From the Pulpit: “Light of the World” By Rev. Travis Russell, Vinton Baptist Church

The following is the Baccalaureate sermon Rev. Travis Russell, Senior Pastor at Vinton Baptist Church,  shared with graduating seniors from William Byrd High School at the online Baccalaureate Ceremony on May 17, 2020.

On behalf of the Vinton community, your school, all the churches represented, ‘We are proud of you! I can’t imagine how hard these last two months have been for you. To say that you have experienced disappointments and frustrations would be a tremendous understatement!”

“In thinking about this message–what I wanted to share with you–I thought about it in two ways: Looking back, what are the things I wish someone would have said to me when I was sitting where you are? As a parent of a four and six-year-old, what are the things I would want my sons to hear if they were sitting where you are?”

With those two things in mind, here are 10 things I would like share:

  1. Learn how to change a tire! Now that you have some extra free time at home, make that an afternoon project! I promise (in all the places you’ll go) that some of you will end up on the side of the road in need of this skill.
  2. Eat a live frog! Not literally! But Mark Twain once said, “Start each day by eating a live frog. If you do, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you.” His point: Do the hardest thing of each day first (whatever that may be for you) and the rest of the day will fall into place! If you start with the easy stuff, you’ll procrastinate the hard stuff and never get it done! And the “hard stuff” is usually the most important “stuff” anyway!
  3. Read your Bible, of course I’m going to say that as a pastor, but seriously, speaking from someone who rarely did at your age outside of church, it will change your life!
  4. If you’re going to college/education of any kind, personally introduce yourself to every teacher and professor; sit at the front of the class; make a friend in every class. You will get confused and need help on an assignment. You will get sick and need someone to share their notes from class you missed.
  5. If you’re going straight into the workforce, do more than is asked of you—those who do only what is required, rarely (if ever) get promoted. Separate yourself from the pack—do more!
  6. Be on time (period!). Punctuality sounds like a little thing–that’s really a big thing!
  7. Find a good mentor—not someone your age–someone who is trustworthy; someone wiser/more experienced than you. Talk with them regularly.
  8. Help someone every day! It will help you as much as it does them!
  9. Express gratitude/ show appreciation, say “Thank You” as often as you can! It will change your interactions with others. It will change your relationships!
  10. Decide “who” you want to be first, rather than “what you want to do.” What you choose to do (what field you decide to go into) is very important! If you will focus first on who you want to be the answer to what you want to do with your life usually comes easier!


There’s an old proverb that says: Pay attention to your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Pay attention to your words, for your words become your actions. Pay attention to your actions, for your actions become your habits. Pay attention to your habits, for your habits determine your destiny.

I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in the power of choice. Our choices have the greatest impact in determining who we become and who we become will have a far greater impact on our future than what we choose to do!

So the question is: who are you? A lot of people answer that question based on their career. Who are you? I’m a police officer, nurse, first responder; I’m a mechanic, landscaper, painter; I’m a teacher, pastor, a chef, scientist. So often, the world defines who we are by what we do!

That’s not all bad. I take great pride in being a pastor. I feel called by God to do this work! But being a pastor is not who I am. Does it influence who I am? Of course! But what we do and who we are, are two different things!

So how do we know who we are? Well this is who God says you are: In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

When Jesus spoke these words, he was standing on the side of a mountain talking to thousands of people: people from every walk of life.

He didn’t make any distinction–He just simply said “You are the light of the world.”

How could he say that to all of them without any distinction? According to John 1:1-5, John wrote: 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot not overcome it.”

You are the “light of the world” because the “light of life” that comes from God is in you! That light wasn’t just given to some. That life is the light of all people.”

The same “light” that God used to create the sun, moon, and stars, that “light” is within you, as one created in His very image!

Several months ago, we lost power at our house one night; and when all of the many nightlights we have for our four and six-year-old went out, our youngest woke up and was scared. He started crying out to us.

When I was going to get him, I realized how difficult it is to walk even down the hall when its completely dark. I was feeling around with my hands and bumping into everything. After I picked him up and was carrying him back to our room, even I got a little turned around. I wasn’t sure what direction I was going in. Not only did I forget to bring my phone for light but now that I was holding him, I couldn’t use my hands. Not wanting to smash into a wall holding him, I called out to my wife to turn on the flashlight on her phone and shine it down the hall so I could see. When she did, I thought I was facing her. I thought I was heading in the direction of our room. In reality, I was facing our stairs, and about two steps away from walking right off that top stair and falling all the way to the bottom holding my 4-year-old son.

Thankfully, through that small glimmer light, I was able to see the danger of what was in front of me, turn around, and make it back safely to our bedroom.

According to Jesus, that is who you are! “You are the light of the world.” The light of your life is meant to be put on a ‘lampstand’ (where all can see), to give light to everyone in the house!”

Just as God promises that His Light will overcome any darkness in your life, He also calls us shine our light, in order to overcome the darkness in the world around us.

We meet people every day who are in the dark. Some are calling out frightened and alone. Some are stumbling their way through. Some are standing on the edge of that top step, without the slightest idea of the danger they’re in.

All of them are in desperate need of God’s light–a light that He has declared is in you.

So graduates, as you begin the next chapter in your story, may you remember: Wherever you go, Whatever you decide to do, know that God is with you; His light is shining in and through you.

Because of that: “You are the light of the world.” That is WHO you are. “Go let your light shine before others, A light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!”


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