Monthly Archives

January 2020

Snap Decisions

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Snap Decisions”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 26, 2020

 

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

 

Laura and I are just a couple of weeks away from our Florida vacation.  This year we are going a few days later than normal.  And this year we are going to have to watch our spending a bit more than in past years.  I am usually a very budget conscious person, except when I go on vacation.  While away from home I like to eat out, I like to treat myself to food and drink I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy, and I am prone to use the credit card a bit more than I should.  I don’t experience the pain of my impulse buying until a month or so later when all of the credit card bills come due.

I love T-shirts.  T-shirts remind me of the fun and relaxing places I visited while on vacation.  So every year I impulsively buy three or four Vero Beach T-shirts to bring back home.  When I get home, those Vero Beach T-shirts join all of my other Vero Beach T-shirts in a big pile in my closet.  Maybe this year, I will only buy one new T-shirt!

I read an article on the AskReddit website this week.  The question asked was, “What did you impulse buy that you instantly regret?”  My answer to the question is a compact power washer.  One night while lying in bed, flipping through the cable channels, I landed on the Home Shopping Network.  They were demonstrating this new power washer.  It was portable and it didn’t take up much room or make much noise.  And as demonstrated by the host, it removed a lot of dirt and grime from patio furniture, decks, and sidewalks.  So I hopped out of bed, went online and purchased it immediately.  I have owned the compact power washer for three years now.  It sits quietly in the front of my garage.  I have used it twice.  Perhaps I should sell it to buy more T-shirts?

The AskReddit question produced some interesting and rather entertaining answers.  One person bought a pack of 700 various shaped googly eyes to use as an April Fools’ joke.  Many of the googly eyes were smaller than the thickness of a pencil so when he opened the box they went all over the floor.  There were googly eyes everywhere, impossible to pick up.  So he ended up sweeping them up and throwing them away.

Another person bought a drone.  He flew it for five minutes to see how high it would fly.  It was a windy day and he never saw the drone again.

A woman’s uncle was excited to buy a shipping container, sight unseen, filled to the brim with furniture which he planned to sell one piece at a time for the next few months.  He estimated that he would make over $80 profit, per piece.  When the shipping container arrived they discovered they had no place to store the furniture.  They rented a storage locker which to this day is still full of furniture, costing them over $100 a month.

A girl bought $250 worth of skin care products from a mall kiosk.  She was 14 years old and was too shy to tell the sales person no.  She spent the entire summer babysitting to pay off the credit card bill.  And she never used the skin care products.

Finally, a man bought a 1974 Dodge Charger that was partially wrecked and was sitting in a field.  He figured he could fix the body and get it started with minimal effort so he wrote a check for $800, started the car and began to drive it home.  The previous owner failed to mention that there was a hole in the oil pan and a rag had been stuffed into it to prevent a leak.  On the way to its new home, the rag fell out, and the engine exploded.  The project car got towed the rest of the way.

The moral of the story is to think twice before deciding to buy.  It may seem important at the time, or appropriate at the time, or even funny at the time.  But you have to be prepared to live with the consequences of your decision.

We make snap decisions all of the time in life.  At a restaurant, we don’t know what to order but when the waiter shows up ready to take our order we shout out a burger or club sandwich or a salad.  We are at the checkout counter at Office Max with paper and file folders and ink cartridges in hand.  Suddenly we decide that we need some Red Vines candy or Goldfish crackers.  Sometimes we open our mouths and say something quickly or passionately, something we might later regret.  Sometimes we agree to take on a task or do a friend a favor and deep down inside we know that we don’t have the skills or the time to follow through on our commitment.

But sometimes our quick decisions turn out pretty well.  Our decision to see that movie or eat at that restaurant or attend that concert expanded our taste and our knowledge and our experience.  That person whom we didn’t know but agreed to go to dinner with, turned out to be a life-time friend or partner.  That meeting or conference that we reluctantly attended introduced us to another, more beneficial job opportunity.  The task we volunteered for provided us with a surprisingly meaningful experience.  Perhaps you are here this morning because you made a snap decision to get out of bed instead of sleeping in, or many years ago you made the snap decision to visit Meadowbrook Congregational Church and you kept coming back.

