Shining a Light in the darkness

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

1/4/09

 

Isaiah 60:1-6

60Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift 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. 5Then 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. 6A 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.

 

            I heard a story about a man that used to help milk the cows on a local dairy farm in Ohio.  He was blind, but he knew the cows as well as anyone else on the farm.  The blind man often helped the owner of the dairy with the morning milking, beginning around 4:30 am.

            One day, the owner slept in a little later than normal.  So he quickly rushed to put on his work clothes and boots and he hurried out the door to the barn.  When he got to the barn, everything was dark as normal.  But what was different was that everything else was running.  He could hear the vacuum pump howling, the pulsators pulsating, and the cows were shuffling through the milking parlor.  The blind hired hand had started milking without the owner.  He had everything running and was beginning the task of milking, but he had no need for the lights. 

            For those of us that can see, we know just how important light can be.  Without light we cannot see anything.  In times of darkness, we are drawn to the light.  Bugs actually use the light of the moon as a navigational system.  Pilots and ship captains have used the stars of the sky to help them find their way.  Light has a way of attracting us and giving us direction.  And today we are going to look at the light that Isaiah had prophesized about that would draw all people to Israel, and would draw all people to Jesus.

            Our scripture for this morning comes to us as the prophet Isaiah is beginning to break out in song as a way of celebrating what God is doing for his people.  Israel has been in captivity for around 70 years where they were being punished for the sins of the people.  But now God’s favor was returning to his chosen people.  They were reclaiming the Promised Land.  They were leaving behind their shackles and chains and exchanging them for freedom once again.

            And Isaiah speaks to the Israelites and tells them to arise and shine, for their light has come, and that the glory of the Lord is upon them.  Oh, sure, there is going to be darkness that will cover the earth; especially the people of earth.  But the Lord will be with his people through the difficult times ahead.  He will be a light in time of darkness and his glory will cover his people.

            As I read these lines from Isaiah, I can’t help but think about the grace and forgiveness that God offers to his people.  And we all need it, don’t we?  The Israelites were punished for their sinfulness but God did forgive them and bless them.  They have been redeemed.

            But now as redeemed people the Israelites have a new job to do.  In fact, it seems as if these people have been transformed.  There is something different about them.  There is something attractive about them.  And no, I don’t think that they are better looking people.  I don’t think that they were attractive in that they all looked like movie stars and models.  But instead, they shone like a star and became models of the kingdom of God.

            Isaiah tells us that nations will come; kings will come; all will come to the people of Israel, to the people of God because God is with them.  People will be attracted to the Israelites because God’s light is shining through them.  The wealthy will come, the working class will come, the poor will come.  God’s light shining through his people will attract people of every age, color, ethnicity, gender, and background.  People will be attracted to the God of the Israelites like a moth to a flame; like bugs to a light they will swarm to Jerusalem.

            Now obviously this prophecy by Isaiah has not fully been realized.  Not everyone has been attracted by the light of the world and made the decision to follow God.  So either Isaiah was wrong, or this event hasn’t happened yet.  My understanding of this ingathering of the nations is eschatological; it is referring to the end times when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  But we can begin to see hints of this ingathering taking place throughout the Bible where people from all nations are led to the God of the Israelites.  And we can see this in the story of the wise men.

            The story of the wise men involves a few key actors.  Obviously we have Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus staying in Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem.  They are all Jews; the people of God.  But we also have some Gentiles in the story.  These were the wise men, astrologers who worshiped false gods.  These wise men find their way to Jesus because they had been following a great light in the sky.  And when they arrive, they do just as Isaiah had predicted they would do over 500 years earlier.  The wise men bring gold and frankincense and they proclaim the praise of the Lord (v. 6).

            So while the prophecy from Isaiah has not been fully realized, we begin to see that God has set this entire process in motion through Jesus.  And as followers of Jesus Christ and servants of the one true God, I believe that this prophecy needs to continue to be lived out through us today.

            Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  Those who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ are to be light to the world, drawing people to God like a moth is drawn to a flame.  We are to be like the star in the sky that led the wise men to Jesus.

            We will be hosting another Community Fellowship Meal this Wednesday here at Staunton Mennonite Church.  I felt pretty good about the last Community Fellowship Meal we had here and we are planning another meal for the first Wednesday of February.  The reason for having a free meal like this is really three-fold.  The first reason is that we as humans need one another.  We were created for each other; to be able to communicate with one another; to touch, feel, smell one another.  We often refer to this as fellowship within the church.

            As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that what we have committed to doing with our lives isn’t always that easy; love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, forgive, give to the poor.  We will be faced with challenges and obstacles that people outside of the church may not understand.  In fact, people outside of the Church might be the problem (just as those inside the Church can be a big problem, but that’s a topic for another day).  Jesus told his disciples that the world will hate them because the world hated him first.  So by coming together, we can share in one another’s joys and concerns.  We bear one another’s burdens.  We help each other out.  We need fellowship.  Everyone needs fellowship.  Jesus surrounded himself with 12 close friends.  God even exists in three persons, revealing a relational God in constant fellowship with God’s self.  Fellowship is important for church people and for people that don’t belong to any certain congregation.  We were created as relational beings.  That is reason number 1 for why we are gathering on Wednesday; for the fellowship.

            Reason number two for hosting the Free Community Fellowship Meal is because… it is free.  Someone once said that there is no such thing as a free meal.  Maybe that is true, but we aren’t expecting anything from people other than to sit down and have a conversation with us.  Actually, we will still give you a free meal if you choose to sit in a corner by yourself and never open your mouth except to put a fork into it.  We don’t require that a person promises to come back for church the next Sunday before they eat.  They don’t have to pray a certain prayer first.  There might not be such a thing as a free meal, but I hope that we are offering something as close to free as possible.

