By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts,  May 31, 1998



Psalm 18:28-36 The Lord lights up my darkness

It is you who light my lamp;
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
By you I can crush a troop,
And by my God I can leap over a wall.

This God--his way is perfect;
The promise of the Lord proves true;
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?--
The God who girded me with strength,
And made my way safe.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer,
And set me secure on the heights.

He trains my hands for war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
And your right hand has supported me;
Your help has made me great.
You gave me a wide place for my steps under me,
And my feet did not slip.


Matthew 5:13-16 You are the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.


Arcana Coelestia #9548 The light of faith

The divine truth that emanates from the Lord's divine goodness is what gives light in heaven. Angels do not have light from any other source. That is why in the Bible, the Lord is called "the light." "Light" means faith, as well as an understanding of the truth, and the wisdom that goes with goodness; these come from the Lord alone.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Another church year is drawing to a close. Today we will hold our last Church Committee meeting until the fall. It would be a good time to look back over our past year, but instead, I would like to look both inward and forward as we release this church year and begin moving toward the next. At today's Church Committee meeting we will discuss several projects and ideas for our church. Of course, we'll talk about the upcoming rebuilding of our steeple, and how we can use the publicity surrounding it to help rebuild our church as a faith community. We will also talk about our new Wedding Ministry, as well as some other growth and outreach projects that the church could take on in the coming year.

So this would be a good time for another one of those "church growth" sermons. But as I considered what I wanted to say to you today, I felt very strongly that at this time it would be less important to talk about how we can grow as a church than to talk about why we would want to put our energy into reaching out to others.

I have already said at previous meetings and in previous sermons that if we want to grow simply to build up our church, fill our pews, and improve our financial situation, we will fail in our efforts because these are not good motives for church growth. They may seem reasonable enough--we do want to have a thriving church, and it would be wonderful to see all our pews filled each Sunday, and we certainly could use the extra income that all those new members would bring to the church. But these reasons center around ourselves as a church, and not around those to whom we are reaching out. If people sense that we want to grow for our own sake, and not for the sake of serving the people of our community, they will not be drawn to us, but will resist our invitations to involvement in our services and programs, and membership in our church.

We know some of the wrong reasons for wanting to grow. What are some good reasons for wanting to reach out and bring others into our church?

I can't think of a better way to start answering this question than for each of us to ask ourselves the question, "Why am I involved in this church? What is it about this church that continues to attract me to it?" We could get lazy and just say, "Well, my parents went to this church, and I've always gone to this church, and it's just what I do." But I really don't think this is the reason any of us are here this Sunday. Some of our brothers and sisters, children and friends also grew up in the church, but have not chosen to remain active. So maybe this is part of the reason, but it is certainly not the whole reason.

We may think that we joined this church a long time ago, and it is a completely different situation than someone who walks into this church for the first time. In some ways this is true. We're used to being here, while newcomers are not. But if we look at it from another perspective, each of us is continually choosing to rejoin this church each time we come to a service, and each time we take part in its activities and its business. Not a single one of us is in this church because someone put a gun to our head and said we had to go. Each one of us walked in this morning of our own free will. And that means that we chose to be in this church today.

Why did we choose to be here today? Why have we chosen to cast in our lot with this church? For me, the verses we read from Psalm 18 express in beautiful imagery some of my reasons for joining this church and for rejoining it each week and even each day. The psalmist writes:

It is you who light my lamp;
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.

Of course, as Swedenborg points out, the light that the psalmist speaks of is not physical light. It is spiritual light that the Lord gives us. And our church is richly blessed with a brilliant floodlight of truth from the Lord. It is the light of a deeply satisfying faith, from which we can gain both understanding and wisdom. It is a light that shines on the Bible and penetrates to its inner levels of meaning with a clarity, depth, and real-life practicality that no other church can provide. It is a light that illuminates the formerly shady realm of the afterlife; it shows us both what we can expect when we die, and how we can live in such a way that we will build a joyous and heavenly life within ourselves. That light also gives us the strength to face life's challenges. The psalmist continues:

By you I can crush a troop,
And by God I can leap over a wall.
This God--his way is perfect;
The promise of the Lord proves true;
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

Life does throw its challenges at us. How often have we experienced that wall in front of us, blocking our path, preventing us from getting any farther along our life's journey? How often have we felt that our life was going nowhere, and that things would never change?

