A few weeks ago, more than ten thousand athletes—plus coaches and support staff and media and more—descended on Tokyo for the twenty twenty summer Olympics. And one of those athletes was the one of the greatest gymnasts of all time: Simone Biles.
Now, I know shockingly little about gymnastics. I know that gymnasts practice each element of a routine—each part of an element—over and over again. And they do this over pits filled with foam, and on balance beams that are an inch off the ground, and with spotters surrounding them.
Because a single wrong move—a slight mistake or a minor misalignment—can mean injury… or paralysis… or death. And that’s not hyperbole; that’s not a risk assessment; that’s not something that could be true. It’s happened.
So if you followed the news, you know that Simone got the ‘twisties’. She got into this mode where she was losing track of her flips and twists and spins. She got into this headspace where she was flying through the air and didn’t know where she was. So she did the smart thing: she let someone else compete in her spot while she worked it out.
And some people criticized her. There were media personalities who called her weak, and selfish, and a national embarrassment. There were folks who said that the problem with America today is that we have a whole generation of Simone Bileses, prioritizing their fragile mental health over… whatever.
And some people praised her. There were people who called her strong, and brilliant, and a champion. There were folks who said that we need more people like Simone Biles… and Naomi Osaka… and Tom Dumoulin… and others who have come out and said, “I can’t do this right now. I’m not okay.”
And I’m telling you this because it turns out that there’s a time for every purpose under heaven and there are many ways to be an example. Sometimes, it’s the right time to go out and flip and twist and spin; and that can inspire people. And sometimes, it’s the right time to withdraw, and work on the fundamentals, and say, “I’m not okay.”
And, it turns out, that can inspire people, too.
Today, we are continuing our summer sermon series on being a blessing: leading with love, practicing people, and praying often; giving thanks and being joyful and being kind; doing good and going courage and working for justice; being the light and encouraging others.
We’ve spent almost a whole summer talking about how these are ways of being blessed and ways of being a blessing. And now, as we are almost at the end of the summer, we’re almost at the end of this list: we’re talking about being the light.
And we’re watching Jesus tell his disciples… well…
Jesus has just called his disciples. Not too long ago, he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, and he saw Simon and Andrew fishing. And he said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.
And a little while later he saw James and John mending their nets. And he said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.
And they’ve been walking through the towns and villages of Galilee. And Jesus has been teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news, curing diseases and healing people. And he’s gotten famous. People are coming from all over the place to hear him and cry out to him.
And he sees the crowds. And he goes up a mountain with his disciples, and sits down, and starts teaching them:
Blessed are the poor in spirit… and the ones who mourn and the meek… and the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart… and the ones who make peace. Blessed are the ones who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. And blessed are you… when people revile you on my account.
And that’s… a lot. But then Jesus tells them—he tells these disciples, who he called from being fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, who he’s known for a few days or a few weeks or a few months—he tells them:
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Don’t hide. Let your light shine.
And that’s… a lot, a lot. Jesus is laying a lot of stuff on these disciples. Jesus is laying a lot on these people who will prove to be marvelously imperfect: Be blessed and be a blessing… even when people come after you, and people will come after you… be the light, get up high, and fill the world. Shine.
Like I said, Jesus has just called his disciples. It’s been a few days or a few weeks or a few months, and I can’t imagine that they have any idea what they’ve gotten themselves into… and now there are crowds, and they’re sitting on a mountain listening to their teacher, and he’s telling them… to shine.
And they have to be thinking:
We’re fishermen. We’re not the salt of the earth; we don’t give the world its flavor. We’re not the light of the world; we shouldn’t be on a lamp stand. We’re just us. We don’t shine. And you’re… you. You shine, not us.
And I get that feeling. I know that feeling. I stand here every Sunday and try to teach you just a little bit about how to follow Christ… and I have thought and considered and studied and prayed… and there is still a part of me that says, “I am an expert on like, maybe, three things. I can’t… shine.”
And I’m willing to bet that there are some people sitting in this sanctuary (or watching the video or listening to the podcast) who feel the same way.
I’m not the salt of the earth; I don’t give the world its flavor. I’m not the light of the world; I shouldn’t be on a lamp stand. I’m just me. I don’t shine. You shine, Jesus, not me.
But here’s the thing… here’s the trick… here’s the truth:
Those disciples—Simon and Andrew and James and John—didn’t shine on their own. Well, maybe they did, just a little. Doesn’t all of creation shine? But they shined—they shined; they were the light of the world—because Jesus called them.
And here’s the thing… here’s the trick… here’s the truth:
You shine… you are the light of the world… you should be on a lamp stand… because Jesus called you. Because Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And you did.
That is what makes your shine. That is what makes you the light of the world. That is what makes us—as individuals and as a church—the light of the world.
I started this sermon by talking about Simone Biles. I started this sermon by telling you that sometimes, it’s the right time to go out and flip and twist and spin; and that can inspire people. And that sometimes, it’s the right time to withdraw, and work on the fundamentals, and say, “I’m not okay.” And, it turns out, that can inspire people, too.
And I don’t know what Simone believes. I don’t know if she hears a still small voice. But I believe that when she walked away, she was shining. She was being the light. And she was showing the world that no matter who you are—whether you’re a world class gymnast… or a teacher… or a nurse… or a cashier… or a stay-at-home parent… or anyone or anything else—it’s okay to not be okay.
A few weeks ago, I talked about courage. I talked about how having courage is a way of being blessed and a way of being a blessing. I talked about how having courage is about what we do when we are afraid. And I talked about how courage is about being afraid, and doing the thing anyway.
And now I’m going to tell you: shining—being the light—takes courage. It is a brave thing to do. Because whenever we shine… when we are poor in spirit or mourn for the world… when we are meek or we show mercy… when we hunger for justice or thirst for righteousness… when we purify our hearts or make peace…
…when we light up the world, there will be some people who celebrate us, and some people who criticize us… or persecute us… or revile us.
But we do it anyway. Because we have courage… and because we have faith… that we can pass the light around, and—with the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit guiding and upholding us—make the whole world shine.