This morning’s Scripture lesson describes some snap decisions.  Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and he calls two brother, Peter and Andrew, who were casting their fishing nets into the sea.  Jesus issues an invitation, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  Matthew says that the men left their nets behind and immediately and followed him.  The same thing happens when Jesus encounters two more brothers, James and John.  He issues a similar request and they drop their nets and immediately follow him.

I’ve often wondered what was going through the minds of Peter and Andrew and James and John.  How could they have made such a snap decision, to leave everything behind and follow somebody who they didn’t really know?  Matthew uses the word “immediately” twice.  This was a choice made quickly.  If I were fishing the Sea of Galilee that day, I would have told Jesus that he had to check back with me in a couple of weeks, after I had used the time to do a complete background check upon him, checked his references, spoke to my trusted friends and advisors, shared the details of my plans with my family, and finally prayed and thought about it seriously.  How could any reasonable person make such a snap decision about such an important thing?

Alyce McKenzie writes that perhaps the disciples’ choice to follow Jesus was not a snap as it is portrayed.  She argues that every decision is made in a context.  The decision to follow Jesus may have been one step in an ongoing process.  Perhaps they had heard of him and were considering learning more about him.  In their quick experience of him they heard more and saw more.  In the light of his teaching and his healings they began to trust him more, making more snap decisions based on that trust.  Instead of a once and for all time decision made on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were put into the position of having to make snap decisions about following Jesus each and every day, decisions about being light instead of darkness, about loving God with one’s whole being, about loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Sometimes our snap decisions are not so good- Peter chose to deny Jesus three times.  But it was one step in his process of dealing with fear with faith.  McKenzie concludes that our decision to follow Jesus needs to be continually renewed.  One quick decision is not enough.  We have to keep making snap decisions all of our life, one after another, to keep following where Jesus might lead us.

In pre-marital counseling, I like to tell couples that their vows are not a once time statement made in a beautiful ceremony in front of family and friends.  The vows of such a covenant are something that need to be repeated and exercised in so many ways each and every day of a marriage.  While we might make one formal and public decision to join a partner in marriage, we make hundreds of snap decisions each week that confirm or deny our intention to honor that covenant.  Each day is a recommitment to our vows, for the rest of our lives.

Life can come at us very fast.  Sometimes the best decisions we make are snap decisions.  There may be choices to make that take some time and give us the opportunity to mull things over.  But even on the most ordinary of days we have decision that show up at our door without a moment’s notice.  These are the choices that test our character and require us to apply our faith and purpose immediately and continuously.  Author Matt Tullos says, “from time to time God give us a pop quiz.”

Perhaps the disciples weren’t so crazy after all.  Perhaps we are just like them, making a decision to follow this journey with Jesus, opening ourselves to his power and his grace, understanding that our following is not a one-time decision that removes all doubt, but a choice that leads to daily decisions that confirm our identity as his disciples.

 

That Scary Word

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“That Scary Word”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 19, 2019

 

