November 26, 2017 – The Last Person

  Text: Matthew 25:31-46

 

I joined a drama club when I was in University. Every semester, we staged a play. In my four years at university, I took part in nine different productions. I played various roles both backstage and onstage, including lighting and sound, leading actor, supporting actor and director. I enjoyed almost every aspect of the theatrical life – except for one thing: being a director. When you act in a play, you have to keep in tune with the other actors. You have to repeat your lines over and over again until you and your partner master the lines together. Before the play begins, you wait offstage with all the other actors with breathless attention, sharing the same excitement as well as the same tension. If you are doing stage lighting in a control booth, you usually sit with another person who controls the sound system. So, those two people can have fellowship together. But directing is a lonely job. An ideal director is sensitive and caring to all the people involved in the play, attentive to the atmosphere and mood of the production, acting decisively and commanding respect. It’s a burdensome and responsible job as the director always has the final say and bears responsibility for a production’s success or failure. It is a lonely job; no one can really understand the job unless they have done it.

When I was a director, it was usually me who arrived at rehearsal first, and it was always me who turned off the light after everyone else had gone. One day, I was tidying things up, making sure we left the room clean, since we rented the space. Members of my drama club left the room one by one as usual. Now, once again, I was the last person in the theater, and when I was just about finished tidying up, suddenly all the lights went off. The little theater was actually a small chapel in the basement of the big university chapel. From the small chapel to the outside was a 40-meterlong hallway. The light switch was oddly placed – it was at the very end of the hallway, by the outside door. Someone must have turned off the light, thinking that everybody was already outside. I was at the farthest corner of the room; I had to walk through the underground chapel and that long hallway in the pitch-black darkness. The first thing I did was try to find a wall. In a place like that, where your sight is useless, you have to use other senses such as your sense of touch and smell. In a place like that, where there is not a single person you can rely on, you have to trust yourself and your instincts. In a place like that, where you can’t see any light, not even a dim glow from a far-off streetlamp, you have no other option but to be the light you need. After I stumbled through the dark tunnel all by myself, I saw the strangest thing: everyone was chatting, playing and laughing just outside the chapel as if nothing had happened. I was at a total loss for words, and I didn’t say what had just happened to me, gulping back my tears and forcing a smile.
If you have ever been the last person who turns off the lights after everybody has gone home after a church meeting or choir practice, after all the other family members have gone to sleep, or
after all the campers are tucked into their own cozy cabins or tents at camp, you know what it is like to be the last person. You can only rest after you know everyone else is safe and at peace. You have a restless night when someone under your care is not well, you don’t mind doing a little extra work to tidy things up or make special treats so the people you care about can enjoy what they do. You listen to complaints and worries from others, while keeping your own worries inside; there’s nobody for you to complain to and share your worries with.

I thought life would be more like either playing on stage with other actors or working offstage where at least I have somebody to talk to than being a director. The friendship that I thought would last forever has faded away without my knowledge or intention. The love that I thought would endure all the pain turned out to be a momentary passion. The people I thought would be always there for me have vanished one by one, leaving a scar or hole in my heart. I thought there would be always somebody directing my life, someone who is stronger and more reliable than me; someone who knows the answer, and can make a decision on my behalf. It is honorable yet terrifying to realize that I am the director I need. I must be the last person who turns off the lights, after everyone else has gone. It’s lonely to be the director. It is even risky to be the director because I never know when I am going to stumble through the dark tunnel all by myself. The truth is that I can never own my life, I can never fully experience every aspect of life, savoring each moment, unless I claim to be that director.

Today we are celebrating our sense of belonging here in this church. Church membership is different from membership of any social club, where you pay your membership fee, and you are entitled to certain benefits. On the contrary, you want to become a member of a particular church because you want to serve other people more. Church is made up of people who are willing to be the last person who turns off the lights after everyone else has gone. You can only rest after you know everyone else is safe and at peace. You cannot stop praying for someone, knowing that you are also in the heart and prayers of somebody else. You don’t mind doing a little extra work to tidy things up or make special treats so the people you care about know they matter. Chances are that you are not always acknowledged. Chances are that you might have to stumble through the dark tunnel all by yourself from time to time. It is true that you may sometimes feel lonely even in the church. Yet, it is also true that you are always surrounded by those who are willing to be the last person, even for yourself, sharing your burden as well as your joy.
At some point in our lives we were hungry and someone gave us food, we were thirsty and someone gave something to drink, and we were strangers and somebody welcomed us. And now we all have joined the church because we want to give it back; we are willing to be that last person. We have joined the church because we have found the light we are looking for; because we are the light, the honorable and beautiful light that can be a beacon for many even in the dark and especially in the dark.