At the Feet of the Rabbi: Salt & Light

Let thy house be a meeting-house for the wise;
and powder thyself in the dust of their feet;
and drink their words with thirstiness.

The source of this saying is the Mishnah, Avot 1:4. The Mishnah is a collection of rabbinic thought from 200 BC to 200 AD that still forms the core of Jewish belief today. The second line is sometimes translated as “sit amid the dust of their feet,” and is understood as humbly sitting at the feet of one’s teacher.  From this arose a widely-used idiom for studying with a rabbinic teacher, that you “sat at his feet.”  Paul says he was educated “at the feet Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3)  Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet” in Luke 10:39 suggests that he was her rabbi too.  Read literally, the saying sounds more like it’s describing the idea of “powdering yourself,” like a woman powdering her face.  I played with my grandmother’s powder as a child and it got all over the place and covered everything.  Like Ganny’s powder, the disciples were walking through clouds of dust billowing up along a dirt roadway, the dust was getting into all the nooks and crannies of their hearts and lives.

That is the whole point of this sermon series, to be at the feet of our Rabbi, Jesus, and to walk in his dust.  Our text today is part of the larger Sermon on the Mount and one of the more famous portions.

Hear now the word of God at the heart of Jesus’ teaching:

Matthew 5:13-20

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. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.16In 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.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Remember my saying last week that the “Sermon on the Mount” is an artificial construct?  Jesus didn’t know they would call the first section “The Beatitudes,” he was just teaching the disciples the way they should be in the world.  The Beatitudes start off really impersonal.  “Blessed are those…” But verse 11 gets more personal, “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.” Then chapter 5 continues, “YOU are the salt of the earth…YOU are the light of the world.”  We each sit at the feet of our Rabbi and he personally calls us to be salt and light to all the world.

Raise your hand if you ever read the play Romeo and Juliet or have seen the many film adaptations?  I admit that it isn’t one of my favorite Shakespearean works.  I find it melodramatic and completely unnecessary, but I digress.  You know the story, these two teenagers start a relationship and find out they belong to opposite sides of a huge family feud.  Juliet is a Capulet, and Romeo is a Montague, and they’re falling so deeply in love that they’re ready to throw away all of those labels, and lose their last names if necessary. That’s when Juliet famously says: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I love that line because Shakespeare is hinting at a much bigger idea. It’s the idea that what we name something or call something doesn’t determine what it is. If we called a rose a “Stink-daisy,” wouldn’t it still be one of the most beautiful, delicate and sweet-smelling of plants? Yes. Wouldn’t a bunch of us hope to have a yard full of Stink-daisies? Absolutely. Because what we name or call something doesn’t determine what it is. Instead, the true essence or character determines it.

That’s big, y’all, because the first thing that comes out of Jesus’ mouth, this is directly from God in flesh, from our personal Rabbi, is this: you are priceless and have great purpose; there’s power in you like no other. Maybe you didn’t hear it that way, but in Jesus’ context, that’s exactly what salt and light represented. Their essence was to be these unique, rare, valuable things, that were incredibly useful. Our Rabbi looks at us straight in the eye and says, “I have called YOU.”  My yoke is easy and my burden light.  If you follow in my ways, you will ALWAYS be enough. I want you to hear that from Jesus. As salt and light, YOU are no accident, but God-made, with God-purposes in mind.

The crowd didn’t know what to say. Why? Because in their world, they’d been drilled by how sinful and naturally evil they were. The scribes and Pharisees had taught that only the most devout who kept every rule could earn God’s favor, and these crowds near Galilee were not in that club.  They didn’t make the cut. I think that’s why Jesus feels the need to say this whole second section here – to reassure the people that he isn’t rewriting the law or inventing a new religion, but that he is the ULTIMATE fulfillment and the scribes and Pharisees themselves aren’t truly holy enough, not in the right way, for this yoke.  Remember Matthew is writing for a particularly Jewish audience and Jesus IS the fulfillment of all the prophets foretold.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “If you want to be salt and light, you’re going to need to DO, DO, DO.” Instead, he tells us this is what we are, and our only job is to “BE.” Doesn’t it sound heavenly to simply be?  Be with no pretense, with no façade, not worrying about public opinion or how it will look or will they understand.  Simply resting in God’s love.  Knowing who you are and Whose you are.  That would be a relief to so many people.

