November 15

Children of Light

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 25:14-30

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Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for the opportunity afforded me by the Dean to share the gospel with you today. I haven’t spoken in this chapel for nearly seven months. Seven months! It’s hard to believe when this place has been such an integral part of my own learning and growing in ministry. To our in-person congregation – we miss you, as I’m sure you miss each other.

We stand at the precipice of a new year – in two short weeks, the new liturgical year will begin and we will be plunged into the wonder and anticipation of Advent. Of course, Advent will look and feel different this year. We won’t be gathering in the church to hear the Word and sing as we normally would. Instead, we will listen to our services on the radio or online, still appreciating the season from our own location. We might also instead light an advent wreath in our homes, tracking the weeks of advent as they pass, participating in a daily devotional series, such as the one Marsh Chapel will offer this year with readings, reflections and some sounds of the season from the Marsh Chapel choir. (Thank you for enduring my plug – more information can be found on the Marsh Chapel website at Advent, which usually culminates with community gathered to celebrate the birth of the Lord will instead need to be celebrated in creative new ways. While we mourn for those things which we have lost due to current circumstances, we also wait in hopeful anticipation for a new day.

We don’t know what the few weeks or months will have in store for us. Increased coronavirus case numbers have us concerned as we enter into a season in which our souls are fed by interactions with friends and families at holiday gatherings. How much longer will we be separated from those we love? How much longer will our lives feel upended? As the shorter days of winter slowly begin to creep into our lives we find ourselves facing impatience, loneliness, and uncertainty. Truly, the only thing we can be certain of are that things won’t be the same as they were last year, or even the year before that. But we are adaptable. We have proof of that in the past eight months. In speaking with our virtual yoga instructor a few weeks ago, she reflected on the adaptability we have all grown accustomed to in this time. Having been accidentally locked out of the regular space she used to livestream the yoga class she said she had quickly decided that if no one was able to unlock the room for her in time for the class to start, she could find an alternative space in the same building and make it work. She commented “But that’s just the way things are right now, right? We’re adaptable.” Challenges arise and we find new ways of being in the world. We cling to the things that give us hope for the future – promising news of an effective vaccine, remembering that we are not alone in what we are experiencing, and our trust in God to see us through this time.

But as with any practice in exercising patience, we grow tired. We want to go back to our normal lives. We want to see our families. We want to eat in restaurants, go on vacation, celebrate birthdays together. We grow weary of the restrictions placed on us thinking, “It won’t be me. I won’t get sick.” We let down our guard. We think we know better – and yes, while our need for human interaction is an important part of our existence as social creatures, we need to think past our individual needs to those around us. This is no small task, as our drive is often focused on ourselves first and foremost, a reminder of our tendency to turn away from God and God’s commands to our own wants. We may think here of Augustine and Martin Luther’s use of the term “incurvatis in se” – a fancy Latin way of saying being turned in on oneself. To be turned in on oneself is to lose sight of God as the source of all and, in these two theologians’ perspective, the source of all sin. We instead are called to live outward toward others, rooted in our faith in God and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s lesson and gospel readings tell us something about patience. Both are concerned with the eventual return of Christ. For Matthew – the parable that Jesus tells about the master who leaves and then later comes back alludes to the death, resurrection, and eventual second coming of Christ and the importance of the right attitude one must maintain in awaiting the return of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians, the congregation needs a reminder of who they are and what they can endure in the face of outside challenges with the support of God as they wait. Patience and assuredness in who we are as Christians help us to navigate challenging situations in which our focus is drawn away from God toward our own self interests.

In today’s passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul speaks to a congregation who is waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the return of Christ. The church in Thessaloniki is in the midst of Roman rule and as the time from Jesus’ death and resurrection grows and his promise to return (the pariousa) seems to be fading, the people are growing weary. Paul, however, is trying to encourage them to not lose their identity as Christians and the hope found in Christ’s resurrection. The world around them claims to have “peace and security,” the slogan of the Roman Empire, but Paul warns that there is no peace or security when trust is placed in the wrong things, primarily in anything but God.[1] Those who trust in darkness and fail to be sober in waiting for the return of Christ will be taken by surprise by the “sudden destruction” created by such an event. For faith is nothing more that total trust and reliance on God and God’s promises, a gift fulfilled to us by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul calls to those who are the children of light, those who reside in the day and follow the light and pathway of Christ set before them.

Paul contrasts who “the children of light” are, that is those who are a part of the church in that time, with those who are in darkness, asleep, or not sober.  This is a direct correlation with the worship of the god Dionysus which was popular in the area.[2] Those who worshiped Dionysus held large drunken gatherings at night. Paul knows that the people in Thessaloniki may be tempted to partake in these activities. He cautions the church that they need to stay on the path of faith in God and mutual support of one another, something that they have already been doing. He encourages them to stay vigilant to who they are.

Paul uses the language of spiritual armor to help the Thessalonians continue to not only recognize who they are internally, but to show it to the rest of the world. A breastplate made of faith and love and a helmet made of hope may seem woefully inadequate to protect an individual from real threats of physical harm, but Paul here encourages that faith, love, and hope are essential to the life of the church.[3] As a community they grow stronger by placing faith, hope, and love at the center of their well being. They should not allow their fundamental values to be changed in worshiping the wrong sources of peace and security, and should continue to live in a community of trust and mutual understanding. This will be their strength in the midst of physical, social, or psychological dangers.

