November 17, 2019 – Rev. Donnell Wyche


We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Immediately after concluding the Beatitudes, Jesus talks about salt, light, and deeds. He’s making a transition from what happiness is to explaining what discipleship looks like. He’s teaching that participation in God’s rule and reign requires disciples to take up disciplined practices that follow Jesus into countercultural living. Followers of Jesus become a community that obeys God by publicly engaging in works of love, mercy, justice, and the protection of precious human life.

Hear how Jesus points us to Salt, Light, and Deeds to reimagine what it means to be part of God’s work in the world:

13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

What’s implicit in this instruction is the impact disciples should have on others. When Jesus offered these words there was an intense argument happening within first-century Jewish life about morality under the covenant. An argument that persists to this day, centered in and around what does it mean to be loyal to God. Do you engage practices that side with the oppressed or with the oppressors? In answer to this question, there emerged a community that withdrew from what they labeled as the morally corrupt practices of Israel into a monastic community to live in covenant faithfulness to God. They formed the Dead Sea community at Qumran, so scholars posit that when Jesus speaks of salt, light, and deeds, he may have had them in mind. The Dead Sea is really salty, for one, and two, these individuals believed they were the “sons of light.”

Jesus says,

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:14-15)

The significance of the parable of light and its purpose and intention is clear. Jesus offers two images of light. A city built on a hill. And the second the light of a lamp on a lamp stand. I think Jesus makes obvious the point that the purpose of this light is to penetrate the darkness and therefore this light should not be hidden. Which is a contrast to the Dead Sea community that has withdrawn from the culture and society.

In using light Jesus is drawing on the rich imagery and resources of the Old Testament tradition and writers as it relates to the presence of God.

In the creation story, God is identified as the source of light.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness… (Genesis 1:3)

In Isaiah, the prophet compares God’s presence with a bright shinning light.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

2See, darkness covers the earth

and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the Lord rises upon you

and his glory appears over you.

3Nations will come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In the Psalms, God’s word is identified as a light to our path.

105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Also in the Psalms we are commanded to walk in the light as an act of obedience.

4Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)

God’s presence identified as light in Isaiah 2:2-5 and Isaiah 49:6 are the backdrops for Jesus because a city on a hill demonstrates and reveals God’s salvation, presence, justice, and peace which will draw the lonely, the dispossessed, the oppressed, those who are marginalized and underfoot. This city on a hill image becomes a beacon for those who are seeking, who are searching, those who are asking, where is God in the midst of my hardship, my misery, my pain, and my suffering.

The people of God are therefore called to let their lights shine so that others might see the salvation, presence, justice, and peace of God. Jesus has sharp words again here for those of us who take our lights and hide them from those who need to see. Remember the Dead Sea community at Qumran might have been in Jesus in imagination as he’s sharing these instructions here in the sermon on the mount. They called themselves, the “sons of light” in order to contrast themselves from the culture that they labeled, “the sons of darkness.” So, this Dead Sea community implements a strategy of withdrawal and separation, but Jesus notes,

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  (Matthew 5:13-16)

Light can only penetrate darkness, if it is visible.

Let me tell you a story.

STORY: As you know this past Easter our church decided to give away our Easter offering. We raised over $18K in order to purchase $2.9 million in past due medical debt. This demonstration of kindness, lover, and liberation was noticed in our community. I was on vacation during the initial media coverage. When my family  and I returned from vacation, we were at a birthday celebration for Maria, my wife’s grandmother at her church in town. Over cake, a congregant at her church recognized me and began to thank me and our church for our generosity. The impact of this simple act of kindness on our part was far reaching as the initial article was spread wide and far because of social media. Then something else started to happen. Our act of generosity seeded something in the prophetic imaginations of others as they started to contact us to determine, how we did it.

As I mentioned last Sunday, the staff team was in Philadelphia this past week attending the Vineyard Justice Network Get Proximate gathering. During the three days there we visited centers of justice across Philly. What you might call lamps on lamp stands. We learned about monastic community-based living at the Simple Way, an intentional community led by Shane Claiborne and others. We visited Prevention Point. A medical center for those grappling with addiction. We discovered that there were over 1,150 overdose deaths in 2018. This medical clinic emerged to fight this reality. We visited CityTeams, a center serving the needs of people struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction through their faith-based residential, food, clothing resources. Each these site are points of light in the world.

