Posted in Advent, An Unexpected Christmas, Christmas, Frederick Buechner, Light, Sermon, Uncategorized

Emmanuel Changes Us

Isaiah 9:2-7

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.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

These are familiar words that we often here at a Christmas service.  These are some of my favorite words of the Bible.  You see, we all have walked in deep darkness, the color of ink, and we have felt the light of Christ pierce that darkness.  Our darkness.  The world’s darkness.  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.”

The Gospel of John talks about this Incarnate Light.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This is God’s Incarnate Light and 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 and it sadly has become the norm.  We’re called to be the light of Christ and, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, “to punch holes in the darkness.”

Later on in John 1, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” That brings us to our second scripture this morning from Matthew 1:22-23, “22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

As we’ve gotten ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  We also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the angels – a mix of folks.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times, much like today, and not even the innocent were safe, as children began to lose their lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

The context was not much better than the Hunger Games when Jesus arrived.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next channel war footage.  In Bethlehem they were under Roman occupation, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see every day whether it be children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home or when we watch the news and see the latest terrorist attacks or the horrific images of Aleppo.  Perhaps the most subversive and daring thing as we watch these images is still believe in the hope of Christmas.  Even when the night seems darkest, even when all seems lost; there’s hope in this beautiful child setting the world upside down and bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

We take comfort in what we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting medical results, college acceptances, grieving lost loved ones, wondering how we will pay the bills, job changes, life decisions, no matter what.

This kind of peace can transform the world.  Nelson Mandela, said “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  We give others the courage to do the same.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  It doesn’t end in Advent.  I want us to choose joy. Share hope. Live peace. Be love. We celebrate the coming of the baby, may we not be scared to follow the way of the man.

My hope over the next few days is we will take time, breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.  As Frederick Buechner writes, “”If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.”

You know we can’t do any of this on our own, but through Christ’s power within us, we can do all things.  One of the verses to Go Tell it On the Mountain, is “When I was a seeker/ I sought both night and day/ I asked the Lord to help me/ And he showed me the way. Don’t forget that you’re human.  It’s okay to have a melt down and not do everything perfectly.  Just don’t unpack and live there.  Cry it out and then refocus on where God is leading you.  Because the world needs you.  Jesus will show you every step of the way.  He will light your path.  The world needs the light of Jesus reflecting in us, light punching the darkness, light brought down to earth.  The world needs you to show up – in person – just like Christ did that first Christmas.  It’s radical incarnational love.  Love came down on Christmas.  Amen.

 

 

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 Beatitudes, Children, Hope, Light, Peace, Uncategorized

A Different World

I want to thank all of the volunteers that worked at Point Hope’s Vacation Bible School this past week.  I want to thank each of the parents and children.  It was a blessing to Mike and me because it was the first full VBS our kids have experienced and they LOVED it!  Evy was hesitant to to go to school in the summer until she and Enoch experienced all the fun of Cave Quest and the characters that taught them about Jesus. We celebrated our Cave Quest VBS singing Light of the World and This Little Light of Mine this past Sunday. In the middle we had our children’s sermon, in the mystery box, the little girl who was visiting her grandmother who had been one of the helpers at VBS, put in a rock crystal and a flashlight.  I talked about how we all look like ordinary rocks until you look on the inside and one of the children piped up and said we “sparkle.” The love of Jesus makes us sparkle and we need to share it with others. The flashlight can be used to see our sparkle when we forget Whose we are and we can let others know that they have sparkle inside them too.  I encouraged them if we all shine our lights together then the whole world will sparkle.

During the choir’s beautiful anthem, I started thinking about the kids and how they’re going to grow up in a different world than any of us.  Are they prepared?  Are they prepared with the full armor of God as they go out every day?  Even in our homes are we protecting them from seeing the horrors of the news and if we let them see bits and pieces are we answering their questions resting in God to give us the answers?  Answers that bring more peace and love into the world.  It’s not only scary “out there,” but it’s scary “in here” as we try to answer questions that have hard answers or don’t have any.  And yet, they give me hope each week.  The child-like faith.  We need to have it.  I believe in the South Carolina motto “Dum Spiro Spero” or in English “While I breathe, I hope.”  I’m hopeful that if we DO shine our lights for ALL the world to see and resist hiding it under a bushel and we DO the hard work of putting into PRACTICE the big and small ways of what makes for peace.  As Jesus thought to himself on the way to the cross in Luke 19:42, “42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”  It comes out not only when we talk about politics, but it comes in the entire fullness of life.  In our conversations with THAT co-worker or THAT family member, in our interactions with gas station clerks or the cashiers at the grocery store, in our day-to-day lives 24*7*365.  I know it’s a struggle with all of the chaos swirling around us.  That’s why I’m careful of what influences and shapes my world view.

