Rise Up!

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As we gather this morning to worship, we are looking backwards towards these strange individuals who saw a star in a sky and who let it take them to a manger in Bethlehem.
They heard God speaking through that heavenly vision… maybe not in so many words, but in a language and a message that they could understand.
They were stargazers, astronomers, people who identified with the light.
And when God spoke to them, they arose.

“Arise, shine, the light has come” we hear in Isaiah, chapter 60.
Arise! Shine!

These are not words spoken only in far off lands to far off people.
No, God is still speaking.
The message of old is still being heard throughout this world.
Even in the midst of times that seem dark and troubling, painful and chaotic… there is a still small voice that is whispering:
“Arise… shine…”
In his reflection on these texts, Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls notes (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2018-worship-planning-series/january-7-2018-god-is-speaking/epiphany-baptism-of-the-lord-2018-preaching-notes) that sometimes the darkness in our lives is so thick that we don’t trust the things that resemble the light:
“Might be a trick… and tricks don’t always
Lead to a treat, so I retreat in the darkness,
Hoping, slightly, ever so lightly that
My deepest fears will submit to the changing
Of dark gears leading to light years of praise
And adoration.”

We like to believe that we are the people of the light, like the Magi, but there certainly are times that we refuse the light.
We hesitate to take a risk, a step of faith.
We are comfortable in the darkness, in what we know, in what is familiar.
As Smalls writes,
“Darkness is for lying down, laying down, hanging around, pretending to be asleep.”
And wow, it feels good to pretend to be asleep. Or to actually be asleep.
To close our eyes and ignore what is happening outside of our lives, our homes, our neighborhoods, our country.
And so we get complacent in the midst of a changing climate and culture.
Statistics that should make us quake with their injustice barely faze us.
• Black women in the United States are 243% more likely to experience maternal death than white women. (https://www.thecut.com/2017/12/black-women-are-3-times-more-likely-to-die-from-childbirth.html)
• Every day, 46 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention (https://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics)
• 1 in 5 adults in the United States or 43.8 million people experience mental illness in a given year (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers)

But usually, we are too nice and kind to want to have real conversations about racism or gun violence or mental health.
We hesitate to talk about these things in church or to ask how God might be speaking, calling, pushing, begging us (the people of God) to respond.
Maybe we are like the people of whom Isaiah was speaking…
You see if we turn just one chapter ahead in that prophetic text, these people felt like:
“justice is far from us and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! There is darkness… we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among the vigorous as though we were dead.”
They were sitting back, retreating into the darkness, waiting for someone else to do something about it.
“Hoping, slightly, ever so lightly that
My deepest fears will submit to the changing
Of dark gears leading to light years of praise
And adoration.”

But then Isaiah comes along with the reminder that we can’t just sit back and wait for our fears to go away.
“Arise, shine, the light has come”
Maybe those old words aren’t quite seeping deep enough under our skin to be heard and felt.
Let me try it again from the Message translation:
“Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake Up! Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you!”
God’s glory has risen for you… So what on earth are YOU going to do about it?

The Magi in our scripture rose up… they got out of bed and they followed where God was leading them.
Over field and fountain, moor and mountain, that star in the sky was their guiding light until it took them to the place where the child was.
And when they arrived, they could barely contain themselves.
They felt an overwhelming kind of joy, the Gospel of Matthew tells us, that was born out of the sense that they were in the right place at the right time.
So they fell on their knees and worshiped that little child.

You and I… we are called to get out of bed, to shake off the sleep, to open our eyes and put our faces into the light and to hear where God is calling us to go.
As we start a new year, of ministry together, I have such a fire and energy in my heart.
I can see all sorts of amazing things that God has in store for us if we would simply put our face in the sunlight and head out into this world.
This church is so generous, so powerful, so filled with talent and compassion and love.
And as we have risen up and followed God’s leading – I know that many of you have experienced that immense joy that comes from being in the right place at the right time… from finding that place where your gifts have met some great need in this world.
We experienced that kind of joy in our gigantic Joppa garage sale.
We experience it as we laugh and serve together at CFUM.
We experience it when we dress up in ridiculous costumes to help our young people understand something in confirmation.
Or when our children teach us the nativity story on Christmas Eve.
And in all of these places, we are also discovering the joy of realizing that we are not alone!
There are all sorts of other people on this journey with us. People who have the same kinds of yearning and hopes and fears… and who are ready, with us, to rise up and to truly make a difference in this world for the sake of Jesus Christ!
They are sitting right here in the pews with you.
But they are also outside of these walls – our neighbors here in the community – who might have the same kinds of passion and see the same needs, but might not use the same faith words to describe it.

