Archive for January, 2016

God’s Call out of Complacency
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:1-6 Luke 4:22-30 Psalm 71:1-8

God tells Jeremiah that before he was even formed in the womb God knew him. God says further that before Jeremiah was born God consecrated him. The same may be said of each one of us. Jeremiah was consecrated to be a mighty prophet. While we may not be called to such a grand purpose, we are called and consecrated nevertheless each in our own way, to our own purpose. We were each one of us created as we are because there is a special need we and only we can fulfill. We are created as we are because we reflect a unique aspect of God’s infinity. It is like a diamond reflecting light. Each facet causes light to sparkle and flash. An uncut diamond doesn’t have such a sparkle; only when there are a multitude of facets do you get the spectacular bling of cut diamonds. That is what humanity is like. Each unique face shows a different facet of God. And since God is infinite, there will be no two people ever alike. And reflecting God means reflecting some aspect of Divine Good and Truth. Each person is his or her own good and truth. No two people will ever think just alike or perform the same kind of good service to humanity. One of my supervisors at a field placement in divinity school had a nice way of putting it. He asked us, “What is God’s greatest gift to you?” While we were thinking about all the good things that we could think of, our supervisor answered his own question, “God’s greatest gift to you is you, yourself.” Being the person we are is a gift to us. We are to treasure and nurture the unique personality we are and are becoming.
There was a need in the universe and the heavens that only we can fill. We have a unique gift to bring to this world and the next. No one else can do what we are called to do, or be who we are and are becoming. We have been consecrated to be and do what only we can be and do.
God calls us into being. And God calls us into our purpose in this world and the next. This means that we have a task, a job, or a calling in this world that we are best suited to. John Calvin wrote about this. He said that every job is a calling. Every kind or work is a contribution to the good of the world, and every kind of work is a sacred calling. Sometimes we think that only ministers are called to their profession. But the Protestant work ethic means that every vocation is a calling. And God calls everyone to the vocation they feel drawn to. Unfortunately, not everyone has a sense of calling for the vocation they find themselves in. For many, their vocation is just a job. There is no sense of sanctity to it. There is no sense of the big picture, by which I mean the vast interconnectedness of things. Every vocation contributes to the whole and to the common good. Furthermore, for many, vocation is a means of earning money only. For a lot of people, work doesn’t feel like a calling. And for all too many, work isn’t fulfilling, but rather a drudgery. Happy and satisfied are those who are in their life’s calling and who enjoy their work.
But I don’t mean to give the impression that it is only in work that our calling is expressed. Being a facet of God’s goodness can mean being the person we are in all our relations. There are people who have helped me in many ways who aren’t in the helping professions. I have found support and compassion from people who probably don’t know how much they are giving to me. It is by being who they are that these deeds of kindness have come to me, brightened my day, or consoled me.
Another facet of this idea is for us to consider that we may not know when or how we are affecting others. We may not know when and how we are reflecting God’s light on the world of people we encounter. We may mean more to the world around us than we know.
We see the same people day in and day out. And this familiarity may blind us to the gift they truly are. In our New Testament reading, Jesus is in his hometown. He teaches in the synagogue and his friends and acquaintances wonder where Jesus got all His wisdom. They know Jesus’ parents and His brothers and sisters. The crowd, rather than celebrating Jesus’ profound teachings, take offence at him. In Mark, the crowd says,
“Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:2-3).