            We offer a free meal because there are some people that can use all of the help they can get financially.  And maybe they are only saving a few bucks by not having to buy their own food; maybe they are only saving a few minutes by not having to prepare their own meal and clean up afterwards; but every little bit helps.  We all know people that aren’t able to afford a decent meal, or can put together a hot meal. And we must remember that anytime we feed the hungry and offer drink to the thirsty, we are offering these things to Christ (Matthew 25:40).

            As I receive calls for financial help here at the church, I make sure to invite these people to our Fellowship Meal.  And I do this, not so that we can simply get our “feel goods” out of serving someone in need.  But I invite people so that they can join us as brothers and sisters in fellowship, to be seated at the table with us as equals.  Because poor people are still people.  We are all beings created in the image of God and we must honor the image of God reflected by all people.

            The third reason we offer these Free Community Fellowship Meals is because we know that people hunger and thirst not only for food and drink, but also for God.  Unfortunately, so many people have a bad understanding of what the church is and who makes up the church.  So in the Community Fellowship Meal, we are attempting to have a non-churchy activity in a church with church people to help decrease some of those negative stereotypes that people have of Christians.  (Wouldn’t we like to eliminate these stereotypes?  Unfortunately they often exist for a reason.)

            Sure, we all have heard stories about people that wander in off the street on a Sunday morning because they hear the music and decide to checkout what is going on only to feel convicted, choose to become a follower of Christ, and become a pillar of that congregation.  These things happen, I won’t deny that.  But I believe that more often than not, people are scared to walk into a place where they don’t know anyone, where they don’t know the appropriate dress, where they don’t know what is expected of them, where they don’t know the songs.  I can surely understand how scary it is to be a new person in a new place.

            Sonya and I have been living here in Staunton since July and we have been members at the YMCA since October.  But a little over a month ago, Sonya comes to the crazy notion that she would like to go to the Spinning classes at the Y on Tuesdays and Fridays, which begin at 5:45 in the morning, and that she would like me to go along.  (Spinning is a high-intensity aerobic exercise on a stationary bicycle)

            Well, for more reasons than one, I drug my feet at first.  You can probably assume why I didn’t want to go: I didn’t want to get up that early, I didn’t want to have to work that hard that early in the day.  I had plenty of reasons why I didn’t want to go.  But my biggest fear that was keeping me from going to Spinning class was that I didn’t want to appear out of place; to appear like I didn’t belong.

            You see, when you have a class that meets at 5:45 in the morning to exercise, it tends to become a bit of a closed group.  The people there know one another by name and probably have known one another for years.  They meet a couple times a week, they talk afterwards about family matters and work.  And when other people try to join their group, the existing group members are immediately suspect of the newcomers. 

            What are they doing here?  They don’t belong.  That guy doesn’t know what he is doing on the bike…he looks stupid.  And why would he wear that headband or those shorts?

            Sure, the people that have been coming to the Spinning class probably don’t really think or say these things.  But as an outsider, I was afraid of what they would think of this guy just showing up, invading “their space”, really not knowing what I was doing.  I don’t like feeling like an outsider.  I don’t like it when people realize I don’t belong.

            Do you know what would have made it a lot easier for me to start going to the Spinning class?  First of all, I think it would have been a lot easier for me if I would have been able to meet those other people in a less formal setting (I know, Spinning class is a lot less than formal, but I’m going somewhere with this).  Second, it would have been helpful if I had someone from within the class that had invited me to join them and if that person could have been with me to show me the appropriate way to conduct myself.

            I think that it is pretty obvious how my experience with going to Spinning class has influenced my understanding of how it might feel for someone from outside of the church to come on a Sunday morning.  It is scary.  You will probably stick out, especially in a small congregation.  Wouldn’t it be easier if you could get to know the people in a less formal setting first?  Wouldn’t it be helpful if you had someone from within that invited you to come and if they sat with you, showed you the right hymnal to use, when to stand and sit, when to pray, and so on?  The third reason for having a Free Community Fellowship Meal is that it provides a less formal, more relaxed place for us to bring our non-churched friends.  It provides a place to meet church people, to hopefully breakdown some of the negative stereotypes that we all have about Christians, a place to build relationships so that someone can feel like they belong to that congregation even before they ever join us on a Sunday morning.

            So the reasons for the Community Fellowship Meal are: 1. It provides a place for people from the church to fellowship with one another.  2. It gives us an opportunity to serve those in need and to be a loving community that would like to include them in our fellowship.  3. It provides a way to invite non-churched people into our fellowship in a less formal way that may be less intimidating for them.  And I believe that all of these reasons help us to be a beacon of light to the community of Staunton.  Staunton Mennonite’s mission statement says that we seek to be “Love, Hope, and Light in the Community.”  I believe that we are being true to our mission statement when we work together toward making the Community Fellowship Meal a success.

            So when you are wondering why we are having these free meals at our church, remember that we are doing this, not because we are simply trying to bring more people into our church, but because we are trying to live out our call to be a beacon of light, attracting people like a moth to a flame, attracting them to a relationship with the one true God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

            When Isaiah received his message from the Lord that the Israelites would be a light unto all nations, he was so excited that he broke out in a song.  God’s favor was upon the Israelites.  Now it is the church that is to be the beacon of light that leads the way to Christ, much like the star of Bethlehem led the wise men to Christ.  As the church, we must let our light shine so that all people will see it and give glory to God.  Whether through the Community Fellowship Meal, or what ever other way God might be leading you, I hope that you will take this challenge upon yourself to be light unto the world.  For The Light has come into the world, and darkness shall not overcome it.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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