Vision Meeting

We’re having a Visioning meeting at Point Hope UMC Saturday from 9 am – noon.  God led me to call it that based on the Acts 2:17 verse that’s echoing the Joel 2:28 verse.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”

It’s not supposed to be intimidating at all.  I hope it will be fun.  I, in fact, promise it will be fun!  You can come dressed however you want.  There will be snacks and other goodies.  It may not even take the full time.  We’ll see how the Spirit leads.  This is meant to start a conversation that will be ongoing as our broader story is still unfolding.  In terms of story, we have to know where we have come from in order to fully know where we are and where we’re going.  So one of the things we will do as a church at this Visioning meeting is create a timeline that will tell our story and we will leave it up so that people who can’t be there on Saturday, can also add to it.  All are invited.  I don’t want it to be an exclusive thing at all.  If you’re excited about the possibilities, you’re invited.  If you want to dream God-sized dreams, you’re invited.  If you want to bring the love of Christ to the world outside of the church walls, you’re invited.  If you want to foster a deeper sense of community right here at Point Hope, you’re invited.  It doesn’t matter if you have crazy outreach ideas, or if you’re a numbers and bottom line person, or if you’re a pragmatic realist, you’re invited.

Any time we come together as the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is there in our midst inspiring creativity, collaboration, and collective action inspired by the Word made flesh.  As Rich Mullins says, “A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.”  Let’s wonder together.  Let’s dream dreams together.  Again, don’t worry if you can’t be there on Saturday, there will be places for you to give your feedback as well!  If you can make it, I promise, you will not regret it.

I am praying for our whole big “c” Church to have a Great Awakening.  We, now more than ever, need to seek God in prayer, knowing and trusting that God will answer.  We all need to be like the father in Mark 9, “Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,“I believe; help my unbelief!” We need to believe in God, all things are possible.  God is going to be faithful and true and if we believe who knows how God will work through us.  Let these words from Ephesians be an encouragement to you as you face challenges near and far, journey through mountaintops and valleys.

Ephesians 3:14-20, “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Being a Disciple Takes Owning Where We Are

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

We’ve embarked on a 5-week Discipleship series and this week’s is being a Disciple takes ownership.  What is a disciple?  Merriam-Webster defines it this way “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a teacher” or “one of a group of 12 men who were sent out to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ.”  The Greek word generally refers to a student or apprentice or devoted follower.

Some may not know what a big deal this was to invite ordinary, uneducated fishermen to be disciples. As Rob Bell shares in his Nooma video “Dust,”

“Jewish education was made up of three primary sections: Bet Safar – Usually from the ages five to ten, it is a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In Bet Talmud, it continues from the age of ten on to fourteen. During this time, the student would memorize the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).   In Bet Midrash, at the age of fourteen, the best of the best would continue to apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna, Sages, and years and years of commentary on the scriptures. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. The Rabbi’s rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you.

But Jesus came and said His yoke was easy. In Matthew 11, he says He isn’t about endless lists of rules and regulations.  You see, when Jesus is speaking, He’s not just picking words out of the air; He’s speaking as a Rabbi would.

One of the Sages from the Mishna is quoted as this, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” Rabbis are passionate and animated. They would spend their days taking their disciples around teaching them, and as they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust. And because the disciples were following the Rabbi, at the end of the day, they would actually be covered in the dust their Rabbi kicked up – May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi….

Where does this come in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry?  Jesus has been tempted by the Devil, he’s read the scroll where Isaiah alludes to him saying he’ll proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, but they ran him off and tried to hurl him off a cliff.  So much for being welcomed in your hometown.  He set about proving his message – he healed people and preached in the synagogues doing what he said he would do.  In chapter 5 Jesus calls his first disciples – a group of smelly fishermen.  Mark and Matthew have him passing by the fishermen while they are casting their nets, but Luke has him actually going out on the boat.  In a way, this is more powerful, though the calling is still the same.

Can the world see from our “dust” who we follow?  Who our Master is?   Jesus constantly issued a personal call to people to simply follow him. It was always an open-ended call, and they were free to choose to do so or not, and just as free to bail out on following him when things got tough. The same is true for us. Even in Mount Pleasant, this life is still a choice, and we all need to check ourselves on whether or not we are actually followers of Jesus. Not just if we once were, but if we are currently “in the making,” in process of growing in the Lord and in grace. If we are, we need to own it boldly. If not, it’s okay, but it’s a life that goes through the motions from point a to b to c.  God doesn’t want that lukewarm faith for us but God lets us make the choice.  God is not a puppet master.  We have free will to choose.

The sun had just risen when the Boy Scouts began their trek up Baldy Mountain.  At 12,441 feet, Baldy is the highest peak in the Philmont Scout Ranch, a high-adventure backpacking camp run by the Boy Scouts of America. From the summit, hikers can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains, forests and lakes of northern New Mexico.

But the summit was still a dream when the crew of eight Scouts and two adults started out, hiking through a dense pine forest in the early-morning light. Reaching a gorgeous, gurgling mountain stream, they took a turn and headed down a wide and comfortable trail for about a mile.

Turned out to be the wrong trail.