The crowd takes offence for two reasons. First, they grew up with Jesus and think He is acting above His place. Second, they take offence because they know Him to be a carpenter. Yet He is filled with astonishing wisdom. He never studied in a school, how dare this ordinary craftsman teach them. In Luke’s account of this story it gets worse. The crowd is so angry with Jesus that they try to throw Him off a cliff.
Jesus utters the famous words, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). Everywhere else that Jesus went, He was esteemed and honored and attracted a multitude of followers. But Mark tells us that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in His home town because no one believed in Him. Mark says that Jesus, “marveled because of their unbelief” (6:6).
This tells me that our expectations can influence the world we find ourselves in. If we expect little from life, little will come of it. If we expect little of the people around us, we will see little in them. Remember my opening remarks? Each one of us is a facet reflecting our own unique finite image of God. Do we see the people around us as a reflection of God? Do we expect to hear God’s truth expressed in the unique form suited to the individuals around us? If we expect nothing special from those around us, we will certainly find nothing special in them.
The people of Jesus’ village saw Him only as a carpenter. They didn’t see Him as a well-versed rabbi. They didn’t see Him as the mighty prophet He was. They didn’t see Jesus as anything special. So Jesus was unable to do anything special among them.
All around us are facets reflecting God’s good and truth. The clerks at the late-night convenience store I go to show me kindness and affection that I truly treasure. But I would be unable to feel their affection and treasure their graces if I looked down on them because of their humble status. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that he could transform the world around him by the way he sees it. Who knows what treasure we would see if we can lift the veil of complacency. Doesn’t the saying go, “expect a miracle?” Then there is the song, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
There is a final consideration that I take from the New Testament story. Jesus chastens the people of His home town by referring to two Old Testament stories. To make the point that a prophet isn’t honored at home, Jesus points to two of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament: Elijah and Elisha. When there was a famine in Israel for three and a half years, the prophet Elijah does not help the Israelites, but rather a widow in Lebanon. And while Israel had many afflicted with leprosy, the prophet Elisha cures not an Israelite but a Syrian. Jesus is showing the crowd in His home town that God privileged foreigners over Jews. This is what made the crowd so mad.
I take this to be a warning against self-righteousness. Spiritual pride can be a dangerous thing. It becomes a problem if we think that we are better than other people. If we think that we are spiritually superior we can look at others as less than us. This can be generalized also to our own faith tradition. We can feel that our own religion is the only right one and that others are not as good. We can become smug about our own religion. This can lead to indifference to other faiths or even prejudice against them. I think of Donald Trump’s outrageous claim that he would not allow any Muslims into The United States. That kind of fanaticism shows a dangerous distain and lack of appreciation for the grandeur of Islam. I have observed a powerful reverence for God in some of my Muslim friends that filled me with wonder and awe. The same can be said of Sikhs and Hindus I know. I think that when we are tempted to look askance at other religions, we need to educate ourselves. Otherwise, we will be like the Jews who were incensed by Jesus’ affirmation of Lebanese and Syrians.
So let’s treasure the world around us. Let’s not wait until it’s gone to know what we’ve got. Let’s expect a miracle. Let’s expect good things from the people around us. And let’s treasure the self that God gave us to take care of. For self-care is our responsibility. God has consecrated each and every one of us from even before our birth. God is calling us out of complacency. How does that Robert Lewis Stevenson line go—“The world is so full of a number of things/I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

