Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Seeking God's Face

Isaiah 9:1-4
Matthew 4:12-23

          One of my preaching professor’s used to describe a sermon that wandered without focus as “going all over preaching the gospel.” I’m afraid that’s what may happen this morning. I’ve been all over receiving and gathering pieces of the gospel that I want to share with you this morning. Trust me, it’s all about becoming a disciple and the reason that I think we become disciples is that we are seeking God’s face. There! That’s what we’ll call the basket in which we gather the pieces.
          Let’s start with the gospel story. Jesus lived in a culture that espoused one faith and he spent his life talking about who he knew God to be and how God wanted us to treat one another. There were plenty of people of other faiths around, like foreign traders and Roman soldiers, but Jesus talked to the people of his own faith who were weighed down with burgeoning laws, not unlike the United States legal code or The Discipline of the United Methodist Church. We know that it is difficult to navigate the U. S. court system without representation by an attorney whose extensive study has prepared them to research and offer interpretation of the law. Yesterday the Hesses and Steve and I attended the memorial for Bishop Jack Tuell, who wrote much of the newer additions to the ever-expanding Book of Discipline. Several bishops in their remarks spoke of depending on Bishop Tuell to interpret the Discipline. Bishop Cal McConnell remembered asking, “I know the chapter and paragraph, but what does it mean?!”  Isn’t that how we often approach the Bible? Three different bishops mentioned rereading Bishop Tuell’s book From Law to Grace. Let me read you a couple of short paragraphs about his faith journey. (p. 41-43 selections)
          I love those words, “God’s self-revelation to humankind, especially in the person of Jesus the Christ.” Jesus cut through the constrictions of the law to reveal God’s face of compassion and love. Jesus moved his followers from the letter of the law to the heart of the law, God’s heart that desires freedom, joy, and peace for all of Creation. Working men were willing to walk away from their businesses to see what Jesus saw. I believe people long to know freedom, joy, and peace. They long to be loved. Take a look at the cover story of this weeks’ Time magazine, “The Mindful Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.” People are hungry for a deep sense of peace. For Christians that starts with a sense of being God’s beloved child—in other words, enough, loveable just as you are. That may not be the message you’ve heard from the Christian church—it is a human institution that loves its laws! But if you follow Jesus, you will learn from Jesus that God’s face is full of kindness and forgiveness, even for a disciple who would betray is master.
          There are two readings from the Psalms that are paired in the lectionary with Matthew’s story of Jesus calling disciples. We hear in Psalm 27:
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life:
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in God’s temple.

“Come,” my heart says, “seek God’s face!”

The other is from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
  you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
  and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
  O Lord, you know it completely.
You [tuck] me in, behind and before,
  and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
  it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
  Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
  if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
  and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
  and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
  and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
  the night is as bright as the day,
  for darkness is as light to you.

That’s the face of God I want to see! That’s how I want to know God!
So Steve and I found ourselves on Friday night in the home of our friend, the Rev. Katie Ladd, with a group of people, clergy and lay, who gathered to explore shared spiritual life. Some of you met Katie when she offered a class on keeping Sabbath here two years ago. She invited people who have supported the Well at Queen Anne United Methodist and who have been interested in trying fixed hour prayer or intentional community. We sat around bowls of soup and bread and shared what we longed for in our journey and whether or not we might be interested in living a rule. For those of you who may not be familiar with the idea of a rule, it is the structure around which a monastic community orders its life. We talked about keeping fixed hour prayer, perhaps with modifications, reading scripture, weekly worship, keeping Sabbath, connecting with each other weekly by phone or internet, and eating together regularly, whether it is weekly or monthly. The idea is to journey together and hold one another accountable as we seek God’s face through spiritual practice. We gathered late on my sixth day of work, and I have to admit that I was too tired to even articulate my soul’s longing. But as others shared what they longed for and how they found companionship and depth in online spiritual communities that led them to seek an embodied intentional community, I woke up.  We are in a position to do both here. Those of us who met at Katie’s are going to practice living in a ruled order during the forty days of Lent. If you are interested in joining us, or in forming your own group, talk to me. I am so excited about the possibilities! I see some groups already here—the Monday covenant group, the men’s ecumenical Bible study on Saturdays—you may know of others. What can we do with our online presence to help others who are seeking God’s face to find embodied communities in which they can become disciples?
At the end of Bishop Tuell’s memorial service, we honored a practice in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. At all of our annual conference meetings, the clergy sing the Bishop’s Hymn to our Bishop, and we always stand to sing it at clergy memorial services. If is a hymn that holds a powerful promise for a life of discipleship. I won’t sing it for you, but these are the words of the chorus:
Beloved, beloved, we are the children of God,
and it does not yet appear what we shall be,
but we know that when Christ appears,
we know that when Christ appears,
we shall be like Christ, we shall be like Christ,
we shall see God face to face.

