The other day I received Wittenberg Magazine in the mail. Do you stay connected with the schools that you attended earlier in your life? I went to college at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Wittenberg, as you might suspect from the name, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Having grown up as a Mennonite, my only previous contact with the Lutheran Church was through my high school organ teacher, who was the Director of Music in a large Lutheran church in a neighboring town.
I had no idea where I wanted to go to college, so my mother and I and a friend from high school went on a Midwest college road trip from eastern Pennsylvania just a few months before graduation. Applying to colleges was a bit more casual in those days. We visited Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin; Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota; Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; and Wittenberg, which was recommended by my organ teacher because it had a School of Music and a strong organ faculty. I am sorry to admit that we did not make it as far as Iowa!
I ended up at Wittenberg because I wanted to study organ, I loved the campus, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to study church music in West Berlin during my junior year. Here’s what I saw on my first visit. At the center of the campus on the pavement was the Wittenberg “seal,” made out of bronze with these words, “Having light we pass it on to others.” Many years have passed since I graduated from Wittenberg, and I regret that I have never been back, not even once. Although I still browse through the alumni magazine and make my annual contribution, Springfield, Ohio is just not on the way to the places I normally drive.
However, every day I live with the influence of two teachers in particular who passed their light on to me. My organ teacher, Trudy Faber, who also taught piano and harpsicord, was raising a young family when I was in college, and I always admired her skill as well as her genuine interest in her students. The other person was Fred Jackisch, who was a music professor, Dean of the Music School, and university organist. One day during my senior year. Dr. Jackisch and said these words to me, “Laurie, remember that those to whom much is given is much expected. God expects much of you.”
In other words, “Having light, we pass it on to others.” I relished the first-rate education I received and the high expectations that Professor Faber and Dr. Jackisch passed on to me. Consequently, I have never forgotten my responsibility to pass the light on to others.
There is someone, isn’t there, who once talked about light – about how you and I are called to let our light shine so that all people will be inspired by the amazing things that we do to make a difference in the world? Yes, there is someone – a man named Jesus, who once said these words. “You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
I’m sure you’ve heard the old story about a little girl who asked her mother one day what a saint is. So, her mother took her to a great cathedral to see the gorgeous stained-glass windows with scenes from the Bible. When the little girl saw the beauty of it all, she cried out loud, “Now I know what saints are. They are people who let the light shine through!”
In the latest copy edition of Wittenberg Magazine, I read about two Wittenberg grads, Justin and Janet Henry, who decided to live in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they helped build the Bolivian Hope Center. Children go to live in the Hope Center when their mothers go to prison. Otherwise, they would be out on the streets to fend for themselves. Justin said, “It’s been a long time since I graduated from Wittenberg, but I’ll never forget what it says on the seal, ‘Having light we pass it on to others.’ At first, I thought it was a bit arrogant; now I see it as a daily charge. Once we see something that we should act on, it is our responsibility to do so.”[i] The light shines through Justin and Janet Henry. Having light we pass it on to others.
Then there’s Melanie Barrett, who is a junior this year at Wittenberg. Melanie’s sister, Bailey, was born with a rare form of epilepsy that confined her to a wheelchair until she died in 2017. So, Melanie decided to pass her light on to her sister by creating a new company called Bailey Bug, which “develops specialized apparel and accessories for warmth, style, and safety for those who use wheelchairs.”[i] Melanie said, “Bailey means the world to me, and I will not stop until the warmth she gave me is spread… In my short-term future, I plan to help other students see that if they have a dream they can turn it into a reality.”[ii] Having light we pass it on to others.
My friends, as the saints of God, you are the people God calls to let the light shine through you. Having experienced the light and love of Jesus, how will you pass that light on to others? How is your church reaching out to your neighborhood, letting your light shine so that everyone around the church can see your good works and give glory to God? No matter what is going on around us, the light still beckons us to respond by passing it on to others.
It only takes a spark to get a fire going;
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s love; Once you’ve experienced it;
You spread God’s love to ev’ryone; You want to pass it on.
[i] “Spread the Warmth,” Cynthia Holbrook, Wittenberg Magazine, Winter 2020, p.18.
[ii] Ibid, p. 19.
[i] “Revelation and Responsibility,” Justin and Janet Henry, Wittenberg Magazine, Winter 2020, p. 14, 17.