Finding Faith when we Fail to See

Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21147104

Luke 24:13-48

How many of you are perfect?

No one?

Of course not. We are all human.

Our core affirmation as a church is that God loves us just the way we are and that God is not finished with any of us yet.

And yet, while we are very good at showing grace and forgiveness to one another, we often fail to show it to ourselves. When we bump up against our humanity, we can get discouraged in our walk and even be tempted to give up.

We spent the season of Lent exploring how we can incorporate spiritual practices in to the patterns of our lives, last week we celebrated Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter and everything in-between.

But when I look in the mirror and see my flaws, I am sure of God’s unconditional love for the other seven billion people on the planet, but not so certain for myself.

So for the next six weeks we will be looking at different characters of the Bible and how God worked through their flaws. We see our brokenness as things that are wrong with us, but perhaps it is in the cracks of those spaces that God’s Spirit has the freedom to move. Last week Pastor John shared how God loves using the foolish in the world. In the same way, God often works through our flaws to increase our faith.

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Today we hear the story of the Road to Emmaus. It is the story of two people returning home after all that has taken place in Jesus’ last week, the resurrected Christ appears among them, and yet their flaw is they can’t see it. They can’t recognize God’s presence among them.

But let’s back up a little bit.

I want you to imagine something.

Imagine the excitement that you feel when you are preparing to go on a trip.

Perhaps you are driving to visit a beloved friend or family member you haven’t seen in a long time.

Perhaps you are going to a concert to see a favorite musician you’ve never seen before.

Perhaps you are getting on an airplane to go to a different country.

There is an anticipation in that moment. You’ve been telling people about it, preparing for it, you can’t wait to be there. You can see endless possibilities. On your way there, you post pictures to facebook to tell the whole world about it.

I imagine this was the feeling that Cleopas and his companion had on the way to Jerusalem.

They were going to celebrate Passover.

They were leaving their small village of Emmaus and headed to the big city of Jerusalem, the place of the temple, the spiritual center of their faith.

There they would reunite with family and friends.

There they would hang out with Jesus and be a part of the Jesus movement.

The walk to Jerusalem would’ve been one of great excitement as Cleopas and his friend  talked about the things they were going to do, the people they were going to see, the food they would eat.

Perhaps they were there as Jesus came down the Mount of Olives on a donkey on Palm Sunday, they could’ve been among those who laid down their coats and proclaimed “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

They very well could’ve been in the temple the following day when Jesus turned over the tables or on Tuesday when he engaged in a long series of debates with the church leaders. They would’ve been among those on Team Jesus who were glad to see him taking on the powers that be.

On Wednesday they could’ve been in Bethany as Jesus’ head was anointed with oil and certainly on Thursday evening in the upper room as they celebrated Passover and Jesus handed them broken bread.

Up until then, the trip would’ve been everything they expected it to be and even more. It seemed like Jesus was really going to bring the change they had long hoped for.

And then it all fell apart.

Only hours after the Passover meal, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. The following day he was convicted, beaten, and executed.

The Sabbath was a dark Saturday of mourning.

Sunday was a day of confusion as some of the women said the tomb was empty, his body was gone, but what did it all mean? They couldn’t see the possibility that he was risen. What was left to do?

Walk home.

The trip home always seems longer than the trip there. People don’t post nearly as many social media pictures of returning home as they do going somewhere.

Imagine Cleopas and friend walking home with just as much sorrow and sadness as they walked to Jerusalem with joy and anticipation.

Seven long mountainous miles… about the distance from here to the Ohio State University—not a short walk.

They walked home discussing what had happened, trying to understand it all. struggling to understand, to try and make sense of it all.

And then Jesus shows up and joins the walk.

Only, they don’t recognize it is him. They are talking about Jesus but they can’t see that Jesus is right there with them.See the source imageThe scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why.

Maybe there was something different about Jesus appearance, Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him at first either and she thought he was the gardener. Maybe they were so caught up in their grief that they couldn’t see the obvious in front of them. Maybe God prevented them from seeing it until the time was right.

Whatever the reason, they fail to see the Risen Christ in front of them.

It would be easy for us to wonder what is wrong with these two that they can’t see the obvious in front of their face, but I identify with them. I often find myself in this place.

On Friday I was at the top of the stairs in the reception area. I had set down a manila folder and couldn’t find it. I spent 10 minutes retracing my steps, and they weren’t many steps. The only place I had been was the reception and front office area. I kept bothering Rachael and Barb MacIvor, and I couldn’t find it. It was driving me crazy and the harder I looked for it the more incapable I was of seeing it.

And then, Joel Teaford walked to the top of the stairs and when I saw Joel my eyes were open and then I saw the folder.

It was there the whole time, but I missed it.

This might be a somewhat light-hearted example, but we often fail to see the obvious in front of us and the Risen Christ among us.

This is particularly true when we have our heads down and we are going through the routines of our daily lives.

It is relatively easy to see Christ among us on Palm Sunday or Easter.

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But a week has passed.

The Easter bonnets are put away, the eggs are gone, the bunnies eaten, and if you still have any leftovers from Easter dinner you might want to clean out your fridge.

It is easy for Easter to fade from our memory. It can quickly become a historic event we marked or a future hope that will be realized when we pass to life eternal.

And not only can we let the Easter event get away from us, we can get distracted from our journey when we run up against our humanity and our flaws, when we are like the two on the Road to Emmaus and can’t see the Christ among us.

For me, this is particularly true in difficult times, in times of struggle.

I can identify with the words of Cleopas who says, “we had hoped that he was the one.”

How many times have our hopes fallen short?

We hoped that the medical treatment would work, only to find the illness has returned.See the source image

We hoped that the place we moved in to would be our home, only to find ourselves looking once again.

We hoped that this time the relationship would work, only to find ourselves back in the same place.

We hoped that this time things would be different, but they aren’t.

When we are in that place of despair, it is difficult for us to see.