Realizing their mistake, they turned around and hiked back. This detour added an extra two miles to their trip, and you might think they would be discouraged by it. But the extra distance had a surprising benefit. One Scout who had been struggling at the start of the hike gained confidence throughout the detour, and when the group got back on track, he felt strong enough to hike to the summit.

His success required venturing out, beyond his comfort zone. And so does ours.

The Boy Scouts of America have been challenging boys to push their limits for over a century now. So just exactly who has been a Boy Scout? Two-thirds of all astronauts and 11 of the 12 men to walk on the moon. 191 members of the 113th Congress have been involved in Scouting.  Ten of the 100 members of the United States Senate are Eagle Scouts. Eagle Scouts were disproportionately represented among Hurricane Katrina’s volunteer relief workers. Steven Spielberg, Jon Tesh, George W. Bush, Harrison Ford, JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Gates and even Sir Paul McCartney were scouts.

Mike and Enoch participated in a Cub Scout Clean Up at the Park yesterday and Enoch’s super excited to participate in all that scouting has to offer.  It got Enoch out of the house when he normally would have been playing videogames or watching TV.  That’s the beauty of the Scouts, to get us out of our comfort zone, and on our feet, doing good in the world.  Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.

We’re called to deep water, not shallow water.  To experience the fullness of the adventure of being a disciple of Jesus Christ who walks in the way that leads to life.  To own our failings and to own that we are sometimes scared to take that next step, to even cast a vision for the future because we’re so afraid of getting lost or of failing.

When Jesus finishes his speech to the crowd, he decides to extend his lesson with a dramatic illustration. He challenges Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4).

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing,” whines Simon. He sounds like he wants to stay close to shore, safe and comfortable because his time on the water hasn’t yielded any fish.

Put out into the deep water, says Jesus. He invites us to venture out, take a chance, be active and adventurous.

Jesus is looking for commitment. The idea of doing the same thing expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, so when Jesus asks Simon and his fishing buddies James and John to continue doing what they were already doing, they get a surprise – an unexpected, amazing and overwhelmingly abundant catch. All because they’re willing to follow Jesus’ words and scout the deep water.  This story reminds us that Jesus may use significant force to overcome our reluctance. The only reason for the huge catch of fish was to open the hearts of these men who had not previously considered themselves disciple material. And it worked, too, because as soon as Peter saw the size of the catch, it knocked him off his feet. He prostrated himself before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

If we fish in the deep waters without Jesus, we will always come up empty, but if we fish the deep waters with Jesus and the Holy Spirit guiding us, we can fish for people.   That miraculous catch opened these fishermen’s hearts to respond when Jesus asked them to do something they had never done: “From now on you will be catching people.”   No thought to how much money that great catch would bring, Luke says they left everything on the shore and followed Jesus.

That’s the challenge for us today: to venture beyond our comfort zones and put out into the deep water in lives of Christian discipleship. Too often we stay close to shore, safe and comfortable, when Jesus is calling us to be active, adventurous and willing to explore new territory. That’s where the fish are. That’s where the growth happens. That’s where we can make surprising discoveries about ourselves and the world around us.  We scout the deep water when we venture out to share the Christian faith with our neighbors. Jesus challenges us to reach out to our friends and neighbors with the Good News of the Gospel.

In her book Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Grace Reese says that “our most important discovery is that a vivid relationship with God lies at the heart of real evangelism.” You have to ask yourself, “Has being a Christian made any difference in my life?” If so, then you’re going to want to share this reality with other people. Quite simply, evangelism is grounded in the realization that your life is better because of your relationship with God, and this is a relationship that can benefit others as well.

Reese says evangelism is all about relationships. Not high-pressure conversion programs — relationships. We need to reflect on our relationship with God, and then find natural, authentic and sincere ways to share that relationship with others.

We’re all disciples in the making. It’s an unfolding discipleship.  We are being formed into something, something new and different from when we started.  We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto, gone is the black and white and hello the technicolor.  Jesus has called us to the mission field of our community – Park West, Mount Pleasant, the city of Charleston, South Carolina…Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision, the people perish.  Helen Keller says it in a different way.  She says, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

What is God’s vision for the Church?  What is God’s vision for this church – Point Hope UMC? How does God want us to shape our community by being salt and light bearers and loving the people with an agape love?  If we put it off as a vision of the “church,” we can take out our personal accountability.  What is God calling YOU to do as you follow Jesus?  What is God asking you to bring to the table, the altar?  Your doubts, your fears, your excuses?  There is no one “good enough.”  As Roman 8 says we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.

We don’t get the walk of Christian discipleship “right” all the time.  No one does.  Billy Graham shares on July 18, 2016, “”In God’s eyes all sin is equally serious, because all sin is an act of rebellion against God. This includes not only doing wrong, but also failing to do right. God also sees our hearts, and he knows the sins of greed and jealousy and selfishness that lurk there.”  Jesus knows everything about us, and yet, he STILL calls us.  Being in the making, is a Wesleyan understanding.  The first phase in that journey is to own this reality, to acknowledge (1) that Jesus has revealed himself to me, personally, in a powerful way through the different channels of God’s grace, (2) the point of that revealing is to draw me in, attract my attention/curiosity/hope, and prepare in me the desire for more, and (3) this desire is meant to open the door for calling, for Jesus to invite me to head down a very brand new pathway. It’s by sanctifying grace that God doesn’t let us wallow around in our own muck.  God keeps growing us in grace, transforming us, making us new.

