by The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” These words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14) are among our Lord’s most well-known figurative images describing the calling of the church. While the metaphor of light is used in various ways throughout Scripture, here Jesus is speaking simply of the testimony of his followers living in a world shaded by darkness.
As believers, what is it to bear the light into our everyday world? How might Christians living in our particular and challenging cultural moment think about this potent image? Why might God be calling St. John the Divine to discern imaginative new opportunities to be a bright light for the City of Houston, taking into the future the very best that makes our parish special?
These are the questions inspiring a new bi-weekly writing series in which I will share reflections, ideas, and content on the shape of our vision as a parish family. In sharing life with you, I look forward to exploring more deeply how God is shaping our mission for the future.
In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere our Lord is crystal clear that his followers are called to bear the gospel as a gift for all people. This Great Commission takes various forms but always aims toward the same goal: to shine light on him who is the light. However, one of the most obvious challenges Episcopalians in particular seem to face in fulfilling this core mission is reticence to commend our faith to anyone wondering about the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Perhaps in ways more influential than we realize, we may be captive to modern society that encourages us to relegate religious faith to the private domain. However, nothing in the gospel ever suggests this is the case.
In the coming weeks and months, I will use this space and other venues to examine new possibilities we have as SJD to live out our faith in ways that are neither merely introverted nor insensitive and aggressively extroverted. What does appealing public witness look like in our day?
As Christians, we are never called to see ourselves as autonomous people free to define ourselves without responsibility to our neighbors. We are not truly the church if we are disconnected from the Great Commission that calls us to share the Good News with all nations. Though Jesus calls his disciples to “drop their nets and follow” he is not calling them to leave behind their public commitments and visibility. This does not mean that we follow Jesus in order to be seen. It means that we follow Jesus in order that he is seen!
My ambitions for SJD in the future are exceedingly high. Yet, I am reminded that so often the church most effectively infiltrates culture with the light of Christ in ways seemingly small and humble rather than demonstrative and flashy. For most of us being “light” is simply an intentional commitment to bring divine warmth to the people and places where we already “live, and move, and have our being,” and perhaps to do so in ways that may only seem understated or ordinary by worldly standards. After all, as we reflect on the enduring impact of those very ordinary disciples that were first called to go forth as lights into the world, we see that God has already shown us what he can do with the “simple” and “ordinary”.
As we follow in the disciples' steps I remain so excited to join you in walking new paths lit by the one who is, as ever, the Light of the World, and I look forward to reflecting further on the shape of our obedience to him in future writings.
In difficult times we all have to ask: “Am I going to curse the darkness or turn on the light?” No one ever cursed the darkness and light came on.
—John Maxwell (The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, episode 407)
The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (2009, Matthias Media)
I recently recommended this book to our vestry. It is an excellent and accessible publication highlighting so much of what is vital in my understanding of parish ministry. Marshall and Payne are Australian pastors with extensive experience training church leaders. The main idea of their provocative book is this: most congregations need to make a conscious shift away from maintaining structures as their primary focus and toward “growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.” This is probably among my top-ten books on what it is to grow and go in missionary responsibility.
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