What Love Isn’t

How many of you have ever heard 1 Corinthians 13 read at a wedding? I can imagine many of you sitting at home with your coffee mug in one hand and raising the other. It is a well-known wedding Scripture for a good reason: it speaks to the heart of what love is. But did you ever stop to notice that it actually says more about what love isn’t?

It is in the ”isn’ts” that this passage has its greatest power, especially in a world so filled with hate. Somewhere, somehow, we as a society turned a dark corner where hate-filled rhetoric is not only accepted, it is the norm. Just look at the flags, bumperstickers, social media posts, and click-bait ”news” bits where self-important commentators inflame the audience with derogatory and damaging statements that go unchecked. Unchecked, until the online comments begin. Then hate parries hate, and things escalate until you stop and think to yourself, ”Where is the love? Where is the goodness? Where is civility? Where are your manners?

Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth had nothing to do with weddings. He was facing a contentious congregation that was devolving into patterns of us-versus-them, and hate was unleashed. So he wrote these timeless words:

1 Corinthians 13 (Common English Bible)

13 If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

So that is what love isn’t. It isn’t arrogant, so love would never think its own opinion was more intelligent or valuable than another person’s idea. Indeed, love would quietly accept diverse thoughts, and would silently agree to disagree.

Love isn’t jealous and doesn’t covet the things other people have or seek its own advantage, so love celebrates everyone else’s achievements and success, and doesn’t put someone down in order to lift itself up. When there is no jealousy, there is no competition for attention.

Love isn’t rude, so love wouldn’t post anything that is offensive, even if it agreed with the meme/post/article. Love wouldn’t hide behind flags that use profanity (or euphemisms for profanity), even if it doesn’t like the person to whom the profanity is directed.

Love isn’t irritable, so when love sees those flags, she bites her tongue and keeps on driving.

Love never enters an argument with a list of past grievances, because love FORGIVES.

One of the things love doesn’t love is injustice, and so love works hard to be sure everyone is treated fairly. And love loves truth, especially the One who is the Way, the Life, and the Truth.

Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 

We have a chance every day to choose love. That’s it. That’s the choice. You either love or you hate. May we choose a love so vibrant and strong that it brings glory to our Father and honor to our family. Remember, they will know that we are Christians by our LOVE.

13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

Love’s Pure Light by Alice Rogers

Being Known

Can you name someone who really, really, REALLY knows you? (And loves you anyway?) It might be a parent, a spouse, a lifelong friend … there is a blessing in that kind of understanding and acceptance in a relationship. I have a friend who I only see three or four times a year, but I feel that he ”gets me” in ways that others do not. I made a joke recently about being ”vaxxed, maxed, and relaxed” and he burst out laughing and said that my statement was such a ”Bets thing.” (I don’t know if that is good or bad ….) He has called me ”Bets” since we first met, and I feel a special affinity for him because he intuitively uses my family name. It is like we have known each other for much longer than we actually have. When these little moments occur in our all too brief interactions, he makes me feel like I am known. There is great joy in that.

Who knows you like that?

In our lectionary passage today, we meet the marvelous prophet Jeremiah at the very beginning of his ministry. Jeremiah was ”only a boy” when God called him to be a prophet, and I would imagine that this calling to be a prophet to the nations at such a young age was quite a surprise … not to mention terrifying.

The first four verses set the stage for the startling revelation of who Jeremiah really is:

Jeremiah 1 (The Message)

1-4 The Message of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah of the family of priests who lived in Anathoth in the country of Benjamin. God’s Message began to come to him during the thirteenth year that Josiah son of Amon reigned over Judah. It continued to come to him during the time Jehoiakim son of Josiah reigned over Judah. And it continued to come to him clear down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah over Judah, the year that Jerusalem was taken into exile. This is what God said:

“Before I shaped you in the womb,
    I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
    I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
    that’s what I had in mind for you.”