John 1:29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

At a memorial service for Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes reporter Andy Rooney told a story about the famous news anchor. Rooney and his wife were boating in Maine with Cronkite and his wife Betsy. They tied up in a little village and Walter and Betsy got off the boat and walked into a nearby country store. A rather strange looking man walked up to Walter and asked him a question. Now Walter was always very polite to the public and to his fans, and with his wife standing right there beside him, he took great care in attempting to answer the man’s question. Cronkite said, “Oh sure. We’ve met several times. We’re not really close friends but I still talk to him once in a while.” Once they left the store Betsy questioned her husband. “Did you really hear what they man asked you?” Cronkite, who was hard of hearing answered, “No, I didn’t. But I wanted to be polite.” Betsy said, “The man asked if you knew Jesus Christ!”
Perhaps we’ve all been asked those kind of questions a time or two or three. A colleague was telling me that as he went into a college football game this fall, he was confronted by a very large and angry man shouting out Bible verses and carrying a sign warning others about their eternal damnation. Just before he entered the gates, the man asked him if he knew Jesus, if he had been saved. He chose to simply ignore the man’s questions. My colleague said a fight almost ensued moments later when a couple of other spectators, emboldened by their tailgate libations, began to challenge the man about his physical size and the evil of his apparent gluttony. My colleague said he couldn’t walk away from the scene quickly enough, fearing how the whole experience might tarnish the reputation of Christians in the minds of those who witnessed it.
I have a friend from college whom I dearly love. He is a good and honorable man. We have been there for one another through the ups and downs of our lives. But sadly, we are not as close as we used to be. Although he is a very devout Christian, our ideas about the Christian faith differ. We don’t talk about our faith as much as we used to because I have asked him to stop. I wasn’t comfortable with the condescending way that he spoke to me about what I believed. When we talked about Jesus his words didn’t convey much love or respect. He dropped subtle hints that my faith wasn’t quite the right thing, you know, quite like his. It felt like he was more concerned about my eternal fate than what was happening to me on that particular day. I know in my heart that my friend has the best of intentions but his actions come across as coercive, unloving, and even threatening.
Today in the words of the gospel of John, we are to consider our role as evangelists. I would venture to say that most of us within the mainline church admit to a measure of discomfort with the word. When we think of evangelists, we might think of pushy, self-righteous people who confront us within our safe space. We might conjure up images of those religious know-it-alls who stand on street corners quoting Bible verses or delivering fiery opinions. Some of us may hold the conviction that like politics, religion isn’t something that polite people talk about. Some embrace the Congregationalist tradition that values the individual faith journey and our covenant which calls us to support others in our different walks of faith. But many simply do not want to be perceived as being one of those people who we think of when we think of evangelism.
Whatever the reason, we are downright frightened of the word. And our fear cripples our ability to reach out to others with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this season of Epiphany, we recall that we are to celebrate God’s love revealed and made manifest in Jesus. We are to share that good news. We are called to be evangelists.
Jesus walked by John the Baptist and two of his disciples. The disciples began following Jesus and he turned to them, giving them his full attention asking, “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we could rephrase the question as, “What do you want?” or “What are you seeking?” Rather than pursuing a specific agenda that suited him, Jesus’ questions invited a sharing of their stories and an opportunity to reach deeper into the complexities of their life situation.
When they asked where he might be staying, Jesus didn’t give an answer. Instead he offered a very simple invitation. “Come and see.” Follow me and experience what I experience. Be in relationship with me. While John’s disciples were simply trying to observe at a distance, to gather enough information about Jesus to make a decision about who he was and what they should make of him, Jesus invited them to come and see. He didn’t give them books to study. He didn’t offer guidelines to which they needed to adhere. He invited them to come and tag along and see for themselves what a faith filled life could mean for them and for the rest of the world.