That is the promise for those who follow Jesus! May it be so for each of us.

What are you looking for?

January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7
John 1:29-42

I wonder what we’re looking for when we get dressed on Sunday morning and come to church.

I think of all the reasons I’ve gotten ready and gone to church throughout my life. It started when my parents took me with them. There wasn’t ever a question. That’s just what we did and that’s how I learned the patterns and rhythms of faith.  Just like I went to school to learn how to read and write and do math—and how to think and reason for myself. At church I learned stories that eventually would help me think and reason for myself about the bigger questions in life.

At some point all of you adults here made your own decision to come to church. I’m curious about your reasons. For me, there was a point where I wanted my children to learn the faith. There was a time when I was hungry to figure out the whole cosmic puzzle about good and evil—and how to end up on the winning side. I’ve heard from some of you that it’s about finding surrogate family and that’s certainly been true for me. At some point, I realized that, for me, coming here is about being with the One who knows me completely and loves me deeply. It’s easier for me to see and know God are when I’m with you.  We get to practice creating the Beloved Community here.  Church is like a lab where we get to experiment with what we hear to see if it’s true. And even though we make some mistakes, I find this faith community to be closer to the Beloved Community than any secular group I’ve ever encountered. Words or theories or doctrines aren’t adequate—in fact, sometimes they get in the way. You have to see for yourself how love and acceptance are expressed.

In our gospel lesson, John the Baptist is long on preaching right and wrong. But he sees in Jesus a tenderness and integrity that he recognizes as God. He points his own disciples in the direction of Jesus. Andrew does the same thing when he tells his brother Simon that he’s found the anointed one. We’re great at sharing good news. When we find a book or movie that we love. When we root for a team. How about those Seahawks! I don’t like sports, but I get interested when we get to the playoffs, because the fans go crazy. When we find cheap gasoline ($3.11 in Issaquah) or the best-ice-cream-bars-that-you-ever-tasted-and-they-just-got-them-at-Thriftway, we tell people. When I read my first book in seminary and realized the author was going to be my professor, when I saw the Holy in her every gentle, wise word and action, I had to tell people. When I read Brian McLaren for the first time, I presented his work in every retreat I led because other people needed to hear the secret message of unconditional love he read in the gospels. I’m still telling people—he’s coming to Seattle on February 18. Don’t miss hearing him! When someone reveals God to us in a way that touches our core, we want to tell people the same way that we want to share the books and movies we love. So what’s the good news for you? What have you looked for and found here that you need to share? What are you neighbors looking for?

Wes Howard-Brook asks us to search our hearts for the real reason we follow Jesus in his book, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship:

Deep within Jesus’ simple inquiry of these would-be followers is this challenge: Whose ways are you seeking? Are you looking for a hero, a sage, a teacher? Someone to cling to, someone to make you famous? Or are you seeking your deepest self, the most profound truths of life, the reality that few can face directly?[1]

What I’m really looking for is someone who will love me in spite of knowing me. What I really want is to belong in the world. The image that grabs me comes at the very end of the gospel story. Jesus looks at Simon and says, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter [and means Rock]).” I want to be known that way—for how I see myself and how the world sees me and for the full potential that God sees. I want to be called beyond who I am today to all that I can be. I think that my neighbors are looking for the same thing. Among the people of God I find the building blocks of self-knowledge, and a compelling vision for a future in which all creation thrives, and a community that loves and accepts me while I experiment and learn. That’s why I am a disciple. That’s why I follow Jesus, because in him, I see the light and love of God. In Jesus’ teaching I find a path to wholeness, not just for myself, but for the world. Jesus invites us to come and see, to come and learn, and then to go and show, go and demonstrate, go and love as we have been loved.
          Whatever it is that makes you put your shoes on and come to church—your neighbors are looking for that too. Why don’t you invite them to come and see what you have discovered in your discipleship? You don’t need to know anything more than what moves you. Your own story is the best story you have to share. I’ve told three people this week why I love you all and find God’s presence powerfully at work among you—granted none of those people live on the island, but it was great practice.

