Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14) I believe Jesus is referring to each of us as the light but also the church can be the light. There are many creative ways to be the church. Here is one of my favorite examples:
One hot summer Friday evening, seventy-eight single adults from across Virginia arrived through the sliding, glass doors of a spiritual retreat center. For three days, they sang, played, studied, prayed, ate, laughed, shared sorrows and experienced joys. Let’s meet a few of the participants:
Susan’s hand gripped the suitcase tightly, as she walked toward the building. Her divorce was final three years ago but tears still appeared at the mere mention of her former husband’s name. “What am I doing here?” she thought. “People will think I just want to meet men! Who am I kidding? Maybe I am here just to find a relationship.”
Virginia confidently entered with three friends from her church. Last year, she came to the retreat a lonely, depressed widow. Now, she’s full of joy, looking to share her healing experiences.
Bill, a single parent, quietly sat in his car watching others go through the doors. “This is crazy!” He thought to himself. “Why did I let my preacher talk me into attending a singles retreat?”
Denise, a vivacious twenty-something career woman arrived excited about a weekend off and a chance to relax. Yet, she was also nervous. “Mom swears it will be wonderful, but the only singles groups I attended were full of bitter middle-aged divorcees looking to get even with their ex. I hope there are some fun people here my age,” she thought.
Ron won the prize for most unique entrance by arriving in a long fake-mink coat, oversized sunglasses and a red wig. Last year, he came to receive comfort from a long and difficult divorce. This year, he comes to renew friendships, have some fun and help influence others.
As each of the seventy-eight guests registered, someone was there to warmly greet them and provide a welcome bag of goodies and information. A Polaroid snapshot was taken and taped to a large envelope. Seventy-eight envelopes were then attached to the wall of the main meeting room. Later, messages of love and encouragement were inserted so everyone could leave with a letter in their suitcase and warmth in their hearts.
Susan met Jan a single mother in the divorce recovery workshop. “I cannot believe someone has the same problems, I have,” Susan said to the group. During the Sunday worship service, they heard about the need to forgive others as God forgives them. Encouraged to receive communion with a friend, Jan and Susan came together to share God’s grace and their newfound friendship.
Virginia and her three friends enjoyed working with a group making hats out of old newspapers. “I felt like a child playing in the sandbox,” she said. Later they attended a workshop on prayer and formed a small group devoted to spending time praying for others.
Bill learned the importance of developing active listening skills and practiced avoiding the “verbal villains” of poor communication. After the session, Bill could have retired to his room, but instead chose to join a group in the gym and play volleyball.
Denise joined the Line Dancing group and met several young singles who lived in her area. At the workshop on stress management she learned valuable coping skills.
Ron the clown became our unofficial retreat counselor and even wrote a poem describing how singles commit their lives to God. “God is our shelter. He is our friend. No matter how high the mountain or how deep the sea, it is God’s strength and grace that guides our path through the storms of life.”
Seventy-eight people left the retreat on Sunday afternoon with their envelopes full of love notes and their hearts full of joy. Seventy-eight people experienced God’s church and their lives were forever changed. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Mat. 5:14) For seventy-eight people on one special weekend retreat – the light of God shined bright.