For many of us, our being disciples doesn’t get off the ground, or doesn’t take clear form, or stays in a nebulous “whatever” or “blah” kind of place, because we don’t own what Jesus is trying to do, what he’s calling us to, and what it asks of us. Peter and James and John had a moment like this by the Sea. There was no doubt who Jesus was, or what he had done, or that something special was going on. And Simon left no doubt that he was changed and ready to change, ready to embark after following the Lord’s direction. And then Jesus leaves no doubt that this is exactly what he’s there for, and what he calls us each to do – go to the deep, dangerous depths.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy, but he promises to be FAITHFUL.

We need to own where we are in the process, wherever it might be. Some of us need to own that we answered God’s call and then never took another step. Some of us, we followed, but then petered out. Some of us, we’re still struggling to follow and not sure anymore where we are or what we’re about. Some of us, we’re faithfully following and ready for more. Some of us, we never answered the original call, or have claimed that we never heard one. Whatever the case, wherever we are today, we have to start by owning where we are and then deciding whether or not to own that we’re meant to be active, intentional disciples.

We are good in the United Methodist Church about talking about grace. When I was a campus minister, we often would set up in the student center a place for all of the campus ministries to share a brochure and a sticker.  The Catholics and the Baptists would get the majority of students.  At Emory and the University of Florida, we had a great many Jewish people that wanted info.  Methodists rarely came up to the table.  I would wager that we taught “grace” so well, that they knew if they took a hiatus from church, God’s grace would be enough to cover a multitude of sins in college/grad school/young adulthood.  And in fact, that’s true, but it’s a half-life or a shadow life from the one Christ seeks to give us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this cheap grace in The Cost of Discipleship,

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

What if we believed in that kind of “costly grace”?  Surely our world would be different.  Surely it would be.  The ball is in your court, will you follow Jesus and be fishers of people?  Bringing God’s kingdom to earth, meeting the needs of those in our community, and sharing the God’s love and grace with everyone you meet?  Or will you wait on the sidelines, being non-committal as ever?  It’s your choice, as this walking the talk of discipleship always is. Do you have the dust of your rabbi?  Are you going into the deeper waters?  Are you going to rock the world as a disciple of Jesus?  I hope so.

Being a Disciple Takes Sacrifice

Luke 9:18-26

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

On September 11th 2001, I had just started my senior year at Winthrop.  I was student teaching at Saluda Trail Middle School for two days a week, but it was a class day so I went to my 8 am class.  I watch The Today Show every morning, so I must have watched it that morning.  Towards the end of that class I remember hearing about it somehow.  We didn’t have smart phones back then.  We all thought it was an accident.  In my next class at 9:30 am with Dr. Silverman he had turned on the tv in the classroom, by then we all knew it wasn’t an accident.  I remember vividly when the South Tower fell at 9:59 am because someone was holding my hand out to see my new engagement ring as I stood watching in horror as the smoke and debris billowed.  We had gotten engaged on September 10, 2001, little did we know that the next day would be etched into our brains forever.  Winthrop cancelled class at that point.

I immediately walked over to Winthrop Wesley to watch the coverage with Mike, who was the Director of Tuesday’s Child Learning Center, an after school ministry for homeless and at-risk kids, and Jerry, the campus minister at the time.  They were talking about evacuating Charlotte because of the nuclear plant and at the time it was the second biggest city for banking.  I worked at Tuesday’s Child and I was also a youth minister and in the coming days, we struggled to find the words to say to the children and youth.  However, the afternoon of September 11th we had an education colloquy that was mandatory for all student teachers and the education professors decided not to cancel it.  I don’t remember what they covered, but I do remember this.  They said that the terrorists want to disrupt our lives and they were not going to give the terrorists the satisfaction of impacting our lives because that’s what the terrorists want.  As I’ve remembered the anniversary with students over the years, I got a sense of the chaos that ensued.  For example, one student was in the elementary school and one student was in middle school in the town of Blythewood, and one school was on lock down and one they requested parent pick up.  I have since taken students from all 3 campus ministries to St. Paul’s Chapel where the first responders stayed.  They have created a peace exhibit and saved one of the pews were the first responders slept.  One of the students’ uncles had died in one of the towers and we found his name on the memorial.  It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor or shooting of JFK.  We all have stories of remembrance and sacrifice.  As well as struggling with theodicy, in other words, why bad things happen to good people.

This story gave me comfort in the days after 9-11 and it represents a critical, crucial truth to me.

Meet Me In The Stairwell by Stacey Randall

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news On September 11, 2001. Neither will I.

I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say ‘Good-Bye.’ I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, ‘Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.’

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.

I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to Me for help. ‘I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!’ I said. ‘Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.’

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.

I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?

I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know Me. Some met Me for the first time on the 86th floor.

Some sought Me with their last breath. Some couldn’t hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; ‘Come to Me… this way… take my hand.’ Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me. But, I was there.

I did not place you in the Tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me?

Sept. 11, 2001, was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are ‘ready to go.’

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.

