Saturday, March 4, 2017

"Shine" - Sermon on February 26, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
February 26, 2017
“The Great Invitation: Shine”
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 17: 1-9

        I don’t know about the rest of you, but in the midst of all these rainy and dreary days, I’m ready for some extended sunshine.  I’m ready to get back on the hiking trails and just being outside in general, plus come April and May, will be having some serious fish fever which should be good with all of our lakes being FULL this summer.  While we have needed the rain after a few years of drought (which will hopefully result in a colorful Spring out here), sunshine is necessary for our well-being and for the new growth that Spring may bring.  Yet even amidst the dreary days we’ve had since the year began, we sure have had some brilliant rainbows appear when the sun does decide to shine, which is also a sign of the promises that God makes to us.  So, amidst the rain, I believe God is promising us a brilliant Spring that awaits.  Yet I also how the light and love of Christ shines through each of us yesterday afternoon as we celebrated Geri Bernard’s life, and Geri sure showed us how the love and light of Christ can shine, as it shone through her each time we saw her and got our hug!!  And that same light shone through everyone who helped with the service, as this is a congregation where I have seen the best in community happen and how the love and light of Christ shines through each other.  It made for a meaningful and beautiful tribute to a person who embodied the love and light of Christ.  ---
        This morning, we come to the end of our series, “The Great Invitation,” as we have been working through the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew since the Christmas season ended earlier last month.  We also come to the end of the Christmas cycle in the church year of epiphany, the season where Jesus is shining new light on the people he encounters and on each of us as we learn about what it means to be his followers and disciples.  Our series began eight weeks ago with the great invitation to baptism, where we witnessed the heavens opening up and thought about moments in our lives where the heavens open up for each us.  We have been invited to come and see what following Jesus is about, then invited to follow Jesus, to think about what it means to be blessed and be a blessing to others.  As we worked through the “Sermon on the Mount,” or nuts and bolts of the invitation to follow Jesus and BE his disciples, we have been invited to be salt and light, to do this, not that, then to think about our reward for doing this, not that, and now Jesus invites us to SHINE and keep spreading the love and light to our community and the rest of our world as we begin a new journey, the journey of Lent that begins on Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. 
        During “The Great Invitation,” we have heard some texts from the “Sermon on the Mount” that have been challenging to hear (and preach).  In fact in this morning’s account of Jesus’s transformation or fancy church-speak, transfiguration, includes Moses and Elijah, two of the heroes of our faith who make an appearance with Jesus on the mountain, which Peter, James, and John get to witness.  While Peter wants to build a dwelling for Jesus, the disciples who are there with Jesus get to witness God appearing in a powerful way through the clouds.  There are also some parallels between Jesus and Moses in this scene which we heard in the Exodus reading that Janet read for us; “by portraying Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as talking together in a scene of transcendent glory, Matthew confirms his view that Jesus is in continuity with the fulfillment of God’s work as represented by the [Hebrew Bible].”[i] And the way that Jesus, Peter, James, and John go up to the mountain is very similar to how Moses ascended the Mountain at God’s invitation in Exodus.  But in this scene from Matthew, we see Jesus shining brightly as we hear God saying “this is my son, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17: 5, NRSV).  It’s the same exact thing that God said back in Matthew 3: 17 when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and the heavens were opened, although now upon the mountain through the cloud, God is saying to Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus!!  Although we also see how Peter wants to build a dwelling for Jesus too, although God quickly comes and interrupts Peter in the process. 
But when they do encounter God directly through the cloud, Peter, James, and John are scared beyond belief.  It’s almost as if they were watching a horror movie when a friend decides to scare the living you-know-what out of them, but it is natural that a sight of God in the clouds and speaking through the clouds could be scary, or awe-inspiring.  Think of it when you encounter a powerful thunderstorm.  Although we don’t get a full detail as to why Peter, James, and John are so afraid, seeing God’s full glory and power can be awe inducing like encountering a powerful thunderstorm or force of nature, which leaves us in no other state but awe, maybe with a little fear from such a powerful sight.  On the other hand, seeing God’s full glory in the cloud doesn’t phase Jesus much, as Jesus assures Peter, James, and John to “not be afraid” (Matt. 17: 7).  Just like when Jesus was baptized and the heavens opened, this is God fully revealing who Jesus is when Jesus shines and his appearance transforms before Peter, James, and John, but then Jesus tells them not to be afraid when they cower in fear at the sight of Jesus’s face shining and God speaking through the cloud.  Even for us today, we are reminded to listen to Jesus, even in times of trouble.  Let Jesus be the light in our darkness and fear.  Even though we may not “have a clue about what really happened [on the mountain] or what it meant, we can at least learn how Jesus would have us act and react to events that challenge our comprehension and threaten to paralyze us with fear.”[ii]
So, like Peter and John being afraid when they see God speak through a cloud, what are some of our deepest and darkness fears where we need to see Jesus’s light shining before us and be reminded to not be afraid?  When I was preparing to go to seminary five years ago, someone told me not to let fear get the best of me, as that’s the devil trying to work.  But the fact is that because we are human, we all have our fears, our doubts, and our uncertainties.  Perhaps at this time last year, you had a little fear when Bishop Brown and the cabinet were deciding who would be the best fit for pastoral leadership of this church, just as I admit I had a little fear of my future, whether or not I would be certified as a candidate for ministry or whether I would have to look for a job when I moved back to CA.  A couple weeks ago, the Oroville Dam emergency created a great deal of fear, and many are still very afraid right now and rightly so.  Or, the uncertainty of the roadways right now might make us a little fearful to drive anywhere, especially as roads continue to buckle from the excess rain we’ve had.  And of course, there is still a lot of fear in our nation right now.  While there are time where it is easier said than done in the midst of our fears, Jesus still shines for us and like the disciples, reminds us and invites us to keep going and not to be afraid.  Listen to Jesus. 
        Even though we are concluding “The Great Invitation” series this morning, Jesus is urging us through each of the lessons he has taught us to continue along the journey, not to be afraid, whether we climb the mountains, or go through the valleys.  Nevertheless, listen to Jesus, let his light shine before you, and don’t be afraid as we end one journey and begin a new journey next week.  But just like this adventure up to the mountain with Peter, James, and John, we know that there will be some pitfalls and bumps in the road along the way, as “following Jesus is not a decision to be made lightly.”[iii] The good news is that God is with us when God says to listen to Jesus.  God’s grace is with us even in the pitfalls and bumps on the road, and even in our fearful moments like that of Peter, James, and John, and Jesus is there to remind us, don’t be afraid.  It’s just like
When God comes to us in Christ, when the Lord appears right before our very eyes, yes, our first reaction might be, like the disciples, one of fear and trembling. It can knock us off balance. It may even take us to our knees. But then something incredible happens. God lifts us back up, up from our fears, up from our trembling, up from our lack of faith, and sets us right back on our feet.[iv]