Last Sunday night I laid in bed comfortably, just approaching that marvelous point of falling into the arms of sleep. Laura came up into our bedroom, then walked into our bathroom, and then turned and said to me, “Are you asleep?” My first instinct was to ignore her and pretend that I was sleeping. But my conscience got the best of me. I opened my eyes and responded. She continued, “I want to show you something. Come here and see.” I have to admit, I tried to get out of it easy. I wondered if I could experience what she wanted to show me remotely, without leaving the comfort of bed. “What is it?” I asked. Laura wasn’t letting me off that easy. “I need to show you.” Immediately I remembered hearing those words from my daughters when they were younger, right before they showed me an ugly insect, a drawing they had proudly made, or a footprint in the snow. Reluctantly I got out of bed and made my way into the bathroom. Laura stood there, staring into our shower, with a look of great pride and admiration. Earlier in the day she had tried a new cleaning product on the grout between the tiles. She had only cleaned half the shower but there was indeed a distinct difference in the color. What was once dirty was now clean. I was impressed, but I was also tired. I complimented her and made my way back to bed. The funny thing about all of this is that although that trip to come and see didn’t mean much that night, I have remembered it all week. Every time I have taken a shower since then I have noticed the clean grout and think about the hard work that Laura put into that shower. I try to make certain that I am doing what I can to keep it clean.
Come and see. Something happens and you just can’t keep it to yourself. A new restaurant, an exciting play in a baseball game, a captivating television show. We want to share it. Come and see. You want another person to enter into your experience, to see your work or your accomplishment, to know of your struggle and your pain, to participate in your celebration and discovery. Come and see. But before the invitation can be issued, we must experience that something for ourselves. We can’t speak of the beautiful sunset with seeing it. We can’t telling a love story without falling in love. We can’t tell of the wonders of a new land without having traveled there. The first step to evangelism is noticing what God is doing in your life and giving voice to that presence and how it has moved you, inspired you, and changed you.
But there’s more to it than sharing your story. Evangelism is also acquiring a genuine attentiveness to the needs of others, in the longings and needs of the other person. Jesus’ invitation to those first disciples was a tender one, not a harsh assessment. As he shared the good news he spoke it not with empty words and slogans but with the opportunity to enter into relationship, to see “where he lived” and to understand that when people knew him that they would come to know what they needed to know.
Doug Pollack, a YMCA chaplain and minister with Athletes in Action relates an incident that happened to him recently. His article in Christianity Today is entitled “The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist.” Pollock was riding in a rental car shuttle in Denver when he struck up a conversation with a young man in his twenties. The man had just flown back to the U.S. after a year of graduate studies abroad. When they got to rental counter the young man discovered his license had expired so nudged by the Holy Spirit Pollock offered him a ride to Colorado Springs where the minister was speaking to several churches. The young man was totally taken back by his seemingly small offer of kindness. Their conversation grew more intense when Pollock shared his profession. His passenger remarked that he wasn’t much interested in religion. Pollock then asked the young man what he might advise Christians not to say in speaking with those outside the faith. The young man quickly replied, “I’d tell them if you are not willing to listen to me, I am not going to listen to you. Every conversation I’ve ever had with Christians have left me feeling very disrespected and angry because it’s more of a monologue. All they are concerned about is getting their point across. It comes across as arrogant or rude. I don’t want their Jesus because I don’t want to become rude and disrespectful like they are.” Pollock was stunned by this comment because he felt suddenly felt convicted. God had flipped his “Good Samaritan” act and had used this young man to reach him instead. He thought of all the times he felt called to speak to others but never thought about listening. He since has found that sentiment confirmed in a study by George Barna saying that the number one thing not-yet Christians want but very rarely experience when talking to Christians is to be heard without judgment. Pollock said that in his conversation with others, with his evangelism, he now emphasizes listening with judgment, listening without speaking, caring without worrying about accomplishing his agenda.
Evangelism needs to be offered as good news not as strong judgements. When we bear witness, our witness needs to be as Jesus witnessed, with interest and kindness and compassion. Our faith grows when we experience something and share it in practice with others. We see kindness offered and we apply it ourselves. We receive gifts from others and are moved to share of what we have been given. We learn that we have been prayed for and we remember to pray for others. We hear a call for justice and we join others in working for it. Come and see. As you grow closer to God you will find ways to invite others to come along and see as well.
Long ago, a simple invitation to come and see reached far beyond what those first disciples could have ever imagined. God delights in taking such little things and blessing them and doing something wonderful through them. Even if our initial efforts to share our faith, our story, our church, may seem small and tentative, telling others to come and see is the way God brings light from darkness and raise the dead to life. God can do marvelous things through us. That is the promise of evangelism.