God tells Jeremiah that he shaped him in the womb and had holy plans for him. Let’s ponder that for a moment. God is truly the one who knows all about us from our conception. God forms us in his image and has PLANS FOR OUR LIVES. We scarce can take it in! Even before we are born, God knows what he has in mind for each of us. Mind you, as we exert our free will in making choices and decisions that fall out of God’s will, God’s plans take a back seat to how we choose to live our lives. Perhaps that is life’s greatest challenge: to discover what God had in mind for us at our birth and try to align ourselves with his vision for our future.

Jeremiah is reluctant to put on the mantle of ”Prophet to the Nations.” Who could blame him? He tries to hide behind his young age:

But I said, “Hold it, Master God! Look at me.
    I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!”

God had a ready answer for Jeremiah, one that brings confidence and the assurance that his abiding presence would bring:

7-8 God told me, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a boy.’
    I’ll tell you where to go and you’ll go there.
I’ll tell you what to say and you’ll say it.
    Don’t be afraid of a soul.
I’ll be right there, looking after you.”

I’ll be right there, looking after you. This is God’s word for us today. If your life has taken a significant turn, take heart! God is right here, looking after you.

So if illness, the death of a loved one, a job loss, a relationship break up, or a major disappointment has derailed you, know this: God formed you in the womb with holy plans for your life. Keep looking to him to help you find your way forward. He will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t be afraid … God is right here, looking after you.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Jackie Church


  

Joseph’s Son

I am the daughter of Fred. Fred was a hard working cost-control accountant for Owens Corning Fiberglass. He was an excellent bean-counting number-cruncher. I am also the daughter of Nancy. Nancy began a career as a front office clerk in a high school and eventually became the school’s chief financial officer, managing a multi-million dollar budget and overseeing contracts, building projects, and the like. The daughter of Fred and Nancy should have an affinity for math, yes? No. I recently saw a meme that explains exactly who I am. It was two monkeys having a thoughtful conversation. The first one said, ”Name a book that made you cry.” The second one responded, ”Algebra.” Yep. The daughter of Fred and Nancy is the second monkey.

Jesus had the same problem. People tried to judge him as the son of Joseph and Mary. Unfortunately, their preconceived notions of who he should be did not match up to the reality of being the Son of God, and their disappointment was tangible … and violent.

Luke 4 (Common English Bible)

21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”

How often do we put each other in a box? How often do we think we know someone by simply observing very tangential bits of information? Do we continue to make assessments based on gender, color, age, appearance, and socio-economic circumstances? You betcha.

Jesus went on to do exactly what Jesus was meant to do. He schooled them.

23 Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” 24 He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. 25 And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. 26 Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”

Jesus points out that their rejection of him was more about them than it was about him. Their unspoken ”demand for a sign” was met with his reminder that prophets, healers, and even the Son of God don’t respond to that. In referencing Naaman, Jesus reminds them of the humility of the gentile Naaman, who approached Elisha in faith and did exactly as Elisha instructed, setting aside pride and cultural divisions as he put himself completely under the prophet’s authority. Obviously there was none of that in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, where Jesus’ ability of speak with grace was immediately suspect.

28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. 29 They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

This is a great reminder to us today to look beyond labels. The challenge is to reconsider someone whom you dislike. Are your feelings based on true experience, or prejudice? Have you made assumptions? Have you given them a fair chance? Do your preconceived notions of their heritage prevent you from seeing them as they truly are?

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamt of time when people would assess each other by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. We still have a long way to go.

God calls us to accept our brothers and sisters without judgement or bias. I bet you know someone who deserves a second look. Go, and make amends.

Recycled Trees by Michelle Robertson

Just Do It

I am getting ready to lead a training in my District for people who volunteer their time and their talent to serve on their church’s Staff Parish Relations Committee. This committee basically serves as the Human Resources group in the church. They are responsible for hiring, firing, evaluating, and supporting the paid employees of the church, including the appointed pastor. It is delicate work. It is important work. It is often painful work. All of our committees are equally important, and it takes a certain skillset to serve on each one.

