Posted in Darkness, Epiphany, Isaiah, Light, Sermon

Arise, shine; for your light has come! – January 2nd

It’s beginning to not look like Christmas.  How many of you have put away your Christmas decorations?  We haven’t even begun to.  I’m not going to technically feel bad about it because it’s not Epiphany yet.  You see, not only do we observe Christmas, but the Christian calendar gives us twelve days of Christmas to span the time between Christ’s birth and the wise men coming to witness the birth not just of Israel’s deliverer, but of the whole world.  

These words from Isaiah were spoken to a specific people coming home from exile, but the words of Isaiah are quoted all through the New Testament in multiple ways to speak to all types of situations and the beauty with all scripture – it has a way of speaking to us afresh and anew if we let it.  The Word is open and alive for each of us.

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

    and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

    and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

    they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

    all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

An epiphany is a sudden manifestation or perception of the meaning of something or an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking.  My simplified explanation is it’s an ah-hah moment.  Well, I’ll give you the three epiphanies or ah-hah moments or take-aways and lo and behold, they’re all 3 about Jesus.

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Jesus shines in our hearts.

Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world.  

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Darkness is never easily dispelled. The Israelites could have said, “We’ve heard that before!” At the beginning of the book of Isaiah they had heard: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). That promise seemed like a quick fix before the darkness returned; and we know the feeling. We have heard these promises at Advent and Christmas, year after year. Does anything really change?  Did Covid-19 suddenly disappear or our loneliness in isolation or did we instantly drop the 19 pounds most of us gained during the pandemic when it turned into January 1st?  Nope.  It’s never as easy as waving a magic wand.

But have we ever really listened to the promises? It says you must “lift up your eyes and look around” (v. 4a) All the light in the world is no help if you don’t lift up your eyes and take a look around.  We have to look up to see the light.  It may be a speck on the horizon, it may be the light that we look for when the world is caving in on us.   What Isaiah saw was a glorious restoration for Jerusalem, a great homecoming for the Jews, a great ingathering of the Gentiles. But the reality – the hope of a glorious return with banners waving and confetti filling the air is far from what they found.  Enormous construction tasks and apathy at best from the ones who had stayed behind were beyond discouraging.  It would have been easy for them to give up, but they clung to God’s promises as we have to do too.   

Jesus shines in our hearts.

I’ve had a quote at the end of my email since I created it in 2012.  It’s from Archbishop Desmond Tutu – “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.”  But if I don’t truly believe that Jesus dispels all the darkness in our lives, if I don’t truly believe in the promises of God, then those are just empty words on a tagline.  I’m not talking about momentary bits of doubt or discouragement, that the Lord will lead us through with a song, a piece of scripture, a call from a friend, a sunrise, we have to look up and around to see all of God’s workings in our lives. 

Isaiah 60:19

19 The sun shall no longer be

    your light by day,

nor for brightness shall the moon

    give light to you by night;

but the Lord will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

But the Lord will be YOUR everlasting light, and YOUR God will be your glory.  We realize, don’t we, that they and we did not choose this on our own.  This is a unilateral action on the part of God, that is available to each of us, because God sent his Son to be the light of the world.  This new identity as children of the light was given by God; not achieved by them. This new identity is also God’s free gift to us through the light of the world, Jesus Christ. Our new, God-given identity is not given by others’ perceptions. It is given by God in Jesus Christ.

As Matt Maher wrote in the song the began played, “One star burns in the darkness

Shines with the promise, Emmanuel

One child born in the stillness

Living within us, Emmanuel

We’re singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let there be peace

Singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let it start in me

If Jesus shines in our hearts, then we will have peace.  It may not always seem like it, but we can have God’s peace, Christ’s peace and love and joy ever in the midst in all of life’s storms.

    Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world. 

