, warning and guiding, visible for miles and miles. That's us. No one would build a lighthouse and put a tent over it. God doesn't make Christians to hide them in churches, either.
God created this community to shine the light of God's love and mercy to any all for miles around. God created this community in much the same way God forms stars, attracted, gathered, coalescing around Christ. By the way this attraction came through Holy Spirit working through Pastor Shirk walking neighborhoods, knocking on doors, meeting and talking with people from the neighborhood, doing the work of a missionary. But the purpose of the mission wasn't to build a church, but to form a star, a light, a community of disciples that exists as a sign that points to Christ and a foretaste of God's new kingdom. God pulled us out of ourselves, our private lives and petty concerns and made us part of God's public witness to the good news of Jesus. We are the light of the world ... Or, as Isaiah says, repairers of the breach, a community of hope and healing, a community that saves and preserves the people and the planet from the rot and decay of ours sins.
On February 4, we also remembered the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologians who was executed just days before his concentration camp was liberated. Bonhoeffer's witness, his suffering and his death for the sake of Jesus and his Gospel, came because he publicly and bravely resisted the Nazi lie, the lie of German exceptionalism and Teutonic superiority. Yet, what made him so dangerous to the Nazis was his organizing, teaching and supporting of an intentional and alternative community, a community of Jesus' disciples, a community that stood as visible light in a dark time. He could have, I suppose, remained quiet and cloistered as most Lutheran pastors did during the time, yet he took an active role in resisting Hitler. He let his light shine.
Ours is a different time from 16th Century Japan and from Hitler's Germany. Yet darkness surrounds us of various shades and depths, and we, by the grace of God have been saved and redeemed from its power and made part of something that promises another way, God's way. When I was young and in Sunday School, we would sing the song This Little Light of Mine with one finger raised. This was a sign of our baptismal candle, the sign in light of God's redeeming grace, of Christ's death and resurrection for us, the gift God has given us ... And our mission too. Let it shine. In Jesus name. Amen.
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