Bravely Following the Star…

What would we do if we were brave?

That question, raised by Rev Deborah Blood, the Executive Minister for the United Church of Christ in Maine, at the Annual Regional Meeting last year, has echoed in my head for months.

Many of our churches live in fear: fear of the future, fear of not having enough people and money and fear of the unknown. When you don’t know what to do, you do what you know. And when you do what you’ve always done, you get the results you always have.
Fear can paralyze us into continuing patterns that are no longer effective. Being brave doesn’t mean we can’t be fearful; how can we ‘feel the fear and do it anyway, knowing that Jesus always calls us forward, into an unknown future. Being brave doesn’t guarantee success either, but it does mean stepping outside of our comfort zones.

Who likes to fail? Who likes to try something new and be really bad at it? Or just not excel? Not me? But I wonder, do we fear success just as much as we fear failure? Imagine taking the words from our first reading and really believing them. To get a sense of the context, here’s a bit of background before we listen to it: It’s from the ‘third Isaiah,’ the prophet of the return from exile in Babylon. They had been overrun by Babylonian armies, who took all the leaders into captivity. This is a generation later, after the excitement of their return, the faced the draining and disheartening challenge of rebuilding. Let’s listen to Isaiah’s words from chapter 60: 1-6 as he encourages a disheartened people to stand tall, with the assurance of God’s grace.

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 60:2 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. 60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 60:4 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. 60:5 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. 60:6 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.

We have not been taken into exile, although we may feel exiled at times by the changes in our culture. We have not been enslaved, except by our desire for the past glory of the United Church. But we face the task of rebuilding, perhaps not a physical temple, but a temple made of faith, love and community. And we are freed to stand tall, to rise to the present challenges. Arise, shine!

What would we do if we were brave?

Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise of Israel, with representatives of Gentiles bringing symbolic gifts. We can analyze and try to interpret the star, the timing, the significance of Bethlehem as “House of Bread,” and its connection with King David, the magi as astrologers or members of an obscure Persian sect, and Herod’s malice, but Matthew’s essential message is of wonder and joy. Let’s listen closely for the Good News for us in Matthew 2: 1-12:

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, :2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 2:5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 2:6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

My friend and mentor, the late Rev. Stew Clarke used to say that the gospels were a unique genre of writing, neither biography nor history, but a witness of what Jesus meant to the writer. What does Jesus mean for us? Is he the baby in the manger?
Is he the youth teaching in the temple? Is he the man who challenged the customs of his time… by gathering people together, broken and discarded people into a community… a community that cut across all the social constructs that separate people?

img_20191224_1517046

Here is the star that we created together. The broken and discarded made beautiful and whole. I confess that I was a bit disappointed with it once I had grouted it. Not because there is anything wrong with it… but because when I grouted it, I realized that the pieces were a bit too far apart… there ‘should’ be less grout in it… and yet, it still holds together. And because it is not perfect, it inhabited my heart and mind far more than it would have it I was done with it. I began to think about this space in a different way.

With space, there is room for new… in the muckiness of life.

With space, there is room to grow and expand… in the muckiness of life.

With space, there is an opening to ‘return home by another road’ in the muckiness of life.

What would we do if we were brave?

On Friday, Rev. Jan Edmiston wrote the following in her daily blog, “Attention all Church People: Envision standing in your church sanctuary on the first Sunday morning of the year 2030. What do you see?”

What do YOU see? Do you see a handful of people in the sanctuary… a part-time minister… or perhaps one who comes in only for Sunday? Is there a worshipping community left? Or, do we see a community that reflects the demographics of the neighbourhood? Do we see a community that worships in ancient ways AND new ways? Do we see a community that bears witness to the compelling power of Jesus?
A power that is made manifest in faith, love and community!

What would we do if we were brave?

What would happen if we focused the next year on faith, love and community? And let everything else that is non-essential go? You have summed up the life of a healthy congregation in those three words: faith, love and community. What if we spent the next year deepening our faith through worship and in exploring worship and faith formation instead of fundraising? What if we learned to share our faith in ways that were inviting?
What if we spent the next year, getting to know our neighbours on the surrounding streets? What if we spent the next year, connecting and being involved with all the other organizations that are seeking to make north Dartmouth a better place to live? What if we reimagined our sanctuary… in order to have more flexible space?

What if…

What if…

What if…

We have nothing to lose… and much to gain… like the Magi… going home by another road.

Look at the picture on the front of the bulletin.

Secret Symbols on a Building on Alderney Drive

it’s a detail on a building in downtown Dartmouth. I added the words. It’s Trinitarian and I liked the way the circles are connected and yet reaching out. This is us! We are connected by faith, love and community… and with those at the core we can reach out with faith, love and community!

What would we do if we were brave?

You are brave… perhaps braver than you think… Inviting someone to be your Intentional Interim Minister is brave! 😉 Starting a food bank back in the eighties was brave… Sponsoring refugees is brave… You are brave… And the wonderful thing about being brave in a faith community is that when one of us is not brave, there is enough of the rest of us to carry that bravery until you are encouraged and enheartened again. You have courage and conviction in your DNA. And we will need ever bit of it to face the challenges of this world.
• A whole planeload of people killed!
• 65 MILLION refugees in the world!
• An entire continent burning!

Closer to home:
• A minimum wage that does not support life
• Lack of housing
• Lack of employment opportunities.

This is not so different from the world in which Matthew’s gospel was written… a despotic leader… one who was so afraid of a potential challenge to his authority that he had all boys under two years old killed. A world in which the gap between the rich and poor was vast. A world where ‘peace’ was kept by an army. That was the world in which Jesus was born… and that was the world in which the Magi changed direction.

I am going to close with a poem, written by Marianne Williamson and made famous by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within all of us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let out own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following the star. Amen.

Isaiah 60: 1-6, Matthew 2: 1-12
January 12, 2020 – SMUC

 

2 thoughts on “Bravely Following the Star…

  1. Thank you for this Catherine. I truly enjoy reading your posts, and this one I especially enjoyed. There is a lot to reflect on, and I printed this one so I could sit back in my chair and reflect upon its words, while making notes and journaling on it. At this stage in my life, as I began the walk officially through my senior years last year, I find more and more each day there are a lot of what ifs cropping up in my life. First it was adjusting to a monthly income. Secondly I watch my physical abilities begin to slide. Thirdly I am inheriting a house on the Bras’Dor Lakes and can’t afford two houses, so which do I keep. Fourth if I go to Cape Breton what do I do about a family doctor. I also want to travel and selling the house in Cape Breton will give me more funds to do that. So many questions and funny thing, before reading your sermon today I was beginning to wonder if it is just fear that is preventing me from doing what I really want to do. I definitely have a lot to think about and I am pretty sure the words in your sermon will help in keeping me focused, while I try to figure it all out. Thanks again for your words.
    Blessings,
    Sue

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