January 8, 2017

“When Light Leads the Way”

 

Isaiah 60:1-6

60 Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.

Lift up your eyes and look all around:
they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
Then you will see and be radiant;
your heart will tremble and open wide,
because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
the nations’ wealth will come to you.
Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

 

For those who don’t know, this past Friday was Epiphany, when we celebrate the coming of the Magi to see the young Jesus. It is significant because it gives evidence that Jesus was the messiah for all people, not just the chosen people. Their journey for many months following a star must have felt like an epic. I picked today’s passage from Isaiah because it sounds like the opening to an epic story.

 

Today’s passage from Isaiah has that same look – kind of like the opening crawl of the Star Wars movies – to tell of a later story. We often read these sections of Isaiah as prophecies about Jesus, which would set them up to be like an opening crawl for the Gospels.  It comes from the 60th chapter – part of a section of material known as Trito-Isaiah.  Trito-Isaiah was believed to be written after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon following the Persian invasion.

 

Obviously, this passage was written well before the coming of Jesus, so who is the hero of this story that so deserves such a great opening crawl? Historically, scholars believe these passages that talk about the deliverance of the Hebrew people are heaping praise not on Jesus, but on Cyrus the Great – the Persian king who conquered Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return to their home; however, the inclusion of gold and incense at the end is very reminiscent of another passage we think about today:

 

In Matthew 2, we are told of the coming of the magi, ancient masters of the east. For the sake of trivia knowledge and debunking myths, I’ll include the following quick facts:

  • Magi is where our words for magic and magician come from. They were likely shamans or scholars that dabbled in the mystical or possibly astrological world from somewhere east – arguably Bagdad or some other part of Persia
  • There are not three wise men. They bring three gifts. There could have been two, three, or thirty. We don’t know.
  • These men would have traveled many months. Jesus was at least a few months old if they came when the star first appeared at the sign of his birth. Given that Herod has all boys under 2 killed, it is possible Jesus was much older than we usually imagine.

 

The parallel between Isaiah and Matthew is a direct connection between the birth of Jesus and the messiah of the Hebrew people. Whether it is Cyrus or Jesus that the writer of Isaiah 60 truly intended doesn’t matter. Sometimes the things we do are being operated by God and we do not even know it, which is what this passage is actually saying to the audience.

 

So what is the message we are supposed to hear?

 

Those who are chosen by God are awash in the light of God. That is no small detail. When we are chosen by God to do great things in God’s name, we are given not only a new identity and a new self. We also receive the protection and guidance of God’s light. Our messiah is the one who delivers us, but it is up to us to act on the power of that deliverance.

 

In that deliverance, the chosen are also blessed. In the Scripture, the writer tells us that Jerusalem will receive the riches of the nations. As the city where God’s temple rested, all the goodness of God’s glory would be noticed by the entire world and they would come pay tribute to the awesome power of God.

 

When Jesus came into the world, he turned this image of who God is and what God wants on its head. In the old days, the way people were to honor by God were by literal sacrifices at the temple. Jesus teaches that sacrifices we make are not so God can have a holy barbecue but that what we give up will go toward the benefit of those in need. That which we bring to God is for the great commandment of loving God and neighbor through the making of disciples and making the world a more loving and just place. Our deliverance is not that we can be content and hoard our blessings – it is that we have the resources for the journey to greater holiness through discipleship.

 

We often look at this journey as being a chore rather than a wonderful adventure. Our Christian faith is far more than our salvation’s status when we die. It is about a whole lifestyle. We come to church to connect with those people we love, but we are here most of all to give worship to the God who bathes us in light and tells us to arise and seek the glory of heaven. It is an adventure if we let it be.

 

Church can be an adventure. I took my first real church job as a youth worship leader and assistant director when I was in college. We were meeting in the very large fellowship hall, which was great, but it felt too commercial and there wasn’t a lot of cohesion. We were given the go-ahead to move into the old chapel sanctuary. We arranged that space in a way that made it our own. Getting it all together was an adventure, which then led to our kids becoming like family, and they invited their friends. As more friends came, we learned their stories and invested in their lives. By the time I left, we had experienced many ups and downs as a group, and I’ll cherish every moment with them.

 

My home church was also an adventure at times. I learned how to pull fat off chicken, barbecue that same chicken, and chop wood for the fire for that chicken. For a young kid who only knew video games and playing in the yard, that was an adventure. I learned how to be an acolyte, sing “Jesus Loves Me,” and preached my first sermon. We built ramps for folks with special needs; we went on mission trips; we worked with other youth groups. All were adventures as people called by God. God said arise, and my church rose to the occasion.

 

I think we here are ready to rise to the occasion. We have been on a journey together learning to trust each other. I have seen a lot of growth in all parts of this church. Now is the time we step out in faith and claim the light of God shining on us. Now is when we take our wealth to the feet of God through our gifts and service to others. We will make disciples that will spread God’s glory to their spaces, too.

 

This spring, we are going be focused on Vision 2017. I think it is time that we, as a group, focus on making our church better. We need to start making the church a priority and not that thing we do if nothing better comes along. People often tell me why they chose not to come to worship or to events we are having for various reasons, and I do understand, but I’m here because I think what we do here is important. I want you to be here, too. I don’t want to worship and serve at a place where folks are only committed when they have nothing better to do. When I was young, being at Gordon’s Chapel was the best thing – we genuinely loved being together and every barbecue, festival, mission trip, etc were all ways we grew together.

 

If you feel like you can see something great that we can do, I want you to come to the meetings we will be having for the church’s vision, including the summit on the 21st. Many of you have told me that you have interests in different aspects of our collective church life and things we can do for our community. We can afford to think big and think broad. How do you think we can honor God? What are you willing to do to get us there?

 

So often, churches stick to the “we’ve always done it this way” method of thinking. The church isn’t about us. Churches that care about our traditions and our ways of thinking without knowing exactly why we do it that way and who they are for tend to have a small voice in the community they are in. Churches that journey together as called by God have great witness. Charlotte needs a witness like that. When I talk to people that I meet about what I do, I get really excited when I meet people who not only love their church but brag about what they are doing.

 

We can keep what makes us us, but we also must be willing to let go of what is just lip service. We can add new things or bolster what we do well. Given the insane amount of musicians in this church, I hope to see something great happen that involves music. Many of you are former teachers. Wouldn’t it be great if we offered some sort of classes here (ACT prep, cough cough). Or something completely different. I’ve heard lots of people say it would be great to have a family life center. We’ll build it if you can tell me what it does for the kingdom of God. Who will it serve?

 

Charlotte-Fagan did some great things in the past: Habitat builds, school supply drives, the bazaar, community ice cream socials. I’m not saying to do those same things, but they prove that we used to do a lot of great things for our community. Look at Mt. Lebanon. For 30ish people in worship, they definitely do things that prove they believe God’s light is on them.

 

Do we believe God has called us? Are you going to join me on this journey? I’m ready to go and find our messiah. I want to serve him, and I will take nothing less than finding him and honoring him with my life. Come with me. Come with us.  Amen.

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