Maybe they are the Magi – the strangers, the Gentiles, the ones who we didn’t know, but who have been on this journey as well, to bring light and hope into the world.

God is speaking and leading all around us…. Giving us opportunities to bring hope and joy and light and love to all we meet. Together, let us rise up to seek them.

Follow the Star

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Today, we come to the end of our journey through Narnia and the Christmas season with the celebration of Epiphany. 

The word Epiphany means “an appearance or manifestation” and on the twelfth day after Christmas, it is a celebration of the manifestation of God’s love in human form… and of all of those people to whom the good news was first revealed:   the shepherds at Christmas, Anna and Simeon in the temple, and the wise men who followed the star and journeyed from afar to worship the Christ Child.

As Matthew tells the story, these magi followed a star in the sky – a light in the midst of the darkness – in order to find this Messiah.  And that glimmer of light and hope reminded Matthew of another time of darkness and the promise of God that Isaiah shared with the Israelites. 

Arise! Shine! For your light has come… though darkness covers the earth and gloom the nations, the Lord will shine upon you… Nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning radiance. (60:1-3)

In Matthew’s eyes, it wasn’t a star in the sky at all, but the light of Christ himself, revealed to the entire world, that pulled those magi over mountains and deserts and seas to the countryside surrounding Jerusalem. He may have been a tiny infant in his mother’s arms, but in the words of John’s gospel – the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.

 

To appreciate why this was good news, we can’t pass too quickly over the darkness in these stories. We like to focus on the beautiful image of wise and powerful men bowed down before a humble and poor baby. But in our scripture today, forces of death and violence, power and pride and lurking around every corner. 

You see, in between the appearance of the star in the sky and their encounter with the Jesus, the magi found themselves on the doorsteps of power. 

King Herod was an appointed ruler who had been chosen from among his fellow Jews because he was willing to betray them and serve the Romans.  His had been named a leader by the Roman Mark Antony to support the governor of Galilee, but through political maneuvering and not a little bit of money, scheming and treachery, he had climbed as high as he could – and now happily sat in Jerusalem as the “king of the mountain.”

Relationships for him were always about what the connection could get for him.  He banished his first wife and child in order to marry the granddaughter of an elite in Rome.  And he grew to be jealous of his second wife Mariamne, eventually executing her for adultery; he eventually married five different times. He killed his brother-in-law on charges of conspiracy, and then later his sons by Mariamne because he no longer trusted them.

In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch reminds me of that cold, insecure figure Herod.

As Heidi Haverkamp reminds in the devotional for this season, the Witch’s castle was cold and full of statues of people the witch had turned to stone.  The only living creature besides the White Witch who resided there was her Wolf Captain Maugrim.  She couldn’t trust anyone and so her castle was empty and lonely. 

And she, too, feared a threat to her power and hold over the land. 

There had been prophecies in Narnia, after all about the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve and how one day they would sit on the throne of Cair Paravel.  When she came upon Edmund, all alone in the woods one day, she very nearly turned him into stone on the spot… until she realized she could use him for more information and to tempt the rest of his siblings to her castle and kill them all at once. 

She arrested and tried the faun, Mr.  for “fraternizing with Humans,” just as she did any who sought to oppose her reign. 

The White Witch responded to the news of these children who would be Kings and Queens in the same way that Herod did… with intrigue, lies, and a heart bent on destruction. 

 

What is the danger of a baby?  Or of four little children to a powerful king or queen? 

The danger is in what they represent and the threat to the future. 

And the danger is that there are people in this world who are willing to resist their oppression and power… people who are willing to follow a star and choose another way. 

The magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem… and instead of bowing down before King Herod, they want to worship, to bow down, to pay homage to someone else.   