·       What are you looking for? That’s a serious question and I challenge you to name what you are looking for when you come to church.

·       What is good news for you?  That’s another serious question. Why are you a disciple? If the message of the church doesn’t sound like good news, then we’d better find a different message. It’s supposed to be good news. Our message should bring relief and joy.

·       Who needs to know? Who needs to hear that they are loved beyond measure and are seen in their full potential?  Who needs to hear some good news today?

·       How will you practice your discipleship and invite someone to come and see for themselves?

[1] Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994), 70.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Named and Claimed

Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 3:13-17

It’s odd that just about the time that Baptism of the Lord Sunday arrives, I am googling car washes because my car is so grimy that I’m afraid to brush against it with my coat and my hands get dirty opening the trunk. It’s hard to know what the true color is under all that road guck. Our spirits are like our cars. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember who we are under all the guck we pick up—the skewed messages, the slights, the unkind or thoughtless actions of others that cause us to want to respond in kind.

Our spirits at birth have a design integrity that staggers the imagination in their beauty and potential. Most of our spirits get a good cleaning in our baptisms, whether it’s symbolic if we were baptized as infants, or a personal moment of renewal if we were baptized as adults. I don’t want to make it sound like a magical action, but there is something powerful and generative in having the Church declare publicly what is already true: That we are named as God’s Beloved and sealed by the Holy Spirit, claimed as God’s own, and sent into the world as God’s gift to the world. And then we return to daily living and our spirits get grimy. I know mine does. We shower or bathe our bodies, and we wash our clothes to remove the dust from the road and the sweat from our labor. But our spirits collect just as much dust and sweat as our bodies do and, I think, we pay them less attention.
          Now I don’t want to go too far in separating bodies from spirits because they reside together and deeply affect one another. But let’s just focus on the part of us that resides in our thoughts, emotions, egos, and dreams—the part of us that is interior. Let’s stay with the car analogy for a minute. It’s like our spirits collect the dust from the road—the naturally occurring dust and pitch and slime that comes from living in the full community of creation. That sounds pretty obscure. I mean how our spirits are affected by natural disasters that we cannot comprehend, or illness, or injury, or the death of someone that we love, that can leaves us feeling like we’re in an off-road vehicle where we can feel every bump and bone-numbing thud, but can’t see out very well. Or how we accumulate the guck and smell of what our surrounding community does—and that sometimes includes our own actions. By that I mean the effects of mean statements and rude encounters, the spirit-bruising personal and institutional slights of racism, sexism, agism, and other –isms. I mean the grit of violence, greed, poverty, and insecurity. All that we read in the paper, all that we see on TV, all the unfairness on the playground, or anxiety in the classroom, or stress in the office, or loneliness in our families—they build up in our spirits like grime on our cars or on our bodies.
          The other build up on our spirits is sweat. Our spirits sweat from exertion and anxiety as much as our bodies—from trying to be perfect parents or super students, from trying to hold both halves of a marriage together, from trying to please everyone except ourselves, from trying to apply our childhood faith to our grown up world, from keeping excruciating pain hidden, from struggling to make ends meet, whether it’s money or nerves, our spirits can be drenched in sweat from trying so hard or being so afraid.
          And we forget. We forget that we are water-washed and spirit-born. We forget that our spirits came clean from our Creator and they are washable. We are baptized once as a symbol, but we can be washed every day. That’s why the font stands at the entrance of the sanctuary. It is a reminder that we are water-washed and spirit-born, that we are named by God as Beloved and claimed as God’s own in a ritual that makes visible an invisible reality. And the water is there for us to touch so that we can remember our baptism, and in our worship offer our spirits to God for cleansing and renewal. That’s why, after we touch the water and sing a hymn of praise, we join together to confess those things which have caused pain, confusion, or alienation to ourselves or others through us. We confess individually and as a people. We ask God to cleanse us so that we may see more clearly, and free us to act differently. And then we hear words of forgiveness, hope, and challenge. We remember who we are. We are re-membered with the community of faith. We remember whose we are. We are re-membered with God who loves us more that we can ever love ourselves.
          The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, declared to the people of Israel that they were given as a covenant to the rest of the world. By living within God’s framework that seeks an end to oppression, desiring justice and mercy, with compassion for bruised reeds, we reveal God’s love and promise to the world—things can be different. Life can be good and abundant. It is God’s breath that animates us in our baptism and we become different people with important work to do on God’s behalf. As God’s covenant people, we:
          Bring light to the nations
          Open the eyes that are blind
          Bring the prisoners out of the dungeons
          Bring from their prisons those who sit in darkness
Because God declares that God is doing a new thing.

