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Living and growing: Be the light

Posted: December 22, 2013 - 1:04am

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my ordination as a minister. In the United Church of Christ, my denomination of origin, a service of ordination is an individual event, conducted by a regional association of churches. It is usually in the ordinand’s home church, as was mine. In the UCC, most ordinations are held on Sunday afternoons so that representatives from neighboring congregations can gather to participate in the service. Such a practice assumes a road system! As it turns out, the highways didn’t help thirty-two years ago; an ice storm cut my home state of Oklahoma in half. Most of the out-of- towners did not arrive, foreshadowing as it turns out, what is a common occurrence in Southeast.

A twist in my tale is that unlike this year, Dec. 22 was not a Sunday in 1981. It was a Tuesday, not the most common day to attend to religious matters such as an ordination. There were practical reasons for this — travel plans, proximity to Christmas, etc. But the weekday time slot was more than mere scheduling convenience. It has theological significance that identifies ministry as everyday engagement. It fits with my “worker priest” sentiments; ministry is not just about what happens on Sunday, but how we live our lives and contribute to the common good day in and day out. Ordination on a weekday when the “world” is at work is also a statement that ordination is not primarily about the one being ordained. It symbolizes that although some are called to leadership positions, the ministry is God’s and it is given to the whole church, not just the minister. At a service of ordination, all who are gathered are invited to remember their baptisms as the general call to ministry, and ordination is set within this context. It is not my ministry; it is our ministry. As an ordained minister, I am entrusted with particular responsibilities, but the ministry is not about me. Together, the church joins with others of good will to serve the world, discovering how to be more loving, how to seek peace and pursue it, and how to reflect God’s desire for joy and justice for all people.

Before coming to Alaska I had paid scant attention to another detail of the timing of my ordination; it is the day after the longest night. On Dec. 22, in the northern hemisphere, light begins its return, however imperceptibly. I think this is an apt reminder about the ministry to which we are called — we are to be bearers of light in ways both small and large. This is what ministry is — to share light in the dimly lit corners of the earth. We share the light of God’s love where war rages, where famine and disease destroy, and where loneliness, sorrow, and pain threaten to rob life of meaning. Sometimes we are aware of our impact. We are like summer light and it is obvious that we have helped bathe the world in the light of love. Other times we are like winter light after the solstice; how we have helped increase the light is barely discernable. It is hard to tell sometimes if our efforts are worthwhile, but by God’s grace, I believe they are. They are valuable for others and for us.

According to Mathew’s gospel, when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he did not make the claim that is recorded in John’s gospel that he is the light of the world. Instead, he told the crowds, something even more remarkable. He said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14). And so we are. It is an awesome, humbling and wondrous calling ­— to be light. All of us, inside and outside the church, can be light in the world. We are equipped with the capacity to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Each of us can choose to do something to make the world brighter, better, more loving and more just. In this season as the light returns, we recommit to being the light, on Sunday, Tuesday and every other day. However you observe the season, I pray that for you, and for all of us, it will be filled with light. Whatever your light is, let it shine!

• Campbell is the pastor at Northern Light United Church.

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