PRAYER

Lord, we know that you call to us without ceasing. You continually call us into your kingdom, into heavenly love. You call to us in the depths of our hearts. And you call to us through the people around us. For each person is as a facet on a diamond, reflecting your heavenly light. There are times when we hear your voice clearly. And there are times when we hear your call to us but faintly. We pray that you open our hearts to you. And we pray that you give us to see your holy grace in the world around us. For when our eyes are illumined by you, then the whole world is sanctified with your holy presence. We see it in the people around us. And we see it in the beauty of Nature. Open our eyes, Lord, and open our heart, and give us to see your divinity in the least and greatest of things in this world.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Jan 24th, 2016

Worldly and Spiritual Law
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 24, 2016

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-10 Luke 4:4-21 Psalm 19

The law of the Lord governs all of human behavior. It guides us into right behavior. It even leads us into healthy amusements and good manners.
The essence of the law is to love the neighbor. But sometimes this statement can be too general. This general guideline sometimes needs to be explained. We need to know how to love effectively and wisely. We need to know what qualities in others we are especially to love and how to support good things in each other.
We also need to have behavioral guidelines. We need to know right and wrong. We need to know what is good and what is evil. We need to know how to act well in society. We need to know how to act well at home and even when we are alone. This the law of God teaches. The law of God governs all of human behavior.
Finally, when we aren’t filled with a love for God and our neighbor, we need principles that we can obey. Augustine said, “Love and do anything.” But what about when we don’t feel love? That’s when we need principles of behavior. That is when we need laws. That is when we need the detailed list of behaviors called the law of God.
In our reading from Nehemiah, the teacher Ezra reads the law to the people of Israel. This would be sections from the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch. In Hebrew it is called the Torah. But our reading also says that there were priests that helped the people to understand the law. So Ezra read the Bible, and the Levite priests interpreted it for the people of Israel.
The Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:7-8).
I grew up in the church. I was taught principles of good and evil from my youngest years in the church. Today, I govern my behaviors, and my thoughts and feelings according to religious principles. What I mean is that I try to be good for religious reasons. Suffice it to say that I try to be good out of love for God.
What I’ve always wondered about is what people do who are not religious. Many of them with whom I have spoken say that they believe in being good. They say that they believe in living a good life. Some of these people are even avowed atheists.
Two questions come to mind when I encounter such people. First, I wonder why they want to be good. Why do they believe in being a good person? I wonder about this because religion is my very motivation for being good. Why would someone without God in their life aspire to being a good person? Second, I wonder where they get their principles of good. Where do people without God in their life find their principles of good and evil, of right and wrong? Let me be clear—I’m not judging them. It is a serious curiosity.
I found some answers in Swedenborg. In his book True Christian Religion, Swedenborg explains that there are secular reasons for being good. He writes about principles of virtue and honor that people are taught from infancy through adulthood. These principles come from family, school, and society.
When moral life is at the same time spiritual, it is charity. Every man is taught by his parents and teachers to live morally, that is, to act the part of a good citizen, to discharge the duties of an honorable life (which relate to the various virtues that are the essentials of an honorable life), and to bring them forth through the formalities of an honorable life, which are called proprieties; and as he advances in years he is taught to add to these what is rational, and thereby to perfect what is moral in his life. . . . Anyone who reflects well upon it can see that a moral life is the same as a life of charity, and that this is to act well towards the neighbor, and to so regulate the life as to preserve it from contamination by evils; this follows from what has been shown above (435-438) (TCR 443).
What this citation tells us is that we learn right from wrong from our families, from our schools, and from culture in general. A little introspection showed me that when I was younger, much of my understanding of right and wrong was taught me in my family. That is where I learned my work ethic. That is where I learned to be considerate of other people. That is where I learned my use of language and clean speech.
In that passage I read, Swedenborg makes some very interesting comments about virtue. He says that we are taught to live a moral life, to live honorably, to observe proprieties. These are things that go above and beyond simple civil law.
After I left home, I grew in my grasp of virtue and manners. My mother taught us to be honest and sincere. But she didn’t teach us much about social proprieties. She thought that if you were honest and you thought well of others, you wouldn’t need manners. In fact, she thought that manners were sort of insincere, in fact, dishonest. Saying proper things that you didn’t mean, was largely insincere, she thought. So it was largely in school that social that I learned social graces and proprieties. In school my use of language grew even as I read poetry, fiction, philosophy, and I wrote research papers. My papers were graded by English professors who made suggestions about how to improve my use of language. This spilled over into my spoken words. The social pressures of life at Harvard especially were brutal, in fact, cruel. But I learned a kind of sophistication in manners I didn’t get growing up in Detroit. I took to music, learning about great symphony and piano works. I learned how to read poetry. Philosophy taught me ways to govern my life.
Swedenborg says that that is the kind of learning we get as we grow up. I suppose that most people want to be thought well of, and an honorable life is what we need to be thought well of. But religion adds another dimension to all this.
Religion brings in the question of motive. Why are we living a moral life? Why are we seeking honorable virtues?
Religion teaches us to do good simply because it is good. This is how we love God. God is good, all good is God. We love God when we love good. We are in relationship with God when we are in relationship with what is good. As Jesus says, “When you have done it to the least of these brethren of mine, you have done it to me.” When we do good to others, we do it to God. When we do good, we are loving God.
So doing good for the sake of a good reputation is a beginning. But it is not, in the long run, religious. For our moral life to be religious, we need to do it from a religious motive. We need to follow our learned principles of behavior because they are God’s law. We need to be courteous because we genuinely love our neighbor. We need to work hard because we love usefulness. We need to recreate cleanly as an expression of heavenly affections.
Our outward life may not change much. But the reason we do what we do will change, as we grow spiritually. As Swedenborg says,
Moral life, when it is also spiritual, is a life of charity, because the practices of a moral life and of charity are the same; for charity is willing well towards the neighbor, and consequently acting well towards him; and this is also moral life. The spiritual law is this law of the Lord:–“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12) (TCR 443).
God’s law touches every aspect of our life. And as we love God, we learn better and better how to express love wisely. We learn this by religious teaching, and we also learn it by culture and our society. Being a good citizen is the foundation of spiritual life. When we are a good citizen because it is God’s will, then we are an honorable person, and an angel in heaven.