While I was in Philly attending and speaking at the conference, I got contacted by NBC Nightly News because they had also heard about our medical debt relief initiative. They were in touch with someone we helped in metro Detroit and they wanted to know if it would be possible for this individual to come to church and meet us and to conduct an interview with our church. Kyra is here this morning and on behalf of the congregants of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, we are so grateful to have contributed to eliminating the burden of past due medical debt for you.

Would you join me here on the stage.

Jesus says let your light shine before others. 

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:14-15)

Entering the Tension of Kingdom Living 

We let our light shine through our deeds. And at the same time, we might be contending with other sayings of Jesus, like don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is up to. I think we have to trust that Jesus is right. That it is the work that we do, especially, in service for others that reveal who we are, who we follow, and what we believe.

I think the earliest Christians wondered whether their little band of believers could make a difference. They let their beliefs and trust in Jesus direct their actions by doing two significant things in a culture fixated on the Greek ideal. Children born with a defect or deficiency in the ancient world were discarded. The Christians violating Roman law would retrieve these children and raise them as their own. As Rodney Stark notes in his book, The Rise of Christianity, Christians stayed behind in the ancient world when the plagues would devastate a city. These early Christians acted as a community to radically affirm the dignity and humanity of people being literally discarded by their society as “not worth saving.” Jesus knew that small faithful acts of obedience could change the world. The way the early church grew to a worldwide movement was by simply practicing joyful obedience and inviting others to join the party.

We all have to contend the notion that Jesus is not focused solely on reforming our inner attitudes or the state of our human hearts, but Jesus is also concerned with our how we act, behave, and operate within the world–socially, economically, and politically. What counts with God and each other is not opportunities, or vision, but incarnation– but the ways we bring to life what we say we believe. What carries power and promise in the world and generates conviction, courage, and transformation is the concrete actions and steps we take to neighbor and build community. Jesus is inviting us to live morally rigorous lives that are clearly distinctive from the world around us. 

We don’t need overt grand gestures here.

Consider the power of learning someone’s name. School setting, meeting new parents, connecting with and including the parents who live within the neighborhood as well as those who commute into the neighborhood. This is a way to honor someone’s human value in a small way, seeing them as a person and not a function/obstacle to you. You can practice this everywhere. Especially in places where you are interacting with folks who wear name tags. 

Here’s a thought about light and hospitality: the call to hospitality often can trigger your “there’s not enough” button. There’s not enough time to care for others and myself, there’s not enough food to share my lunch with someone, there’s not enough emotional energy to care for a stranger and for my own family. Something I like about Jesus’ images about a lamp and a city is how stupid they make scarcity sound. A lamp would never think, “I’ll keep the light I need and share whatever is left with the rest of the room.” A city wouldn’t light the streets first and then let out what is left to the darkness. Just by being a lamp, it fills the room. And when it’s covered, that doesn’t save the light for someone else or keep it for a rainy day (no point in anxiety for the future). It pretty much stops being a lamp at all. When you find yourself in a place of scarcity, it’s hard to make that shift in your mind. But what if you reminded yourself that you were the light of the world, and believed that the fills-the-room light of Christ which is in you is more true than the is-there-enough version of the “light” or “helping” or “salvation” that you think you have to give.

Hear Jesus from Matthew 25:34-36:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

Jesus invites us to realize that  

13“You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)

Prayer Senses:




Freedom from anxiety. 

Confidence in the Lord’s goodness in the midst of trouble. 

Healing. Neck pain; 

Wisdom and healing. The Lord is also giving wisdom to your doctors to help them troubleshoot what is going on with you. Don’t be afraid to come forward for prayer. 

Blessing and equipping. The Lord would like to bless you to know and use your spiritual gifts as you walk with Him. You were made special by the Lord. He wants you to know the Holy Spirit. 

Perseverance. Keep going. Don’t quit. God is with you.