And yet, when we come through to the other side of it, in hindsight it is in those places that God is often most present.

In the second half of our scripture, Jesus appears to the 11 disciples as described himself as one who came to suffer and rise again.

It is in places of suffering that God appears most present.

I have experienced that in the last couple of weeks with the passing of Dave Wollam. Dave was one of the warmest, friendliest people I ever met. I could be a block away from him and he would call me over just to say hello. He had a beautiful and generous spirit that I already miss. But while I miss my friend, I can see that he no longer struggles looking for a place to live, he no longer is sick, he is now his full, true, resurrected self in glory.

We are sad that a part of our family isn’t here, but we find hope that Dave is whole.

Can you see it?

In this life Dave walked with difficulty, now I imagine Dave dancing in glory.

Can you see it?

It takes faith to see hope in times of struggle. But this is not an empty faith that leads us to wish upon a star. This is a faith that has the power to change the world.

It is this vision that we celebrate this week in the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luither King Jr.

King had plenty of reasons to be fearful, anxious, or worried. But he refused to see the world as a place of despair, but through the eyes of faith he cast a vision of hope.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King dared to see a world “deeply rooted in the American dream.”

King could see a day when ”this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.”

King could see a day when ” the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

King could see a day when his children ”will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

King could see a day when ”little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

King could see a day when the prophecies of Isaiah would be fulfilled, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

King said, this is our hope.

Our hope is in the resurrected Christ who lives and moves all around us. But living in this hope begins with opening our eyes and recognizing it.

Sometimes it is difficult to see in the moment and we can only see the light after we have come through the darkness. But like Cleopas and his companion, we keep moving forward and we keep walking even when we don’t know where the path will lead, we keep talking about it even when we don’t understand, we keep trusting in the long arc of history bending toward justice, even when injustice seems prevalent.

And when we see it ourselves, we share the light with others who haven’t seen it yet.

As Cleopas and friend were nearing the end of their journey home, they invited the stranger among them in, in a spirit of hospitality.

1602-3 Caravaggio,Supper at Emmaus National Gallery, London.jpgThe fellow traveler took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they saw that it was Jesus among them all along.

Within the hour they were back on the road to Jerusalem, they walked seven miles back to the disciples and friends and proclaimed ‘The Lord has risen indeed.”

The Lord has risen indeed.

Our call is the same. We open our eyes to recognize Christ among us and when we do we go and share the vision with others.

Can you see it?

 

 

 

 

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Urban Way of the Cross 2018

Good Friday comes with a mixture of strange emotions. On this day, Christians IMG_9702remember the unjustified and unspeakable violence wielded against Jesus of Nazareth. On this day, Christians remember the unrelenting nature of God’s love.

This contrast continues to exist in our world. We live in a world of suffering and struggle as babies die before their first birthday, children are afraid to go to school, and the most prevalent violence happens inside the home. We also are awed by the work of those seeking to creating a peaceful kindom, by the voices of students refusing to accept the way things are as normal, and the people who sit with harmed children and bring healing.

The Urban Way of the Cross is a pilgrimage of solidarity, hope, and healing.  This year we specifically focused on issues of violence in our community as we seek to build a vineyard of peace.

IMG_9687Sue Wolfe offers a vision cast by the prophet Isaiah, “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

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Serina, Jordan, and Katie give voice to their experiences of students who have died from their school, the impact of drugs, and the determination to not give up until change happens.

Amber Evans from Voices of the Unheard leads the group in a chant of “What Side Are You On”

The Center for Family Safety and Healing works to create peaceful environment within homes and to create a community where all people look out for one another and create safe places.

 

Rev Shawn Morris and Bill Canonico close the Urban Way of the Cross with a worship service at Stecker Auditorium in Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

 

 

Throughout the morning, we heard an invitation to engage in the struggle for justice. We not only named the brokenness, but received opportunities to create the kingdom of God.

Sue Wolfe adapted the Edwina Gateley poem, Called to Say Yes, as our lived response:

We are called to say yes

That the Kindom might break through

To renew and to transform

Our dark and groping world.

 

We stutter and we stammer

To the lone God who calls

And pleads a New Jerusalem

In the violent South Side streets.

 

We are called to say yes

That the honeysuckle may twine

And twist its fragrant leaves

Over the graves of all who died to soon.

 

We are called to say yes

That children might play

In the once green neighborhood parks

Now littered with drug needles and broken bottles

 

We are called to say yes

That Black may sing with White

And pledge peace and healing

For the hatred of the past.

 

We are called to say yes

So that nations might gather

And dance one great movement

For the joy of humankind.

 

We are called to say yes

So that rich and poor embrace

And become equal in their poverty

Through the silent tears that fall.

 

We are called to say yes

That the whisper of our God

Might be heard through our sirens

And the cacophony of automatic rifles.

 

We are called to say yes

To a God who still holds fast

To the vision of the Kindom

For a trembling world of pain.

 

 

We are called to say yes

To this God who reaches out

And asks us to share

This amazing dream of love.

Protest Parade

Mark 11:1-11

Welcome to Holy Week.

For the last six weeks we have been on a journey.

A Lenten journey in which we have explored how we can incorporate the practices of our faith in to the patterns of our lives. Just as our lives are ordered by routines of waking up and eating and working and sleeping, that our daily lives would include the patterns of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Our hope is that these practices would become as natural to us as breathing.

We have prepared ourselves in this journey to encounter Holy Week, just as Jesus prepared himself and his disciples to enter Jerusalem.

And it is a week.

Sometimes we might skip to the high points of Palm Sunday and the crucifixion and resurrection, but every day this week is a step in an intentional journey. In the bulletin I have listed scripture readings from the gospel of Mark for each day and invite you to Image result for Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan the last weektake time to follow the story.

One of my annual patterns for Holy Week is to re-read a book called “The Last Week” by church historians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. This book includes a chapter for each day, expanding on the scripture with historical background.

On Monday, Jesus cleanses the temple.

