Saturday, December 10, 2011

Letting Scripture Speak Through Us

Did you see the NASA video this week showing a real UFO? The object was near Mercury and was hidden from view, or in Sci-Fi lingo, it was “cloaked.” Until a solar eruption sent a burst near Mercury, then it appeared in the telescope’s view and was recorded and broadcast. It caused quite a stir - from You-Tube quotes describing it as a ship, to tabloids calling it a ‘death-star’ after a Star Wars’ Movie spaceship.
It is certainly a week to speculate that ‘We are not alone’.

What an appropriate theme for Christmas, don’t you think? The bottom line  of all our favorite scriptures tells us that we are not alone, God is with us, Immanuel.

While you may be waiting to hear some of those favorite stories on Sunday, it turns out we have John again this week. (don’t moan)
John from John’s gospel is a little different than he was last week. This brief passage follows John’s celestial birth story. John’s gospel has a very unique way of describing Jesus as yet Unidentified- but ‘soon-to-be-identified’ object. . . .who is a WITNESS to God’s love.

    In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life,a and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. . . .9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.       CEB John 1:1-9

All these words about the light coming into the world. Do you wonder what is the connection to John?
He is a witness to Jesus. and he is most like us and we should be like him. (we will be passing out animals skins and leather belts  to wear as you leave, and I’m told there may be a special dish of locusts at tonight’s meal.) But seriously,
Today’s message is a simple one, we, like John, have a mission to POINT TO JESUS. . we too are witnesses, and . . .
        the scriptures can only speak thru us.
Humans today are more likely to identify with a UFO than with the Christ we worship. They don’t know his story and they don’t know who he is. We have to point to Jesus and say "Look! Look at HIM!” (stop looking at the news where Christians are identified as narrow-minded, single-focused bigots.) Instead, “Look at Jesus, the man I’m pointing to, then you will know of God's desire for peace on earth.”
“When you know him, we will be able to work together for justice and goodwill for all.”

But it begins with our pointing to Jesus.

I know it’s not that we don’t want to do it. We want to be witnesses. We love the Lord. We are here because we have experienced something special. God’s Spirit touches us and we feel it inside and we feel it when we work together in service and in fellowship.
It always sounds like a good idea to share Jesus - when we are sitting here, doesn’t it? But what will you think this time tomorrow?
What would it mean to tell the good news to those around you at 11 a.m. Monday morning?

How do we do it?

I want you to come on a mental journey with me. We are going to visit a place where our guides are always saying, “Look!”.
We are going to visit the island of Assateague on the Eastern Shore. Our first stop is the visitor’s center. My friend, Nancy volunteers there and so does Suzanne’s father, so we know we’ll be greeted by friends. (It’s comforting to be guided by someone you know.)
Assateague Tours

Assateague Tours
If you are at all familiar with the island you are probably already wondering if we’ll see any wild ponies. I am sure we will, they wander everywhere. But there’s some other things our guides want us to notice.
    There is a distinct lack of buildings instead we See
    scrub pines, that are weather beaten and thick in places. Sometimes they are standing in water.
    Can you Smell the ocean air, mixed with the evergreen?
(our senses love this kind of journey)
    Feel the Crunch of sand as we walk towards the beach.
(& going this time of year, we don’t even need to worry about the dreaded mosquitos the area is famous for.)
-- and as we get closer, we can hear the sound of waves, not real big, but still rolling into the shore.

This beautiful and protected piece of God’s creation is a gift to visit. And walking with us are guides who POINT (the way).
    They show us where to look for spectacular views,
    They answer any question we ask.
    They even ask us questions to get to know us better and point us in directions that will interest us.

Because of these guides, we get pointed to places where we can really experience the island. We get to see, hear, smell, feel and maybe even taste a bit of Assateague.
We may leave this place with more questions than we came with.
We will certainly have seen more than someone who wandered around without a guide.
and we will most likely return to experience it more deeply -
all because of our friends, guides who ‘pointed the way’.

Freeman Tilden created a guide for guides. His work is pivotal for those who point they way in our national parks and nature refuges. He says the goals of a guide are
to inspire provocation, and to make park resources meaningful and relevant for audiences
His words point the way for everyone who witnesses to something beyond themselves. We who would point the way to Jesus find our goals are the same; (slowly)
    to provoke interest, to convey the message of God’s love so it is
        meaningful and relevant for our friends - and for the world.

In order to do any pointing beyond ourselves, we have to understand and voice our love. Whether it’s for a place like Assateague Island or for the person of Jesus, the Christ. We must know what it is we feel. We must learn to articulate what we have experienced as Christians.

