Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sermon for February 5, 2017

Orienteering 100: Finding the Morningstar

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star. Rev. 22:16

I can’t find my car anymore. It’s a new thing for me lately. I park somewhere in a large lot, like a mall, I go inside to shop, and when it’s time to go home, I can’t remember where I parked. I know the general vicinity where I parked, but it takes me a while to locate my car. The other night I was at the mall, and I could not find my way out of a department store. I knew about where my car was parked, but I could not find the door I entered the mall through. I ended up just going outside and walking the perimeter of the mall until I found where I parked. If it happened just once, I’d say it was a fluke. But, since it’s happened four or five times over the past two months, I think something is going on. I don’t think its dementia. I think it’s a crisis of awareness. Lately, my mind is such a blur. I am so distressed by the news. So outraged. So confused. It’s taking up my mental bandwidth. When I park somewhere and walk away, I’m in such a fog, I don’t stop and get my bearings. I don’t notice any signposts or landmarks. I’m so focused on doing the next thing, I’m not stopping to mark where I am at the moment.

It is easy to feel lost these days, isn’t it? At times it feels like the path ahead is overgrown and impossible to find. But what do we do? Do we sit down and accept our fate? Do we find a point of light that will always help us find our way?

When I saw a kid in the scouts, we used to do something called orienteering.  We were given a map and a compass, with a few reference points and clues, and we raced along unfamiliar terrain to reach a sequence of checkpoints. Sometimes we did it with all of our camping gear packed into sleds, pulling our way through the snow. There was no path. It was entirely up to the team to find the way through the forest. In order to choose the best possible route, orienteers look at the characteristics of the terrain and make quick decisions as they race to the checkpoints.

I need some spiritual orienteering right now, because I feel like I am racing in uncharted territory, pulling the weight of the world without a map and compass. I feel like I cannot find the fixed reference points I counted on before. The words of Dr. King come to mind when we said, “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around.”

Where will we find those reference points? How will we find our way? When shadows fall and navigators need to find the way home, we search the skies. Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.

Before compasses or sextants guided travelers, celestial navigation steered humanity across unimaginable distances from city to oasis, from island to island, from port to unknown shore.  Greek and Phoenician pilots, Viking navigators, Bedouin caravan leaders, Polynesian wayfinders: they marked the passages of sun and moon; they measured the time and speed of their travel, and they watched the stars. I think we have a story about that somewhere in the Gospels … Wise men who come from the east, following a star, searching for a new king.

Ancient navigators did find their way. They followed constellations across vast stretches of night into the safety of harbor and oasis and home.  When we feel lost, overwhelmed, when the currents of life seem too strong and deep, when the confusing spaces are too vast and intimidating, what will guide us across the tides and troubles of an impermanent life into harbors of hope and sanctuaries of compassion?

“Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars,” said Dr. King. He went on in his sermon, “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that [people], in some strange way, are responding -- something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee--the cry is always the same--"We want to be free." He preached that sermon the day before he was killed.

Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. How do we know that this is true? How do we know that God is at work even when things go from bad to worse?

The hope Dr. King preached didn’t come from nowhere. He didn’t wake up one morning and have a dream. He learned how to dream from African-American churchwomen. They cared for one another. They raised each other’s children, provided meals for the needy. They created communities of mutual aid; they ate together and cooked in each other’s kitchen. Communities of and care were the birthplaces of the Civil Rights movement. It took lots of work, lots of patience, lots of messy relationships. But it exploded into a movement of hope. It only happened with lots of love and lots of time.

In these times, it is easy to be discouraged. Disappointment, anger, and confusion are understandable—often reasonable—responses to the challenges we face. But we must do all we can to fight the slide into hopelessness. The year 2017 is not 1968, or 1860, or 1776. Our moment to protect and pass along the torch of justice is unique. But we must remember that the greatest threat we face is not terrorism, or environmental crisis, or nuclear proliferation, or the results of an election. The greatest threat is hopelessness. The greatest threat is not getting lost, but giving up.

If we are to overwhelm the forces of inequality and injustice—if we are to find our way, then we need to find hope. Not unbridled optimism, but realistic hope. It’s messy. It’s hard. It takes a long time. But we have each other. And we have our faith as a community of care. When we feel lost, when we can’t find our way, when we are disturbed, or confused, whether we are frozen with fear or our attention is split in a dozen directions, here is one thing we know; here is one thing we can believe in; here is one thing we can set our hopes on: the celestial marker that directs our way is the love of God for us and the love of God through us. We look to the Morning Star. We fix our steps on Christ.

The challenge is that sometimes the shadows feel so overwhelming, and the fog is so thick, it’s too hard to find the light. Someone has to point the way.

Author Robert Louis Stevenson, who was very ill as a child, recorded a childhood incident in his diary. He was seated by a window at nightfall, watching lamplighter light the streets below. His nurse came into the room and asked him what he was doing. “I’m watching a man poke holes in the darkness,” he replied.

That’s us, CCC. That’s us, Church. We are lamp-lighting people who punch holes in the gloomy night.

At CCC, I am convinced we punch holes in the shadows by showing the world what love looks like. We point to the Morning Star through our compassion. On the cover of the bulletin, you will see a logo we developed to help remind us of this. Thanks to Mark Thiel and Judy Cox for creating this design. There’s a lot going on in the image. First, notice the interplay between the words compass and compassion. We remember that at CCC, compassion guides us to Christ, our true north. If you look at the northern point of the compass, you will see a cross -- a reminder that it’s Christ who guides the work of the church, and that compassion is possible even in the midst of the worst pain. The words “compass” and “compassion” are connected to three concentric Cs. CCC is a place that can help us redirect our lives through acts of compassion and reminders of hope, always --  in all ways -- to Love.

We proclaim, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are welcome here. We find our way to Christ by welcoming and including all people in God’s love.

A rabbi is said to have once asked his students, “When can we know that the night has ended and day begun?” “Is it the moment when you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog?” asked one student. “No, said the rabbi.” “Is it when you can see the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree?” asked another. “Not that, either,” said the rabbi. “Then what is it?” asked the students? The rabbi answered, “It is the moment when you can look at a face never seen before and recognize the stranger as a brother or sister. Until that moment, no matter how bright the day is, it is still night.

For those who languish in the doldrums of a pervasive, shared disappointment, let’s look into the face of the other. Let’s learn to recognize the light of Christ in people around us. Let’s learn to become familiar with the Morningstar shining in the eyes of the stranger.

For those who have lost their bearings and can’t find the way, the heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge. We can train our eyes to see what only shows up at night. In disappointment, let there a discovery. In calamity, let compassion be the compass. Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.


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