I purchased this picture when I was in Pittsburgh for General Conference in 2004 taking a Candler course. It says,
“Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”
The picture says it’s “An Old Irish Prayer,” but using the internet I traced it back to the Iona Community. Iona is a tiny and beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, cradle of Christianity in Scotland, where in 563AD the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement that evangelised large parts of Scotland and the north of England and became an important centre of European Christianity. In the Middle Ages it became the site of a Benedictine abbey, and over the centuries it has attracted many thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys. I have not been to Iona, but I’ve always wanted to take a pilgrimage there.
As a campus minister, I took 3 campuses of students on pilgrimages to the United Methodist Seminar Program at the UN Church Center Building. The New York Times wrote an article “Church Peace Center is Started on the East Side” in 1962 and its primary purpose was to give access to the U.N. to other faith communities and nongovernmental organizations working for human rights, development and peace. Way back when I first started taking students there, you could see the different agencies like Oxfam and Church World Service in the elevator on different floors.
We did seminars on interreligious dialogue, human trafficking, race and urban poverty, gentrification, immigration, intimate partner violence, and art, spirituality and calling. Our seminar designers had informative panels, exercises that made the students think out of their comfort zone, and chapels that dove into texts to start the day that gave a Biblical lens to each topic.
It was not just any ordinary chapel. It’s on the ground floor of the building, founded, operated, and owned by the United Methodist Church, as a Christian and interfaith space. On the outside of the Chapel is a large work, “Man’s Search for Peace” and it shows human-like shapes around a large eye-like form, but on the inside it’s all stained glass. It was like the church with its eye on the United Nations making sure they acted in a just and peaceful manner. On one side of their wall there’s etched into the building, the words of Isaiah 2:4,
“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”
Located in the center of the chapel, Jesus’ words when he was riding into Jerusalem, weeping as he exclaimed, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” This verse, Luke 19:42, is etched into the wooden Bible stand. These words in the heart of the chapel serve as a constant reminder of why the faith community is present; to advance God’s peace in our hearts and in the world.
May we have the Deep Peace that abiding in Jesus provides. May we share with the world the peace that the Prince of Peace can only give. The Deep Peace that the world so desperately needs as we all face trials or tribulations of many kinds. We can lean into the safe arms of Jesus, our sure harbor in the midst of life’s storms, the Son of Peace.
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.
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 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.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
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.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them! 18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— 20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Do you find comfort in this or discomfort? It sort of depends on how you see God or the nature of God. If you see God as an all loving, omnipresent (all present), and omnipotent (all knowing) that’s our strength and our shield and a very present help in times of trouble, you are comforted by this Psalm. You realize that even though God knows all you’ve done and said and the things you’ve hidden away and the deepest recesses of your heart, God loves you anyway. Jesus scatters your sins from the east to the west and they’re not held against you anymore by grace alone. Christ is the victor over all evil and injustice in this world and we work with the Holy Spirit to bring God’s kingdom to earth.
On the other hand, if your view of God is a task-master, one that checks off like Santa if you do this naughty thing, or that, or if you simply don’t trust God because what you see God doing in the world seems so unfair, unjust, and unfathomable, then you have an entirely different picture of who God is. If you think of God as a vengeful God that causes all kinds of calamities in the world or in your life, then you indeed have an entirely different picture of who God is.
Scriptures abound painting with all kinds of different strokes about the nature of God, but if you take the full picture, the full painting, you begin to see that God is longing for us to return home. Just like the father in the familiar prodigal sermon. God’s longing for us to come home so that God can throw a party just as the father did in the story.
God created us from the dust of the earth. God breathed his ruach into us. God knitted us together in our mother’s wombs. This points to what United Methodists call prevenient grace. God woos us to God’s self, even before we knew, even before we are aware of it. God seeks each of us out to have a relationship with God. God calls us where we are, in all of the mire and muck of sin, and as Jeremiah 18:1-4 says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” God, as the potter, has the power to make all things new. As Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God creates each of us and calls us each by name. God cares about each of us. God seeks the heart of each of us. To give us hope and a future. God leaves the 99 and goes after us.