And this season invites us to honor God and not the powers of this world.  To honor love and not fear.  Mercy not judgment.  This season invites us to let go of our power and offer of ourselves, rather than taking what we think belongs to us.

 

Isaiah’s prophecy calls out:  Arise!  Shine! Lift up your Eyes! 

That is a whole lot of exclamation points. 

And Isaiah isn’t just inviting the people living in exile to hear the words… he is commanding them to live differently.  

As Rev. Marci Glass writes:

“Isaiah’s audience knew all about the darkness of the world.  They knew the despair of exile.  They knew what it was like to look around and say, ‘ the problems are so big. What can one person do?’

The Christmas season is a time of joy and hope and peace, and I truly pray that each and every one of you were able to glimpse that spirit of Christmas in these last few weeks. 

But just as the Christmas decorations begin to be put away, the cold harsh reality of the world hits us. We find ourselves right back where we were before this season of consumer frenzy, perhaps with emptier pockets and fuller bellies, but back in reality nonetheless.

And maybe we start to ask that question:  what can one person do?

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in our country this week in Fort Lauterdale, what can we do to stop it?

In the face of loved ones battling illness and injury, how can we make the pain go away?

Perhaps we are left wondering what all of it was really for.  Are we just rehearsing the Spirit of Christmas, much like we get out the decorations and put them away again when the time has passed? Is our hope in the pomp and circumstance? the beautifully wrapped presents?  the music? or is our hope in something else?  Something that will sustain us long after the wreaths have come off the door?

 

Arise!  Shine!  Lift Up Your Eyes!

 

The magi in the East recognized that this star was leading them on a journey into the unknown.  And they willingly chose to follow that star.

This epiphany, I want to invite you to follow the star. 

I want to invite you to seek out light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair.

And I want to invite you to share the light of that star with others.

And just like the magi, I want to invite you to not only be willing to offer your gifts with God… but I want to invite you to be open to what God might be giving to you in this journey. 

 

As we come forward in just a few minutes for our time of response and offering, I want to invite you to come to this basket and select a star.  Don’t over think it… just reach in and take one.

Every star has a word on it.  And I want to invite you to think about how that word, that star, might speak to your life this year.

Stick the star to your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Put it in your devotional for when you do daily prayers.  Place that star somewhere you might see it each and every day so that you can remember, whenever you lift up your eyes, that God is guiding you.

I want to invite you to remember that what you do with the light that has shined in your life does matter.

The creatures of Narnia embraced the small role they could play and they stood up to the power of the White Witch and she was defeated.

Even Edmund, who had turned his back on those he loved, found that one simple action could dramatically alter the course of events.  

The magi from the east refused to bow to the demands of Herod and chose another way home.

God is calling you to Arise! Shine!  And Lift up your eyes to see can do through you. 

Ever-patient God, Help us be people of the light, shining your light of righteousness, peace, and joy into all the dark places of our lives and world.

Turn our aimless wanderings into a journey of purpose guided by your star.
Let the light break into our lives and our world, and transform us into people of the light.

Arise!

Shine!
Follow the star!

conflict is a reality

I have now been a part of my church community for three whole years.  It is amazing how fast time has gone by and how much we have accomplished with one another.
As I reflect upon my time in ministry, I feel very blessed. We have been a family. We have worked together. We worship and study and minister. And through it all, there has been almost no conflict!

I have to admit… that last statement makes me a little uncomfortable.  In part, I feel like we have been “playing nice” with one another for some time.  I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I wonder sometimes if I have done too much comforting of the afflicted and not enough afflicting of the comfortable.

During this season of Epiphany we have been exploring Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and it provided an excellent opportunity to talk about conflict.  While Paul urges the people to be united and not divided in heart, I wanted to make sure that my church heard that conflict, in and of itself, is not bad. It is a reality. We will have differences of opinion. We will have varying perspectives. That is a good thing. How we deal with conflict is what gets us into trouble. Paul’s problem is not with the differences, but the fact that their differences have pitted them against one another; he urges them to seek a common unity in the cross of Christ.

As Christians, we have to be able to speak what we know. We have to be able to listen to what other people have to say. We have to dive into the Bible and let it be our foundation. We need to let the Holy Spirit guide us. All of these are good ways of handling conflict.