You and I are water-washed and spirit-born children of God. We are named as Beloved, with whom God is pleased. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and claimed as Christ’s own forever. We are God’s covenant to the world. I encourage you to spend some time each day bathing the dust and sweat from your spirit in the fountain of God’s love and grace—when you shower or bathe remember your baptism and let God wash your spirit. Because we are the body of Christ, the words of God at Jesus’ baptism apply to us too. So hear it for yourself. “This is my son, or This is my daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Will you rise with me now in body or spirit, and let us reaffirm our baptism together with thanksgiving, as we do every year. Listen deeply to the way that we are called to live as baptized children of God. We are a people who are water-washed and spirit-born, named and claimed as God’s own. Thanks be to God!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Being in the Presence of God: A Sermon by Lay Leader Bob Ellis


HEBREWS 12:18-25

In the letter to the HEBREWS, the author was describing how he felt as a member of the Christian Faith.

This was written at a time when some of the early Jewish converts were apparently thinking of leaving the fellowship.  Or perhaps they were thinking of using some of the Jewish ceremonies in their worship.

So the author of this letter, whoever it was, was attempting to encourage these friends whom he must have known well.

He reminds his readers of the “Good old days.”  The days before Jesus.
You have not had to stand face to face with terror,
flaming fire,    gloom,    darkness   and a terrible storm
as the Israelites did at Mt Sinai when God gave Moses the law....  and we remember that even Moses went to the mountain with fear and trembling.

They have seen Jesus, which seems to mean that they no longer have to be afraid of God.  The author reminds them, “you have come right up to Mt Zion, to the city of the living God.”

That, I would suggest is our heritage as Christian People.   That, I believe is the truth about Christian people in worship.  (and that is who we are, Christian people in worship.)

That, I would suggest, is true whether we are worshiping in the church, or we are worshiping alone in some other setting, for God is with us all the time and everywhere we find ourselves.

This is not something that will happen in the future: he says, “YOU HAVE COME....   I believe that is true.
We come into God’s presence whenever and wherever we worship.

In the Wednesday Bible Study Kathy asks us what the scripture means to us and our living.  That makes a lot of sense to me so I am going to tell you some of the meanings this particular scripture has for me.

That is the first thing to note....the writer says, ‘you have come right up into Mount Zion, the city of the living God.”

This says to me that we are in direct contact with the living God.   We are not bound by the past.  We are not bound by the old idea that people cannot live together in harmony;   
the old idea that we have to compete with one another for God’s love; because there is no limit to that love.

Our horizons are wider than the old, restricting, narrow way of looking at God.  The spiritual world and the world of our life are entwined.

God draws close to us through all the ordinary relationships we have..     If we are going to learn anything about God it will be right here;
If we are ever going to acknowledge God as part of our lives it will be right here in this secular/spiritual world.   I believe that is one to the truths shown to us in the birth of Jesus.
That is why I find it imperative to attend church every week;  I find it difficult to maintain my belief that God is with me in all of the minutia of living unless I have taken time to consciously focus my attention to God who is within me.  When I miss that worship my life begins to go flat.

William Temple once declared:
“All of life oght to be worship;
but we know quite well there is no chance it will unless we have times when we have worship and nothing else.”

A philosophy teacher asked our class what are the things which are real -- the things that  last.
We named desks, buildings,  things like that.
The teacher named spiritual things, like love.
I believe it is those spiritual concepts which open our lives to their deepest meaning.

Then the author of this book reminds us that this is not only a spiritual fellowship;   it is a UNIVERSAL FELLOWSHIP.