Those who serve on Staff Parish Relations are usually gifted in administration, leadership, compassion, and faith. It can be one of the hardest committees to serve on, and I am so grateful for each person who answers the call to be part of this group.

We understand that God has gifted us with unique and individual abilities so that when we come together as the Body of Christ, we function well as a whole. Paul gave an excellent breakdown of the gifts that God imparts to each person in order that the whole might benefit:

1 Corinthians 12 (Common English Bible)

12 Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. You know that when you were Gentiles you were often misled by false gods that can’t even speak. So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.

What is your spiritual gift? Are you using it to serve the Lord? Just as it is important to volunteer in an area where you have an affinity for that kind of work, it is also important to recognize places where you aren’t gifted, and say no when asked to volunteer. I once knew a man who served on the Finance Committee until he revealed that he never filled out an estimate of giving card and he gave his offering according to how much he liked the sermon. The spiritual gifts that this man lacked were faith and generosity. He voted down every budget the Administrative Committee proposed and had no business leading the church’s financial efforts. He wasn’t a bad fellow, but he was just not suited for that particular work in the church.

I hope and pray that you are serving God with your gifts in places were you are suited to work. Perhaps 2022 can be the year that you put your talents to work for the Kingdom. Do you like to sing? Join the choir. Do believe in the mission of your church? Volunteer for your Administrative Council. Are you a good, empathetic listener? Join the Care Team. Is holding babies your jam? Become a nursery volunteer so that tired parents can worship.

When you serve in areas where you are called, not only will you bless others, but you will be blessed!

BTW, check out this great post by my friend Shannon on the Imposter Syndrome.

Starfish and Paw Prints by Stacey Hanf

The Shadow of God’s Wings

The noise inside the car seemed unusually loud as we traveled to a football game last week. I am very sensitive to the whining, whistling, windy car noise when we drive, but this was noticeably not right. About 30 minutes into the trip it suddenly went from annoying to Tsunami level. Something was terribly wrong. As the noise reached deafening decibels, another sound began. Thump. THUMP. THUMP!!! I looked up and discovered that something had gone very wrong with the sunroof housing. We quickly found a safe place to pull over as the banging continued. A large plexiglass air scoop in the front of the sunroof had broken away and had cracked in half. The plexiglass piece went flying in the wind, still attached to the piece of rubber seal that had pulled out of its groove, and then it broke into four pieces as it slammed into the roof. Somehow the pieces miraculously stayed attached to the rubber strip which was still half attached to the window housing. Those four pieces would have probably done some damage had they flown off and hit the cars behind us. Instead, they flew above the car, attached to the torn seal like flags on a sailboat jib. Thankfully we were safe, our fellow travelers were safe, the car was still drivable, and after my blood pressure returned to normal, we continued on our way.

On the way home from the game, we sat in two hours of stand-still traffic. A multi-car accident had stopped traffic, and there were injuries. Twelve emergency vehicles passed us as we sat. My heart goes out to those people and their families.

We never know what the day has in store for us. We don’t get up in the morning and think that this might be the day that we say goodbye to the things and people we love. Days like that remind me to always be aware of my many blessings, and to not take a single moment of this life for granted.

But it’s easy to take our lives for granted, isn’t it? We just go through the routines and demands of life without pausing to count our blessings. We let work, family life, responsibilities, planning, living, and mundane moments lead us through our day until thump, thump, thump, something is suddenly wrong.

Our Psalm today is a timely reminder of God’s constant presence in life, in death, and in life beyond death:

Psalm 36

But your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies;
    your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains;
    your justice is like the deepest sea.
        Lord, you save both humans and animals.
Your faithful love is priceless, God!
    Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.

We experienced refuge in the shadow of God’s wings that day. Others on the road were not as fortunate. This road is notorious for speeders and tailgaters, and there are consequences to reckless behavior. I don’t know why some are spared and others are not. But I do know that when the unexpected, the startling, and even the unthinkable things happen, God is with us.