On Tuesday, Jesus has a long encounter of debates with the chief priests and scribes and elders.

On Wednesday, Jesus is anointed and Judas makes a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus.

On Thursday, Jesus and his friends gather to celebrate Passover, Jesus provides the Last Supper and institutes the gift of Holy Communion, and is betrayed with a kiss in the garden.

On Friday, Jesus is beaten, tried, convicted, and executed.

It is a dramatic week and it all begins with a parade.

A parade from the east side of Jerusalem, as Jesus rides in on a donkey down the Mount of Olives.

jerusalem_690x380_03Last year many people from our church went to the Holy Land and walked this path. Today, it is a narrow street, not much more than an alley, that runs between a cemetery and a monastery. To this day, as in Jesus day, it originates from one of the poorer areas of the city, among people who are outside of the greater society.

Just as Jesus came from the peasant village of Nazareth, so too did the crowd of followers from Galilee. This small crowd takes off their coats and pulls down palm branches and lays them on the ground as Jesus enters. They cry out, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”

This is the well-known parade. The one we sometimes ironically hear referred to as “Jesus Triumphal Entry,” although there was nothing triumphant about it.

At the same time Jesus enters Jerusalem from the east side, there was another parade coming in to Jerusalem from the west side.

According to Borg and Crossan, as Jesus entered on a donkey, Pontius Pilate came in from the other side in a truly triumphant parade.

While Jesus had a donkey, Pilate had a cavalry of horses and armored soldiers.

While Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, Pilate proclaimed the kingdom of empire.

A power that was purposefully on display as Jewish people made their way in to Jerusalem to remember Passover. Passover celebrated the heritage of freedom from Egyptian slavery and the Roman Empire was sure to enforce its dominance and not offer a hope of renewed freedom from oppression.

Borg and Crossan provide this description of the scene:

“Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

Contrast this with Jesus calculated response. He purposely sends two disciples to get a donkey. In Matthew’s telling of Palm Sunday, he quotes the prophet Zechariah who foretells a king who will enter Jerusalem “humble, riding on a donkey.”

The next verse of Zechariah goes on to describe this king who will “cut off the chariot from Ephriam and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations” (Zech 9:10)

He-Qui-triumphal-entryThe Prince of Peace enters humbly on a donkey, calling for an end to chariots, cavalry, weapons, and war.

Palm Sunday is not an innocent or naïve procession, it is not a triumphal entry, it is a calculated, counter-cultural display; a protest parade.

Palm Sunday is a statement illustrating the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar.

The crowd proclaimed, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, blessed is the one who works for the kingdom of God.

And yet, we know, that those called blessed don’t always appear to be so on first look.
If we go back to the beginning of Jesus ministry and the Sermon on the Mount, those described as blessed are the poor, the hungry, and the ridiculed.

Here, the ones who come in God’s name and do God’s work are called blessed. Not the ones with the triumphal procession, but the ones who enter humbly.

On the surface, we would say we want to be in that category. We are here this morning because we align ourselves as the people of God, doing what God calls us to do.
We seek to be the church that does what a church is supposed to do.

But quite often that puts us as a church, and as followers of Jesus, against the crowd.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that “the crowd is untruth”. That when the crowd is all going one direction, it is often in contrast to God’s will. The kingdom of God versus the kingdom of the crowd.

The crowd wants to follow the path of least resistance.

The crowd wants to maintain situation normal, even if that means some people are continually left out or marginalized.

The crowd tells anyone who speaks against it to be quiet.

The crowd tells women, you are too much.

The crowd tells people like Dr Martin Luther King Jr, it’s not time.

The crowd calls people who are poor, lazy.

The crowd criticizes those who protest as insincere, unorganized, or opportunists.

The crowd is untruth.

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And against this untruth comes Jesus who said I have come to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, to set the prisoner free.
This is Jesus vision of the kingdom of God and if that vision happened today, it would scare the powers that be and would turn the world upside down.

And yet, this is the very work God invites us to be a part of and it is what we pray for every time we offer the Lord’s Prayer and ask for God’s kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven.

As Pastor Donita shared with us last week, this is our witness.  You have a powerful witness that can change the world.

If you have ever been hungry, you can give witness to the importance of SNAP benefits and our Fresh Market.

If you have ever been homeless or lived under a slumlord, you can give witness to the importance of every person having access to safe, dignified, affordable housing in ways that I can’t.

If you have ever been excluded or silenced or judged because of the color of your skin, you can give witness to the importance of racial justice.

If you have ever been afraid to send your kid to school, you can give witness to the importance of safety and violence.

This is where I have recently found myself.

Only days after the Parkland shooting, a 14 year old student placed a threat on snapchat against our son, Noah’s, school. The post told students to wear red if they wanted to live, with pictures of Parkland saying “coming soon to Darby.”

This was only days after an 18 year old student was convicted for an earlier threat in which he said he was “going to shoot up the school”.

School shootings have become an epidemic. In the last five years there have been more than 300 school shootings. And, not surprisingly, a study showed that when students are afraid to go to school, school attendance and academic achievement go down.
And yet, from this tragedy comes opportunity.

People from all over the country have been inspired by the determination of the Parkland students. Students like Sabrina Fernandez who at the same time that they experienced the shock of tragedy and grieved the passing of their friends, continue to relentlessly push for justice. When asked what has made the response to this shooting different, Fernandez responded, “We make sure that we don’t give up. We make sure that when the media leaves and the news die down, we KEEP GOING! We will never stop until these tragedies NEVER happen AGAIN!”

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These students are inspiration. Yesterday they inspired protests around the country, from Washington DC to the statehouse of Columbus, Ohio.

If there is any group that is relentless, it is you, the Church for All People.

And we too stand at the door of opportunity and the invitation to be a part of the work of the kingdom of God to create a peaceful community.