One of the most prolific songwriters of the nineteenth century was Fanny Crosby. She was the daughter of John and Mercy Crosby from Putnam County, New York. Fanny was born on March 24, 1820. At age six weeks she became sick with a cold, causing inflammation of her eyes. The family doctor was out of town so a doctor unfamiliar with the Crosby family came. He recommended the use of hot poultices, which destroyed her sight. Growing up in a sightless world did not deter Fanny Crosby; she would not let anyone feel sorry for her. At the age of fifteen, she entered the New York Institution for the Blind, where she earned an excellent education. She became a teacher in the Institution in 1847 and continued her work until March 1, 1858. She taught English grammar, rhetoric, and Roman and American history. During this period of her life she began to develop a passion for songwrit­ing and poetry.

Fanny Crosby wrote over 4,000 hymns in her lifetime. She had a intimate relationship with Jesus Christ since childhood, and it shows in her hymns. She wrote the songs, “Safe In The Arms Of Jesus,” “Rescue The Perishing,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross,” “Blessed As­surance,” and more. Another of her hymns, “To God Be The Glory” is one that the prophet Isaiah could have related to very well. Sing with her words:

To God be the glory, great things he hath done!

So loved he the world that he gave us His Son,

who yielded his life an atonement for sin,

and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,

to every believer, the promise of God;

The vilest offender who truly believes,

that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,

and great our rejoicing thru Jesus, the Son;

but purer, and higher, and greater will be

our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord;

let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord;

let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son,

and give him the glory — great things he hath done!

Fanny Crosby may not have been able to see the glory of God with her eyes, but she was a lighthouse of God’s love to the world!   She was one of my lighthouses when I went through my cancer treatments and did this little art project.  (Thanks, Beth Bostrom!)

We can all shine the light of God’s love. We can all be lighthouses.  We don’t have to burn ourselves out shining everywhere, lighthouses don’t do that.  Lighthouses shine the light to guide ships home.  And as we have the opportunity to do that with others it’s only because we are a reflection of the True Light of the World.  Jesus dispels all of the darkness, shines His love into our hearts and gives us the love, grace, strength, and peace to shine God’s light in the world as God’s Lighthouses.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!”  Amen.

Posted in Darkness, Flashlight, God's love, Jesus, John the Baptist, Joy, Light, Love, Prepare

Clean Up Crew

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight,’”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark read this passage at the Advent service last Wednesday.  It’s a very familiar passage this time of year.  Mary and Elizabeth her cousin were pregnant at the same time.  Luke 1:13-17, “13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Further down in Luke, Gabriel was talking to Mary and said, “36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And even further down in the 1st Chapter of Luke, “39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The child leaped for joy!  John leaped for joy after hearing Mary’s voice?  Do you think women nested back then?  Tidying up, organizing, preparing….John comes to prepare us for Jesus.  As we make preparations to Welcome Jesus and Welcome one and all this Christmas!  We prepare our hearts to Welcome the One who knows us intimately and still loves us with an abundant and steadfast love. We need a clean up crew to prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus and to prepare to show the world the love that Jesus has for them.

We put up the tree after church last Sunday.  We may have bitten off more than we can chew.  It’s taken us all week to put up the Christmas decorations.  We first have to unpack the Christmas decorations to store the “regular” stuff we have away.  Enoch and Mike tackled the outside and discovered the lights in a whole section were blown.  Evy and I tackled the tree and we discovered the lights had different plugs so Evy decorated the banister with those lights.  Stuff was piled up everywhere…all week…they had virtual school…it never seems like we have another hour in the day.  We’ll have no parties at the house this year, we have no family coming in, we’re preparing for ourselves and most importantly for Jesus.

The first lines of Joy to the World – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room.”  Let every heart prepare Him room.  

How do we prepare our hearts?

Focus – It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, even this year, we can fill our to-do list up to the top and not leave Him, Jesus room.  I always love any Amy Grant Christmas song, particularly her “I Need a Silent Night.”

I need a silent night, a holy night

To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise

I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here

To end this crazy day with a silent night

We need to intentionally, carve time out time to be with Jesus – our wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  Our Old Testament reading for today is

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass,

    their constancy is like the flower of the field.

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,

    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;

    surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers, the flower fades;

    but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,

    O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

    lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,

    and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

    and his recompense before him.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

    he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

    and gently lead the mother sheep.