        It’s up to us to let that love of God shine through us and for us to allow that same love of God to shine on others.  As we come down off the mountain having witnessed this phenomenon called Transfiguration, and now venturing into the wilderness that Lent is often associated with, I want to share with you one of my devotions that I read by Rev. Steve Garnaas Holmes from “Unfolding Light” from yesterday titled, “Ordinary Light” that captures the essence of what it means to let our light shine like Jesus’s light:
Coming down from the holy mountain we know
we have not escaped the world’s darkness,
we’ve found how light is hidden here.
It was no different from the rest of our lives;
we just took the time to remove our sunglasses
and see for a change.
Even ordinary light is miraculous and holy.
Christ lives and shines with infinite love and divine glory
in our passing days of laundry
and crabby co-workers and scrubbing the kitchen table.
Give thanks for momentary glimpses
of the fullness of God’s glory,
but don’t stare at the sun.
Know it’s here,
and look for the light where you are.
A little girl waits for the bus,
singing a nonsense song to herself,
and stops, silent, staring at trees.
I swear, she casts shadows.[v]
As the heavens open for us, as we come and see, as we follow Jesus, be blessings to others, be salt of the earth and light of the world, do this, not that, and seek our reward in heaven, can we be that light, that ordinary light that will shine as the hands and feet of Jesus in this world today as we shine for each other and for the world?  And as we leave one journey and enter a new journey this week starting on Wednesday,
Come with us to follow Jesus! Join us on this journey into a different way of living and being in this world. And if you are worried or frightened, don’t be! We will be right here with you, every step of the way. When you stumble, we will pull you up. When you fall, God will lift you and set you back on your feet again. It is a journey that you don’t want to miss. It is the way to life everlasting.[vi]

        And so let us live into the great invitation by shining our light and shining the love and light of Christ for others to see, but also continuing to invite others on this journey, especially as we prepare to head into the wilderness with Jesus and the season of Lent.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen.



[i] The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 363. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Shine! — Preaching Notes’. 2017. Accessed February 23, 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/shine-preaching-notes.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Steve Garnaas-Holmes. ‘Ordinary Light’. February 23, 2017. Accessed February 25, 2017. http://unfoldinglight.net/?p=4031.

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