On this Good Friday we will be gathering here for our Urban Way of the Cross. We will meet here and Sue Wolfe will share with us the importance of the gift of life, we will walk to South High School and hear from students advocating for an end to violence, we will parade up to Livingston Park and hear about the importance of peace and safety within our own homes and families, and we will finish with a worship service at Stecker auditorium in Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

I invite you to join us as we have our own protest parade.

For those of you following along in our daily Bible reading plan, last week we read the story of Queen Esther and the challenge of Mordechai who pushed her by saying, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

We stand at a time of great opportunity in our church and our community and our nation and perhaps God has placed us here, and brought us through all we have experienced, for just such a time as this.

A time to take off our coats and lay down palm branches of peace and build the peaceable kingdom.

Whether you are able to join us on Friday or not, the question that Palm Sunday leaves us with is which parade are you following? A parade of fear, a parade of scarcity, a parade of empire… or the parade of the kingdom of God, marching forward, and transforming the world with non-violence and peace and love.

Blessed are those who come in the name of the Lord, blessed are those who work to bring the kingdom of God.

Amen.

All is Gift

Job 12:7-10

Matthew 6:19-21

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

This is the day, this is the day. That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. We will rejoice, we will rejoice, And be glad in it, and be glad in it. This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. This is the day, this is the day. That the Lord has made

This is the theme song of the Church for All People. Every day, before the Free Store opens, we sing “This is the Day”.

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It never gets old, because every day is a testimony to the fact that life is a gift. As I lead Free Store worship, I hear people continually testify that they are blessed: blessed by the gift of another day, blessed by the gift of life, blessed by the gift of redemption.

All is gift.

Life is gift.

Creation is the first gift given by God to humanity.

The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. The first Bible is the Bible of nature. Long before the Bible of words was written, the grandeur of mountains, the beauty of sunrises, the diversity of animals, who St Francis of Assisi referred to as our brothers and sisters, testified to the glory of God.

God who spoke and shaped and formed all things in to being.

God who continually clothes the grass of the fields and provides for the birds of the sky.

God who will redeem all things.

All of creation testifies to God’s power and provision and gift.

Sometimes, we might forget this gift.

The beauty of nature may be a little harder for us to see as people who live in the middle of the city of Columbus. If we are lucky, in the midst of this long, cold Ohio winter, we live most of our lives indoors, with electric lights and heat.

And yet, even for us, creation is a gift that relentlessly surrounds us.

We can see it every year when flowers bloom around our church, when a bird rests on a lamp post, when vacant lots become urban orchards.

We saw it this week in the opening of our new fresh market. A market filled with fruits and vegetables Crowd2_20180308that are a gift from the earth God created. On Tuesday I walked Gary Witte in to the market for the first time and the first thing he said was “this is abundance”. Last year we gave away over 600,000 pounds of produce and this year we could exceed one million.

Life is gift.

To be able to care for God’s creation is a gift. The first job given to Adam is to care for the garden. God made all that is and has placed it in our hands. To grow, to cultivate, to recycle, to care for what God has made is gift.

All is gift.

The second gift we receive are the things we have.

In the book of James it says that every good and perfect gift comes from above.

The resources, the money that we have is a gift from God.

When it comes to looking at the money in our pocket, is easy to more often think in terms of scarcity than abundance. There is always someone making more money than us and it often feels that we have more money going out than we do coming in.

Enough_paperbackFor six weeks this winter a group of us met on Tuesday nights and studied a book called Enough by Adam Hamilton that I would strongly recommend for everyone. In this book, Hamilton invites us to the practice of seeing that everything we have comes from God, and it is enough.

This is a counter-cultural message.

For every commercial tells us that we don’t have enough and we aren’t enough until we drive the right truck, use the right toothpaste, and wear the right fashion.  This leads us to the place of scarcity, where we always think we have to have more, and if someone else is getting something, I am going to get it too.

If I can get 30 items from the Free Store today I am going to get 30 items, whether I need them or not. If a new model of iPhone comes out I am going to upgrade, whether it has the same basic functions as the old one or not.

Another message of the book Enough is that all of the things in the world will not satisfy our souls, it is only the love of God and community that truly fills us.

All that we have comes from God and it is enough.

It is enough and to be able to return to God our tithes and our offerings is a gift. To thank God and praise God and trust God is gift. To use what we have been given to be a part of God’s work in the world is a gift.

All is gift.

The third area of gifts is who God created us to be.

In the church we often describe these as spiritual gifts, but it is simply who we are.

Throughout his letters to the first churches, the Apostle Paul talks about a diversity of gifts: some have the gift of wisdom and others knowledge and others faith and others healing. When we connect our skills and our abilities with the passions and desires God has given us, the body of Christ is formed and the kindom of God, is built.

We can see this giftedness at work here.

When you walked in the door this morning you were greeted by someone who has the gift of hospitality. The bulletin was printed by someone with the gift of organization. We are led in worship by people with musical gifts. Sue uses her gifts to decorate the altar, this cross was put together by Darnell Harris who has gifts of carpentry and patience I could never imagine.

God has not only created each of us with these gifts, but invites us to be a part of God’s work in the world, to use these gifts to build this community of inclusion and redemption and salvation.

All is gift.

From creation to our resources to who we are, all is gift.

Our very understanding of faith is one of gift.

gift-of-grace-e280a2-9x6Perhaps the most spoken word in the United Methodist Church is grace. Grace describes the love of God that surrounds us from the time we draw our first breath, grace that calls us in to relationship with God and in to community with one another, grace that is ever-working in our lives, perfecting us and making us more like Christ.

Grace comes from the Greek word charis, and can also be translated as gift.

We aren’t people of faith because we have understood all mysteries or gotten it all right in our lives, it is all grace, it is all gift.

But just as we are a gifted people, we are called to share gifts. God’s invitation to us is not to sit back and rest and be recipients of grace, but to give to others as we have received, to be practitioners of grace. To give as freely as we have received.

These are the vows that we have made with the church.

When we were baptized, confirmed, and became members of the church we pledged to support the church with our prayers, presence, service, gifts, and witness.