Tilden calls this core understanding -an interpretive theme. Simply, these are the words that articulate a reason or reasons for caring about the natural habitat.
or In our case, we can name WHY we care about Jesus. . .- Can you? Have you ever put words to what you feel?
    I’m looking for Something beyond, “Jesus died for my sins”. Those are someone else’s words and unless you can explain them, I doubt it will point the way for someone else.

Our personal theme is an ‘artistic creation’ (our very own) based upon the Christ’s significance in our own life. It is the expression of what we know to be meaningful about our faith. And we use language that others can connect to with their own experiences in life.1

Coming up with this theme statement may be the hardest thing we do, but we must if we are to be a witness. It is easy to say, “I love Jesus”, “my church means a lot to me,” but explaining it means work. The process can be a struggle that requires repeated adjustment, focussed effort, and time.2

But our statement ties our tangible experiences of faith to scripture stories about Jesus and describes Christian living in a way that can help someone else relate faith in Jesus to their own life. Isn’t that what we are trying to do when we point?
. .
I’m guessing you have experienced those guides in parks who merely gave you factual statements about the place you were visiting. They told you the history of the area, or what battles happened at this site, or how many sheep used to live on the island. These guides are like Christians who quote scripture without any explanation that relates to their own lives. It’s fine for audiences who are only interested in information but it doesn’t ‘grab’ a person’s heart.

A guide who really POINTS, give us a way to connect ourselves to the place we visit. The link may be an emotional connection that we feel for wild animals. The link may be an intellectual curiosity we have regarding the habitat or personal memories of vacations at the shore. But without some link to our personal interest and life experience, we just hear words. And we walk away with little curiosity for learning more.

As people who are in love with Jesus and are tasked with the mission of pointing others to him, we need to share our own ‘links’ to Christ.
    - what is it that touches your heart, why do you return here week after week?
    -What meaning does our relationship with God give to our lives?
If we can’t say what we feel and why we are here, we are probably not sure about the place the Christ holds in our lives.
. . .Pointing and commitment go hand in hand.
First we love, then we commit, then we point to show others the way.

We are called by God in the same way that John and Jesus were. 
And just as they both found ways to relate scripture to people’s everyday lives, we need to connect our experience to the enduring themes of God’s love for ALL God’s people. We must ask ourselves, how are we pointing to the Word made flesh?

If we want to make scripture relevant to our friends, we need to shine the light of God's presence into the shadows of human brokenness.

Then we, like Jesus will be
bringing good news to the oppressed,
binding up the brokenhearted,
proclaiming liberty to the captives, and release those imprisoned.3
These are the needs that capture people’s hearts and lives.
. . .
My friend Nancy Ferg shows a lot of people Assateague Island. She says,     "when they say, 'this place is incredible', I know they've been looking where I’m pointing. You can see the spark in their eyes when Assateague’s special beauty captivates them.” 

When have you been captured by Jesus?
What is it about the man who walked the earth with the conscious of God that makes your life meaningful?

I invite you to answer these questions this week.
Write out your own theme of faith. Consider it your gift to Jesus for his birthday.
Put your values, your relationships within this congregation, your needs and your emotions, into words.
Tell me why you care that Christ lived, died and rose again. What does his life mean for yours?
    and what difference do your relationships here make in your life?
What commitments have you made that convey your values and priorities for living?

Many people have answered God’s call over the history of humanity. The gospels hold stories of the themes articulated by people in Jesus’ life.
Mary said her core value in Luke 1:46,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” or in plainer language, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”
John’s lived his answer with his life, ‘to point beyond himself to the LIGHT of the WORLD’. He said, “ This is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.’ ”.
Jesus own answer to the call of God, was to go to John to be baptized. He committed his life to pointing us to God - so that even after his death, we could know the One he called ‘Father’.
    (even for Jesus, witness began with baptism.)

When we identify the real meaning of faith in our own lives, we can share it with someone else. We can help a friend in their time of crisis, because we know what Christ means in our life. The effect of our interpretation of faith may not be immediately apparent to anyone with whom we share. But if we are sincere and share from our personal experience, we point our friends their own opportunity to ‘see what we see’. 

In this season of giving...Our answer to God’s call is our gift to the one whose birthday we celebrate.

Because after all, the Scriptures can only speak thru us.
My footnotes didn't print. I owe thanks to Nancy Ferguson and to those who create material for guides to interpreting Assateague Island.

1 comment:

Stephanie Anthony/She Rev said...

Thank you, Nancy, for a wonderfully relevant and purposeful sermon with JtB. I LOVE the comparison to a park guide, good and not-so-good guides included. Tangible and relatable and still true to the weight of the Word. Thank you!