Hidden Identity

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Hidden Identity”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 12, 2020

 

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

In his biography of actor Peter Sellers, author Peter Evans says that Sellers played so many different characters in his career that sometimes he was not so certain of his own identity.  One day he was approached by a fan who asked him, “Are you really Peter Sellers?”  Sellers answered rather briskly, “Not today.”  And then he walked on.

There is a story of renowned 19th century French illustrator and cartoonist Paul Gustave Dore.  While traveling through Europe Dore had lost his passport.  When he came to a border crossing he was asked for his identification papers and had to explain his predicament to one of the border guards.  Giving his name to the guard, he hoped that he would be recognized for his well-known work in Bibles and books and journals and be allowed to pass.  The guard however said that many people had attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not.  He would not permit Dore to pass.  The artist continued to insist that he was indeed the man he claimed to be.  “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass the test we will allow you to go through.”  Handing Dore a pencil and a sheet of paper, the guard told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby.  Dore did it so quickly and so skillfully that the guard was convinced that he was indeed who he claimed to be.  Dore’s work confirmed his word and thus his identity.

On the second Sunday of Epiphany, the church traditionally hears the words of the gospel writers which describe the baptism of Jesus.  This year it is Matthew’s turn.  In the third chapter of the gospel, Matthew tells about Jesus appearance before John the Baptist, asking for baptism himself.  John was a bit taken aback, recognizing Jesus and saying that perhaps he was the one who needed to be baptized by Jesus.  In his commentary on this story, Troy Miller describes it as a “paradoxical blend of magnificence and humility.”  Jesus comes, announcing that he is the one promised by God through John yet Jesus stands there much as the rest of those who had come seeking the baptism for the repentance of sins.  Perhaps John was a bit disappointed that someone in whom he had placed a great deal of hope and expectations was asking for such a simple, ordinary, human thing.  Maybe John hoped that Jesus would at that point, take over the role as main prophet and chief baptizer.  Maybe John was caught off guard because Jesus was standing in line with all of the other common sinners, waiting his turn in the waters of the river.  Jesus stood there quietly with the others, humble and vulnerable just like the rest, recognizing that he too was called to face the waters of chaos and death, called to be one of us.

Scott Hoezee writes, “Perhaps no one noticed anything unusual about that particular baptism.  Isn’t that how we view all the baptisms we witness?  The parents bring the baby to the font and we’ve seen this sight scores of times before.  We don’t expect anything unusual to happen, and to our watching eyes and listening ears, nothing does happen, either- nothing beyond what we expected anyway.”

Yet on that day, and perhaps in the silence of every sacrament, God was present.  The heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended as a dove of peace and wholeness.  The voice of God cried out, announcing authenticity and identity.  “This my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  Beloved.  Loved by God.  Beloved.  Knowing that God sees worth and value in each person.  Beloved.  A blessing that reminds us that his purpose was to serve God and to find God’s Spirit working in us, moving through us, and speaking to us.  It was a powerful moment, a moment that fueled Jesus as he prepared to go directly into the wilderness for testing.  It was a powerful moment that must have stayed with Jesus throughout his ministry.

On the day in which we hear once again the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are called to remember the purpose of our own baptism.  On that day God spoke to Jesus saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am pleased.”  That was Jesus’ identity, confirmed in the waters of the Jordan.  His true self was declared as good by God.  He was given legitimacy.  And he was sent forth to live his life based on the knowledge that he was beloved.  Secure in that knowledge he was called forth to witness to a greater power than himself, a witness of joy and peace in a cold and cruel world, and a witness of hope in a world caught up in despair.  Jesus’ work and his ministry were never separated from his identity as God’s beloved.

This week I noticed a popular meme on Facebook, attributed to John Pavlovitz.  Pavlovitz is a former United Methodist Church pastor, turned writer.  The main point of the meme was Pavolvitz’ frustration with many modern Christians.  Too many Christians today he said, define themselves by the beliefs that they possess, or the policies that they support, or the values they claim to hold.  Too many Christians today claim to be followers of Jesus but are more concerned with political positions and public prayer and memorized Scripture and a free pass to heaven.  We have forgotten what the true identity of a Christ follower truly is, something conveyed at our baptism: we are loved by God thus we are to truly love others.  We don’t have to agree with them or believe what they believe or even like them- but as God’s beloved we are aware of God’s unconditional love for us and we are to see in one another specific and unique image-bearers of God, and to want and to work for shalom for them:  wholeness, happiness, peace, safety, and rest.