Over the last month we have been exploring how this promise can become a pattern for our lives. Not another set of rules and obligations to follow, but how we can shape a spiritual practice around these five commitments.

During this season of Lent we have talked about ways of developing an intentional prayer life, making our presence a present, and having a practice of service.

Today, we hear the message that all is gift.

Surely, when we are blessed we can see that we are a gifted people.

Amongst the beauty of creation, in the ability to give of our money and ourselves, we can see the gift.

But as we seek to incorporate gifts as a pattern in our lives, I want to invite you to think a little deeper about what moments in life we would define as gifts.

We often think of gifts as those times of abundance when our cup is overflowing, and then when we are in that place we will return to God from our excess.

But to say that all is gift is not only to recognize the times when we think we have everything we need, but also the times in life that are hard. To truly believe that all is gift.

Last week I was sick with the flu. The bad flu. I can’t remember the last time I have been down that long or that hard.

I went to the doctor and she tested me, came back in the room, and said you have the flu and will be out of work for the week.

I was mad.

In fact, I argued with the doctor. I said there was no way I was going to miss a week of work. I even tried bargaining with her, how about 48 hours?

She gave up on the argument, knowing the effects of the flu would speak for themselves.

I got a supportive text from John saying rest up this week, I’ll get people to cover the free store worship, I’ll preach this week, take care of yourself.

But I responded saying I’ll be back by the end of the week.

I was angry that I would miss out on being here and that the flu would keep me down. I went to bed every night thinking I would feel better the next morning and was disappointed every morning that it didn’t happen.

But what if I would’ve embraced this moment as gift? It may sound strange to think of something like the flu as gift, but I could’ve said, God has given me a chance to rest, I have time to read books I’ve been meaning to read. I can let go of my calendar knowing I work in place where people will cover for me.  I get a week off work.

All is gift.

When we are stuck in traffic we have the opportunity for a gift of spending time in prayer.

When a person we don’t like approaches us, we have the opportunity for a gift of learning how to love our neighbor a little more deeply, to open our hearts a little more fully.

Every day presents us with opportunities that we can resist and fight against, or that we can embrace and ask ourselves, where is the gift in this moment?

This is not to say that everything that happens in our lives or in our world is good or just or even God’s will.

It is not God’s will that our kids are afraid to go to school.

It is not God’s will for someone to receive a diagnosis of cancer.

It is not God’s will for anyone to be homeless or hungry or alone.

And yet, it is often when we journey through the difficult moments of life that we are transformed. When we struggle we become more compassionate to those facing similar struggles. It is in moments that are darkest that we depend on God the most, pray the most fervently, our hearts break open like a seed in the ground and we receive the gift of faith more fully.

There is a poem by Rumi called “The Guest House” that describes each moment as gift:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
(God) may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

How has each moment been sent to you as a guest? How is all gift?

In the bulletin there is an insert for a spiritual practice called Examen. You can do this before you go to bed each night to thank God for the moments we call gifts and to consider where the missed gifts and opportunities passed us by. I want to invite you to practice this, this week, as it may lead you to see that all is gift.  (For more information go to https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/rummaging-for-god-praying-backward-through-your-day)

The rain and the sunshine, the joy and the pain, the wonderful and the broken are all gifts of grace. Let us be open to changed and transformed by all, as we prepare to encounter the Risen Christ this Lenten season.

Amen.

More than meets the eye

If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?

If you could do anything, what would you do?

This is the type of imagining we often do when we are younger.

I can remember playing football in the back yard and dreaming that I was a wide receiver on the Green Bay Packers, catching the game winning touchdown.

I can remember playing guitar and imagining that I was in a band performing in front of a screaming crowd.

I can remember when I was in the sixth grade and we had an assignment to predict where we would be by the year 2,000. This would’ve been around 1979. I said I was going to be living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I was going to be a lawyer, and that I would have a flying car.

Well, what has happened?

The Green Bay Packers never called, I never played in a band, I’m not a lawyer and I still haven’t gotten my flying car.

And yet, we continue to dream.

Transformers_MTMTE_53-CoverSUBAs a child we played with transformers, where a truck could become a robot who saves the world.

Over the last several years some of the most popular movies have been Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther. These movies begin with seemingly ordinary people who are transformed in to someone with super powers who does extraordinary things.

We love stories of the underdog and the common person who achieves greatness.

This is Jesus invitation to us.

At the end of Mark, Chapter 8, there is this story of Jesus asking the disciples, who do people say that I am? Peter gets it right and says you are the Christ. You would think that is a moment of celebration, the long awaited Messiah has arrived, but Jesus says the Christ is one who will suffer and will be rejected and killed. And then Jesus goes on to say that “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”

It is the common person who Jesus invites to take this uncommon journey, so that we might be part of God’s amazing work.

Six days after this teaching Jesus takes Peter and James and John with him to the mountaintop. And like so many superheroes, Jesus is transformed. His clothes become dazzling white, Elijah and Moses appear, and a voice speaks from a cloud, This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!

This event is known as the transfiguration of Christ.

The word transfiguration is the Greek, metamorphoo, it is where we get our word, metamorphosis. It is the word we use to describe the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

But to metamorphoo is not to be transformed in to something you are not. It is not like Peter Parker who gets bit a radioactive spider and is then able to spin a web any size.

To metamorphoo is not to change who we are, it is to allow our inner self to come forth.

When Jesus shines with light, it is his inner nature shining through. God is love, Jesus is love, and it is that love that shines.

On the outside, Jesus did not look like anything special. The Jewish son of a carpenter from a small town of a few hundred people called Nazareth. People didn’t think any more of Jesus than we would think of someone doing manual labor in Lockbourne.

In the letter to the Philippians Paul writes: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

There was nothing about how Jesus looked that made him stand out in a crowd. But when his inner nature came out, he shined like the sun.