But we haven’t always let those things be our guide. And past conflicts have in many ways left this congregation tired and worn out. And so we choose not to engage anymore. We choose to be quiet. We choose to not participate.

I was reminded by a friend this week that what will destroy the church is not opposition from without, but indifference within. When we are content to sit back and let others make decisions… when we are afraid to speak the truth… when we don’t feel like we have anything to contribute… that is when the church should be worried.

While I am grateful for not having huge problems to deal with, I also want my congregation to know it is okay to speak up.

Speak up if we are going too slow or too fast. Speak up if you don’t understand. Speak up if you have a question. Speak up if you disagree. Speak up if you agree. Just participate. Be engaged. And know that every single one of you – from the quietest to the most outspoken – is a part of this Body of Christ… each of you are important and vital. Each of you has something to offer. Don’t be afraid.

I wrote those words a few days ago. And this morning, I have been glued to my computer as I watch the protests in Egypt.

Egyptians protest in central Cairo today.
Photograph: Khaled El Fiqi/EPA
(from guardian.co.uk)
A commentator on the live Al Jazeera English broadcast said that these protests are so unprecedented because for so long, the Egyptians sat back and were not involved.  They had become complacent and indifferent.
And then, they found their voice. A number of people have said that the Egyptians are no longer afraid. They are welcoming the tanks on the streets… it is a dare to continue protesting and they are taking up the challenge.

People from many different walks of life have come together today to protest the regime that has been in control in Egypt. Young and old, religious and non-religious, men and women have taken to the streets all across the country. There are men in suits and in jeans and t-shirts. Conflict is rampant…

Some are peacefully present.  Some stop in prayer. Some hurl rocks. Some shout. Even in the face of lines of communication being shut down, they are not afraid to speak and to continue to find ways to get their message out. What has troubled me today is how violent these protests have turned.  Years of pent up anger and frustration are being spilled out through fires and projectiles being thrown. Violence from the police and army and violence from protestors feed on one another.

Today, the conflict that has erupted is good.  The greviances of the people should be heard. But let us pray that both people and government might find peaceful ways of resolving this conflict, of talking and communcating, of finding a way forward.

Epiphany through the eyes of a servant girl

I have come here today to tell you a story. It’s a story that you think you know… but you don’t. You have only caught a glimpse of the truth. You have a version that has been changed and adapted and sanitized through time. But it’s not the real story…

I have come here today to tell you the story, because I was there. Sure, it was many years ago and I was just a child, but I was there nonetheless.

When I was just a little girl, I lived in a small city with my mom and dad. My father worked with metals and my mother worked in the palace.

Oh, Not for the king though… no, she worked for this crazy band of astronomers who the king had invited to live in the palace. The king wanted to make sure that he paid attention to what was happening in the world around him… so he brought in these seers and astrologers from all over the place to work for him and interpret the stars and other signs.

And my mother worked for them. Well, she cooked for them. They had very strange appetites, since they came from all sorts of different places and so it was a lot of work! Sometimes she had to prepare three different meals all in one night, just so they would each be happy!
Well, one afternoon, my mother came home flushed and hurried and anxious. My father had been hired away and was working far from home on a new temple that was being built. So it was just my mother and I. Only, she came home and started throwing clothes and our bedroll and whatever else she could find into a bag. She cursed the whole time. I didn’t know whether to laugh at her or to cry or to run away because I had no idea what was happening. But in a rush of flurry, she finished her packing and took my hand and off we went.

Evidently, these magoi… the astrologers… magi, is what you call them I think, well, anyways, these magoi had seen a new star rising. They had conferred with one another for many days and weeks until they finally decided the star was the rising of a new king far off to the West.

They marched into the throne room of the palace and demanded an audience with our King. They told him what they had seen and our King was so excited that he wanted them to personally go and seek out this new King and to bring him gifts.

The magoi were up for the adventure and began making plans for their trip. First, and most important, they spent a full week figuring out what the best gifts to take were. Then they hired camels and bought provisions for a very long trip. They hired people to ride with them to protect them from whatever dangers they might find on the road. And, they demanded that all of their servants come along.