There is an old story about Martin Luther.  It is said that every single morning of his life, Luther would splash water on his face three times, while speaking the same words that were said at his baptism, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Luther said he did this because the feeling of the cold, cleansing water reminded him of who he was.  The water was a visible means of Luther’s identity as a child of God.  There are many days in our difficult and complex world where such a reminder is truly needed.  We need to splash our face and remind ourselves of our baptism.  In that baptism we carry our identity as God’s chosen and treasured one.  In that baptism we carry our calling to be God’s love in the world.

In 1992 theologian and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen gave a sermon series entitled, “Life of the Beloved.”  He gave the sermon at Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, an unlikely place for such a simple man as Nouwen to speak.  He used this baptismal passage from Matthew as the text for his message.  Nouwen began the sermon by giving the main theme, that we are to live our lives based on the knowledge that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God.  That in itself can propel us through the ups and downs of life.  It can keep us on the path of God when we are threatened by other claims that seek to define us against what God has done.  Nouwen went on to define three worldly claims that seek to define us and turn us away from the promise of our baptisms.  We tend to use these claims to measure our success.  Nouwen said that we try to survive by staying above the approval line in every claim.  The first claim is I am what I do.  I am what I work for.  What I am is what I have or can achieve.  The second claim is that I am what others say about me.  Sometimes this can be the most important thing in our lives, since it is fueled by our status in relationships and our vocation.  When people like us or need us- we are fine.  When people speak ill of us or are critical of us- we are cut to the core.  Finally, the third claim is I am what I have.  The materialism of our world defines us.  I am what I possess.  I am defined by what I own.  But I also construct my identity upon my nationality, who I am related to, my sexuality, and my political choices.

Nouwen reminds us that these worldly claims are all a lie.  They may seem important to us but they neglect one important concept- love.  There is no place for love to work and grow in such worldly claims.  There is no place for us to hear God’s voice.  Jesus proved this during his time in the wilderness when he was tempted by Satan to place his allegiance to each of the three.  He remembered the promise of his baptism.  He heard the claim of God.  He found his identity in living out the love of God.

We are to remember the identity given to us as our baptisms, to hear that voice as it speaks to us again.  We are to learn that our baptism is more powerful than the labels and self-imposed identity we tend to value.  We are beloved.  This is how God sees us.  This is what God says about us.

 

 

 

 

Come to the Light

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Come to the Light”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 5, 2020

 

Isaiah 60:1-9

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 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, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?

For the coastlands shall wait for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from far away, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has glorified you.

 

I would like to begin my sermon this morning by taking a poll of the congregation.  How many of you consider yourselves to be “morning people?”  By that I mean people who are up at the break of dawn or before dawn, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, full of energy and ready to face the day.  I am not a morning person.  I am better at getting up early than I used to be but it still kind of bothers me when energetic morning people talk about all that can be experienced and accomplished before 8 a.m.  I sometimes think that morning people have an almost evangelical feel about the dawn.  They possess the truth about the value of the dawn and they want to convince everyone else about it.

I have a colleague who often posts on Facebook about how guilty he feels when he sleeps in past 6 o’clock in the morning.  When I read these kind of statements I just shake my head.  I feel badly for my colleague and for other morning people who go to bed early so they can get up early and consequently miss all of the blessings of the late hours of the night.

If you are a morning person, you are at an advantage in the world.  I read an article this week that said that our society caters to morning people.  School and work typically starts very early in the day so it is an advantage for those whose body clocks are set to start a bit earlier in the morning.  A lot of this isn’t based on the productivity of the morning hours but on the old agricultural society when farmers had to get up early so everything in society adjusted to them.  After reading that, I guess I’ve done pretty well getting this far in life being doubly cursed:  a night owl and left-handed!

One of the things that I hoped to accomplish during the holidays was to sleep in a couple mornings.  It didn’t happen.  I certainly didn’t get up real early but I was unable to make it past 8 o’clock.  If that is sleeping in for you than I don’t want to hear about it because then you are one of those “morning people.”  Laura says that I can’t sleep in any more.  I start thinking about all of the things that I have to do and it forces me to get up, get dressed, and get busy.