He shined with such glory that Peter said, it’s good that we are here.image

It is good that they were there. This experience of seeing Jesus transformed and the presence of Moses and Elijah who had walked journeys of faith and trials, and the voice of God, served to strengthen the disciples for their own difficult journeys.

But this story is not shared with us solely because of its historical significance, but is also an invitation for us to shine.

When we allow our inner nature to come forth, the glory of God shines again.

The first thing we notice about people, is their outward appearance. We immediately look at someone and notice if they are a man or a woman, what color their skin is, if they are tall or short, what type of clothes they wear. And then, we make all kinds of judgments based on appearances. We make judgments that might be appropriate, to understand if the person we are interacting with is safe or threatening. But we are also conditioned by our society to make judgments based on appearance that are often limiting, incorrect, and that lead to prejudices.

Not only do we make these judgments of others, but people make them of us. And when we are the ones who have been judged or hurt, we shine our light a little less. We cover our true selves as a way of protecting ourselves from further harm, but when we do that we deny the world of the light God created within each of us.

For if we strip away our appearances and layers of protection, who are we? What is your true inner nature?

Our true nature is one of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity.

When we allow that nature to come out, when we put our true selves out there, we shine. And when we share our true, shiny selves with one another in relationships of vulnerability and mutuality, we all say, it is good that we are here.

It is good that we are here.

But here is not where we are called to stay.

Peter wants to stay there.

He wants to build tents. He wants to live in the glow of shining Jesus. He wants to hang out with Elijah and Moses.

And I can understand why Peter wants to stay there.

When I am in the presence of someone who inspires me, I want to stay there.

This week Father Greg Boyle visited Columbus. Boyle is the architect of Homeboy DVeMqKhX4AEVUYCIndustries, the largest gang intervention program in the country. His ministry employs rival gang members from Los Angeles in 15 different social enterprises where people who once shot at each other work together and bake together and silkscreen shirts together. Community and relationships are formed and lives are changed.

Fr Boyle is not only the person behind all of this, but has such a loving spirit that he glows. I could listen to him talk about anything, because when he talks he shines with love and vulnerability. He has a beautiful soul. One of the things that he said when he was here this week that stuck with me is that “Only the soul that venerates the world with tenderness has a chance of changing the world.”

It is only when we let our souls shine, that the world can be changed.

This is the testimony of the saints we celebrate during Black History Month.

We remember the people who have changed the world. On the back table is a list provided by Mary Hamilton of 101 great African Americans. I would encourage you to take a look at these people and many others whose names are not on this list.

When I sit at the feet of these people I too say it is good to be here and I don’t want to leave.

When I hear Cornel West couple together the call to do social justice while practicing Christian love, I want to sit and soak it all in.

When I hear Alice Walker share her tender soul through poetry, I want to build a tent and stay in that place.

When I hear Kendrick Lamar cry from the vulnerability of his life experiences, “pray for me,” I want to stay there.

But as suddenly and unexpectedly as Jesus shined, the light went out, Elijah and Moses were gone, and the voice of God went silent, and Jesus led them back down the mountain.

Down the mountain to the places where they would be ridiculed and misunderstood.

Down the mountain to the crowds looking for a meal and a miracle, but never getting the bigger picture.

Down the mountain to the places where Jesus would be obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.

Our journey is the same.

It is good to be in this place.

It is good to be here at the Church for All People.

It is good to be in this diverse and inclusive place where people who are white and black, rich and poor, gay and straight, conservative and liberal, gather around one table and build relationships of mutuality and vulnerability where the glory of God shines.

Some of us have built tents in this place, this is where we live. We are here every day because it’s warm, everyone is welcome, and the coffee pot is always on. And there is nothing wrong with being in this place.

And yet, our invitation is not only to hang out and be our true selves here at the safe mountaintop, but when we go out from here to the place we work and go to school and live and hang out that we allow our souls to shine, for it is “Only the soul that venerates the world with tenderness has a chance of changing the world.”

Go in to the world and shine.

Shine with all of who you are.

Shine in your gifts and beauty.

Shine in your brokenness and pain.

Shine.

For this is how the rising of the dead happens.

The rising from the dead not only happens in the life after this one, but it happens every time a hungry person is fed, every time a mother walks out of the Free Store with a bag of clothes for her kids, every time a person shines from the content of their character and does not feel limited because of the color of their skin.

Get off the mountain, go in to your worlds, and shine.

You might not ever be a professional athlete, a concert musician, or a super hero. But you are much more. You are a child of God. Be open and vulnerable enough to let your soul shine, and the world will be transfigured.

Let there be love

Genesis 1:1-5

John 1:1-14

Listen to this sermon at http://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21087427

In the beginning, there was darkness.

When we think of creation we might think there was nothing, the voice of God, a big bang, and Adam and Eve.

But if you carefully look at the first verses of Genesis, it says “In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.”

I don’t know what a formless void looks like. A black hole? An unshaped mass? Whatever it was, it was dark, unwelcoming, and absent of life.

And then God shows up.

The Spirit of God, the breath of God, moves like a wind over the dark waters.

God speaks and creation comes in to being.

Let there be light, and there was light, and it was good.

I believe what is going on here is not just a matter of the physical manifestation of light that comes in to being. But I advocate that another word we could substitute for light is love.

Let there be love, and there was love, and it was good. 6b83b15b3225b0baeec98ea563def2e1

God is pouring out God’s self, God’s essence, in to the dark formless void and out of God’s love life is born.

This is what God does.

Even when Adam and Eve turn away and sin, God pours out love and knits clothes for them and provides for them.

After the flood, God places the sign of the rainbow in the sky as a promise of God’s love.

In Psalm 36, David sings:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

David makes this same connection of light and love. Light and love are the spring of life that extend to all creation.

This is what God does because this is who God is.

There are not many things that we can definitively say about God that are sufficient or complete. If you were to define God, what could you say? Any words seem inadequate and insufficient. Perhaps the only definition that works come from the letter of 1 John that simply says, God is love.