These magoi had gotten quite used to their life in the palace. And the King probably wouldn’t have let them make this grand excursion without sending a full entourage anyways… they were going to greet a King after all!

And so, whether she liked it or not, my mother had to go too. And since she couldn’t just leave me home alone and since we had idea when my father would be returning…. I got to go too.

Since I was just a child, there was a lot of excitement about heading out on this journey. I had no idea where we were going – only that it was far from our home. The first day was a blast… by the third day, I was tired of the smell of the camels. By the end of the first week, I was cranky and wanted to go home.

My mother knew this would be a long trip, but there was nothing she could do to ease my homesickness. Until one afternoon she came up with a game for me to play. She knew that the magoi had packed with them precious gifts and so she gave me the task of finding out what each of the gifts were.

The first gift was easy. There was this rather quiet servant name Tajit who always rode in the middle of a caravan on his camel. He was always looking around nervously, as if someone was about to jump out of the bushes and rob them all. And I suppose he had good reason to be nervous because he was carrying one of the gifts. You know how I could tell? He jingled!

Tajit must not have packed his gift very well, because every time his camel took a step there was a small quiet clanking in his packs. I knew something was in there, so I made a point of following him closely, watching every time he opened his packs to check for something.

One afternoon, I walked right up to him and introduced myself. And you know what? It turns out he was pretty nice! Tajit had a little daughter back home who was just my age and so each and every question I had, he was happy to answer. It took me a few days, but I finally worked up the courage to ask what the gift was he was carrying. He motioned me over to his camel, and opened up one of the packs on the side and let me peek in. There inside were brilliant and shiny gold nuggets! Tajit took one out and let me hold it. It glimmered in the sunlight. I was surprised at how heavy they were and immediately felt sorry for the poor camel who had to carry them.

Even as a little girl, I understood the importance of what was in my hand. My father worked with metals after all! He had taken me once to the palace and showed me where his father had helped to form gold into the heads of rams and oxen on the palace walls. This was a precious gift for a mighty king and someday this very gold might be formed and shaped by someone like my own father in a beautiful palace.

Tajit leaned over and whispered… “some of the magi think that we are going to visit a mighty and powerful king… this gold is a gift for one who will rule the nations!”

Gift one down…. Two more to go.

I told my friend Tajit about my quest to discover all three of the gifts, so he gave me my next clue. There was a large woman who always sang songs at our evening campfire who was carrying the second gift.

I made it a point to sit next to this woman – Sari – that night. I had made such quick friends with Tajit, I thought this would be easy. But it turned out, Sari didn’t like little children. She ignored me for a whole week.

But after a whole week of sitting next to her and listening to her sing at night – I started to learn some of the songs she was singing. And I began to sing along. I remember the first time I sang with her she turned and stared at me with a cold and mean glare – but I kept right on singing… and she hrumphfed and went back to making her music. After another week had passed – we could be found at the campfire together every night singing and making harmony.

I could sing with Sari – but I wasn’t quite sure she would let me talk to her yet. I started out by telling her different things that I had seen on the journey that day – a lone eagle flying high above us, a beautiful purple flower… and gradually, Sari started to tell me about her life.

Sari was a priestess in the local temple. She offered sacrifices to the gods and prayed on behalf of the people. She was on this journey because of the gift that she carried.

Without having to ask, one day Sari brought with her to the campfire a small package and opened it before me. Inside was a hard substance, that I had never seen before. It was shaped into a long narrow cylinder. Sari took a coal from the fire and touched it to this rod and after a few moments, it started to smolder. Rich, amazing smells began to arise with the smoke and they were carried up to the heavens.

I looked at Sari speechless with wide eyes and she told me what it was for. When we pray, she said, “we light this incense and our prayers rise up to heaven.” Then she told me that in the place we are going, this incense is used outside of the tents and temple where their God resides. She said that this frankincense was the gift for a priestly ruler – one who would have a close connection to the God of his people.

The next week, I found the third gift… but it wasn’t on purpose. A man had died in our caravan and as we were trying to what to do, Melchid, another servant, demanded that we use some of the gifts we had brought to give the man a proper burial.

He pulled out a jar of myrrh and as we laid the servant to rest – there on the side of the road, some of the costly myrrh was gently placed between the layers of linen wrappings.