-Jesus

Our scripture this morning asks, “Who do people say that I am?”  I would answer, Emmanuel, God with us, through our suffering, through the terror, through the pain.  The One who gives strength and courage both to the first responders on 9-11 and on United Flight 93 and gives us all the power and audacity to lose our lives in order to gain something far greater.

There’s this story from the Vietnam War that my dad told in every church he was appointed to when I was growing up, and I would look forward to it each time.  During the war, some stray artillery rounds landed in an orphanage, wounding several children.  One was a nine year old girl who lost a lot of blood and was barely alive.  Nearby there were some American forces who dispatched a Navy doctor and nurse to help the children.  They went to work first on the young girl who was in shock and needed an immediate blood transfusion to save her life.  To get a donor, the doctor and nurse called together a group of unharmed children and in their broken Vietnamese and limited French they explained to the orphans that someone would have to give blood to help save the little girl’s life.

At first nothing but stares came from the frightened children.  Then a small hand went up in jumpy hesitation, then down again, then up again, it was the hand of a ten-year-old boy. The nurse asked him his name and he said, Heng.

He was immediately placed on a cot; and his blood drawn for a compatibility test.  For example, O positive, O negative, A positive, A negative, etc.  They amazingly were a match.

Then the transfusion started from him to the little girl. Heng soon broke into crying that grew into deep sobs.  “Is it hurting, Heng?” asked the nurse. He shook his head no, but went into deep sobs and began to shake. Soon he was a flood of tears.

The medical team became nervous and thought something was wrong.  At that moment a Vietnamese nurse arrived on the scene. She quickly spoke to him in his own language. After answering several questions between sobs, she whispered to him and he became calm and the crying faded away.

Turning to the American medics, the nurse said in a low voice: “He thought he was going to die.  He was under the impression that you needed all his blood, and that he would have to die to help save the little girl’s life.”

The amazed doctor asked, “How could he possibly have the guts to do that?”

The Vietnamese nurse turned and asked the little boy.

He simply said, “Because she is my friend.”

Great sacrifice doesn’t come without risks.   Risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.  The person who risks nothing does not live.  Because to LIVE – fully, richly, abundantly – you have to risk.

My family loved to play RISK, the game of world domination, pre-kids.  The last time we played my mom had to keep Enoch who was 6 months old at the time, from eating the pieces.  My favorite RISK story was from my parents in seminary.  As Dad told it, he was up late playing RISK with a group of seminarians and this one guy stood up from the table and said, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your souls?” and slammed the door.  That must have been some game!

We are people who straddle two worlds. We have one foot in the physical realm that is saturated by sinful human nature, systems, and institutions. As Christians, we have another foot in the unseen kingdom of God, where we claim that our true citizenship lies in Christ our King. The call of discipleship is to be willing, as much possible, to sacrifice our foothold in this world. That includes our status and position, and the worldly treasures of all kinds that we’ve amassed of ourselves. Jesus’ invitation to take up our cross means being willing to take on the absolute lowliest position in the entire empire in opposition to the sinful powers that be.

Sacrificing our place in the world also includes sacrificing our worldly sense of identity or self. Jesus’ description of losing one’s life to gain it can be translated, maybe more accurately, as losing one’s self (Greek is psyche which in the ancient world was the difference between a living person and a dead one — the soul/spirit/self). That means we no longer identify ourselves and our value by the way that the worldly empire defines those things. Instead, we search for our true selves whose value comes from Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for us. Being a disciple means continually trying to cut the ties we’ve built with the empire of the world.

When you cut those ties, whether of addiction, consumerism, ambition, or the other world-enticing sins, don’t get discouraged or dismayed when the Enemy attacks.  All you have to do is to call on the name of Jesus.  Ann Voskamp writes that she sings hymns, “When the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”

Indeed, God is good and our God is a God that is with us, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus.  Jesus warned us especially in this passage that we would have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  BUT WE DON’T DO IT ALONE.

I love the poems in Alive Now by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

The world will see our Jesus by our witness and by our community.  It’s imperative that we take up our crosses every day AND show the world God’s tangible love for them.  We have to let it bleed and infect all of our lives.  Nothing is off limits.  James 1:22-24 says, “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, ongoing away, immediately forget what they were like.”

Be authentic.  Be real.  Be honest.  Say and know, you’re not perfect, and invite them into your life so that they see the little reassurances God gives us along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture we happen to read…it doesn’t just “happen.”  Be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Go and take it to the world and rock it. Claim it.  Let your life of faith be a testimony.  Live your faith out loud.  And remember to be grateful not only to our first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for each of us, nor for their families, but the One who gave the greatest sacrifice, Jesus, so that we, and those lives lost, could have eternal life.

I will close with these words of Mr. Rogers.  “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  Jesus says come, take up your cross and follow me.  John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Do we love the world that much that we’re willing to lay down on our lives?  God did.

 

Daniel Jester

Isaiah 43:1-7(NRSV)

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

When we pick Enoch up from Pinckney Elementary we are to hold this orange sign.  We got this sign, Daniel Jester, at meet the teacher before school started.  Thankfully, Enoch took it in good fun and they sent this new one home on Thursday.  He even started calling himself Dan during specials i.e. music, art, and drama.  He’s clearly embracing his new school and having a little fun too.  Is he a Dan or is he an Enoch?  Those identity questions are important for all of us.  Who am I?  How do I relate in the world?  What am I good at?  Will the teacher call on me?  Will I be picked last for kickball?