While all of creation testifies to the majesty of God’s love, we experience that love most powerfully in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the most familiar words in all of the Bible come from John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

God poured out God’s self in to the world, so that everyone can have life.

While this might be the most familiar verse of John, the beginning of John sounds amazingly similar to the beginning of Genesis.

In fact, the two start with the same phrase, “In the beginning.”

The gospel of John also states that in the beginning there was darkness.

But again, the light that overcame darkness was not only a physical scientific property, but it was Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, the Christ.

John goes on to describe Jesus as “the life was the light for all people.” And that “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light”.

Jesus was not only born in a Bethlehem manger 2,000 years ago, but all of creation came in to being through the triune Christ, the light of the world.

God loves us so much, that the God who spoke, and by his very words, brought creation out of the formless void and light in to the darkness, took on human flesh and made his home among us.

Candle-Held-in-Hands_WebJesus walked our walk, experienced our pain, brought the light of God in to the world, and invited us to also be the light.

Just as God is love, Jesus invites us to be love.

Let there be love.

The essence of all of Jesus’ teaching are summarized in the great commandment. Even Jesus said all of the law and the prophets can be summarized in this: love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

The philosopher Soren Kierkeegard said we can only truly live out this command when we hold all three things in balance: to love God, neighbor, and self.

Now this gets difficult when we begin to explore who qualifies as the neighbor we are called to love.

Again, Kierkegaard said when you walk out the front door of your house, the first person you see is the neighbor you are called to love.

Walk down Parsons Avenue, every person you see is your neighbor.

Come and take a number at the Free Store, and each of the 100 people waiting with you are your neighbor, who you are called to love just as you love God and love yourself.

In fact, Jesus pushes this so far that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us to love our enemies:

 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

When we hear Jesus’ words, we might think this is an impossible teaching. Perhaps Jesus could do this, he was fully God and fully man, but we are fully human.

Jesus did not offer this as an impossible standard, but as an invitation to be a part of God’s work of redemption and reconciliation

This is part of the genius of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s ethic of love was not only for the oppressed, but also for the oppressor. He saw all of us as interconnected and the liberation of the harmed connected to the liberation of the one who has done harm.

King sacrificed his life in the pursuit of bringing his dream to life. He did not hide his light under a bushel, but he let it shine.

King held the Declaration of Independence in one hand and the light of his faith in the other and challenged us to live in to our highest ideals and all God created us to be.

He not only challenged those in power to address issues of injustice and war and poverty, but he believed that the very means by which systems could be changed is when we love the one we would consider enemy. For it is in loving the enemy that both are set free.

King outlined four reasons that we should love our enemy.

The first reason is that it is only love that can break the cycle of violence. Hate only begets hate, violence creates violence. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back it just never ends.

King said “hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of Darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-can-do-that_-Hate-cannot-drive-out-hate-only-love-can-do-that_-9stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

It is only through love that spirals of violence and hatred are broken.

The second reason we are to love our enemy is because hate destroys the person who hates. We might think that forgiveness is about letting the person off the hook who has done us wrong, But if we are the ones who carry bitterness in our hearts, that grows in us like a cancer. It eats and tears away at us. It mars our soul. We have to love instead of hate, to save ourselves.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everything a person does. If someone has said a bad word about you, you aren’t going to appreciate what was said. It doesn’t mean that we should tolerate injustice or allow abuse to continue. We don’t have to like who someone is or what they have done, but we are called to love them in to redemption.

This leads in to the third reason we are to love our enemy, because love is the only force that can transform an enemy in to a friend. Love is the only redemptive force that can change the world.

When we love someone who doesn’t like us, we disarm them. When we return love for hatred, love wins. Light always conquers darkness. You have never turned on a light in a dark room and darkness won. Light wins. It is the same for love. Love wins.

We have seen that wars only create more wars, but love changes the world. Love brought the brutal rule of apartheid to an end in South Africa, the ethic of love taught by King continues to challenge us as a nation 50 years later. We aren’t there yet, but love will win.

King said, “the darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.”

The fourth reason we are to love our enemy is because it is only when we love our enemy that we can fully love God.

Jesus summarized his teaching on loving enemy when he said, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

We can only be complete in our love of God, neighbor, and self, when we extend the light of Christ in to the world to the point where we are willing to love the one whom we call enemy.

The Word became flesh and made his home among us.

God loves us so much that he physically came and lived in our world and shined a light for all people. A light that burned so brightly it shone with glory.

Let us shine with the same light.

Let us reflect the glory of God in our lives.

Let us dare to change our world by loving our enemy.

Let there be love.

How do we Epiphany?

Matthew 5:13-16

Have you ever experienced the darkness of night? Real darkness.

It is hard for us to imagine darkness, living here in Columbus, Ohio.

Columbus Ohio Downtown Night with Stars

In 2017, Columbus passed Indianapolis to become the 14th largest city in the country. With the street lights, cars, and industries we never really experience darkness, we are bathed in light. In fact, one of the things I miss from living in New Mexico is the night sky. The stars in the desert are so numerous and vivid, the night sky testifies to the beauty of God’s creation.

But the darkness of night is not always comforting.

When I was in the Air Force I also spent significant time in the deserts of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. We were in very remote places that could get very dark. There were nights when the sky was amazing and the stars so bright you could practically see across the Milky Way. But when there was no moon and clouds hid the stars it would literally get so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face.

Darkness felt like a heavy blanket, weighing me down. I remember staring at the horizon, just for that first glimpse of light. From that experience I have long resonated with the words from Psalm 130:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

I know what that feels like, to wait and watch for the first sign of light. For that blanket to be lifted. For light to overcome the darkness.

Today is the first Sunday of the season of epiphany. On the church calendar, epiphany follows the Christmas season. The word epiphany literally means manifestation or appearance. It is the season that the church remembers the appearance of Jesus, the manifestation of his life and ministry.

Paul uses this word epiphany several times in his letters to Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy, when he writes about the grace given to us in Jesus Christ he says, “Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.”