The truth is that salt and light don’t DO a lot, in and of themselves. When we enjoy a great meal and want to compliment the chef, we don’t say, “You know, that was the best salt I ever tasted?” or “Do you think you can give your recipe for that salt?” No. Because the salt isn’t made to do the DOING of the meal, it’s meant to compliment the main course by being there in the mix, and as my grandmother has always said, you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away. If someone visits your newly-renovated, newly-decorated home, how would you feel if they said, “Well, now, the thing I really love is your light. Where did you get that lovely light that’s shining through the windows?”  You want to hear about the colors you painted or a particular piece of artwork or the accents or how you set the furniture…maybe the windows and fixtures but not the LIGHT itself. Because the light isn’t the focal point, it’s what allows us to experience the main attraction. In the same way, I think Jesus is letting us know that all we have to do is BE, and in fact if we think our job is to DO and DO and DO then we’re probably just trying to eclipse the real focus, which is God Almighty. If we can just rest on God’s grace alone, then we are BEING who God designed us to be, we’re merely helping enhance the world’s experience of God, and draw attention to God.  If we move and breathe and follow our Rabbi than we ARE going to BE salt and light.

AMC was showing a marathon of the movie Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day.  I never knew how much Mike loves the movie.  It was in the middle and I tried to stay awake, but inevitably the monotony put me to sleep.  I knew the concept of Groundhog Day that the weather man played by Bill Murray lives the day over and over, but I didn’t know how he got it to stop or why, so we watched it on Saturday. Mike did say a lot of the lines and he started laughing before it would get to a funny part because he was remembering along with the movie.  As much as I’ve teased him about the movie being annoying,I ended up really liking the movie.  Part of that, was when he let go and just simply was, taking opportunities as they come, he didn’t have to DO anything to impress Andy McDowell’s character.  He doesn’t need to showboat to get the girl.  He’s not even trying.  At the end of the movie, it just comes naturally.  It flows naturally from him in a humble way.

I want following Jesus to be as natural to us as breathing.  I want us to recognize how much Jesus invites us just to be, to live out of our God-given essence.  He’s real with us. He lets us know we have a choice.  To be the essence and nature of what God means for us or not. In other words, even though God’s grace saves us and redeems us into roses, we can still choose to look and smell and act more like a Stink-daisy. It’s really easy to do. So, our Rabbi issues our greatest warning: don’t choose to lose your true taste. Don’t choose to dilute your true flavor. Don’t choose to cover your God-given light. Don’t do it. Just BE, through and in me.

That, my friends, is just one part of a pretty powerful yoke.

The question is, will this be a yoke that we take up for ourselves? Will we call ourselves “Christians” only in title or label or name, or will we BE disciples who live out of the God-given, Christ-redeemed essence and character that follows the way of our true Rabbi?

Mary Louise Rowand, writes an article titled “We Know the Words – We Need Lives to Match!,” in Bread Afresh, Wine Anew, “It is very easy in our eagerness to serve Christ through our complicated organizational structures, through what we call (ugh!) “the business of the church, ” through our conventions and assemblies and proclamations and creed … it is very easy in all this to forget the primary reason for our existence. Hence the need for Dostoevski.

“Dostoevski, that most outstanding of all modern Russian writers, in his finest novel The Brothers Karamazov [San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990], recognized this condition in the church of his day. In the chapter “The Grand Inquisitor” [249-262], he expresses his feelings in a chilling and terrifying story. The setting: the days of the Spanish Inquisition, in Seville. Jesus has just returned to earth. He has come to Seville and is walking toward the massive Gothic cathedral in the vast square. A funeral procession is also slowly moving toward the cathedral steps. The only child of a noble citizen has died. Her little casket is being carried to the cathedral. Suddenly, the people see Jesus and they recognize him immediately. He has come back as he promised. Here he is among them now, the one to whom all their prayers and hopes have been directed. He can give new life to this innocent little girl as he did long ago in Palestine.