 

Isaiah is reassuring the Israelites.  You are children of the Most High.  You were created, formed, and redeemed and I, the Great God of the Universe have called you by name.  Who are we, that the Lord of hosts takes notice of us?  We are God’s beloved children and we can do nothing on earth to separate us from God’s love!
Enoch loves to take pictures and video on my phone.  When I was deleting off the pictures, I found this gem.  Facebook reminded me this morning that I shared this two years ago. It was before he went to bed, he’s talking about living with his mom, dad and sister and he’s praying for his teacher at the time, Ms. Wilkerson. Then he says, “My name is Enoch.  My name is Daniel Enoch Jeter.  It’s in the Bible.  I stand for God.”  I’m going to show it to him tonight to remind of who he is and Whose he is.
 
A friend shared this truth by Richard Rohr, “Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.”  May we all do the hard work of uncovering, shedding, excavating because the highest praise we can give ourselves is to claim and know that we are children of God.  Nothing more, certainly not, nothing less.  As I daily walk the road of mommy, pastor, wife, daughter, sister, and all my other roles, I need a constant reminder of the grace that covers everything.  When I fail, when I don’t get that last i dotted, when I think I’m not enough, I need to rest in God’s love for me.  That’s where my help comes from.  That’s where our kids’ help comes from.  That’s where we place our trust and we live, move and be in that merciful love.  I love this verse from Micah 6:8.  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  We should all seek to do just that and wait and watch the world transform!

Chosen to love the world.

1 John 3:16-24

16We know love by this that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

We are Chosen to love the world.

Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what God said to Moses and the people of Israel.

As far as formulas go, it’s great.  The golden rule.  I was telling Enoch yesterday, treat people like you like to be treated.

There’s nothing secret about this formula. Even Jesus endorsed it when in Matthew 22 he made it a part of his great commandment. “Love the Lord your God,” said Jesus, and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

But surprisingly, in the first of his New Testament letters, the apostle John offers a new recipe: “this is [God’s] commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (v. 23).

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.

Not the same old formula.

In recent years, companies have learned how dangerous it is to change the ingredients of a successful brand. A little over 30 years ago, in April, 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula and introduced a product called “New Coke.” The response was overwhelmingly negative, and within three months the original formula was back on the market.

Just how bad was it? The company hotline received 1,500 calls a day, almost four times what they usually logged. Psychiatrists listened in on calls and heard people talking as though they were grieving the death of a family member.

Southerners saw the change through the lens of the Civil War, describing it as yet another surrender to the Yankees. Even Fidel Castro despised New Coke, reportedly calling it “a sign of American capitalist decadence.”

Bottom line: Be careful when you change a successful formula.

So what is the apostle John up to? For starters, he wants to put a human face on the commandment to love one another — the face of Jesus Christ. Verse 16 says, “We know love by this,” he says to his brothers and sisters in Christ, “that he laid down his life for us.” John knows that the problem with the love commandment is that it can easily become sacrinny sweet like sweet and low, with people enjoying the pleasant taste of warm, fuzzy emotions and charitable thoughts. So he changes the formula to include the bitter sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

• Most of us find it easier to formulate our arguments in our head without real dialogue, real conversation, so much so that we demonize the other “side” than to love them.  1 John 4:7-10 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  Mother Teresa who becomes a Saint today says much about love. “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”  “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

• Most of us find it so much simpler to define our Christianity in terms of attending church, rather than doing the complicated and challenging work of feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  As Billy Sunday said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

  • Most of us find it easier to point out the splinter in another’s eye, while we live with the plank in our own. For example, if you don’t want to gossip or cut down or talk trash or judge harshly or go on a road that’s a dark and twisty path to the dark side, BE THE CHANGE. Be the change, not just wish for it, BE the change – even the slightest movement, if you are resting in God’s love, puts more love in the universe.

    Such a change of ingredients can actually change our behavior. “We ought to lay down our lives for one another,” insists John, following the example of Jesus (v. 16). Under this new formula, sacrificial living becomes a central part of the Christian life, one that simply cannot be denied. John asks his followers, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (v. 17).

    Love is seen in action, not in words.  The greatest poet ever known can wax eloquent about love, but it is all flowery speech and frills, if it is not backed up.

    John summarizes his new formula with the words “Believe in the name of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (v. 23). He links belief in Jesus with love for one another, knowing that the clearest example of love is the sacrificial life and death of Christ. The result of this new formula is a close connection to God, one in which “all who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them” (v. 24). John says that we’ll know that God lives in us “by the Spirit that he has given us” (v. 24).

    The new link between belief and love can and will create a new kind of life for us.

    Throughout the gospel of John, we hear the promise of life. In fact, the gospel was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life” (John 20:31). The gospel begins with the Word of God taking the human form of Jesus, and we’re promised that “what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4).

    Belief. Life. Light. Put these ingredients together, and you can see that a new formula is beginning to emerge.  John goes on to tell us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

    So now love is in the mix. As well a kind of life that extends beyond the grave — eternal life.