The word appearance in this scripture is the word epiphany. We could substitute and say, since the epiphany of our Savior, death has been defeated and life vindicated.

Epiphany also carries with it the importance of light. To Timothy, Paul describes the work of Jesus as a steady blaze of light. It is the light that overcomes the darkness, the light of Christ that is the hope of the world.

For this six week season of epiphany, we are asking the question, how do we make the light of Christ visible in our community? How do we epiphany? How do we manifest the glory of God in our world?

We have celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas by covering our homes with light. But that is only the beginning of the story. It is the work of Jesus, the steady blaze of light, that overcomes the darkness.

In the gospel of Matthew, the work of Jesus begins with the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus offers the familiar words that we call the beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Jesus describes people who are going through hard times as blessed. Not blessed because of their struggles, not blessed because it is so wonderful to be mourning or hungry or persecuted or reviled. But blessed because it is when we have come through those times of darkness that the light of Christ shines brightest in us.

Immediately after the beatitudes of Jesus’ first sermon, he offers the words of today’s scripture in which Jesus challenges those who are listening to be salt and light. We are not called to be isolated from the world around us, but to go in to the world and be salt and light.

What does salt do? It brings out flavor. Add a little salt to a tomato, add a little salt to some popcorn, and the taste of it isn’t just tomato and salt, but the salt brings out hidden flavors. It makes it better. We too are to be like that salt. That when we go in to the world sharing gifts of compassion, kindness, gentleness, and justice, the world becomes a better place and epiphany happens.

Not only are we called to be salt, but also called to be light.

A light that shines before others, a light that gives hope.

For Jesus to call the church to be light is to acknowledge there is darkness in the world. We can see the darkness no matter where we look.

When a refugee family flees their homeland in fear, there is darkness.

When systemic racism and injustice dehumanize people in our own country, there is darkness.

When we live a land of abundance and people go without food and shelter, there is darkness.

When 140 people were murdered in Columbus in 2017, setting a new record, there is darkness.

When we only made it 14 minutes in to the new year before the first homicide, there is darkness.

Darkness is all around us. Not only in the tragic events that make the news, but in our lives.

Last week we started the new year with the Wesleyan covenant renewal service. As part of that, we had a prayer of confession that included a long list of ways we have been unfaithful. The part of that the really stuck with me were these words, “If we have made no ventures in fellowship, if we have kept in our heart a grievance against another, if we have not sought reconciliation, if we have been eager for the punishment of wrongdoers and slow to seek their redemption,” if we have done any of these things, there is darkness.

Any time we turn away from loving God, loving our neighbor, or loving God, we create darkness.

Even though we live in a city of light, we do know darkness, we have experienced darkness in our lives.

But we are not called to be people of the darkness, we are called to be people of the light.

A light that is a light of the world.

The steady blaze of light that comes from daily being a part of God’s work in the world.

This is who we are called to be as the United Methodist Church for All People. We are the ones who are called to be the light of the South Side, to make manifest, to make epiphany, the glory of God.

There are some dark corners in our community.

There are places you would not want your kids to play and you may not be comfortable being around after dark.

Gangs and drugs and violence takes place in the streets and alleys within walking distance of this church.

But what happens when someone turns from those dark corners, on to Parsons Avenue, and sees the brightly lit sign that says Church for All People? That is a sign of hope, of transformation, of welcome for all people.

CAP_frontofchurch

But the light of that sign does not give people hope because of its wattage. It is not just another brightly lit sign on a busy city street. It is the steady blaze of light of the works of this church that offer hope.

Just a few weeks ago we provided 500 kids in our community with brand new Christmas presents, those are 500 beams of light.

In 2017, we provided 632,000 pounds of free produce in our Fresh Market to more than 28,000 people. 28,000 beams of light.

Every time we connect a person with an opportunity for a job, teach a child to read, or place someone in a house we shine another beam of light in to the darkness.

We are the shining city on the hill for thousands of people, but it isn’t just what we do as an organization that brings epiphany, that manifests the light of Christ in the world, it is what we do collectively as individuals. You might not have anything to do with housing or the free store or the bike shop or the dozens of programs we have. But every time you offer a word of hope to someone who is down, comfort a person who is mourning, show mercy to a person who has made a mistake, welcome a stranger, you make epiphany happen.

Shining the light in a world of darkness can be a hard thing.

It can be frustrating when you are trying to do the right thing and everyone around you does the wrong thing, it can be frustrating when you work for justice and systemic injustice seems so difficult to overcome, it can be frustrating when it feels like three in the morning on a dark night and there is no sign of light on the horizon.

But it is in those moments that we keep shining the light anyway.

We keep offering the steady blaze of light and hope, even more so when times are hard.

Perhaps that is the gift of this moment of history in our nation. When we find it hard to put hope in our political process, when we worry about the future of medicare and hear threats of war, we are reminded that it is the church who is called to shine the light. Our hope in life doesn’t come from institutions or from our favorite sports teams or political parties, but it is Jesus Christ who is the epiphany, the light. And it is Jesus who calls us to be the epiphany in our world.

That is the essence behind the song we sang earlier, “This little light of mine”.

We may think of that as a cute children’s song, but in the 50s and 60s “This Little Light of Mine” was often used in the Civil Rights movement as a protest song. It was a statement that I am not going to let anyone or anything extinguish my light.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna to let it shine.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, I’m gonna let it shine.

When African-American students refused to leave their seats at the lunch counter, I’m gonna let it shine.man9_o

When sanitation workers held up signs declaring “I am a man”, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

The song has continued to be a counter-cultural statement of protest, saying I am not going to hide my light under a bushel. The song has continued to be sung from Occupy Wall Street to Charlottesville, as voices have defiantly cried out, I’m gonna let it shine.

And now it is your turn to add your verse.

How are you gonna let it shine?

For when you shine your light, epiphany happens and the steady blaze of Jesus Christ shines again.