We miss out when we don’t take those routine, everyday, ordinary moments and feast on them. We often overlook the daily opportunity to drink from God’s river of pure joy. We let chores, duties, commuting, housework, catching up on emails … the contents of daily life … fill in the picture of our existence, and we forget to appreciate the simple joy of living until we have a scary moment when life suddenly reveals its precarious nature.
They feast on the bounty of your house;
    you let them drink from your river of pure joy.
Within you is the spring of life.
    In your light, we see light.

1Extend your faithful love to those who know you;
    extend your righteousness to those whose heart is right.

In God’s light, we see light. Take some time today to stop and look up from your routine. Life indeed is precarious … and precious, too.

In Your Light by Bonnie Bennett

She Went Ahead Anyway

This has been a challenging year for my daughters and oldest niece. Raising kids in a pandemic, challenges at work, pregnancy (twins, no less!), illnesses, graduate school … you name it, they overcame it. I bought them matching candles for Christmas this year that said, ”She thought she could, so SHE DID.” I admire the persistence, tenacity, and downright stubbornness of these young women.

When I look at the young moms in my congregation negotiating the same troubled waters, I am in awe of all of them. Motherhood in a pandemic ain’t for sissies. I see you, young sisters, and you ROCK.

I was delighted to find that today’s lectionary passage is a homage to mothers who cajole, instruct, love ferociously, don’t take no for an answer, and are righteously ”pushy” when it comes to their children. Jesus had such a mom:

John 2 (The Message)

 1-3 Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”

Of all the translations we could use today, The Message is definitely the most fun. Imagine the son giving his assertive mother the side eye-and saying, ”Don’t push me.” How many times do mothers hear that? When we are signing our kids up for sports, running along behind the bike without the training wheels, neck deep in the pool with our arms outstretched yelling, ”Jump! I’ll catch you!” we are often met with resistance. Don’t push me. But we go ahead anyway. Why? Because most of the time, mother knows best.

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Mary succeeds in blowing past all of Jesus’ resistance, hesitation, and objections. “Pfffft,” she says. “This is happening. You may not believe in yourself, but I DO.”

Have you every been there with your child? It is our job to get them through those ‘first day of school’ jitters, the fear of getting their shots, the scariness of the soccer field, driving a car for the first time, the separation anxiety that we feel even more than they do … parents have a high calling to be ”pushy” for the sake of their kids.

6-7 Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

And so because his mother believed in him, Jesus performed the first miracle.

9-10 When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

11 This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

We can’t underscore the importance of this moment. This first sign of his glory enabled his disciples to believe in him. This first miracle paved the way for many more to come … miracles of feeding, miracles of healing, and eventually, miracles of resurrection. All because Mary believed first.

So moms and dads, keep believing in your kids. Keep pushing. Keep persisting. Don’t stop when they object, hide behind your leg, or say no. You know what is best, and because you believe, they will come to believe also. When you think they can, they will.

So go ahead anyway.

The First Glimpse of His Glory by Michelle Robertson

In You I Find Happiness

I had a surprising conversation last week with a young man whom I have known for years. He wrote me an email to let me know that he had recently been baptized. I cannot tell you the joy that exploded in my heart. This is a fellow who has had a strange and encumbered journey to this decision. He has been seeking peace all of his life, but many of his own choices in the past have taken him far afield of anything resembling peace. This decision came after a lot of deep soul searching and some very excellent discipling from a young pastor and a faithful church that has embraced him in his wanderings. I feel like he has finally come home.

This Sunday, we will remember the baptism of Jesus. It may surprise some folks to remember that Jesus was baptized. Since he is the totality of the forgiveness of sins and the One who brought the cleansing needed for new life, it is amazing to think that he himself was baptized by John. What a powerful reminder of the humility it takes to be a servant of God!

Luke 3 (Common English Bible)

21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

The Common English Bible version is the first time I have seen the words, ”in you I find happiness.” What a marvelous take on that Scripture! Can you hear God saying that to you in those moments when you choose him over the world? ”In YOU I find happiness.” Hallelujah!