    Describing himself, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

    – Life in Jesus.

    – Eternal life.

    – The light of life.

    – Abundant life.

    – The way, the truth and the life.

    – Life, life, life.

    Christ Life — not the same old formula. It’s a new one based on believing in Jesus and loving one another.

Clarence Jordan captured the concreteness of this everyday love and compassionate assistance when he translated in his Cotton Patch Version of 1 John 3:18 back in 1973: “My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”

Our world is in desperate need of a church that puts love into action and makes it real. Like customers looking for a good, cheap haircut or a calculator for their big test, there are people all around us who are searching desperately for a community that actually practices what it preaches. Over 100 years ago, the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard made the point that Jesus was looking for followers, not admirers — he wanted people who would walk with him, do his work, and serve in his name.

One of Kierkegaard’s own parables told of a man who was walking down a city street when he saw a big sign in a window that said, “Pants pressed here.” Delighted to see the sign, he went home and gathered up all of his wrinkled laundry. He carried it into the shop and put it on the counter.

“What are you doing?” the shopkeeper demanded.

“I brought my clothes here to be pressed,” said the man, “just like your sign said.”

“Oh, you’ve got it all wrong,” the owner said. “We don’t actually do that here. We’re in the business of making signs.” We don’t do these things, he was saying. We’re in the business of talking about them.

And that, said Søren Kierkegaard, is often the problem in the church. We advertise ourselves as a place that is showing Christ’s love and doing Christ’s work. But when people show up looking for real love and real Christian action, they don’t see it. “Oh, no, we don’t love people here. We just talk about loving people here.”

When Christ is our life, we live and move and breathe in the Spirit and we do what Jesus wants us to do.  This means helping a brother or sister in need, and loving one another in truth and in action. It means focusing on activities that really show the love of God to people who might be feeling quite unloved and unlovable. That also means BOLDNESS.  We boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Not just giving people fake, plastered on smiles, but telling them about Christ.  Showing with our lives the greatest show and tell in the world.  We need signs that God is LIVING in us!  I love the tv show Friday Night Lights, maybe because I went to High School in two big football towns – Cheraw and Rock Hill.  The team’s motto, “Clear Eyes.  Full Hearts.  Can’t Lose.” Clear Eyes on the cross, focused on Jesus’ sacrifice for each of us.  Full hearts of the love of God for the world.  The unconditional, agape love of God in ACTION in and through us.  Can’t lose.  We are more than conquerors through him who first loved us and nothing in all of creation will make us lose that, not even the monster in the Upside Down, nothing.

For those who dare to sip this new flavor, abundant life awaits. Believing in Jesus and loving one another draws us closer to God and one another, and allows us actually to abide in God. To abide is to live or to dwell in something — to accept, observe and follow a particular path. So when we believe in Jesus and love one another, we abide in God and God abides in us. “And by this we know that he abides in us,” says John, “by the Spirit that he has given us” (v. 24).

So give it a try. As missionary, Jim Elliot says, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” You have nothing to lose, but a new life – transformed – to gain.

Phonic Books & Flash Cards

I don’t hesitate where my kids’ education is concerned.  I will buy any amount of Fancy Nancy or Dick and Jane or Pinkalicious or Star Wars phonic books  on Amazon Prime.  I will buy any sight word flash cards.  ANYTHING to make Evy a strong reader.  I have heard since we were married that when Mike moved to South Carolina from Alabama, the South Carolina schools were a year behind. It’s clear that the schools here in Mt. Pleasant are a little further ahead than the schools our kids were at in Florida.  When you move to a different school, sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes you’re behind.

Mike and I help them both with their homework and it takes patience to work with either of them.  They go too fast and make careless mistakes, or get tired and don’t try, or get frustrated and don’t try, or give up and don’t try, or make excuses and don’t try, or get tired and feel like they can’t try anymore.  We give them all the tools and resources and they KNOW they need to learn it.  They know they need to practice.  They know they need to keep trying.  They know there’s no playing indefinite hooky.  We’ve explained that very extensively.  But it’s hard to learn to read.  Its hard to learn multiplication. They both have to practice, practice, practice to catch up and it’s a hard thing not to give the answers to them, not to sound it out for Evy.   It’s hard not to give the answers to her, not to sound it out for her.  For our children, we would move heaven and earth to do anything for them.  There’s nothing more frustrating/heart wrenching/miserable to a parent than not being able to help their children.

As I teach her about walking with Jesus, I told her on Sunday night that you can talk to him any time you want, when you’re frustrated or embarrassed at school, when you’re feeling alone or misunderstood, he can help you.  I then told her what so many of us need to here.  You’re enough.  You’re kind enough.  You’re smart enough.  You’re enough.  She buried her head in my shoulder and began to cry.  She needed to hear that.  She needed to know we’re always in her corner no matter what and she matters to the great God of the universe.  Mostly she needed to know she was loved.

It’s a both/and.  God must be so frustrated with us, God’s children, when we don’t learn, when we give up and don’t try.  Because obviously we want our children to not only to succeed, but to flourish.  The definition of “flourish” is to “grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.”  God wants all of us to flourish.  God wants the best for us.  God wants us to know from the tops of our head to the tips of our toes that we are enough.