PRAYER
Lord, we give you thanks for the gift of your law. Your law guides us in every aspect of our lives. Your law teaches us the ways of your kingdom. We pray that you shape us into good citizens of your heavenly kingdom. For the spiritual laws of religion are the very laws of your Holy City. Teach us the wise governance of our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Render us good citizens of this world. And as we act well in this life, out of love for you, may we act well for our future life. All good things are taught by your holy law. May we ever seek to learn and grow in our grasp of the law of your Holy City.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Jan 17th, 2016

The Divine Marriage
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 17, 2015

Isaiah 62:1-5 John 2:1-11 Psalm 36:5-10

I was talking with a Catholic priest about marriage once, and he said, “There’s more to it than just the man and the women.” Our readings this morning shed light on his comment. In Isaiah 62, the relationship between God and the people of Israel is compared to a marriage. And in John, Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding feast. Christians say that this miracle is Jesus’ sanctification of the institution of marriage. Not only is marriage a sacred institution, it is grounded in the very relationship between God and humanity. And that grounding in the relationship between God and humanity is what the priest meant when he said there’s more to marriage than just the man and the women.
There was a time when society thought that marriage was holy. I’m not sure that is the case today. But even when marriage was considered a holy institution, I don’t think that the spiritual origins of marriage were widely known.
Isaiah uses the language of marriage to talk about God’s relationship between Himself and Israel and, by extension, humanity. Verses 4-5 read,
but you shall be called My delight is in her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
This passage says that God loves humanity and takes delight in us. God’s love is so intense that it is compared to the intense love of newlyweds,
As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
There are other passages in the Bible that use marriage imagery to describe God’s love for humanity. We find it in the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah. And in the New Testament we find it scattered through the Gospels and particularly in the book of Revelation. We use some of these passages from Revelation in our communion service. Among other lines we say, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9). We use this language because communion is a sacrament that symbolizes God’s union with the human race.
The love that couples feel for each other flows into them from God. All love comes from God. But especially marriage love comes from God. The origins of marriage love are cosmic. The eternal relationship between God and humanity is the very source of marriage love. Marriage between humans symbolizes this eternal relationship between God and humanity. God’s love for humanity will never be broken. God’s love for humanity is the eternal, heavenly marriage. And the symbolism of the divine marriage between humanity and God, which is eternal, is why Catholics don’t allow for divorce. They say that God’s marriage with humanity is eternal. Since human marriage symbolizes the divine marriage, it, too, should be eternal.
There was a time when marriages were held sacred and almost always eternal. Couples felt that only in marriage could they be properly united. Divorce was scandalous, and rare—except in Hollywood.
I am old enough that I can remember when living together outside of marriage was a social experiment. Couples tried out living together to see if marriage was right for them. But this was a shocking, new idea in society. Just as shocking was what was once called, “pre-marital sex.” This was sexual relations without the sanctity of the marriage relationship. These ideas were shocking and new because of the strength that marriage held as a social institution.
These social experiments are now the norm. We don’t even talk about “pre-marital sex” now because today it is the most common form of intimacy. Couples live together as a matter of course, and no one thinks anything of it. Divorce laws today are lax. People can have “no-fault” divorces and do not need extreme reasons for them.
But couples do marry. Often extra-marital sex and living together are rituals that do eventually lead to marriage. But I wonder if marriage is still considered a holy institution. People come to this church to get married. But do they think that they are involving themselves in something sacred? Do they understand that the institution of marriage has its origin in God’s love for humanity? Do they recognize that Jesus blessed marriage with His first miracle? Is marriage holy to couples today?
Having said all this about the sanctity of marriage, I need to follow up with Swedenborg’s description of marriage in heaven. In his description of marriages in heaven, the ceremony is simple and without even the presence of a priest. The groom simply puts a ring on the finger of the bride and a necklace and bracelet as marriage tokens. He then says aloud, “You are now mine.” The congregation then speaks words of blessing on the couple. In heaven, a priest is present when the couple are engaged, and he witnesses the words of mutual consent. For, in Swedenborg’s words, “Consent is the essential of marriage; all succeeding ceremonies are its formalities” (CL 21).
With all the religious associations that belong to marriage, finally the mutual consent of the couple is what matters most. Maybe the laxity of sexual relations today are closer to what Swedenborg describes in heaven. Today, the intention of couples to unite is taking the primary role in relationships. The consent of couples to be in relationship is what holds them together these days.
But there is one thing lacking. The consent to be together may be the essential binding force in relationships today. But is it a consent to stay together for life? Is it a consent to stay together through difficulties and struggles? Is it a consent to remain together through the ordinary day-to-day life of work and recreation. Is it a consent to build a relationship over a lifetime? Is it a consent, in short, that is eternal?
I think that society today has strengths and weaknesses in regard to marriage. We have much more freedom with regard to sexual relations. We can explore the meaning of love freely and not constrained by heavy social pressure. That can be a strength. But this same freedom can lead to anarchy. It can lead to irresponsibility in relationships. The very freedom we have now can lead away from life-long commitment. The work that goes into building a lasting relationship can be shrugged off as couples break up when difficulties arise or early passion fades.
But Swedenborg’s simple marriage in heaven was permeated with a holy atmosphere. There was no priest at the wedding because God was so present in the consciousness and the very emotional sphere of the ceremony. Holiness was in the air. Like so much of society today, spirituality is fading. It is only natural that in marriages, holiness can be forgotten or not understood.
But whether we recognise it or not, God’s marriage with humanity is eternal. God is with us through all the weaknesses of humanity and in all our causes for celebration. That is the glory of the heavenly marriage. God is with us through it all.