God comforts us.  God if our good shepherd.  God carries us in God’s arms.  Maybe this Christmas it’s hard to feel any kind of Christmas Spirit – the hope, the love, the joy, the peace.  Maybe you’re experiencing grief of a loved one, a job loss, a change in health status, maybe you’re feeling bbllllaaahhhhhhh, maybe you’re feeling discouraged, maybe you’re feeling frustrated, maybe you’re holding all the fear and worry wrapped up under a facade, Jesus knows.  Jesus is our Emmanuel.  God with us.  Do y’all know how important that is?  The Great God of the Universe  came down to dwell with us.  Love came down at Christmas.  Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.  We can lay our burdens down Jesus’ feet.  We can cry out to Jesus because he knows our pain intimately.  We can even question God, like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knows.  He knows the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity. Jesus has a purpose and a calling; he embodied God’s love and wants us to do that too.  

Father Gregory Boyle tells the story of a young man named Pedro. Caught in the gang life on the streets of Los Angeles, Pedro was filled with rage and resentment that he covered up with addiction to crack cocaine. Whenever Father Boyle would offer to take Pedro to rehab, he would decline.

Until one day, Pedro changed his answer and began the long, hard journey of returning to himself. Thirty days into Pedro’s rehab, his younger brother, caught up in similar demons, took his own life. When Father Boyle called with the news, Pedro was devastated.

Father Boyle later was driving Pedro to the funeral when Pedro began to tell Boyle about a dream he had the night before. In the dream, Pedro and Father Boyle are in a large empty room, alone. There are no lights, no windows. It is complete, total darkness. In the dark silence, Father Boyle takes a flashlight from his pocket and turns it on. Slowly, deliberately, he shines the flashlight around the room until its narrow beam illuminates a light switch on the wall. No words are spoken, no explanation offered, just a beam of light revealing a switch on the wall. In the dream, Pedro stands up slowly, with some trepidation he makes his way to the switch, takes a deep breath, he flips it on. The room is flooded with light.

At this point in the retelling of his dream, Pedro is sobbing. With a voice of astonishing discovery, he said, “And the light is better than the darkness.” As if he did not know this before. Then he said, “I guess my brother just never found the switch.”

Boyle writes, “Possessing flashlights and occasionally knowing where to aim them has to be enough for us. We all find ourselves in this dark, windowless room, fumbling for grace and flashlights. You aim the light this time, I’ll do it the next.”

We do not have to do it on our own.  The Holy Spirit prepares the way and intercedes for us when we are in the darkness with sighs too deep for words and also gives us a community to lean on and to depend on.

Richard Rohr writes, “But after any true God experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you; you are about life. You are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. It is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution of the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. Frankly, most do not seem interested.

Understanding that your life is not about you is the connection point with everything else. It lowers the mountains and fills in the valleys that we have created, as we gradually recognize that the myriad forms of life in the universe, including ourselves, are operative parts of the One Life that most of us call God. After such a discovery, I am grateful to be a part — and only a part! I do not have to figure it all out, straighten it all out, or even do it perfectly by myself. I do not have to be God.

It is an enormous weight off my back. All I have to do is participate! My holiness is first of all and really only God’s, and that’s why it is certain and secure — and always holy. It is a participation, a mutual indwelling, not an achievement or performance on my part.

After this epiphany, things like praise, gratitude, and compassion come naturally — like breath and air. True spirituality is not taught; it is caught once our sails have been unfurled to the Spirit. Henceforth, our very motivation and momentum for the journey toward holiness and wholeness is just immense gratitude — for already having it!”

Love lived out is showing compassion, empathy, kindness, bravery, patience, and humility.  Just as John paved the way for Jesus 2,000 years ago, we have the direct calling to pave the way for Jesus today!  We each need to pick up our brooms and sweep away our doubts and fears.  We need to pick up our shovels and shovel out love to the world.  We need to vacuum complacency and apathy and use windex to wipe away our tears so we can see clearly that we have a story to tell.  It’s not a picture perfect Stepford story, but it’s real, with all the twists and turns of life.  We’ll show the world love in active, practical ways – as we worship, as we pray, as we serve – whether it be helping with Living Christmas Story, or the Angel Tree or baking cookies for Katie’s Krops, or bringing food to the Blessing Box.  We WILL prepare the way for Jesus by a GREAT Big Show and Tell.  We will Show our love with our actions and we will Tell it by sharing God’s great love.