But, we have to practice.  We have to practice loving people that are different from us.  We have to practice taking that extra couple of steps to help someone.  We have to practice reaching out as a church to a world that’s hurting and busy beyond their means.  We have to practice being salt and light, in the world, but not of it.  Just as Evy has to practice her reading and Enoch has to practice his multiplication, we have to practice living as followers of Jesus Christ.  Phonic books and flashcards may help, but we have to DO.  Knowing and trusting that when we fail, God’s grace is enough.  But we have to TRY.  Or we’re selling ourselves short and not reaching out and stretching ourselves to be who God created us to be.  God wants us to reach our full potential just as we want Enoch and Evy to reach their full potential.  How is God calling you to practice your faith?  What is God calling you to practice?  It sometimes will be hard.  You may fall and scrape your knees, but God’s going to be right there when that happens and we as your community will be right there with you to pick you up and dust you off.  God doesn’t want us to suffer or struggle.  God wants to give us good and abundant gifts, as we as parents, but we and God can’t do it for our children.  God gives us the free will to choose how we spend our time.  God gives us the tools and the resources but we have to make the choice to ACT for ourselves.

I’m going to close with this “Prayer for Empowerment” by Kathleen Fischer.

Creator and Healer, you dwell closer to us than the air we breathe, yet far surpass all we know.

We bless you for the stunning beauty of your cosmos, the gifts you unendingly give.

Forgive us our failure to be grateful and to trust you.

Fill our hearts with your courage, and our minds with your vision of what we might become.

Free us from fear of the dark unknown spaces where you give birth to new possibilities.

You are a God of adventure, and you took a great risk in creating us.

Empower us to become the community of which your heart dreams.

Amen.

Chosen to Share Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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.

If you ever go to a Mexican restaurant with Evy be ready because she’s going to put salt on all over the chips.  She learned that bad habit from me.  I love salty foods and I’m one of those people who puts salt on everything without tasting it, much to my embarrassment on my first dinner with Mike’s granny and grandad.  It was how I grew up.  My mom never salted food enough and I learned it from my dad.  She said she learned that from Sa Sa, my dad’s mom, who she quoted, “You can always add more, but you can never take it away.”  Wise words.  My brother lived with us one semester while we were living in Atlanta.  He was a civil engineering major at Clemson and he did an internship with Brasfield and Gory and he decided to fix us sloppy joe’s one night for dinner.  I don’t know what he put in it, but it was a sodium fiesta.  None of us could eat it, and we tried.  He had a bite and had to drink a whole glass of water afterwards.  Thus, proving Mom’s point.  Salt is a powerful substance.

Salt was very important in the first-century.  Salt was not only used as currency, but actual wars were fought over it because it had so many uses.  Salt could be used to cure and store meats, to disinfect wounds and make food and pottery.  It was useful in a thousand different ways.  It’s like us, God uses us in many different forms and ways to bring salt to the world to bring in the kingdom of God.   In Florida they had “Salty Service” hours in the bulletin and you would tear that part out if you had volunteered at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or sorted at a food bank that week.  It was a way to track their church’s service in the community, their saltiness.

If y’all walked through the fellowship hall this morning, you will notice some of the ways that we are seeking to salt our community, our nation, and our world.  We have the opportunity to share our saltiness with the whole world through one can of food, one bag of candy, one hug, one prophetic word.  Like I was preaching about last week, we have the ability to tell people about God’s world through living lives of authenticity: the good, the bad, and the ugly, the way we admit our faults, the way we cling to Christ, love our enemies, feed the needy, strive to keep our promises and so much more.  We, who have been chosen, to share the Good News, to share the salt of Christ, have an often surprising, at least to ourselves, usefulness in this broken world when we are led by the Spirit to live life out loud, in who God created us to be, and resting in the grace, hope, love of our Savior.  They will know we are Christians by our love.

Bob Goff writes, “Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about – full of abandon, whimsy, and in love.”

I have always been a star gazer.  I remember dragging our mattresses to the big field at Camp Pee Dee as a camper and later on a college retreat to look at the stars.  I remember laying down in beds of pickup trucks in high school looking at the stars. But the stars at my grandparents in Greeleyville were the brightest I had ever seen.  In my younger years, I thought it was only there that I actually had a chance to look up and savor and enjoy and take a pause from the busy-ness of life, but when I learned that it was merely a lack of ambient light because Greeleyville was in the middle of nowhere, it didn’t make it any less special.  In Tromso, Norway, there is a period of darkness called morketida. From mid-November to mid-January, the sun does not rise above the horizon. In fact, from August until mid-November, residents can count on losing 10 to 15 minutes of light each day until the depths of the winter solstice. At best, those high above the Arctic Circle may look forward to only two or three hours of indirect or half-light around midday for nearly two months.

Yet while the stars that light the sky during this morketida period may shine for long periods, they are not enough to dispel the gloom that pervades the streets and can easily poison the soul. During our own periods of morketida, we don’t really need more stars – we need more common lights or lamps to light our everyday paths on this earth.