“The people call to him, and he goes to them. They cry out, ‘Heal this child!’ The mother falls on her knees in front of him. ‘Have mercy on me. If you will, you can put new life into my child.’ He pauses, then raising both hands high into the air, he cries out to his God, ‘Let this child live!’ And to the utter amazement of everyone, the child moves, sits up surrounded by all the flowers, smiles and calls out to her mother. The people begin to chant, ‘He has come to us! He has come! He has come!’

“However, standing in the shadows of the cathedral is the Grand Inquisitor, the powerful cardinal of the church. What he has seen he does not like. He sees Jesus’ arrival not as an occasion for rejoicing, but as a threat to his authority. So the cardinal has Jesus arrested and placed in a solitary prison cell. Late that night, the cardinal comes alone to visit his royal prisoner.

“‘Why have you come?’ he demands. ‘We no longer have need of you! We are now in charge of your church. We know how to run it well. Why have you come back to disturb our peace and authority? Leave us now. Do not come back. We have no need of you!’ Dostoevski has Jesus look long and lovingly into the empty eyes of the cardinal … and then, Jesus stands, walks across the cell, and kisses the cardinal lightly on his thin, bloodless lips. Then Jesus walks out of the cell, leaving the cardinal alone with his great cathedral ….

“Why do we come here to worship, Sunday after Sunday, 52 Sundays a year, for five, 10, 30 years – or a whole lifetime? Getting up early Sunday morning, getting ready, getting the children dressed, driving over in all sorts of weather, sometimes not feeling too well ourselves, angry at the government, worried about our health and financial problems, dressed in our best and on our best behavior, walking into the building, greeting friends, singing hymns, praying prayers, reading scripture, listening to sermons, bringing our offering, taking the bread and cup. … We call it the worship of God, but why do we do this?

“I’m sure there are many reasons, but deep down inside I feel we do this in the hope that we might get to know Jesus of Nazareth better. We are seeking our primary source! And to know him better, perhaps our lives will be better, perhaps the world will be a better place. In reality, are we not here seeking Jesus?”

We ARE seeking Jesus.  We choose to sit at the feet of our Rabbi.  We are chosen by name to give salt to people whose lives are bland until they hear the Good News of Jesus.  To bring light to a world of darkness.  The British Art Critic John Ruskin lived in the days when English villages were lighted by lamps along the street. One evening, he watched with a friend as a lamplighter moved slowly on a distant hill, lighting the lamps along the street. Ruskin said, “There is what I mean by being a real Christian. You can trace his course by the lights that he leaves burning.”  If we have our Rabbi’s dust on us, his yoke, we will be love.  We will be hope. We will be peace.  We will be joy.  We will be salt.  We will be light.

 

 

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.

Choices – You Reap What You Sow

Galatians 6:1-10 (NRSV)

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Growing up, my two younger brothers would have cavity after cavity, and though I ate the most candy, I never had one.  We got Evy’s “Vacation Fun” book, where she writes a whole story about seeing candy, the scent of candy being in the air, so much so she could almost taste it.  She’s a child after my own heart.

IMG_5734

Though Josh and Caleb didn’t eat near the amount of sugar I did, my senior year of high school we moved and it all changed.  Dr. Anderson, our new dentist, got a lot of money from my parents.  I had 7 cavities that year.  It had all caught up to me and my brothers said after all of those years skirting by after they received filling after filling, I deserved it.

Out of the verses in this passage,you reap what you sow is probably the most famous and one of the most commonly used Biblical passages in the vernacular.   Even Urban Dictionary has a definition for it. It begins by saying it’s the basic nature of God’s justice.  It gives us these definitions:  1. Everything that you do has repercussions. It comes back to you in one way or another. 2. You cannot escape the consequences of your actions. 3. You will see the long-term effects of your actions. 4. What goes around comes around.  Terrence Trezvant ends his post this way, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.” 

I always want to know the context for a verse.  Both what the writer of the letter is trying to say and where it is in the passage.  Paul was writing a letter to the Christian communities in Galatia.  He was battling the controversy of Gentiles not adhering to Mosaic law, such as circumcision.  You see, the Galatians were converted directly from Paganism and some of them became Judaizers, which means they followed all the laws, living like Jews.  Paul’s arguing against this in many of his letters.  It’s a constanttheme in his epistles that you put your faith in Christ alone or the law of the Messiah, which requires living life in community.  Love God and love neighbor.  So you see in verse 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and this you do in care and compassion as verse 1 makes priority.  Be gentle with one another, but be firm in convictions so as not to be tempted, however, this not leads to lack of personal responsibility.