Rachel Held Evans writes this prayer that pretty much sums up our calling. “God, go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church. Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word, to be clear in our task and careful in our speech. Give us open hands and joyful hearts. Let Christ be on our lips. May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion. Let no one come to us and go away sad. May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened. Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into God’s kingdom. Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts. Amen.”

We need to prepare the way for love.  It’s like we walk down a dark, windy, steep path leaving bread crumbs along the way so our fellow travelers know which way to go.  We know the way, because love came down at Christmas, and showed us the way, the way that leads to love, peace, joy, and hope.  The way that leads us home.

Posted in Darkness, Forgiveness, Light, Love, Needtobreathe, Sermons, Slumber

Love One Another

Romans 13:8-14

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

We are called to love one another and to do that we should wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus.

Wake up from our slumber.

I have always loved the Needtobreathe song Slumber: 

Days they force you

Back under those covers

Lazy mornings they multiply

Glory’s waiting

Outside your window

Wake on up from your slumber

Open up your eyes

We need to wake up and wipe the sleep out of our eyes.  Wake up from complacency.  Wake up from auto-pilot.  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We need to open our eyes to the possibilities of spreading the Good News, of spreading light of spreading Jesus to the whole word.  We don’t need to be day dreaming about it, we need to snap out of the day dream, and trust the One, as Ephesians says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  But first we must,

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.

Notice the sins are the ones we think of us singular, personal sins such as adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, drunkenness, quarrelling, jealousy, debauchery or licientiosness.  But the “you” is plural.  It’s like y’all.  Paul is telling us all to lay aside the darkness inside each of us, not pointing one of us out.  But, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

We are called to literally lay aside the darkness and choose the better way.  

In the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert De Niro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a brutal slave trader from the conquistador era who has captured, sold and murdered many native South Americans. Although he scarcely thought twice about killing a native in the past, when Mendoza murders his brother in a fit of anger he is overcome with remorse. A Jesuit priest gives him a penance to atone for his sin: he must accompany an expedition of Jesuits deep into the rain forest, where they plan to teach the natives about Jesus Christ.

On the trek into the forest, Mendoza binds up his armor in a net. He ties a rope around this heavy burden and drags it along, to remind himself of the violent life he has left behind. The sack of armor slows the expedition, but the priests tolerate it because they know how important it is to the penitent man.

Close to their destination, the missionaries climb to the top of a waterfall. At the top, they warmly embrace the native friends they have come to know on an earlier journey. But then the natives spy the exhausted Mendoza, still ascending the rocks beside the waterfall, dragging his armor behind him.

They know him, and they fear him. One of the natives grabs a knife and runs over to Mendoza, holding the blade against his neck as though to kill him in revenge. Mendoza looks up at his assailant, preparing himself for death.

But then something surprising happens. The native does slash his knife, but what he cuts is not Mendoza’s throat. He cuts the rope holding the bag of armor. The entire company watches the conquistador’s burden fall away, falling end over end down the waterfall, smashing onto the rocks below.

Mendoza cries like a baby, fresh from the womb of God. A priest says, “Welcome home, brother.” Then, his real instruction begins.

Jesus doesn’t want us to carry around our baggage of sin; he frees us from that and scatters it far and wide.  It takes a lot for us to let that sink in.  Total forgiveness for our awful stench of sin.  Us hanging on to the sin can lead to darkness, if we don’t cling to the Lord’s good forgiveness.  

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.  Not the heavy armor of sin, but armor of light.  To protect as from the darkness.  To protect us from the evil that so quickly creeps in.  God does not leave as defenseless and alone, he instructs us to lay aside, to put away from us, the darkness of sin and put on the armor of light.  We must truly repent and turn away from sin, that’s how we’ll be children of the light.

“Put on” the Lord Jesus through a personal connection and a community of support to help us.