Some take theological issue with the song Reckless Love, can God’s love really be reckless? I would say that my love would appear reckless and it would go to extraordinary lengths for Enoch or Evy. We are God’s beloved children. Sons and daughters of the most high King.
We don’t have to define ourselves by what we do, how much we accomplish or how much stuff we have, we can claim we KNOW who we are and WHOSE we are – we are God’s Beloved Children. Our identity should be rooted in that truth.
8th grade was a very difficult year for me. My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year. The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ inch girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet. I grew to this height in seventh grade, but we had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years, but when we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat. My nicknames abounded that year: giraffe, Olive Oil, stick. They made fun of me for my long fingers and after a dance where some people had gone through my purse, I went home crying and being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!” I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville. I felt out of place and wanted my old friends, old church and the familiar status quo. As I was teaching at the United Methodist Women’s Missionu last week, I showed them this book that my cousin Lindsay made on one of my grandmother’s last Christmases. The study was all about the covenant with the land and it asked what land do you most relate to, When I was 17, I wrote this poem. “My “Ganny’s.”
This place has been my haven, through life’s many storms
A constant place of refuge, where things are close and warm
It’s seen my tears, it’s seen my smiles, and it’s picked me up each time
The one place that has never changed in the journey of my life
When I have felt lost – no real “home” – and confused
Or when I thought my heart was broken and my soul had been stripped bare
I go through life as a little child trying to keep on her disguise
But in these walls my face lights up for this is where my strength and hope lies
Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter
Here I find my true self, amidst the family’s chatter
This place is not a castle, a mansion, or a dream
What makes it great is not itself but the things that are unseen
The simple words full of wisdom, lack of pretense, and genuine love for people and each other
Are the things I admire and respect about my grandfather and grandmother
Although I can’t say I have the pleasure of living here from day to day
This place is my strength and my rock and in my heart it will stay
A place given from God to me, to help me light my way
A place where I can dance and sing, a secret hiding place
Everyone needs a refuge, a place to feel free and loved
There’s always a light, open door, some chocolate cake and a hug
People need a “Ganny’s” to escape our stress-filled world
A home that shows the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord
Everyone should have a safe space, where they can simply be. Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives. The Psalmist is letting us know that the great God of the Universe created us and calls us for a purpose. God created YOU. God created Me. With all of our persnicketies and peculiarities. God calls us BELOVED. And that was why Ganny’s was my home. Because it was there I felt most beloved. My grandmother said something I’ll never forget at my Gandaddy’s visitation, She looked at us grandchildren standing there trying to slouch into a corner and said y’all were not only the apples of your grandfather’s eyes, you were his very eye balls. That may sound gross to some of you, but it meant more than the world to us. Just thinking about how much our Heavenly Parent loves us is mind-blowing.
No kid in school, no co-worker, no coach, no supervisor, no professor, no parent or sibling nor anyone in all of creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing can strip our belovedness. It’s time to lay your doubts, worries and fears down at the altar and be free to rest in the love of God.
I know what I’m saying is easier said than done. Some of us hold tight to our woundings like familiar, old security blankets. Ask God to work on that with you. God created your inmost thoughts, God knows everything about you, and God desires to give you abundant life in Christ. Not a half life. Abundant life. The next step is to share that belovedness with others.
We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love. As Mother Teresa says, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can live your life radiating that love.” I want us all to radiate the love of God. Radiating the love of God is what we’re here for.
I will tell you if you let go and let God in, God doesn’t promise to take the pain away, God doesn’t promise it will be easy, God doesn’t promise you will not be challenged and face all that the world throws at you, but God promises to be with you. In Psalm 139:18, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”
You are chosen. God created you in God’s image. God created all of us in the image of God and freely forgives us no matter the baggage, no matter the doubt, no matter what. You are loved. Claim that. Know that. Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you. You are a beloved child of God. And that should be a thing that we all say Amen to.
The below is a powerful testimony to living into and Being the Beloved.
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!