Sari helped to lead prayer and the servant’s body was placed in a hollow on the side of the mountain and covered with stones.

I wondered what kind of a gift this must be – why would such a thing be given to a king? I listened among the people that night as we ate and heard tell that some of the magoi thought that we were going to worship a healer – someone who would save his people from great tragedy. But others had a strange feeling about this star and this new king… they sensed some kind of sorrow in the future of this ruler.

Having completed my quest, the journey became much duller. Day after day we traveled. The road was very, very, very long.

Finally, we arrived outside of the city of Jerusalem and came to the palace of King Herod. A few of the magoi were chosen as ambassadors and made the climb up the steps of the palace… and the rest of us anxiously waited outside.

And we waited, and waited, and waited. I wondered if I would get to see this new king myself! How exciting would that be?!

After what seemed like an eternity, the magoi came back outside with news. There was no new king here in Jerusalem. Our magoi consulted with the Jewish scribes and they came back with word that we should try to look for the king in Bethlehem. Silly Magoi – they never really knew where they were going all along.

We arrived just outside of Bethlehem at dark. How in a town full of people would we find a king? And why was he here and not in Jerusalem. There were whispers that the king was a newly born child who would one day rule this country. The mystery of it all was very exciting and I could hardly wait with anticipation.

Suddenly everyone was looking up and in the skies I could finally see what we had been following all along. There shining faintly above us was a star. I could see it with my own eyes.

It appeared to rest above one of the houses.

We quiety trodded through the streets with our caravan. Boy were we a sight. I could see little faces peering out of windows at the camels and our wonderfully dressed Magoi.

Stopped in front of a house… it was small, tiny really. A few of the Magoi thought they should go in and see what was going on.

They came back out and were speechless… a few others rushed in and then a few more and they all came back out and had a pow-wow there in the street. I snuck up to the front of the caravan where I could hear better.

This king that they had discovered was only a baby – not more than two years old. But there was something about him – something that amazed them. They finally decided to take in a portion of each of the gifts. They wanted to see what kind of a ruler this child would be, so they decided to let him choose. If he chose the gold – he would be a mighty ruler… king of all nations. If he chose the frankincense – he would be a priestly ruler… a servant of God. If he chose the mhyrr – he would be a healer who restored his nation.

They were nervous and went in quietly. They came out stunned and empty handed.

The child had chosen all three gifts. He was a king… but he was a priest… and he would save his people.

The journey home was long – but the entire way I pondered what would happen to this child… how would he accomplish all of these things? What would his future be?

For many years I thought about that boy child in Bethlehem. The Romans continued to rule in Judea and there was no word of a new king arising… but then again – word didn’t travel very fast in those days.

Then one day, I heard word of a young man named, Jesus, who some said was the Son of God. He spoke and people listened. They came out in droves to hear him and some were healed with his touch. But he made others anxious and they had him killed by the Romans. That should have been the end of the story… but there were whispers and rumors that he lived again… that he still lives… and that he truly is a king… and a priest… and came to save his people.

Amen and Amen.

ka-clunk

My ghetto cruiser decided to fall apart on Saturday morning. I was stopped at an intersection about three blocks from my house (after driving to Des Moines and back on Friday and to my parents and back right before this incident) when I began to turn the corner. And heard a big clunk and felt the front right side of my car drop to the ground.

My stupid ball joint broke on the tire, which caused the suspension to fall to the ground and the tire to tilt periously within the wheel well. And then I got to sit there, in the frigid cold waiting for my husband to bring the phone book and then wait with him in his car while we waited for the tow truck and guarded my car – which was in the middle of the intersection.

I was secretly praying that it would be a major repair. if it was $1500 or more – I was going to say screw it and just get rid of the car. But alas, the ball joint costs only $50 and my dad is coming over Saturday to fix it with my little brother. I so desperately want a newer, more fuel efficient, potentially hybrid, vehicle. I’m the type of person who should be driving around in a cute little VW beetle or a Prius. Maybe that’s a bit yuppy of me, but it just suits my personality so much more than this big black Lincoln Towncar with the chrome side panels. *sigh*

In other news, church went pretty well this morning. I had a pretty long teaching sermon on the Lord’s Prayer that I think got kind of wordy and long. I would definately do it differently next time. We are doing a six week study on the Lord’s Prayer based on “Becoming Jesus’ Prayer” and this week was all about what the prayer teaches us about what it means to be faithful. Perhaps I could have broken the sermon into two sections, but then it wouldn’t fit nicely into my Epiphany Season series. Oh well.