For me this author is speaking of the community of God when he says,

We are not alone, we are part of the church universal.
The United Methodist church talks about a part  of that
when it speaks of the connection.
It is, of course, a great thing to be part of a local congregation of God’s church.    To be able to say that this building where we worship is dear to our hearts; that it is important to us.
It is also important for us to remember that we are part of a fellowship which is much wider than this congregation.
Luther Robertson was a Christian.  He happened also to be farmer and a member of a local congregation i served in Ordway, Colorado.  Once, when the church was going through one of it’s periodic fights he said,
“Too many people let their religion get in the way of their Christianity.”

I have seen that happen all to often in the church;  we build barriers; we build up walls and shut folks out.

Right now the issue is how we think about sexuality and marriage, or the way we interact with folks with different religious beliefs.  In the past it has been the status and role for women;  or the equality of the races.

We narrow the meaning of our faith when we build limits;  when we latch on to one emotional issue;
a certain creed, or right now we set up barriers around sexuality.   In one way or another we say: 
“she”  or  “He” is not our kind of people.

So our taste  -- or judgement  -   or temperament becomes the determining factor which restricts the fellowship of God’s people.
The fellowship is impoverished.

It is clear to me that none of these barriers have been able to confine the movement of the holy spirit with in God’s people.
God’s grace does not recognize any of our restrictions.   God simply moves around, or through the walls we have build to shut some.
I am strengthened when I realize that people around the world are worshiping God.
They are not all using the same name that I use for God, but they are expressing the same feelings; they are thanking God.......just as we are.

The author also seems to say that we are part of A DIVINE FELLOWSHIP.      ...”and to God who is judge of all;   and to Jesus who has brought us this wonderful new agreement.”

I believe this author is reminding us that Jesus has shown us what God is like.
There is a story about Leanardo DA Vinci when he was painting the picture of the last supper.  According to this story a friend was visiting him and commented on Da Vinci’s skill in capturing the fine details of the chalice.    The artist then painted the chalice out, saying:  “That is not what I want you see,  I want you to see Jesus face.”
O believe that every time any of God’s people come together anywhere, there are folks present who are perplexed, if not almost without hope in the face of the difficult questions which life keeps pushing at us.
I know that when I reach that place I want to see  Jesus face.  I don’t want someone to expound on their philosophy of life:  I want someone who will be Jesus for and with me;
someone who will stand with me and show me that they understand what I am going through.

A little boy noticed his neighbor sitting on his porch sad because of the death of his wife.  The little boy went over and sat with him.  Later, when his mother asked him what he did, he said “I just helped him cry.”
(That, I believe, was being Jesus.)

There is a story about a man who was known as a theologian.  He knew the Hebrew language almost as well as his native English.  Among his students it was rumored that he prayed in Hebrew.  So two of them listened outside the door of his office and this is what they heard from this great teacher:
“gentle Jesus, humble and mild,
  look upon this little child, 
pity my simplicity,
suffer me to come to thee."

I would suggest that there is no prayer with deeper meaning.     I would see Jesus..

I hear this writer suggest that every time we come to worship we are coming to see Jesus

THEN there is one other fact about the fellowship:  it is a REDEEMING FELLOWSHIP.
The writer uses terms which are very different than those I would use....sprinkled in the blood.

But no matter; the truth is that we ARE part of the fellowship of those who have been redeemed.

I believe that Jesus is showing us that God never writes  us off;   God always loves us;  God is always ready to forgive us.

There is a moving scene in a book I once read.  it is  about an old country doctor who was reaching the end of his life.  He was out walking and happened to meet a friend whom he asked to read to him from the Bible, as his eyesight was failing.  “Just shut the book and let it fall open where it will.”  The friend did so and it opened on a much read page:  the story was of the penitent sinner in the temple.  “GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.”                                

I think that no matter who we are we all come to that point.  “GOD. BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.”

