We are in scary and bizarre times. We are now approaching eight full months since we went entirely online for our Sunday worship. At that time I am sure most of thought that we would be back together by summer, we are way beyond summer. We had a surge in Covid cases then a decrease now we are hitting record numbers again and predictions of a surge of infections that we cannot fathom. We have seen racial unrest and a major ‘Love your neighbor’ reckoning that should have been dealt with, by the church, decades, if not centuries, ago. We have craziness in our politics and now an election just two days away that has many feeling anxious and afraid. We have seen domestic terrorist groups come out of the woodwork, unapologetic white supremacy no longer hiding behind masks and hoods, and people of color continue to be killed. We have seen confusion at our borders leaving thousands of refugees in danger while border officials attempt to adapt to constantly changing rules and processing record numbers of families and children with as much dignity and humanity as is possible under the circumstances. This morning we have faces on our screens that have dealt with trees and branches falling due to ice build up, power outages that have gone on for days, and neighbors depending on their fireplaces for heat and to cook, not to mention our homeless looking for a safe and somewhat warm place to take shelter. In additions to those faces, we also are able to see those living in the southwest who have immediate family members fighting dangerous fires while leaving family at home with concerns of their own fires. We also hear of the hurricane devastation to our south for a region that is still recovering from the last weather disaster.
Bizarre times. Scary times. Exhausting times. Frustrating times. But, Hopeless times?
And so, in these times, on this morning, we gather. We gather to seek and search for truth in a time when deceit has become acceptable and expected. We gather to look for light in a time when darkness has become comfortable. We gather to worship a God who does not desire us to live in fear, in exhaustion, in frustration, in hopelessness.
The most frequently used group of words in the combined Old and New Testaments are the words –
and the word ‘Fear’. These words in various forms are found 365 times. One for each day of the year. One for every day to remind us that God does not desire that we live in fear. One for every day that we are overwhelmed, out of control, or simply not in control of our situation, the behavior of others and our surroundings. One for every fearful situation, every tragedy, every failure, every loss, every emotional roller coaster, every time living in this world is more difficult than the day before. One for every single day that God desires us to live in peace, regardless of the situation and emotions.
This is not a ‘just don’t be fearful’ grouping of words, we know that would be a waste of words. Sometimes ‘just don’t be afraid’ combinations of words are beyond impossible.
When our daughter Grace was very young, she was convinced there was a monster in her room. Every night I would look under the bed, behind the door, in the dresser drawers only for her to eventually figure out that the monster was in her closet. So, I began looking in there as well – thanks to a Pixar animated movie where a furry looking blue monster with hhis annoying yet funny eyeball friend were able to not be seen hiding in closets by adults, an adult looking in the closet was a total waste of time. There was no way for this adult, me, to sooth this fear from a child who was the only one capable of seeing the monster. Finally, I realized that I was incapable of removing this scary monster from her bedroom and probably the entire house, but, I was capable of removing the ultra scary impact of this monster hiding in the closet. So, we installed a latch at the top of the closet doors which made it impossible for the monster to get out at night. So, after that, every night I would simply latch the monster lock and she could go to sleep in the same room with a monster in the closet.
God is not removing the scary things, we live in a world where we all have the choice to be scary, to be deceitful, to be hateful, to be racists, to be all the things that can hide in our closets – however, God give us truth, he gives us light, which, in turn, gives us hope and peace. God gives us the latch to take away the need to Be Afraid in the midst of our scary situations.
Jesus, in our gospel passage, and Micah in our Old Testament passage, for this week, are both addressing this truth. They are warning the people of who they listen to and who they follow.
“Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray” cried the prophet Micah, “those who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths.”
Micah, a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, was calling the people back to God before disaster hit, at the same time false prophets appointed by the politicians in conjunction with the religious leaders were telling the people ‘Everything is fine’ and the people were choosing to listen to the easy message. All the while, Micah knew that the only way to avoid the oncoming very scary situation was only avoidable if they listen and turned to God. The people, much like people today, didn’t want to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, so they listened to the voices that were soothing, those who were not going to cost them anything, those who were not going to call for a sacrifice of any kind.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;” Jesus later proclaimed, “therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matthew 23:2-4, 11-12
Jesus, just two days from his arrest that would lead to the cross, was preparing his followers for another oncoming tragedy, the cross and their ultimate persecution. His warning was also about who they listened to, they could listen to the politicians and religious leaders or they could remember the words spoken and lived out in the life of Jesus. While Jesus was being called a radical liberal threat, the political and religious leaders were familiar to the people,, they were comfortable. Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy and deceit coming from the leaders’ mouths.