I’ve always loved the story about Robert Louis Stevenson growing up in Scotland. In those days, streetlamps didn’t come on automatically; people were hired to light each one individually. One evening, as the lamplighters did their work, climbing their ladders, lifting the glass lid, lighting the torch, shutting the lid, climbing down, and moving on to the next lamp, young Stevenson was enthralled. As dusk settled into night, one light would be kindled, then another, and another. He said, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

Look at the man!  He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

As a child, didn’t you love to sing “This little light of mine … I’m going to let it shine ….”? and all of the verses?  I love it when on Christmas Eve we light the candles.  As a child, I liked that even I got a candle, and I always noticed that the more candles that were lit the more the room grew brighter and brighter.  Jesus gives us all the power and authority we need to shine our light in the world.  The Holy Spirit fans the flame and if one of our community’s light goes out, just like on Christmas Eve, you come alongside them, and light it with your light, the light of Christ in you.  Jesus wants us to think corporately about the illuminating power he generates in each of us. The “city built on a hill” is not noticed because one lone light flickers in a window. It is the combined wattage of an array of lights, each burning in its own place, but for a common purpose, that sets the city ablaze in the midst of a dark and dreary night.

Pope Francis writes, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”

God sends us sustenance for our journey as we need it.  Scriptures, devotions, songs, books, movies, poems, any way that pierces the layers of life that we hold so dear.

 

As a child, didn’t you love to sing “This little light of mine … I’m going to let it shine ….”? and all of the verses?  I love it when on Christmas Eve we light the candles.  As a child, I liked that even I got a candle, and I always noticed that the more candles that were lit the more the room grew brighter and brighter.  Jesus gives us all the power and authority we need to shine our light in the world.  The Holy Spirit fans the flame and if one of our community’s light goes out, just like on Christmas Eve, you come alongside them, and light it with your light, the light of Christ in you.  Jesus wants us to think corporately about the illuminating power he generates in each of us. The “city built on a hill” is not noticed because one lone light flickers in a window. It is the combined wattage of an array of lights, each burning in its own place, but for a common purpose, that sets the city ablaze in the midst of a dark and dreary night.

Pope Francis writes, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”

God sends us sustenance for our journey as we need it.  Scriptures, devotions, songs, books, movies, poems, any way that pierces the layers of life that we hold so dear.

Remember who you are.  I was in the 8th grade when I saw it and it was the first time I remember God speaking to me through a movie.  God speaks to me often in movies, but it was the first time that the Great God of the Universe revealed Godself in this way to me.  Remember who you are.  Remember who I have created you to be.

Andrew Kramer shared this poem he wrote with me.  It’s called “I Am Man.”  Cold is the day /and dark is the night / when brown bears hibernate / and birds find respite from flight / also man with heart and soul / begin life’s long journey to / find himself whole / he searches the earth / for riches and fame / only to discover the unfair / rules of life’s game / he has met with obstacles on land and sea / but with steadfast perseverance / he culminates in me / I am man.  God wants us to be who God created us to be – healthy, fulfilled and whole and then God takes it a step farther calling us to live our lives as salt and light. Illuminating my and the world’s darkness.  Re-salinating  my and the world’s saltiness.  If it’s the past your worried about, don’t.

God doesn’t want you living in the past.  Sometimes you may be like Simba in the first clip, you have to make your way through the jungle, either of your own making or what the world has thrown at you or both.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made and bought for price.  The Savior of the world lives inside of you spurring you on to right action.  It’s not about your own effort.  None of us naturally salty and naturally effervescent, it’s all through Jesus.  It’s all about abiding in the true vine that gives us the ability to bear the fruit of the kingdom.

You punch another hole in the darkness every time you show up with joy instead of gloom on your face, with good things to say instead of griping, every time you stop for someone who’s struggling, when you consciously put someone else ahead of you, when you insist on taking the high road when it’s tempting to cut corners, every time you weep with someone who’s weeping, rejoice with someone who’s rejoicing, and reach out to someone who’s been acting pretty unloveable.

Don’t worry if you don’t do it “right” 24:7. Bob Goff writes, “Failure is just part of the process, and it’s not just okay; it’s better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.” Claim these verses from 1 Peter 2:9-10,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Aren’t those powerful words?  When we bear witness to those mighty acts in Jesus Christ even the gates of Hell will not prevail.  We are chosen to punch holes in the darkness.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.”

16 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.

We live in a pretty dark world.  Some of us have never seen a darker time.  But it’s not a world without salt and light, unless Christians fail to stand up by living like Jesus, treating people like Jesus, handling situations and temptations like Jesus, being like Jesus.  Who did God put in your life for you to show them Jesus?  What ways can you be salt in the world?  In what ways is God calling you to remember who you are, who you are created to be, and what is God calling you to do?  You don’t have to have all the answers now.  Just merely begin asking yourselves the questions.  Begin plotting the ways you will be salt and light in the world.  In your professional life.  In your personal life.  You can light one of the candles over there.  They are for before the service, after the service, during communion, or any time you want to pray intentionally.  We all learn in different ways and we all need different sparks, ways to interact with God.  I know sometimes you are too worn to be salty and your light seems to be on the verge of snuffing out, but God will give you the strength, Jesus will give you the sustenance, and the Holy Spirit will give you the boldness and courage.  Amen.