We may wonder if God can be merciful to me, the one who had tried God’s mercy so ofter;
how much grace can God have?
how much patience can God have?
Jesus teaches us by his life that God’s forgiveness has no limits.  God is always ready to forgive us.
So I believe that Frederich Buechner is correct when he says that when we pray our prayer of confession we are not telling God anything new.  But until we confess them our sins are the chasm between us.  When we do confess them they become the bridge


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

You Shall Be Radiant

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

  We’ve put away the Christmas decorations. The trees are either waiting or have already been recycled. And here we are singing Christmas carols one more Sunday. Are you ready to move on, or would you rather linger just one more day in the glow of Christmas? This is one of those times when the culture of the church clashes with American culture. Stores light up their Christmas displays no later than the first of October every year. The day after Christmas stores look shabby, strewn with returns, shelves half empty. Garbage cans overflow with wrapping paper and Styrofoam packing. Christmas is now 75% off—deeply discounted to make room for Valentine’s Day merchandise. Only some of our neighbors bother to turn on their outdoor lighting displays. We’re done. We move on. The glow of Christmas barely lasts a week until the New Year arrives filled with bowl games, parties, and fireworks.
   But while merchants sell twinkling Christmas tree lights and play “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” in elevators, the church draws our attention to the darkness in which so many people live. The church focuses on the birth of a single baby as a symbol of God’s extraordinary, powerful love—God’s very presence in the world. While we decorate our homes and hang lights from our eaves, the church affirms that Christ reveals the Light of the world and gathers on Christmas Eve to place a single candle in the hands of each worshiper as we sing songs of praise. After the wrapping paper is discarded and crèches packed away, after the fireworks of New Year, the church keeps watch in honor of astronomers, wise men of old, who followed a shining star to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King on bended knee, offering their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. After our culture packs Christmas away for another year, the church lingers in awe and reverence and wonder. The light blazing in the night sky; the Light, tiny and helpless in a manger, the Light passed from one trembling hand to another on Christmas Eve.
   While our culture urges us to pack up and move on, to get busy and produce, the church invites us to linger, to rest, to allow ourselves to be made whole, and to be made new. John’s gospel proclaims that the Light gives us the power to become children of God. The letter to the Ephesians declares that we are joint heirs with Christ. The apostle Paul makes an even bolder claim. He says that we are the body of Christ. Not only does the light shine on us, the Light shines through us.

   Light is the symbol of the season we call Epiphany. An epiphany is like a light bulb that goes off over our heads when get an idea or when we finally understand something. For me, the epiphany of Christmas is that God can be known in and through human beings. God can be born in me and in you. We can be radiant with the light of God. God can live in us like God lived in Jesus. We can live like Jesus. We are God’s light that shines in the darkness.

   Steve and I drove returned from eastern Washington this week driving across two mountain passes after dark. The night sky was filled with stars, more than we could count. The constellations, named by ancient astronomers, shone brightly ready to guide mariners and adventurers as they have for centuries. All of that glory was obscured as we drew closer to the light pollution of Seattle. We are so used to being able to turn on artificial lights, that we often forget the wonder of God’s light, shining even in the darkest night, and the rhythms of light and dark, activity and rest, both gifts from God. We disrupt those rhythms with light that blots out the grandeur of the night sky. I wonder if the ways that we have come to celebrate Christmas have not obscured the delicate splendor of the miracle of God’s presence being revealed in the stillness of the night.

   I was in a restaurant this week where I was struck by the beauty of water pitchers on a tray, filled with iced water ready to be served, and each pitcher was glowing with a warm golden light from within. Each pitcher reflected a single globe from a nearby lamp. Each was radiant, like it had swallowed the ball of light. That’s what you and I are meant to be, pitchers that reflect the light that glows within us—ready to be poured out to quench the world’s thirst. The light has shown on us and now we carry that light within us. I have this image of us coming to the communion table to swallow the light so that it can shine through us.

   Light dispels fear by banishing the imaginary and revealing what is real. That seems like such a simple statement. That’s how it works when we turn a light on in a child’s bedroom at night. That’s also how it works when we examine the dark places of our world through the light of God’s love—we may not always like what we see, but once we see reality, we cannot go back to sitting in darkness. It simply will not satisfy us. The more we see of God and experience God’s love, the more we want to live in it, and the more it shines through us. I thought about you when I was gazing at the brilliant night sky. I have seen the beauty of your love as you care for each other and for people you will never know. You read the news and you pray. You hear about natural disasters and you respond. You hear about a neighbor in need and you give. You feed the hungry and wrap sick children in warmth and prayer. You write letters and sign petitions. You vote and you are active on boards that do the heavy lifting in our community. You do shine in the darkness. Just as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed:
For darkness shall cover the earth,
  and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
  and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
  and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
  they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
  and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
  your heart shall thrill and rejoice.

   People of God, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” You are radiant!