Jesus and Micah both were calling the people to seek truth and to step into the light. It remains our calling today.
“O send out your light and your truth;” the Psalmist begs God, “let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
“We constantly give thanks to God for this” the apostle Paul says later to the believers in Thessalonica, “that when you received the word” (Remember that ‘the Word’- Logon/Logos (root), a word that has been spoken by God/Jesus and implied through the life of Jesus-how he lived consistently – it is the truth) Paul continues “ when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
I Thessalonians 2:13
’What it really is – God’s word’ – Truth – Paul is calling the believers to live a life of differentiation, to separate lies from truth. To not become comfortable with the darkness.
When we speak of ‘Truth’ and ‘Light’ we often designate the both to religious or holy things, but truth is for all things, all times, every area of our life. Truth and Light are timeless. Our bibles give us God’s Words and his workings, it provides us with a real life portrait of this spoken and lived out word in the life of God’s son. That Word, verbal and lived out, are to give us the wisdom and the tools to seek, search, and find, Truth and Light.
Biblical scholar Peter Enns puts it this way, “When we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter.”
See, God gives wisdom to differentiate truth from lies, wisdom to differentiate darkness from light. Truth does not always give us specific answers, because questions change over generations, but truth, and light, leads us to the wisdom to find the answer. This is why God was so pleased when King Solomon, who could ask for anything he wanted, asked for wisdom. God knew that wisdom could give him the ability to differentiate between truth and lies, between light and darkness.
Now, wisdom only takes us as far as our use of wisdom is permitted to lead. Solomon chose to step away from the wisdom he had been given and soon was unaware of the lies and darkness that he was choosing.
Oddly, in a time where we have access to facts and figures, it is also a time when we are least determined to search and find truth, it is a time when light is at our fingertips but we have become satisfied with darkness. We settle for the information that comes from the source we have chosen because it appears to align most with our own viewpoints, we are fed our own choice of news by the algorithms that match our data, and we angrily defend our stance based on truth that has not been truly vetted by us. We get angry and hostile when other views are expressed which is what happens when we have not verified truth for ourself. A recent study has found that this is a problem across the spectrum, young people, elementary age through college and young adults are ill prepared to find truth, instead they, like us, are settling for the lies and the darkness
Truth works in tandem with Light. One leads to the other and then back again. Light differentiates between truth and lies – Truth leads us to a life in the light. Truth leads us to light, light leads us to truth. Truth leads us to light out of the darkness, light leads us to truth out of the lies.
When our power went out this past Tuesday we didn’t think much of it, however as the week progressed, the darkness and the cold began to take its toll. We had assumed that we were pretty tough, but as the numbers on our thermostat began to decrease, and we had to live in darkness and without Netflix day after day, night after night, we began to recognize a truth – we are not so tough. Solitaire and carrying branches can only keep your attention so long. So, on Friday afternoon, when we first experienced power of light and heat and hot water….and Netflix, we were reenergized, we suddenly had the ability to carry more limbs and play more solitaire. We could see as we walked down the hall, we could feel the tips of our fingers again, and home was home once again. Now, it went out again after two hours, but those moments in the light were amazing! We did get it back that evening, when we, once again, realized that we are actually super tough.
Look at the difference – Darkness divides, Light unifies
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I John 1:5-7
Light or Darkness, it’s Your Choice
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Four Questions to Ask Yourself in All Your Searches for Light and Truth.
- Is it in harmony with God’s baseline to Love God and Love Others? Or, does it conflict with that baseline? Is this going to enhance and grow my love for God and others? Does it lead me to ‘Love my Neighbor” does it lead me to “Love all my neighbors?’
- Does it hold back the darkness, or does it seem to have dark shadows itself” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently said, “When you find hypocrisy in the daylight look for evil in the shadows.”
- Is it consistent with God’s word? Remembering that God’s word is the words spoken by God, [which is not the same as the things that humans say God means] Also, God’s word is the transparent life lived by God in the person of Jesus Christ. Is it consistent with the life lived by Jesus?
- Will it lead me to have attitudes and actions that will guide me to a life that positively impacts others? Will it lead me to lead others to truth and light?
What is YOUR choice?