I remember my years at the church sponsored camp in Utah.  I usually stayed up late, making the rounds around the cabins to be certain everyone was asleep and where they were supposed to be.  I didn’t mind those quiet later night hours.  It was getting up early that exhausted me.  The campers would begin each morning by singing that song about Noah and his “Arky, Arky.”  The chorus went like this, “So rise and shine, and give God your glory, glory.”  While I was always grumpy at the beginning of the song, after all it was before 8 o’clock in the morning – there was something about watching the kids singing it that gave me a smile and got me up and moving.  Rise and shine and give God your glory.

The words of the prophet Isaiah speak a similar message.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Isaiah is probably speaking to a woman representing Jerusalem, reminding her to lift herself up from her place of darkness because her deliverance has come.  God was about to do something important, perhaps even earth shattering.  God was preparing a way for God’s people to return home from exile.  This passage was one of the promise of homecoming and restoration.  Isaiah called the people of God to wake up and shine forth their testimony of the greatness and goodness of God.  These are the words of the prophet that we need to hear on Epiphany Sunday.

The season of Epiphany is one in which we recognize the value of light, awareness, and revelation.  We celebrate the story of the revelation of God in Jesus’ birth and we seek such revelation in our hearts and in our community of faith.  An epiphany itself is an awakening, a bringing to light, a recognition of something once hidden that changes our sense of awareness.  The symbol of Epiphany is a star, a light which the wise men followed.  It brought them to the light of the world in Jesus and that revelation changed them.  They went home by a different way.  An epiphany is the spirit of rise and shine that speaks to a world, telling us to come to the light so that we can be changed.  Epiphany speaks to a world that perhaps would rather just hibernate.

But it is more than simply waking up.  Isaiah’s words point to God’s light in Jesus but also to our responsibility to be the way in which that light shines into the rest of the world.  We not only have to wake up.  We have to come to the light.  We have to recognize the light.  And we have to shine.  We have to receive the good news.  We have to share it with others.

Dr. Jim Standiford tells of a friend in New York City who lives in a ground floor apartment that faces north.  The window in the low ceiling living room catches only a few feeble morning rays of light.  For eight years the man had tried to grow a plant in that window to brighten up the apartment.  But each effort ended in failure.  A plant would struggle for a while and then give up due to the absence of sunlight.  Then, about two years ago, the man bought a small ivy plant.  It too struggled for life until recently when for no apparent reason it has begun to sprout new leaves and shoots.  One day when the man was home early from work, about 3:30 p.m., he discovered light streaming through his window.  It turns out that a new high-rise tower was built a block to the north of the apartment building.  The windows of that tower reflected the sun’s afternoon rays into the man’s apartment perfectly.  Because of that reflection of light, the plant was experiencing new life.

In my research this week I found an article written by a sleep doctor at Duke University.  He had some advice for those of us who like to stay up late but have trouble waking up early.  The advice was all about light.  He recommended that we turn off all lights, including computers and phones and clocks before we go to bed, to assist us in sleeping well.  And then in the morning when we rise, we come to the light by turning on as many bright lights as we can.  Light is the way to be active and alive.

That is Epiphany.  It is life rising and light shining with the warmth and possibility of God.  It is the understanding that Jesus as God among us is present in our world here and now.  What is it that gets us up in morning?  Is it an alarm clock or obligation or guilt?  Or is it a desire to get a jump on the day, to catch the sunrise, and to find something worth getting up for?  As much as I am not a morning person, I think that Epiphany is a morning season.  Isaiah calls us to a new direction, to come to the light, to be eager to see what God is doing, or what God might be doing in each new day.  As followers of Christ, we have seen and experienced something in our celebration of Christmas.  A light shines into the darkness.  The light is the light of the world.  Having seen that light, having experienced it in our hearts, we are commanded to share of it and to shine into the whole world.  How might our days be different if we adopted the presence of morning- of looking for God’s possibilities and God’s glory in our world.