A mother with two young children put them to bed and went to prepare herself for bed. She put on some old clothes and went to the bathroom. She washed her hair and wrapped a towel around her head to dry her hair. She applied cold cream on her face to remove her makeup. Just as she was about to wipe off the cream, she heard the noise of her children playing in their room. She stormed into the room, hollered and told her two small children to get back into bed, reminded them that it was time to sleep, turned out the light and slammed the door. As she left the room, one of the children, with a trembling voice, asked the other, “Who was that?” 

We don’t want others asking, “Who was that?” when they look at our lives. We want others to know Who it is Who lives, breathes, and shapes our lives. We want Jesus to be all over us!

It’s not putting on airs, putting on the ritz, or putting on your make up; but it’s putting on Christ.  It’s not just being nicey nice or putting on an act, it’s actually taking on the characteristics of Jesus.  Jesus exemplified the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we put on Christ, we should start with those virtues listed in this Galatians text.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those are a good place to start!

How else do we “put on” Christ but by being in the Word, creating a spirit of gratitude, and not letting the world, or the devil, get the better of us.  

We all need encouragement and support from a community of faith.  To sing our song to us when we are down and out, to sing our song to us when we are weary and discouraged to help us sing when we’ve lost our tune.  Bishop Woodie White, retired United Methodist bishop, tells about the chaffinch bird, a little reddish-brown bird found in Europe. The chaffinch sings like a canary, but there is something unique about this popular songbird. When people take them into their homes, the little birds soon forget how to sing. When they forget how to sing, they get sick. Eventually, they become depressed and die. Unless, of course, they are taken back to be with other chaffinch, in which case they congregate and relearn how to sing and are well again.  We are like the chaffinch, we don’t need do it all by ourselves, we need to be with others to help us forge the rivers and help us scale the rocks of the mountains.  Our fellow journeyers make us stronger, the full body of Christ, not divided – ONE. 

Through putting on Christ individually and as a community of Christians that’s how we can really love one another.

It’s all about love, friends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” 

I was hearing in my head, “when love is the way,” and realized it was from Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Megan’s wedding.

“Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty of good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.

“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

When love is the way we wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then, then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus and love of our neighbors as ourselves.  

Posted in Chosen, Chosen Series, Darkness, Light, lion king, Salt/Light, Share, Uncategorized

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.

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.

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Darkness, Light

Christmas Eve Reflection

 

Does anyone feel like we need this in-breaking of the kingdom of God a little more this year?  Simply saying that there’s suffering in the world, we’re a country that’s more viciously divided albeit in my short life time, and the community-wide, familial, and personal tumult is not enough.  Simply acknowledging this reality is not enough.  Frankly, because that attitude breeds complacency and apathy.  We need to be urgently praying and seeking God’s will in the big and small ways so we can bring peace, joy, love and hope to the world, in our communities, and within our own hearts.

A dear friend recently shared this quote with me.  It’s from Bobbi Patterson, long-time faculty at Emory University’s Department of Religion.  “As this darkening grows drawing us closer to a spark of incarnate light generating long-haul love.”  I love that.  I’ve been meditating on it since she sent it to me.  You see, we expect that with darkness, grief, sadness, despair, suffering, a greater darkness, but the opposite is true.  That’s when we cling to that spark of incarnate light.  That’s what Advent is all about.  An in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the form of the most vulnerable thing on Earth, a baby, who came to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set us free of our societal, communal, and personal bondage.  As it is written in Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

May you draw closer to God’s Incarnate Light.  It’s available for each of us.  No one is separated from the love of God, and Bobbi’s right, it’s a “long-haul love.”  We love even when it’s difficult, even when it’s costly, even when hatred is spewed.  We’re called to be the light of Christ and, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, “to punch holes in the darkness.”  Gator Wesley always does an Early Christmas Eve service and I prefer not to sing the traditional “Silent Night” choosing instead “Joy to the World.”  I love how the entire service is dark and somber and then it transitions with that last hymn, each person has his or her own light and when all of the candles are lit, it’s definitely effervescent light.  May we make him room; the light of Christ radiating out of each of us and shining in the world.  Come Lord Jesus, Come.

candle

Joy to The world! the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonder wonders of His love