PRAYER

Lord, we thank you for your gift of love. For all good things come from you. And especially the love we know is your gift to us. We thank you for the special love of spouses, partners, and friends. For within the sanctity of these relationships we come to know you love most keenly. You have called the human race your bride. And you relate to humanity as a groom. Your love for us is constant and eternal. We know that your love will never part. We ask that you inspire us with like constancy in our intimate relationships. For with your help and influence, we will remain in relationship in hard times and in celebration.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Jan 10th, 2016

Finding Jesus
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 10, 2016

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 Psalm 72

We seek out Jesus for different reasons. This Sunday is follows Epiphany, and on it we celebrate the arrival of the wise men to the manger. When the wise men found baby Jesus, they were overjoyed and gave Him expensive gifts. But they had to search for Jesus. They had to seek out where Jesus was. When they arrived in Jerusalem from the east, they had to ask where Jesus was. This Matthew tells us in 2:1-2, “Behold, wise men came from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.’” Acting on the counsel from the chief priests and teachers of the law, Herod told them to go to Bethlehem. They then followed the star to the manger. When they saw baby Jesus they were overjoyed. They worshipped and gave Jesus precious gifts.
The story of the wise men plays out in our lives. We, too, have to seek out Jesus in order to bring Him into our lives. We cry out for Jesus to come to us from different places in our lives. There are times when we seek him out to give thanks for all the joy that has come our way. These are the times when we are filled with a holy happiness from God and we thank God from the bottom of our hearts. This is what the wise men represent in our lives. Then we also cry out to Jesus sometimes when we are in darkness and want to be brought into the light. In our Isaiah passage for this morning, we heard about a time of darkness. Isaiah 60:2 reads, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” This is our condition when we feel distant from God. Yes, there are times in our life when the heavenly joys of God’s kingdom seem distant. There are times when we seem to be sinking into darkness, and we need God’s loving hand to lift us up. As the Psalmist says,
Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
Come near and rescue me (Psalm 69:14, 15, 16, 17, 18).
But we have God’s assurance that when we do call out to Him, He will come. Isaiah 60:2 reads, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” When we hear that darkness covered the earth, we think about the time of Jesus’ birth. Then the world was in great darkness, and needed Jesus to come and show humanity the way back to God. On a personal level, we think about those times when we seem distant from God. We may feel lost or overcome with problems. In the midst of our distress, we seek God. In the darkness we look for that guiding star. We say with the Psalmist, “Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; . . . answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.”
There are times indeed darker than this, when we question our very spirituality. I have known times when the world closes around me, and I become immersed in my own selfish desires. I almost feel like Herod. He sought out Jesus, too, but with a different motive than that of the wise men. He wanted to find Jesus in order to get rid of Him. Now in the depths of my heart, I am fully committed to Jesus. But I do admit that there are times when I don’t want Jesus to disturb my worldly pleasures. Or I may be taking credit for the achievements in my life and do not want to acknowledge that it was all God’s work. During these times, I don’t even cry out, “Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble” (Psalm 69:16-17). For when I am too involved with the world, Jesus and His heavenly kingdom are a threat. Jesus was a threat to King Herod because He was called the King of the Jews. Herod took this literally, and saw Jesus as a threat to his rule. When the world is too much with me, Jesus is a threat. I know that He will break up the pleasures I am enjoying.
But no matter where we are in our hearts, God is always with us. God is always close to us, no matter how we feel and no matter what state of mind we are in. Though we may reject God–perish the thought!– God will never reject us. Though we may try to escape God’s love, God will love us still. Psalm 139 speaks about this in lovely poetry:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:7-12).
When I was mad at the church years ago, I deliberately tried to rebel against the teachings I grew up with. In my AA program, they told me to make a list of people and institutions I could forgive, people and institutions I could forgive but it would be hard, and people and institutions I would never forgive as long as I lived. At that time in my life, I was so angry with the church that I put it on the list of people and institutions I would never forgive as long as I lived. And look at me now! An ordained minister in the church I said I would never forgive as long as I lived! My life is an example of our reading from Isaiah 60:2, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” God came to me in my thick darkness and His glory arose upon me. He brought me home as a good shepherd does a wandering sheep.
Now my life is like the wise men. Now I give thanks to God with every breath I breathe. I am so grateful that God did not leave me in the pit. I am so grateful that God did not leave me to wallow in my self pity and bitterness. He lifted me out of the pit. He made his light shine upon me. In my night, God shone like the day.
The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. They were expensive gifts–gold, incense, and myrrh. How can we bring gifts to Jesus? What would we do that would be like bringing these gifts to baby Jesus? I suggest that the answer to this question is your very self. I suggest that you, yourself, are the gift. Each one of us is a unique individual. Each one of us has a personality that is like no other. Each one of us has a gift, a talent that we do best. I minister to this church first and foremost and then in every other opportunity I have to do so. Sometimes it is with the youth, sometimes it is with the members of the interfaith centre, sometimes it is with a couple I marry. I minister wherever God calls me to do so. Some people are plumbers. They keep the water systems running in our houses so we can shower, keep our home clean, and in many homes it is the plumbers’ work that keeps our homes warm in the winter. Some of us work with people in need. Some give care to people with special needs. Some work in hospitals. Some work with mental illnesses. Some people are construction workers. They build the houses we live in or the buildings we shop in or where businesses have offices. Some people give off their love for God through their personal interrelations. They make the people they know feel better. They give off the love that God has for us all. The poet Walt Whitman tried to capture the vastness and diversity of each individual in the world in a poem called “Leaves of Grass.” The poem goes on at great length and the sheer number of verses makes the impression that the world and its individuals are infinite. No one of the few vocations I have mentioned is more valuable to society than another. No one of these vocations is more valuable to God. Was gold more precious than myrrh? Not at all. Was the worship of the wise men more pleasing to God than that of the shepherds? Of course not. It was the humble shepherds who saw the angel Gabriel, and it was the humble shepherds who heard the angelic choir praising God.
Let your light shine, Jesus tells us. Let your light shine in whatever way is uniquely yours. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of His children we do to Him. However we treat our neighbor, whatever good we do him or her is our gift to Jesus. When we seek Jesus to bring Him a gift, we are also seeking out who we are. Take stock of who you are. Consider the goods that you bring to the world. Thank Jesus for every opportunity He gives you to serve. Thank Jesus for the gifts you can give to the world. Thank Jesus for who you are. For only you can be the person you are. Only you can bring forth the gifts you do. You, and only you, manifest the image of God that you do. We each one of us are one shining spark showering forth from the Sun that gives life to heaven and earth.

PRAYER

Lord, you came into a world of darkness, into a people of darkness. You brought light to a world of blindness. And our world can become darkened at times. We can wander lost from your saving grace. Help us always to find our way into your light. Help us to find you in the dark places of our souls. For with delight did the Magi find you that dark Christmas night. May we have like delight when your light illumines our ways. In our distracted lives, may we, too, follow the star of truth to you, our heavenly Father, and our spiritual home.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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