My mom and I were going to Isle of Palms and there is a big American flag on the top of the bridge.  I commented the flag has been at half mast a lot lately.  Our world is hurting and grieving and mourning; or their apathetic and over it because they can’t handle anymore heartache.  Jesus promises to be there with us in the mountaintops and the valleys and I think he calls us to do the same.  I’ll leave you what I was led to read this morning.

Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

May we live the light of Christ.  May we shine the light of Christ showing the world they have God’s sparkle inside of them.  May we do the things that make for peace whether it be prayer, responding in love, or being careful in what influences us.  May we get through this TOGETHER because we’re stronger, wiser, and more attuned to the Shepherd’s voice when we are living in Christ-centered community.

Holy and Gracious God,
As we gather here in the harbour of your safety
We thank you for fellowship and family.
We ask that you will strengthen us, restore us and inspire us with your love.
Lord, would you fill us with your peace
So that as we journey onwards
We would pour out your love and grace to others.
We ask that our souls would catch the wind of your spirit
so that we would take your promises to all the earth.
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

Posted in Abundance, Coveting, Faith, Gifts, Jesus, Light, Ministry, More, Romans

More or Less? Enough?

Do you ever compare yourselves to others?

I think we all do it at one point or another.  In some ways it gets better as you get older….or does it?  It seems like it’s mostly outward comparisons – looks, nice car, awesome clothes, a perfect plus one.  But then again it can also be inward comparisons.  That person is so much (funnier, smarter, more personable, more extroverted, more centered, more…) than I am.  Why do we see others as more and that naturally leading to us thinking that we are somehow less?

God gifts each of us in mighty ways and just because our “gift” isn’t the same as the next person’s, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less.

One of the texts for Sunday is Romans 13:8-14 and it speaks hugely to these desires of the flesh – this coveting – this jealousy.

There’s all sorts of thoughts that run through our heads on a daily basis.  For me today some have been pretty small like it’s a bad hair day and maybe I should actually get a hair cut, that’s not my feet smelling up Wesley are they, or I wish I wasn’t so old and didn’t have aches and pains.  Others strike to the heart…if only I could spend hours of leisure with my children so I can see how their first day of school went, one of my constants – I wish we had a yard even though I love our lovely town house so that our kids could play in the back, or that question that I hate coming up this time of year…the one about whether what I’m doing is good enough.

I don’t think it’s just pastors that feel this way.  I’m sure it’s many in the work place or any who begin the lovely comparison dance.  I love seeing other campus ministers post on facebook this time of year and it’s great being able to cheer them on and glean great ideas from them.  I like the fellowship building of that and the collegiality.  And although I truly am excited when things are going well and there are more folks coming to Christ and finding that essential community, if I were completely honest with myself, this also often brings a list of questions and worries to mind as well.  Am I working hard enough?  Do we have enough students?  Are we going to have enough supporters or money coming in?  Is the job enough to count as ministry?  Why can’t we just rejoice with those and not have it automatically mean that something about us is less or not enough?

That’s the thing about ministry sometimes.  We think that it’s all about us.  Are we cool enough?  Hipster enough (don’t get me started Mac people)?  Funny enough?  Spiritual enough?  Know our Bible backwards and forwards enough?  Do we have enough activities?  Do we have a big enough crowd?  Are we marketing ourselves well?  It can drive you crazy.

Reality though is that God has gifted each of us and we’re not going to be all things to all people.  Wesley is going to always be a place that emphasizes community and justice and following Christ – not just nice and clean but down and dirty.  It is what it is.  Narcie is not ever going to have unlimited energy, a nice and witty thing always to say, perfect patience with everyone even in the most random of requests or the poof of suddenly being turned into a hot male with skinny jeans, muscle shirts, the strategic tattoo and gelled hair.  It ain’t happening.

I’m me.  No less than anyone else.  But all the more because of the One who has called us each by name.  I don’t have to feel unworthy or ashamed or less than.  I just have to trust the One who made me and created me as me.  I am enough.  You are enough.  We are plenty.  Isn’t a theology of abundance that much more life-giving than a theology of scarcity?  It’s not that someone got our gift and since they took it, we can’t have it.  It’s not that someone is doing so super well that there’s not enough for us.

We are enough.  As Romans 13 verse 12 says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”  May we lay down the words of darkness that creep into our heads and our hearts and may we put on the armor of light that protects us and surrounds us and sees us through to the other side.

Andrew Ripp – You Will Find Me (speaks so well to these feelings – great song!)

 

Posted in Community, Epiphany, Faith, Life, Light, Movies, Sabbath, Sermons

Those Lights

I’ve really enjoyed the lectionary texts from the past couple weeks that have focused on light.  I’ve always liked Epiphany but even more so this year for some reason.  I appreciate that Epiphany is not just one Sunday that we celebrate those lovely wise folks coming to see the new born King, but that it’s an entire season stretching until the day before Ash Wednesday where we’re all opening our eyes to God around us.  To me that’s pretty significant in our church calendar that this time between the birth of Jesus – the incarnation – and Lent is a time where we a people of the light get a chance to center and focus on that light, opening ourselves to it.