We hear similar themes of patience and trust in the Gospel from Matthew today. The Master, who can be interpreted either as God or as Christ, gives the generous gift of a “talent” or large sum of money to each of his slaves. Now, we could just take the “talent” at face value as a story about sound financial investment, but instead, let us consider Jesus as the Master and the talent as the good news of Jesus Christ entrusted to Christians after Jesus’ death, but before his promised return. The lesson we learn from the third slave is that what is given to us from God or even through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what is entrusted to us, is not meant to be hidden away as some sort of secret, but rather is meant to be shared with others.[4] Just like the community in Thessaloniki, we are meant to share the good news of Christ with others – God entrusts us with this message and we, in turn, place our trust back in God.

Sharing a message doesn’t come without risks, though. The other two slaves in the story took a chance in trading their talents with the expectation of making more. Sharing the gospel with others can feel like that – as if we are being somewhat reckless with the precious message that has been entrusted to us, especially if we share it with people who won’t accept it. But we must take that chance anyway, sharing our love and faith with others with hope grounded in our relationship with God through Christ. As children of light, we shine that light in ways that others can see – we shouldn’t hide it under a bushel, as Jesus instructs earlier in Matthew (Matthew 5:15) but rather remember that we are people of salt and light, called to bring the good news to others.

Many of us know the song, “this little light of mine,” a spiritual turned civil rights anthem turned Sunday school song. I couldn’t help but think about this song as I reflected on our calling to be the children of light. In it, we are reminded not only of the light granted to us by God, but that this light brings joy for others to see and experience.

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

The song is simple. It’s easy to sing along with, easily transmutable to many situations. But it’s simplicity should not be confused with its power. Just like the faith, love, and hope found in the community of Thessaloniki, there is great power and resistance located in this song. In a piece from All Things considered in 2018 focused on the spiritual, Rev. Osagyefo (oh-sah-GEE-fo)  Uhuru (ooh-WHO-roo) Sekou (SAY-koo) spoke about the effective use of singing the song in response to white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA.[5] It not only united the people who were counter-protesting, but it took those demonstrating by surprise. Rev. Sekou commented “The tensions went down … and it shook the Nazis…They didn’t know what to do with all that joy. We weren’t going to let the darkness have the last word.”[6] In traditional nonviolent protest fashion, those in power were caught off guard by the voices of those who wanted to share light with others. Their message wasn’t of hate or violence, but instead of sharing brightness, an in-dwelling sense of God with others. A feeling that cannot be easily removed or taken away when trust is placed in the right source.

What if we used this song as our anthem to help us get through this difficult time? What if, everyday, we took some time to sing it to ourselves, listen to a recording of it, or even just sing it in our heads? It might act as a prayer for us as we begin our days to remember that number one, we are not alone in whatever struggles we are facing, and number two, we have the ability to share our light with others even when life feels like it is at its darkest? I encourage you to take some time to think about incorporating this song, what it means to you, into your life as we enter into Advent this year as a reminder of the hope that sustains us.

How can we share our light with others? For some of us, the acts of wearing a mask in public, keeping our distance from others, and staying home when possible is the way we are sharing our Christian love with others. The presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, recently reminded members of my church that although we are “COVID-fatigued” we still needed to show care and concern for one another by following the protocols laid out for us by experts.[7] These include: washing our hands, staying away from large crowds, physically distancing, and wearing a mask. Others of us have used this time to make a concerted effort to reach out to friends and family. They check in on people’s emotional and spiritual welafare, sharing stories and concerns with one another. Still others have put energy into new tasks, picking up a new hobby that can assist others, like making masks, or learning about and acting for justice issues. There are many ways we can shine our light for others to see and be warmed by, maybe even catching alight themselves.

I know we are tired. We are impatient. We are unsure about the future. We face challenges that affect our health, our livelihoods, and our relationships. We yearn for something different. However, we are children of light. For us, as Christians, we are reminded of the ways we receive grace from God when we hear the Word. Scripture serves as the spiritual fuel to continue bolstering and growing our faith in God, in whom we trust, so that we can live out our lives in ways that support others. We let our light shine in the face of darkness because that is what God’s love does for us. We may not be able to gather in person, but we can certainly gather in spirit with one another through hearing the Word expressed each week. Our light continues to be fueled by the source of all.

-Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

[1] Karoline Lewis, “Peace and Security,” Working Preacher,, November 9, 2014. Accessed November 10, 2020.

[2] Holly Hearon, “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11,” Working Preacher,, November 15, 2020, Accessed November 9, 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brian P. Stoffregen, “Matthew 25:14-20, Proper 28, Year A,” Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes on Crossmarks, “, Accessed November 9, 2020.

[5] Eric Deggan, “’This Little Light Of Mine’ Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance,” NPR All Things Considered, August 6, 2018,, Accessed November 10, 2020.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, “Be Well and Wear a Mask,” ELCA Facebook Video, November 6, 2020,, accessed November 10, 2020.

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