The college students that I’ve worked with didn’t have very many universal feelings, but they all detested group projects and they would come to me from time to time to gripe and commiserate with one another about how their group was the worst.  It’s true for group projects, you have to bear one another up but it’s not an excuse to let one group member do the work, and not take personal responsibility, not  put forth your best effort, or not to do your fair share.  It’s grace and accountability.  You’ve got to give people grace, but you also have to hold them accountable.  It’s a balancing act.  Verses 4 and 5 says each person must answer to God individually, testing and taking pride in their own work.  Isn’t that a relief?  We don’t have to judge others, we are only responsible for what we put in the world.  I’m reminded of Trezvant’s words, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.”

How are we to sow to the Spirit and what are we to sow?  Simple things like smiling at someone.  Angela Johnson is a Deacon of the South Carolina Annual Conference serving in Atlanta at Action Ministries and she wrote on facebook the other day, “Be still my heart.” Daily, I encounter individuals and families who are homeless. While I cannot immediately change their circumstances, I know that I play a role in helping people obtain housing. A gentleman told me today that “my smile encouraged him and gave him a sense of hope.” I do not share this to brag about myself, but want to encourage you that small things can make or possibly change someone’s life/situation/or circumstance.  Be the light…so others may see Christ in you.”  Galatians itself gives us the answers in chapter 5 verses 22-23 talking about the fruit of the Spirit. “22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  If we plant these fruits of the Spirit as little seeds, and cultivate, nurture, water and tend them then they will burst forth from us.

My mom had this tape that she bought us when we were little by the Bill Gaither trio.  It had a song called “Input Output.”  I actually looked up the lines.  I warn you that they’re really cheesy and outdated but the concept is still the same.  Input output that is what it’s all about

Chorus 1

Input output what goes
In is what comes out
Input output that is what
It’s all about
Input output your mind is a computer
Whose input output
Daily you must choose

Verse 1

Let the Bible be your primary feed
It’s got all the data you need
Talk to Jesus all the time
That’s the way that
You can stay on line

Verse 2

If your printout reads to lie or cheat
There’s some data you should delete
Debug your mind of sinful bytes
Then you will operate all right

It’s a simple concept.  What you put into your life is what comes out.  You can either sow seeds of peace, joy, and kindness or sow seeds of duplicity, malice, and destruction.  We have to be connected to the true vine, Jesus, to get our daily nourishment through prayer, reading the Bible, worship, walking through God’s creation, meditating on a scripture while you exercise.  God nourishes us in many various ways, but we have to stay connected.  John 15:1-6, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansedby the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” That’s the key to this whole thing, we can’t do it on our own.  No one is “good” enough.  No one has a corner on the kingdom.  There’s not a giant sticker chart in the sky that you are able to earn gold stars for and get into heaven.  The only way to finish the race is by the grace of God.  Psalm 51:10-12 says, “10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

IMG_5735

It’s a God action, not a human action,but because of the grace God has given us, comes great responsibility and that leads us to our last two verses, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  You will hear the phrase “do not grow weary in doing what is right” echo in the Bible.  Don’t be weary in spending time in God’s word and seeking to live it out.  Don’t be weary in planting seeds of the fruit of the Spirit.  Don’t be weary of praying for your family, friends, community, and country.  Don’t be weary in serving God with all that you have.  As John Wesley says, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

We can support each other on the journey to sow seeds of light.  We don’t have to do it alone, remember we bear with one another.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Together we can shine a brighter light.  Together we will reap a great harvest.  You have to choose to sow the seeds that produce good things and it’s sometimes hard.  As Dumbledore says in the Harry Potter series, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.  It is our choices.”

Let me close with a couple stories that I think illustrate this passage.   This is an example of how a single choice of whether to sow good or not can greatly impact others.   STORY NUMBER ONE Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was his lawyer for a good reason… Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well.

Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had the best of everything: clothes, cars and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; that he couldn’t pass on a good name and a good example. One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scar face” Capone, clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he would ever pay.

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return.   The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.

The choice is yours.  Know what you sow.

Let us pray.

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

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