Called to Lead:
(Re)Introduce the Light
Fourth Sunday of Easter • May 12, 2019
Scripture Lesson: Matthew 5:13-18
Akilah Bixler, guest preacher
It seems appropriate on this day to recognize and acknowledge the women, men, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, extended family, friends and mentors that mothered us - gave us life - saw our promise! They gave us love, support, words of wisdom like “pick your battles!” “don’t give up”, and “try and try again”. They encouraged us to be better. To all those folks, we say Happy Mother’s Day.
This is my first time here, preaching at Church of the Village. I am grateful and honored to be here. I was invited to preach on self-giving love in your five-week series on leadership, entitled “Called to Lead”!
I figured I would introduce myself with a few stories from my family. Eight years ago, we went hiking at Pinnacles National Park located in the Central Coast region of California. We came to a point on our hike that gave us two options: to go through a pitch-black cave to get to the other side, having us back at our car in fifteen minutes or turning around and going back where we had come from (at least an additional forty to forty-five minutes). Our kids were, 6 and 2. They were tired. We were tired. But a pitch-black cave that we could not see our hand in front of our face - without a flashlight. It ignited fear in our son, who began crying in terror. We exited the cave, my spouse, Brooke, and I stood there exhausted, weathered, debating back and forth trying to make a decision; and then we remembered. We had a flashlight on our cell phone. Outside the cave, we turned on the light and we huddled together. This light, as awkward as it was, led the way, getting us safely to the other side.
My daughter, Brickelle, is 14 years old. In my womb, from as early as I could feel her, she knew what she liked and despised. The options for maternity wear bottoms, skirts or pants, are a full-bellied stretchy spandex panel with a small waistband that goes across the rib cage or a thick, stretchy, band that crosses the belly. Typically, the cuter, more fashionable maternity bottoms had the over the stomach thick band. When I wore that style, the thick one over my belly, Brickelle would literally, kick all day long: on the train, while I was at work, the train ride home, not stopping until I took the pants or skirt off when I got home. See she was leading me, from within, teaching me what she liked or in that case didn’t like. Once out in the world, her way of knowing continued - energetically, spiritually - who she vibed with and others that made her feel uncomfortable. We gave her that space and autonomy to feel what she naturally felt. She taught me how to discern energy! Then she started school, and I felt the pressure of socialization - being kind, being respectful, being nice - those are the characteristics and qualities of a “good girl”. I distinctly remember insisting - no forcing - Brickelle to become friends with another little girl in her preschool class that she made very clear she had no desire. I imposed my views, my perspective, and our society’s view, on my daughter because I felt I was teaching her how to be a “nice” girl.
In the case of my 10-year-old son, Brooklyn, he was a child that loved everything. He had the loudest, high pitched, enthusiastic, screech for almost anything: birds, flowers, butterflies, trains, airplanes, busses - you name it and it excited him. He would proclaim like it was the most amazing thing ever witnessed “Mama look”! At three it was adorable. Four it was cute, by the time he was six - we received stares. I swear people were shooting daggers at us with their looks and glares. He led me to a new awareness of life, living and possibilities. Unfortunately, though, I again felt the urge to “train” him - train him to be less loud. Train him to “fit into the box” of how we are supposed to navigate the streets and transportation systems.
Both of my children, lead, simply by being. Being who God created them to be.
The irony is that most of us, myself included, have no idea how we lead naturally - intrinsically. We have no idea what was socialized out of us. I often think, can you imagine how different the world would be if we were allowed to simple be. Imagine with me for a moment, what would our world look like, smell like, sound like and feel like, if all of God’s people were allowed to live into the fullness of who God created us to be. If children that are in awe were allowed to grow up and express that wonder. What would they create? What would they help us see and experience? If the curious at heart were given the permission to deconstruct and reimagine. What new understandings would they lead us to? If kids that have a knowing were nourished to be wise and advise soundly - righteously. Would justice and equity be the outcome?
As we continue to live, grow and mature, other people, our schools, our career fields, and society tell us who we are. Sometimes they are right. Often times, what they perceive, or choose to perceive is not all of who we are. We are stereotyped, pigeonholed, inside a box. Whether, we want to or not, we often compartmentalize and comport ourselves to fit into someone else’s image of who we are. In our efforts to “fit in”, more often than not, dimming, neglecting, or losing our own light.
Our scripture passage explains: “You, beloved, are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness: it is useless, tossed out, thrown away, or trampled”. For so many years I misinterpreted the passage as Jesus saying if we, as people lose our saltiness than we are useless. I have come to understand that Jesus is not so much talking about individuals, rather the collective followers of Jesus - Christians and dare I say Christianity. The analogy, or comparison, is between salt and the followers of Jesus AND how the two come in contact with flesh.
Salt is found throughout nature - as naturally occurring in the sea and on land. In ancient times, a form of salt, natron, was used in the mummification process. Historically, salt was used as currency. Up until the middle of the 20th century, salt preserved - cured - meat and fish from spoiling. Today, salt continues to be used in the food industry, cosmetic industry in shampoo and soaps. Likewise, it is used in the production of paper, rubber and other chemicals. We depend on salt on icy roads, sidewalks and steps for safe travel. Rendering salt as extremely valuable. Salt was, and is, essential in supporting and sustaining a healthy society.