I did find a great children’s sermon where we made a prayer sandwich – putting five themes of the prayer: praise, hope,depend, forgive, goodness – between two slices of bread. The kids really liked the silliness of it all.

Lectionary Leanings – Glimmer of Light

January 4
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72, Ephesians 1:3-14, Matthew 2:2-12

While our church year technically begins with the Advent season, Epiphany has always struck me as a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. Perhaps this is in part because of its close proximity to the New Year in the Gregorian calendar. But liturgically, Epiphany has the feeling of a beginning of a journey. A star had risen in the sky and a band of men from the east began an unknown voyage to discover its source. They probably had no idea how long it would take them to get there. They didn’t know what friends or foes they would meet along the way. In reality, they didn’t even know who they were looking for. They set out anyways.

In many ways, our journey of Christian faith is like that of the wise men. In each of our lives, there has been a moment, however small, however insignificant, that has led us to begin this journey. It may have been words of a Sunday school teacher that first caused you to follow Christ for yourself, like the faint glimmer of a falling star. Or perhaps it was a dramatic moment of hitting rock-bottom and having no where to turn but to Christ, like the glimmer of light calling out from behind an eclipse. Perhaps the call to follow has always been there in your life, from the very earliest memory, much like the multitude of stars in the night sky. We may not be able to name the moment or recite the date and time, but at some point in our lives, we began to take steps toward Christ.

Inevitably, there are times in our lives where we have strayed from that path, when we have let the cares of the world or the demands of family or job lead us in other directions. But just like the New Year brings with it a time for making resolutions, the season of Epiphany is a reminder of who we have promised to follow. In the words of Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come!” The path is still there, the light of Christ still beckons, and now is as good a time as any to begin the journey again.

first series of sermons: thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path… following Christ in the season of Epiphany

okay… so it’s a long title for a sermon series. But I’m starting out this new pilgrimage with my congregation by inviting them on a journey – and the Light of Christ is our guide. Last week we talked about the star that led the wise men to the Christ Child. This week, we’ll talk about the Spirit of God that came down on Jesus at his baptism – a light that lives within us and sends us forth into ministry. After that – we’ll do the calling of the disciples and the reminder that Christ is the light which shines in the darkness, calling all people to him. Finally, the trip up the mountain, and the transfiguration… more light!

It all works out in my head, but figuring out how to incorporate all of the ideas I have into these worship services – especially as I’m brand new at this is difficult. I have all sorts of experience planning worship… but a much more informal worship. I like the traditional stuff… I like doxologies and liturgy and I want to do so much with the space we are worshipping in! But… baby steps… I’m trying not to do it all at once (for my sake as much as for the congregation).

Today I’m a bit stuck as I write my sermon… this idea of the interplay between water and light keeps dancing around in my head. And then I came across a Wendell Berry poem: The Gift of Gravity

All that passes descends,
and ascends again unseen
into the light: the river
coming down from sky
to hills, from hills to sea,
and carving as it moves,
to rise invisible,
gathered to light, to return
again. “The river’s injury
is its shape.” I’ve learned no more.
We are what we are given
and what is taken away;
blessed be the name
of the giver and taker.
For everything that comes
is a gift, the meaning always
carried out of sight
to renew our whereabouts,
always a starting place.
And every gift is perfect
in its beginning, for it
is “from above, and cometh down
from the Father of lights.”Gravity is grace.

The rain that falls upon us comes from God. And it washes us clean. It surrounds us and refreshes us. But the light comes as well. It dries us off and the water evaporates. It is a cycle necessary for life. “for everything that comes/ is a gift, the meaning always/ carried out of sight/ to renew our whereabouts,/ always a starting place.” As we renew our baptismal covenants this Sunday, our whereabouts are renewed. We are given a new starting place. And we pray that the water and the light will lead us to God.