I admit that I’m now watching ABC’s “Off the Map.”  If that makes me a drama and Grey’s Anatomy lovin’ television watcher than so be it.  I like the concept that these three doctors have come to this jungle to get away from whatever they have left back home and yet they seem to face these same fears and concerns no matter how far they have run.  In the first episode the three newbies gather and realize that the doctors that hired them had done their homework on each of their back stories.  The guy of the group says, “So much for a blank slate!”

I think sometimes we feel like that.  “So much for a blank slate!”  We wish that everything would just go away and be wiped clean.  The thing is though that community and church is not just about slates being wiped clean although it does say Jesus scatters our sins from the east to the west.  But there’s something about people loving each other in spite of the flaws and the crud.  There’s something about folks sharing in that refuge and safe place and being that harbor for each other whether it’s in the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Sometimes that being there for one another is letting go of a past wound or hurt.  Sometimes it’s acknowledging and saying outloud a secret that has kept us bound and stuck, whether it be our own, a family secret, or a burden we just kept on carrying.  Sometimes it’s admitting that we may not have it all figured out and we really struggle in some areas.  Sometimes it’s confessing something and seeking reconciliation.  Sometimes it’s just being open to where the Spirit of God leads.

It amazes me that at the times we are the most down or low or hopeless/helpless/spent – these are the times that often the light starts to break into those cloudy days.  There’s just something about that light that no matter how dark it may get – it breaks in.  We watched the movie TRON last night.  I know, I know – not the most high brow or Oscar worthy – but it was really surprisingly good and we didn’t want anything that would make us think to much at the end of a long Sunday.  I never saw the original but I really liked this one.  Part of the beauty of the story is that one of the characters had never really seen the sun.  She had no idea what that would look like.  She had read about it in books, true, but if you think about it – if you had no concept of what the sun is – how do you describe it?  The warmth, the light, that it’s practically everywhere, that it moves and shifts and changes.

There’s something unexplainable about the light but there’s something incredibly powerful.  In these days after the shooting in Tuscon, as we think about what it means to be community and shelter for one another as the Jars of Clay song talks about that I’ve mentioned before, I think about all of us holding candles together as one.  All of us lifting those candles as one.  That’s a powerful sight.  That it’s our collective voice, our collective being – lighting up as one.  Not “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayers” but “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.”  That we as community as a fellowship of believers lift each other up, we rejoice with each other, we mourn with each other, we keep telling each other to press on.

In that same episode from “Off the Map” (I know, I know) the main doctor says at the end to one of the new girls who’s figuring out why’s she there to look at the Southern Cross.  They’re a set of stars that look like a cross in the sky (yes, I wikipedia-ed it so it’s sort of legit).  He talks about how Magellan used the Southern Cross.  He knew that even if he was lost, he knew that if he found that in the sky, he would make his way back home.  All he had to do was keep on going.  So he tells her, “Keep on going.”

Now I know that there are times when we don’t want to “Keep on going.”  There are times when we think we can’t keep on going, much less want to.  But there are people and songs and scriptures and even those sometimes annoying bumper stickers that are lights that pop out along our way that help light our path to keep on going.  There is a shelter of people that help us to keep on going.  And that’s not just with a slate wiped clean, because you can’t escape and dodge forever, but that’s with all of who we are and are yet to be.

So are we those lights for others?  Are we ready to welcome people?  Are we ready to open our arms and our hearts and our eyes?  Are we as the Church/church ready to offer a refuge, a harbor, a light to those in a world raging?  Or do we just look like a big blob of dark with all of our “stuff” that sometimes gets in the way?

One of my favorite songs off of the new Jars of Clay “Shelter” CD (i know i can’t stop listening to it) is one called “Small Rebellions.”  Sadly there are no youtube videos that I can find out there yet.  But the words are below.

“God of the break and shatter – Hearts in every form still matter – In our weakness help us see – That alone we’ll never be – Lifting any burdens off our shoulders – If our days could be filled with small rebellions – senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – if we stand in between the fear and firm doundation – push against the current and the fall – God of the worn and tattered – All of your people matter – Give us more than words to speak – ‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach – And Love climbs up and down the human ladder – Give us days to be filled with small rebellions – Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – If we stand between the fear and firm foundation – Push against the current and the fall – We will never walk alone again – No, we will never walk alone.”

I’m glad that we don’t walk alone.  That there are lights along our way guiding us home and that we can be lights to the world.  Open our eyes Lord that we may see the ways that we can grasp hold of your light today that the world may see and know…

Psalm 27:1, 4-9, Isaiah 9:1-4