In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world.” That “you” means you … and me.
Can you imagine what this would have sounded like to those that originally heard Jesus say this in first century Palestine? Before modern electrification, before light bulbs Jesus tells those that follow him that they were a source of light amidst darkness. You see, Jesus believes you and me have light to offer the world around us. What was unique about the Christian community in the first centuries was just how share-able it was. His disciples believed that Jesus’s way was intended to cross familial, tribal and geographic boundaries. Jesus was always surprising his followers by loving those his disciples assumed ought to be left out. That’s what was so good about the news of Jesus—his was a way of accessing God’s love was for all people—not just for some! And not in a way that dilutes our own identity; erasing what makes each of us uniquely who we are. Rather, Jesus lifts each of us up; drawing out the unique gifts, personalities and stories that demonstrate just how varied and beautiful and boundless God’s love is. Jesus says to each of us, “You—as God made you—are beloved, made in God’s image. Your story, your gifts, your passions, and curiosities … this is your light. Not just for you … but for the whole world.”
In this Gospel passage Jesus says, “… let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
That is what evangelism is, friends. It’s sharing the good news of what God has done in your life—in your story.
In his book Transforming Evangelism, Episcopal priest the Rev. Dr. David Gortner writes, “Evangelism is your natural expression of gratitude for God’s goodness.” Think about that! That’s a pretty straightforward explanation for a term that is often complicated for many of us. Evangelism is however you authentically articulate appreciation for however your soul has been nourished by what God has done and is doing in the world. That’s your light. And Jesus says, let it shine!
I hope I’m not alone in saying that sometimes I have hidden it, like we’re encouraged not to do in this passage from Matthew’s Gospel. But when I do let it shine, well, my light shines when I talk about my kids. These three human beings have taught me so much about God’s love. I understand God’s love for me—and why we use parental terms to refer to God—because of them. I’m a drummer too and my light shines when I pick up a pair of sticks, sit behind a drum kit and play as hard and loud as me and my bandmates can muster. Whenever I use the creative gifts God has given me, my heart nearly bursts with joy as I am reminded that we serve the God that creates things and calls them “good.”
This is my light … what is yours?
What is “your natural expression of gratitude for God’s goodness” in your life?
This may be a dramatic life change only possible through Christ’s love. It may also be a beautiful sunset—a gift from the Creator of the cosmos. Or a warm hug after a long quarantine separation. Or it may be felt as the power of the Spirit fills those seeking equity and justice. It might also be captured in the awe and wonder you notice in eye of a toddler. And it may be felt at the Eucharist, as you are reminded of what God has done for you.
This coming year, we want to help you let your light shine. We think your light, your story, is worth sharing. We believe your neighbors, your colleagues, friends, and family ought to know the good news of what God has done in your life. So, this coming year—the year twenty twenty-two—will be our renewed year of evangelism.
Throughout this year, your diocesan team and volunteers will be providing training to help you shine your light and share your story. Evangelism can be a tricky word for some of us and we want to provide you a strong theological understanding of what we mean as Episcopalians when we use terms like “the gospel,” “good news,” and “evangelism.” We will share with you practices for understanding your own story with God and how to talk about it with others. We will even provide training on how to invite people you have God-conversations with to church in ways that feel non-anxious and comfortable.
Along with training, we will make sure you have useful tools to be used in your congregations and communities so that you can help others share their light. We will provide resources that will weave into the work your congregations are already doing. From tools for liturgies to programming, resources for the young and for the old. We are committed to offering tools that will be accessible and reproducible in your context. Along the way, I’m sure you will discover resources and tools of your own for evangelism and we hope you’ll share them with us—your diocesan team—and your siblings in Christ at nearby congregations.
Because twenty twenty-two will be our renewed year of evangelism, our Bishop’s visitations will be unique from other years as well. The primary service of the Bishop’s visitation will be a revival visitation. After all we have faced throughout this pandemic, it is far time for our spirits to be renewed. We hope that these visitation’s will be opportunity to rekindle our spirits. As in year’s past, the bishop will visit with Bishop’s committees and vestries, celebrate the Eucharist, baptize, and confirm individuals. In addition to these, there will be opportunities for testimony, special music, commissioning members committed to evangelism, service and mission, and opportunities for all to make commitments to personal revival.
All of this will culminate in a two-day event for the entire diocese called The Good News Festival in December twenty two. The Good News Festival will be held on December ninth and tenth at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego. This event will be like our revival visitations but … bigger! There will be music, testimonies and more.
I’m sure you have heard of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry. On December ninth and tenth, Bishop Curry will be with us and we will have the opportunity to hear him share the good news. Now, Bishop Curry is an inspiring preacher! I, for one, am really looking forward to hearing from him. But more importantly: I’m looking forward to hearing from you. The theme of this year’s convention is “Let your light shine” and it’s true; you have a light within you—a story of good news, a story of the good thing God is doing through you and the world is longing for you to let it shine. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Are you ready to let your light shine?
This is my light but imagine what San Diego, Imperial, Yuma and Riverside counties will be like when all of us let our lights shine bright—announcing the good news of what God has done in our lives, our churches and in our neighborhoods. I am certain that there is someone nearby who is longing to find a safe community to belong to. I am certain that there is someone nearby hoping to find others seeking the goodwill of the neighborhood you worship within. I am certain that there is someone nearby that needs to be reminded that they have not been abandoned by God—that they are loved by their Maker just as they are. This coming year is our opportunity to invite others to celebrate with us all that God has done and is doing in our midst.
This coming year is our year to let our light shine.
Are you ready?
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