My young friend is working his way through what baptism means. He has expressed doubt that he was ”good enough” to be baptized. Oh, that we could somehow understand that there is no such thing as being ”good enough” to have a relationship with God! You can never be good enough, but the opposite is also true: you can never be ”bad enough” to be disqualified from his grace. Grace means that we are offered the unconditional love and unmerited favor of God, based NOT on our behavior, but on his amazing love for us. Period.

We understand baptism to be an initiation into the household of God. Initiation. That means that baptism is a place where we start our process of growing in Christ, not a place where we present some completed version of ourselves. It is the threshold of a lifelong journey where we study, pray, meditate, serve, and worship in our pursuit of understanding who God is, and whose we are as his children.

So keep growing. Keep learning. Keep praying. Keep striving. Keep putting yourself under the authority of God’s plan for your life, and never stop seeking the peace that he offers. You are God’s child, whom he loves!

In you, God finds happiness.

Come to the Water by Alice Rogers

When You Forgive, You Love

One of our New Year’s traditions is to watch TMC’s annual tribute to the actors, writers, and directors who passed away in the previous year. It is a sentimental overview of each one’s life and contribution to the movie arts. Every year it makes us sad, but appreciative. This year there was a very brief tribute to the great Hal Holbrook that caught my attention. They showed a clip from a Jon Krakauer movie called Into the Wild. Holbrook was talking to a young man and said this amazing line: “When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.”

As we say in my industry, that will preach.

It occurs to me in this first week of the new year that many of us are going into 2022 with the same grudges we carried in 2021 … and perhaps longer. There is a certain hypocrisy in that for believers. We fully expect that God will forgive our sins … in fact, we are counting on it. We know that Christ died for our sins, and we believe that when we approach the throne of grace with repentant hearts, our sins will be forgiven. This is the Gospel promise.

But when it comes to forgiving others, we sometimes set a higher standard than the one God sets for us. We hold onto hurts and offenses like they are oxygen masks on a plane that is crashing. We tell them over and over to anyone who will listen. We hurl them in the face of the one who inflicted the pain every chance we get. We rarely let a new argument pass without bringing up these ancient wounds, using them like a weapon to re-inflict pain back into the relationship. But rather than give us life, grudge-holding and unforgiveness only take us down in flames with the burning plane.

Listen to the wisdom that Proverbs 17 offers:

Proverbs 17 (Names of God Bible)

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,
    but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

This is a hard lesson today. It will require some soul searching. When an offense has become a comfortable blanket in which we wrap ourselves as a defense against the coldness of the offender, we can easily forget that God calls us to a higher account. We are reminded to forgive, even in those awful moments where forgiveness is not being sought. We are reminded to stop throwing the sin in the face of the offender.

We are reminded to seek love.

But truly, God’s direction to forgive is really for your own benefit. When you forgive, YOU are released from the offense. When you forgive, the memory of it can finally be given over to God and you don’t have to carry its heavy burden anymore. When you forgive, the prison of hurt, anger, and pain that you were trapped in is finally opened wide. You were the prisoner of the offense, not your offender, and only forgiveness can make you free.

This is not a call to forget. Remembering the source of pain helps us avoid it the next time. No one is supposed to remain in an abusive relationship after forgiveness. That is not God’s plan. Forgiving and walking away without holding onto the grudge is the best way to set ourselves free.

Are you holding onto a grudge? Do you bring up old hurts when you argue with someone you love? Do you dwell so much on past offenses that you can’t see the beauty of today?

Set yourself free. Forgive the offense and seek love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.

God’s Light Will Set You Free by Michelle Robertson

A Dawning Radiance

I have friends who religiously get up before dawn and make their way to the beach to watch the sunrise. I deeply admire their commitment to this. You have been the beneficiary of one particular friend, Michelle, who allows me to use her beautiful pictures in my devotionals. If we were dependent on just me for pictures, all you would get is sunset pictures. I am NOT a morning person! Just ask my family.

Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 every year. It is a day that recalls the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. They followed the glorious Epiphany star that had arisen over the town on the night of Jesus’ birth, and remained there as a guide in the darkness. It became symbolic of the light that beckoned people to step out of their own darkness into the glory of Christ.

When we say we have “had an epiphany,” we are letting others know that a lightbulb has gone off in our brain and we’ve had an enlightenment.

Today’s lectionary passage takes us back to Isaiah’s words, which foreshadow the Messiah’s arrival as a light that would come upon the darkness of the earth:

Isaiah 60 (Common English Bible)

Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
    the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
    and gloom the nations,
    the Lord will shine upon you;
    God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light
    and kings to your dawning radiance.

Verse 3 places us squarely at the scene in Bethlehem, where we kneel in wonder with the kings. Isaiah describes the glory of Christ as a “dawning radiance”. Let’s pause there for just a moment. It is the daily dawning radiance that dispels the darkness of night. Imagine our world without the sun! We would not survive. We need its warmth, its brilliance, and its constant presence in our days to light up our pathways. That is exactly what Christ does. He is the constant presence in the darkness of today’s reality that lights our pathway … straight back to him.

Lift up your eyes and look all around:
    they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
    and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
Then you will see and be radiant;
    your heart will tremble and open wide,
    because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
    the nations’ wealth will come to you.

Isaiah reminds us that we can be radiant, too. God’s glory shines through us when we lift up one another in “care, prayer, and share.”

We are invited to care for the things God cares about … the marginalized, the hungry, the animals, the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the planet … these are the things God cares about.

We are invited to pray for the hurts and concerns of those around us, and pray for forgiveness of our sins. We can lift up our nation and pray for our future. We can pray for our leaders, our children, and those in far away places.

And God is counting on us to share our abundance with people who don’t have anything. Food banks, homeless shelters, nursing homes filled with lonely people … these are places where we can share ourselves and be a light in someone’s darkness.

Countless camels will cover your land,
    young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
    carrying gold and incense,
    proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

How will you respond to this call to be a dawning radiance today? Arise and shine! Your light has come.

Dawn’s Radiance by Michelle Robertson

Sheepishly Resolved

New Year’s Eve is my least favorite celebration. Too often in my younger years it meant staying out too late in high heels that were killing me and wearing a silly hat. The parties were always too noisy and too crowded. I really didn’t mind the hat, but the shoes … ugh! My husband and I adopted the tradition of his parents after awhile. We stay up as late as we can and go out on the front porch in our pajamas at “midnight” (which might be 10:15) and pop an air-filled brown paper lunch bag. Boom! Welcome New Year.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t my favorite thing either. Researchers tell us that within six weeks, most of our resolve fizzles out, and we are back to our old habits. Why bother?

I am much more in favor of making life changes based on the Scriptures that speak to us. In that vain, look at today’s lectionary passage. This calls us to change our lifestyle immediately in response to the Gospel … and become sheep.

Now for those of you who follow a certain political rhetoric that implies that sheep are mindless, subpar creatures who blindly follow what their leader tells them, you are right. And I, for one, just want to be a sheep. A Gospel sheep.

Matthew 25 (The Message)

The Sheep and the Goats

31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

And BAM … there it is. There is the only New Year’s resolution you need. There is the Master’s instruction for self-improvement for 2022. Visit the prisoners. Drop in on the sick. (wear a mask!) Clothe the cold people. Volunteer and support your community homeless shelter. Feed the hungry through your community food bank. Be the change.

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

Just as following the voice of the Master brings blessings into your life, refusing to do as he bids will result in consequences you don’t want to face. In the end, we will all be held accountable to the Gospel demands.

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

Let us covenant to do better in 2022 in all of these sheepish things. May we give of ourselves in ways we never have before, and may others be blessed by our efforts.

Happy New Year from At Water’s Edge!

Sun Setting on 2021