This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel reading was Matthew 5:13-20.
This was a really gimmicky sermon, so I’m going to write it like a script. I think that’s the best way to present it in written format.
MICHAEL: So, in today’s gospel…In today’s gospel, Jesus says…I…look, I just can’t do this today.
Michael leaves the pulpit, goes behind the altar, and crouches down, hiding. Owen walks into the pulpit, and looks over at the altar.
OWEN: Pastor? Pastor? What are you doing?
MICHAEL: I’m hiding. Just go ahead without me.
OWEN: Why are you hiding?
MICHAEL: Because I don’t know what to say. I’m scared I’ll say the wrong thing, and get Jesus really angry with me.
OWEN: What are you talking about?
MICHAEL: What if I say the wrong thing? What if I don’t understand all this well enough, and I say something wrong? I don’t think either the congregation or God would like me so much if I do that. Owen, can’t you just preach something? You’re smart. You’ve preached here before.
OWEN: Me? Well, alright. I guess I can try. (Turns to congregation.) Well, Jesus said that you are the light of the world. So, go out there and be lights. Shine for the whole world to see! Umm… (turns to altar) Pastor, I really haven’t had time to think about this. I’m not sure what to say.
MICHAEL: No, you’re doing great, Owen. You know this stuff. Umm, tell them where the light really comes from.
OWEN: Oh, yeah. (Turns to congregation.) The light doesn’t come from us, though. It’s not our light that we’re shining. The light comes from God. We’re like mirrors, reflecting God’s light. Or maybe we’re like magnifying glasses, taking God’s light and focusing it to release it on others. Like when you were a kid, and you would take a magnifying glass, and focus the sunlight on an ant and it would catch on fire.
MICHAEL: Umm, Owen? I’m not sure that’s the best image.
OWEN:Hey, Pastor, I’m making this up as I go along. Give me a break.
MICHAEL: Sorry. You’re right.
OWEN: Jesus also said that nobody lights a lamp and then puts it under the bushel basket. Instead, they put it on the lampstand, so everyone can see!
MICHAEL: It’s just that I don’t think you should tell people that God’s going to light them on fire like an insect.
OWEN: Who’s preaching here?
OWEN: (Turns to congregation.) Where was I? Yeah, Jesus is telling us to get out there and shine that light for everyone! Show them what it means that God is here!
MICHAEL: I just don’t want them to think God is out to get them.
OWEN: (getting annoyed) Okay, Pastor. Anyway, Jesus is telling us to shine brightly, not to put our light under a bushel basket.
MICHAEL: Because God loves us. Tell them God doesn’t want to scare us.
OWEN: (Turns quickly to altar.) Dude. If you want to preach, get out here.
MICHAEL: No. I’m too scared.
OWEN: You know what? I think you’re hiding your light. Jesus said that you are the light of the world, and you’re hiding that light under a bushel basket!
MICHAEL: No, I’m not.
OWEN: Pastor, stand up.
Michael stands up behind the altar sheepishly. He has a basket on his head.
MICHAEL: It’s not a bushel basket. (takes the basket off) It’s just a … regular basket. I just don’t want to say the wrong thing.
OWEN: So what if you do? Do you think everything you say in this pulpit has to be 100% right? You’ve made mistakes before. I’ve made mistakes before. I just accidentally implied that God is going to light people on fire like an ant!
MICHAEL: Right, and now I’m scared people will believe that!
OWEN: You really think people will believe that?
MICHAEL: No, I guess not. But the truth is, I get scared sometimes that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I struggle with my faith as much as anybody else. Somebody asked me just last week, “Pastor, you say all these things in your sermons. Do you believe them?” I thought about it, and I answered her, “Well, I try to.” I’m not a pastor because my faith is stronger than anyone else’s. It’s not. I’m a pastor because I’ve been trained in how to talk about faith, how to interpret scripture and connect images and stories, that kind of thing. But my faith itself isn’t stronger than anyone else’s. The truth is, half the time I’m actually preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. We’re all figuring this out together.
OWEN: But Pastor, you do have insight and wisdom. We need to hear what you have to say about this gospel reading.
MICHAEL: That’s kind of you to say. Well, alright. I guess I’d say that “you are the light of the world” means that every single one of us has insight and wisdom, because we all have the light of Christ inside us, lighting us up, enabling us to shine for everyone to see.
OWEN: And what about what Jesus says next, “Let your light shine before others”?
MICHAEL: Right, and Jesus is telling us, let that light inside you shine out. Shine God’s light through acts of kindness, acts of generosity, through words of hope and love. And through telling other people about God’s love. That’s our job. Because Jesus didn’t say, “I will make you into a light for the world.” He said, “You are the light of the world.” That’s who we are. We can’t ever put that light out.
OWEN: But we can hide the light.
MICHAEL: Yes we can.
OWEN: Like you were trying to do.
MICHAEL: Right. Like I was trying to do.
OWEN: But you don’t have to. Look, here at Prince of Peace, we are letting our light shine pretty well. You said yourself this morning that we shared over $18,000 with the ELCA last year. That’s shining our light!
(Michael hides behind the altar again.)
OWEN: Now what?
MICHAEL: You talked about money from the pulpit! You can’t do that!
OWEN: Pastor, it looks like I survived.
MICHAEL: (Stands up again) Oh, look at that. Maybe I don’t have to be as scared as I thought. And you’re right, Owen. This congregation already shines its light in so many ways, through sharing money, through taking care of each other, through helping at PUMP, and in many other ways. The youth groups just shone their light yesterday by feeding people at Safe Harbor Homeless Ministry in Easton.
OWEN: I think we’re good at showing people what Jesus wants us to do.
MICHAEL: I think you’re right. And maybe we just need some practice at the other part of shining our light.
OWEN: What’s that?
MICHAEL: Telling people about God. I think maybe we get scared to do that sometimes.
OWEN: Scared that we’ll say the wrong thing, or get something wrong?
MICHAEL: Yeah, just like I was scared this morning. But you know what, it’s not as scary as I thought. Just say what you feel. Say what you believe. Tell people that God loves them. Everything else…everything else is just footnotes, really. You know what, Owen? I’m ready. I’m ready to preach now. Thanks for keeping the pulpit warm for me.
OWEN: Umm, Pastor…
OWEN: I can’t let you do that now. We used up all the sermon time.
MICHAEL: Ah. Well, I guess I’ll have to save it for next week. Maybe throughout the week we can all try to practice shining our light wherever we are.
OWEN: Sounds scary.
MICHAEL: Eh, just a little. But we can do it. You are the light of the world!
OWEN: Let your light shine before others so they might see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.