The Light Reappeared
The working title of my sermon this week was “Shark Tank” – you know the show, where people bring their best entrepreneurial ideas and pitch them, hoping to be funded, and investors (the “sharks”) deciding whether or not the idea has potential in which they want to invest. The reason for the title? As I read articles and blogs about the church in this time and talk with colleagues and other pastors, it seems like we are the sharks and there is a lot being pitched to us right now for what the “church post-pandemic” might be and do. Certainly, some of it is helpful, and Farmington Presbyterian has extended our reach with the Gospel into households across the country as we have worshiped online. During Advent, we reached 255 households, watching an average of 2.4 services. What seems certain? The internet has a role to play in how we do ministry. What also seems certain? The church is the body of Christ, and we are embodied people made for relationship. When did the two on the Emmaus road recognize Jesus? When he ate with them. What did the resurrected Jesus do as he waited for the disciples to come back in from a night of fishing? He cooked breakfast for them. And when they reached the shore? He ate with them.
Those of you who are members of Farmington Presbyterian know my dad. He called this week with perhaps the worst joke I’ve ever heard. “You know the song, “God be with you till we meet again?” The Covid version for Farmington should be “God be with you till we eat again.” We will eat again, and oh, how good will it be to sit down at table face to face. Not because of the food, although for those who might not know, we do have GOOD food thanks to a member who is a Caterer and some of the best bakers, it will be good to sit down and all be able to share in conversation, it will be good to be able to hold babies and ask kids about their artwork or their stuffed animal, it will be good to connect people with shared interest or experiences over coffee…there’s the word. CONNECT It is not about food, it is about connection. And whatever is pitched in the Shark Tank of church development will only be worth investing in as it connects the church as a community of believers, as it builds the Body of Christ.
So that, in a nutshell, was the bottom line of my initial sermon plan this week. I was going to talk about “Chalking of Doors” as one of the ways that we can shine Christ’s light in the world and share another tradition, “Star Words,” – words of faith to guide you through the year. Star Words have been shared in churches for a number of years, but not for centuries like the “Chalking of Doors.” Star words are another prayer practice that serves to remind us to look for God’s light in our lives throughout the year. One church I know set up an online way to receive your star word, pairing tradition with a new method. The point though, was not to suggest that we should adopt Chalking of Doors or Star Words as traditions we do year after year…although both are fine ideas. The point was to say, we must be like the investors on Shark Tank, open to ways that we in faith may practice approaching God with freedom and confidence, always following the Star, remembering that it leads us to Christ.
But then, Epiphany 2021 came. January 6th, Wednesday. And exploring prayer practices didn’t seem to be the most important message God was speaking through Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. I kept reading that sentence I had written that we are always following the Star, remembering that it leads us to Christ… and never away from Christ.
Paul is writing to Gentiles, people who were pagan and converted to be Christ-followers. This is your purpose, says Paul, “Church, you are to make the wisdom of God known to the rulers and authorities on earth.” The church is to be the star, to bear the light, to lead the way to worship the Lord.
All of the prayer practices we might adopt will amount to nothing if they do not lead us to Jesus. Coming to church every Sunday – doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lead you to Jesus. Reading a chapter of Scripture a day – doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lead you to Jesus. Wearing a cross, saying Merry Christmas, having a fish symbol on the back of your car – don’t matter if you aren’t headed toward Jesus. Chalking your door – doesn’t matter if you aren’t welcoming people like Jesus.
There’s been a theme in my preaching about the Kingdom of God which has come and is coming. You know why it hasn’t fully come yet? Because we haven’t gotten it right. The church hasn’t gotten it right. The Body of Christ has parts that are headed away from Christ…always has. We are human. We are sinners. But that is no excuse.
Matthew tells us that the wise men didn’t get it right, either. They came from the East to Jerusalem, Bethlehem is just to the West of Jerusalem. They got to Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith, the Promised Land, the Temple Mount, the place of God’s presence. And they went to the ruler, Herod. They placed their trust in the Roman King to lead them to the light.
There, the faith leaders were consulted, Scripture referenced, and they went back out to continue on to Bethlehem. And once they were on their way, the star rose and they were overjoyed. Some translations say “reappeared.” Had they lost their way? When they assumed that the earthly king would be able to lead them to the King of all creation, had they lost sight of the star?
My friends, the events of this week have been disturbing for Americans and for the nations of the world who have looked to America as a leader. Two things, I think, are important to remember:
1. The kingdom of God is not a nation state. The kingdom of God is not only about what happens to us when we die. The kingdom of God is not about being a kind and loving person. The kingdom of God will be established when the church has accomplished its’ purpose: to make known the manifold wisdom of God. What does that mean? To make known the vision of God at creation, a vision of loving community, with all of the diversity and variety of God’s creation living as loving community.
2. When it is dark, head toward Jesus. Where is he, who is born King? In Bethlehem, in the house of bread, the place where all are fed. When we head toward Jesus, the light reappears, through us and in us.
No one, not one person, can say that there has not been darkness in the last year. We have experienced a global pandemic. A new disease has killed almost 2 million people in the last year. We have experienced the consequences of racial bias in a way that has laid bare the festering infection of systemic racism and white privilege in our nation. The very fabric of our democracy has been frayed as trust in our electoral process was unraveled.
This darkness is not novel. This darkness is not a new experience for the people of God. Hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah, spoken first nearly 3,000 years ago, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
As we set our direction in the coming months, and even years, Farmington family, let us follow the light that leads us to Jesus. As we look at whether we livestream or continue to record and premiere services when we return to the Sanctuary, as we explore new traditions and return to old ones, as we consider how we as a church will use our resources of time, talent, and money, may we not focus, like the investors on Shark Tank, on what the worldly dividends on our investment may be, but on how they will lead us to Jesus.
The light of God’s kingdom rises as we follow the way that makes us more like Jesus. The light of Christ’s Natal star leads us as we seek to honor and worship him. The Holy Spirit shines through us as we live God’s vision for creation, with all the variety and diversity with which God formed us, together, as loving community set on a hill where all are fed, the light of the world. Amen.