The author of Matthew felt the same way about Christianity - those that followed Jesus. People, that lived a life rooted in Jesus’ teachings of being countercultural. Yes - countercultural! Unconditional love. Loving, all of God’s people including those on the margins that society has deemed as expendables. Extending radical compassion to all of God’s creation. Restorative justice and standing up to corrupt systems that support an unjust empire. When salt, in its various forms, came in contact with hands that needed money to survive, meat and fish, or icy roadways something miraculous happened. Life was enhanced - improved.
See, the idea is that, we, Christians would do the same. We would sustain, preserve, maintain and cure what was essential for the way of life. However, when Christians, followers of Jesus lost the distinctiveness - the particulars, of the example Jesus set - well, then Christianity, or followers of Jesus would be useless. (long pause) For those that have been following what has been happening in the United Method Church, the special General Conference, a few months ago, and the judgement by the Judicial Council, a couple weeks ago, to uphold and enforce stronger penalties on our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters - well, let’s just say, their misinterpretation of unconditional love and radical compassion - is careless, harmful and causes violence against bodies - against people who are created in the image of God. And that kind of Christianity, is not following Jesus and - is useless. That Christianity needs to be tossed out, thrown away, and trampled.
We need followers of Jesus - to truly follows Jesus. Our scripture passage explains that we are the light of the world...not to be hidden...Letting our light shine everywhere we go...people may see our good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see our devotion to God.
This is powerful - good stuff my friends! Light - light leads. All of us: humans, animals and even trees in nature, are instinctively drawn to light. We are the light! The light of the world! The best of what is possible depends on each and every one of us having the audacity to shine.
Yet, for so many, for the reasons I have named earlier and other causes of hurt, harm, isolation, and shame - we are broken. It is challenging being broken while simultaneously feel empowered to shine.
Have any of you ever seen a cat - lick themselves from their paw all the way up their leg. Craning their necks into crevices - while all the while continuing to lick. It is a beautiful expression of self-giving love. I am not suggesting that we go home and start licking ourselves. However, I do believe that we need to extend ourselves that kind of gentleness and compassion. We also, need to (re)introduce ourselves to our light.
To (re)introduce the light we need self-giving love. The self-giving love to give ourselves permission to mourn the could have, should have but didn’t in who we are. Permission to forgive ourselves. Permission to love ourselves with all of our shortcomings and all of our potential. We need self-giving love to heal ourselves, so we can be what we are called to be - God’s light!
Jesus is telling us our light is what makes us unique. And our uniqueness is what is necessary for us to share with the world to make life better. Specifically, we provide a distinct flavor of God when we allow our light to shine. However, when we don’t bring our individuality, quirkiness, weirdness, silliness, and our distinctiveness we are not doing what we are called to do. When we do not bring all of ourselves: our race, class, sexuality, gender identity, learning style/difference, our (dis)ableness, culture, individuality, collective consciousness, and our context, into our experiences and interactions we are doing a disservice to ourselves, to the world, and to God.
We need that self-giving love, now more than ever. We all know folks, or encounter people, that are experiencing darkness or hard times. Those individuals need our light - like the physical light from the flashlight that lead us through the cave, people are depending on us, our light, to see them through the other side. And God only knows, when we will need someone else to be the light for us. That is the thing my friends, we are supposed to be like Jesus affirming and restoring life. Like Jesus, we can and should lead by example.
We may need a little help remembering our light, and for those that fall into that category I offer a couple options! We can pray and ask God to remind us of how we are divinely created in God’s image. We can ask God to remind us of how our light shined and led simply by being. Knowing we change and evolve; we can continue to ask God to show us how God desires us to shine.
We can take the time to do some imagining and self-creation - some (re)introducing ourselves to our light by pondering questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What am I passionate about? How do I show up in the world? How do I treat people that are different from myself? In thinking about those answers - what tangible things can we do differently. This form of (re)introducing ourselves to the light or the reintroduction of who we are or who we want to be - give us agency over our life. It takes the things that have happened to us, victimization, blame or shame, out of the hands of someone else, allowing us to reclaim our light, by putting that process of (re)introduction in our hands and God’s hands.
I watched a TedTalk by Amy Cuddy about “fake it until you become it”. It was an excellent TedTalk and I would recommend YouTube’ing it later. Even though her talk was specifically about body language it is applicable for us in this context too. For instance, if we want to be more loving, empathetic or intuitive. What are specific acts of love, empathy, or being tuned in that we can do? And more, importantly do them. Initially, they may be contrived and planned; however, overtime, they will become our way of being - how we engage people around us and ultimately, how we lead.
I derive hope in our diversity! We show up for people differently. Some of us, shine during hospital visits, others radiate on phone check-ins, while some illuminate others face-to-face. We are passionate about different things: different social, environmental, moral, ethical, justice and/or equity issues. The beauty is that we don’t all have to shine or be passionate about the same thing. We can be ablaze, allowing our light to shine, and through that fervor we can inspire and lead others. There is enough need and there are an overflowing of issues to go around. We have the power to make one transforming impact at a time. It may not seem like much; yet, if we all do our part, we truly can make a difference.
God has given each one of us the authority to lead. God instructs us to shine bright illuminating the God within. God actually created, each and every one of us for this purpose. By the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit, may each of us find the courage, strength, and presence to reintroduce the light, our light to ourselves and others around us, for the glory of God and the transformation of God’s creation.
Copyright © 2019 by Akilah Bixler
All rights reserved.