There’s a reason why the youth are leading the service this morning: because some of the proudest moments during my time here was with them, incuding a year-and-a-half ago at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit, where tens of thousands of teenagers joined together for worship, Bible study, a unique cultural immersion, to say the least, but also for community service; in a place where many Americans would refuse to even consider going. But what I remember most vividly is not the massive sea of humanity at Ford Field to praise God together every night. Instead, it was a young girl we met for our day of community service in one of the usual picturesque areas of Detroit with the not so nicest of homes and piles upon piles of tires and garbage.
We, along with many other youth and adult volunteers, entered an area that many Americans would implore us that it wasn’t worth helping, that they had their chance to improve their own community before and didn’t, that they would just take advantage of our obviously superior kindness and generosity. And yet it turned out that it wasn’t about us doing something for them. It was this young African-American girl who joined us in picking up trash, and not only that, but became one of our group with jokes and laughter as if we were not that much different from her, from the rest of her family, who joined in as well. Now she could have very well been raised up by that same community to not trust any outsiders, especially those with a different color skin, to be on-guard against those who act as if they’re trying to help, but deep-down are only doing it for their own reputation. If that was the case, this little girl and her family didn’t listen at all. That day it wasn’t so much about us special people doing something nice for the not-so-privileged. This little girl had something even more powerful to offer us.
You see, ministry isn’t always about shining our light for others. Sometimes it’s just as much others shining their light for us, including with a little girl who shined a light so brightly that it nearly blinded our soul with an audacity of joy and love for all humanity that completely annihilated any conceptions we had about an entire city. Yes, it’s nice and all we get to hear and read that “[we] are the light of the world,” and that God sends us out to “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [the] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” Except other people get to hear and read that too, and get to be inspired, even in places where we firmly believe that darkness has taken over and there’s absolutely no way for them to get out. Evidently this little girl didn’t listen. Evidently she didn’t pay enough attention to national news. Or maybe she did, and she just didn’t care. She had a light from God to shine so brightly to nearly blind us from the other side of the state.
In the end, it isn’t the job of a pastor to fill you with more light. God as the Holy Spirit has already filled you to the brim. But sometimes the pastor needs to figure out ways to put you in places, including around other people, to see the light overflowing from them, whether that be in Detroit, or the next ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston in 2018, or even here in Berrien County, and even inside our own homes and churches.
There’s still more than enough light to scatter any darkness that plagues this world. And there’s most certainly enough light already in our own youth to overcome anything this world will throw at them. They don’t have to wait until they graduate from high school or college or medical school. They have more than enough already. And it’s been said before, but it has to be drilled into us over and over again until we actually believe it: they are not the future of the church, of our communities, of our world; no, they are most definitely the present. That little girl in Detroit didn’t have to wait to even finish elementary school before she could make a profound impact on others.
There’s more than enough light, not from a pastor, but from God in all of you to scatter any darkness that this world can muster. It is no match for the audacious hope that God has instilled in us from the beginning. Now we do our fair share of trying to hide that light within us. We’re too nervous, we don’t want to risk embarrassment, we’re too tired, too overwhelmed with everything else, or we just don’t think it’s worth it; that the world is too far gone now to help anymore.
Evidently God has other ideas. The light is going to get out, even if it is through a little girl in Detroit. We can’t stop it. The light is getting out, because evidently Christ is still risen. Evidently the world is still worth everything He did on the cross and out of the empty tomb. And evidently St. John’s still has more work to do in making sure that Great News gets out time and time again. So may all of you continue to shine that light before others, that they may be blinded by the good works, to glorify this God of all now and forevermore. I most certainly give thanks to God for that indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon