Part 1: To Follow the Light
January 7, 2018
Pastor Morris Brown
Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is a great deal of debate about whether we ought to make resolutions or not. For example, some people say making New Year’s resolutions is pointless because studies show that most people break them within the first few months.
Others, however, think making New Year’s resolutions is important because they give us goals to work toward. I once read about a guy who tried to play both sides of the debate. His New Year’s resolution was, get this - to stop making New Year’s resolutions. Sounds like he broke his resolution as soon as he made it!
Well, I have to admit I still like making New Year’s resolutions - even though I don’t always keep them. As a result, I’ve decided to share a worship series over the next few weeks entitled, iResolve. I want us to look at some resolutions our faith invites us to make; resolutions that can help us get this year off to a great start.
We begin our series this morning with a message entitled, iResolve to Follow the Light. I begin with this title because today is Epiphany Sunday. On this Sunday, we reflect on the story of the wisemen who followed the light of a star which led them to the Christ child, and a deeper experience of God’s light and love in their lives.
Can I ask you something? Would you like to be led to the Christ child this year? In other words, would you like to have a deeper, more powerful experience of God’s light and love in your life? I know I would! And the good news is the story of the wisemen offers some insights on how we can do it; ways we can “follow the light!”
For example, if we want to “follow the light” this year, the wisemen remind us we must put time and effort into our spiritual journey. Think about it. The wisemen wanted to find the Christ child. To do that, however, they had to take a journey. A journey from their home “in the East” all the way to Bethlehem.
Now, scholars tell us that “the East” was probably Persia, the country we call Iran. They also tell us the trip would have been a long, slow, hard journey that could have lasted two years – a journey that would require an enormous amount of their time and energy. And yet, they were willing to put that time and energy in.
I was thinking about this last week when I watched the unranked Butler Bulldogs shock the college basketball world by beating Villanova - the number one team in the nation. After the game, a reporter asked first year Butler coach, LaVall Jordan, what led to his team’s ability to play such an awesome game?
“Well,” Jordan said, “My team didn’t do it by osmosis! We spent several months engaging in hard practice. We spent hours watching game films. We learned new plays on offense. And, we worked hard to improve our defense. It was my team’s willingness to put in a lot of time and energy that resulted in today’s incredible win.” Did you hear it? If we want to “follow the light” in 2018, if we want to have a deeper experience of God’s light and love in our lives in the coming year – we, like the wisemen and the Butler Bulldogs, need to realize it’s not going to happen by osmosis. It will require an investment of our time and energy in the journey.
We must be willing to invest some time and energy engaging in practices that will intentionally open us up to the presence of the Christ, the experience of God’s light and love in our lives day by day. Practices like: centering prayer, walking the labyrinth, lectio divina, devotional reading, journaling or yoga - to name a few.
Second, if we want to “follow the light” this year, the wisemen remind us it’s important to be part of a spiritual growth group. The wisemen offered three gifts. The church has traditionally referred to the “three wisemen.” But, if you read the text closely you’ll notice it never mentions how many there were. There may have been three of them. There may have been thirteen! What’s important is that the story makes it clear that the wisemen didn’t travel alone. Instead, they were part of a group that followed the light of a star together. A group that journeyed on the way together. A group that found the Christ together!
Being part of a spiritual growth group is important even for me. For example, as a pastor for the last 27 years I’ve always tried to be part of a small group of other pastors. I’ve found it important for me to try to be part of a group with whom I can study spirituality, get and give support, for whom I can offer and receive prayers.
Why? Ministry can be hard work. It can be lonely work. And I realize that if I am going to continue to find the Christ in my life, experience God’s light and love in my life, be a vessel of God’s light in the lives of others - I can’t travel alone. I need companions who can make the journey with me. And the truth is, so do you!
That’s why our discipleship ministry team is hosting Light Up Sunday today. They’re highlighting small group offerings for the winter/spring season because they want all of us to find folks who can journey with us and support us as we seek to encounter Christ and grow in our experience of God’s light and love in our lives!
Third, if we want to “follow the light” this year, the wisemen remind us we to engage people who are different. You know one of the things we often miss in the story of the wisemen is how many cultural, racial, social, economic, and religious boundaries they were willing to cross in an effort to find the Christ child.
Think about it! These men were from Persia, yet they were willing to travel to Israel. These men practiced the Zoroastrian religion, but they were willing to engage people who were Jewish. These men were wealthy and powerful, but they were willing to humble themselves and kneel before the child of a poor peasant couple. And because they were willing to do this, because they were willing to get outside their comfort zone and cross all kinds of boundaries to engage people who differed from them in almost every way, the wisemen found the Christ child. They experienced the light and love of God in their lives in a new and powerful way.
I was thinking about this the other day. As many of you know, our congregation is in the process of considering a merger with Glenwood Methodist Church, a struggling church in the Glenwood community of Greensboro. What you may not know, however, is that Glenwood is the most diverse community in our city.
As a result, if this merger happens, we are going to have an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, cross all kinds of boundaries, worship with, serve with, and build relationships with people who are different than we are. People we might not otherwise encounter.
As we do this, I believe something will happen. I believe we will find Christ in powerful new ways. I believe we’ll have a deeper experience of God’s light and love. If we want to “follow the light” this year, we need to spend time with people who differ from us. For through them we’ll encounter the presence of Christ.
Fourth, if we want to “follow the light” this year the wisemen remind us to participate in worship regularly. When the wisemen finally found the child, the scripture says, “They bowed down and worshipped him.” They knew that to experience the light of God they must offer their worship to God.
Now, the truth is some of us struggle to participate in worship on a regular basis. We often think it doesn’t matter if we are here or not. We’re like the kids whose Sunday school teacher asked them to write a letter to their pastor about their experience in worship.
One boy wrote, “Dear Pastor, I really liked your sermon. My favorite part was when you finished.” A little girl wrote, “Dear Pastor, thank you for your sermon. I will write more when my mother explains what you said.” Finally, another boy wrote, “Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon, but I think more people would come to hear you preach if you moved our church to DisneyWorld.”
Listen, whether you like or understand the sermon or not, participating in worship on a regular basis is valuable, it’s important! As Ian Crone says, “When we engage in worship – sing hymns, offer prayers, hear the ancient story, go to the Lord’s Table again and again - then God’s slow, steady work of transformation takes place. Slowly we find God turns our apathy toward others into empathy, our callousness toward others into compassion, our self-centeredness into a sacred love of self, others and God.”
If we want to follow the light this year, experience God’s light and love in our lives, like the wisemen we must participate in worship regularly.
Fifth, if we want to “follow the light” this year, the wisemen remind us to practice generosity.After the wisemen worshipped the child, the gospel of Matthew says they opened their treasure chests and gave valuable gifts to the holy family. They gave them gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
There is a legend that says the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the wisemen gave Jesus enabled Mary and Joseph to flee Bethlehem when King Herod massacred the children of the town, and they lived in Egypt until Herod was dead. The generosity of these wisemen enabled the holy family to survive a very difficult time.
I hope you saw the article in the Greensboro News and Record this week which highlighted Pastor Virginia presenting our Christmas Eve offering to “Meals on Wheels.” Your generous financial gift of $21,400 is going enable this ministry to feed 33 hungry senior citizens in our community for an entire year! But, giving our money isn’t the only way to practice generosity!
For example, I read a story about Tony Tolbert, a 51-year old lawyer in Los Angeles who moved back into his mother’s house. Why? So, he could loan his home “rent-free” for a year to a single mother and her three children who’d been living in a shelter!
When Felicia Dukes, the single mother who received the gift was asked what the gift of a rent-free house meant to her, she tearfully said, “It’s life changing! Mr. Tolbert’s generosity will enable me to provide for my children while I go back to school and get the training I need to get a job that will put my family back on its feet!”
When Tony Tolbert was asked why he did it, he said, “I realized that I didn’t have to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Oprah to help people. I just needed to do whatever I could, with whatever I had. I had a home. So, I shared it! And I’ve discovered that when I did, I had a deeper experience of God’s presence in my life!”
If we want to follow the light this year, to have a deeper experience of God’s light and love in our lives, like the wisemen we need to realize we all have treasures. Some of us have time, others talents, others financial resources. And if we’ll share what we have? Well, God’s light will be released into our lives and the world!
One last thing, if we want to “follow the light” this year, the wisemen remind us we need to pay attention to our dreams. The story of the wisemen ends this way, “Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.”
Most of us don’t pay attention to our dreams. We often think they are simply the result of the pizza we ate for dinner last night. And yet, the scripture is filled with people who not only have dreams, but made major life decisions based on them. In the Old Testament there was Abraham, Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, Solomon, Gideon and the prophet, Ezekiel.
In the New Testament there’s Joseph, the father of Jesus. The wisemen in this morning’s story. Ananias, the man who converted Paul. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, and John who wrote the book of Revelation. All these people paid attention to and acted on their dreams. And when they did, God took their lives and the world in new directions.
In his book, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language, John Sanford tell the story of a chemist named August Kekule. In 1865 Kekule had been thinking about the structure of the benzene molecule when he fell asleep in front of his fireplace. He had a dream. He saw chains of carbon atoms rising like snakes before his eyes. He knew that benzene had six carbon atoms but its structure was a mystery. It couldn’t be a simple chain, so what was it? Suddenly one of the chains moved forward taking the form of a snake biting its own tail. This was the answer to the riddle. He realized benzene was a ring of carbon atoms surrounded by hydrogen. And when Kekule awoke, he knew he had changed chemistry.
As you enter this new year, do you want to encounter the Christ? Do you want to have a deeper experience of God’s light and love in your life? Do you want to find God’s direction for problems, situations you face? Like the wisemen, pay attention to your dreams!
As I begin this new year, I’d like to encounter Christ. I’d like to have a deeper experience of God’s light and love in my life. My guess is, you would too! Well, to do that, we need to resolve to “follow the light.”
We can do it by putting significant time and energy into our spiritual journey. We can do it by being part of a small group. We can do it engaging people who differ from us. We can do it by participating in worship regularly. We can do it by practicing generosity. We can do it by paying attention to our dreams. As we come to the table, may our journey toward the light begin!
© Morris Brown 1/7/17