I remember the years I spent wandering, first literally, and then figuratively. There was an entire decade after I had completed two years of college in which I did not have any particular direction in life. I moved from one thing to the next, never quite sure where it was all leading. Many times I felt that it was all leading nowhere--that I would just drift along for the rest of my life.

But there was something that kept me moving along through that whole time; something that never let me give up hope and stop searching for a direction and a calling. That something was my faith. Yes, it was the wonderful clarity of our church's teachings about the spiritual journey of our lives. For those times, it was especially the explanation of the wilderness wanderings of the children of Israel--that they correspond to the times we spend in our own emotional and spiritual desert, and that those times will eventually lead to our Holy Land of spiritual fulfillment in a useful life of serving others in ways that we love. That was a tremendous shield and refuge for me during those times of desert wandering.

Yet even beyond that, it was knowing that whatever may happen, our God is a God of pure love, who would never reject us--would never reject me--but always has a purpose for our existence, and is always drawing us toward that purpose, even when we are not aware of it. It was feeling that presence of God in my life that especially kept me going. If God was there helping me, then I knew that there was a reason for everything I experienced.

For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?--
The God who girded me with strength,
And made my way safe.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer,
And set me secure on the heights.

My experience is certainly not unique. Each one of us in this church has faced the challenges of life, and is facing the challenges of life. Each of us has times when we feel that our life is just too much for us, and we cannot keep going. But we do. And one of the reasons we are able to keep going is that we have a faith--however strong or weak it may be--that there is a God who cares for us, who loves us and has a purpose for our life.

Each of us, I believe, chooses to come to this church because it is a place where that faith is strengthened; where we gain new insights; where we restock our supply of spiritual ammunition so that we can go out and face the challenges of our life once again.

He trains my hands for war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
And your right hand has supported me;
Your help has made me great.

This is certainly one of the reasons we continually choose to rejoin this church, to renew our commitment to this church as our spiritual home. We do not come here just because it is a habit, but because our church and our Lord sustain us in a vital way. We come here to renew our faith, so that the Lord can protect us from spiritual harm and help us to carry burdens that would crush us if we tried to carry them on our own.

This church is a special place for us. It keeps us going; it sustains us; it gives us company and community; it teaches us and inspires us; and most of all, it keeps us in touch with our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ, who knows all our joys and our sorrows, and shares them all with us. Our church gives us a place to stand that will never fail us. To complete the passage from the Psalm,

You gave me a wide place for my steps under me,
And my feet did not slip.

These are some of the reasons we come to this church, continually rejoin it, even give up our Sunday mornings to be here instead of relaxing out in the yard or down at the beach or in front of the TV. We come here because this church gives us something we can get nowhere else. And for each of us, that something is a little different.

As we look within ourselves and realize why we come to this church, the reasons we find are the very same reasons why others might want to come to this church. We do not come here just to fill the pews and make sure there is someone to hold down the church. We come here because of the spiritual benefits and the spiritual companionship that we find here. And that is exactly why others will come. As we see what light it is that shines from this church and draws us to it, we have found the light that will draw others here as well.

Our challenge is not so much to figure out ways to make our church grow, as it is to discover and feel very deeply what it is that brings us here, and to hold that out for others to see. Our church will grow as each one of us recognizes what it does for us, and as we feel the desire to share with others the light and the strength that we gain from our church--for there are many people out there who are seeking the light that we have found in our church. We can shine our light for others to see. If we shine it with love and with concern and with respect and with joy, people will be drawn to the light. Once again, as Jesus says,

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Amen.

 


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