Friday, January 30, 2015

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Sermon preached January 25, 2015

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20

            Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”
            Later in the song, as the story of this person’s troubles continues, the singer will sing, “Send lawyers, guns and money… [life] has hit the fan.”  He uses a more crude term, one not appropriate for this morning.
            Lawyers, guns and money.  Some of you have met with Val Walker from the Minnesota United Methodist Foundation.  Thank you for taking time to do that so Val can make a good recommendation to our church council about a capital campaign.  When I met with Val, she told me that if we move forward, I will need to preach a couple of times about this, so why not today.  “Lawyers, guns and money” sounds like a good capital campaign sermon, doesn’t it?  I hope you know that I am kidding!
            But life does hit the fan.  Things go awry.  Good plans fall apart.  Unforeseen events derail us.
            Most people acknowledge this.  How can you deny that things can go wobbly?  Then comes the response of some.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going – and who doesn’t want to be among the tough?  Or we hear, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  Who doesn’t want to make something delicious in life?  I do appreciate the de-motivation take on some of these – “When the going gets tough, the smart left a long time ago.”  “When life hands you lemons, make a glass of orange juice and leave everybody wondering how you did that.”  A little quirky humor is one way I try and make some lemonade in life.
            Sure that making lemonade advice is good advice sometimes.  Life isn’t perfect and if we wait for it to be so, we will be waiting a long time.  However, I also think that this advice can be superficial.  Life is more difficult and challenging, bewildering and painful than the lemonade advice perhaps acknowledges.  Last Sunday we prayed for a woman named Lavonne, a friend to some here in this congregation.  We prayed for her as she was in the final stages of her life.  Lavonne was a 59 year old woman who had pancreatic cancer.  She died that day.  Before she died, Lavonne touched many lives after her diagnosis, including some in this congregation.  Somehow cute sayings about lemons and lemonade don’t quite capture this life situation. This week Marcus Borg died.  Dr. Borg was a New Testament scholar whose work has been of help to many who struggled with deep questions even as they were drawn to the God of Jesus Christ.  Borg helped many to see Christianity in new ways.  In the words found toward the close of his final book, Convictions, Borg wrote: What’s the Christian life all about?  It’s about loving God and loving what God loves.  It’s about becoming passionate about God and participating in God’s passion for a different kind of world. (231)  In reading some of the articles about Borg’s death, these words were written even as he struggled with his health.  There is more here than making lemonade out of lemons.
            Life is more difficult and challenging, bewildering and painful than the neat phrase about making lemonade out of lemons captures.  We experience deep disappointments – some relational, some occupational, some maybe even spiritual.
            So where is God in the midst of our struggles, difficulties, bewilderments and pain?  I think of the powerful passage from Elie Wiesel’s book Night.  Elie Wiesel spent time in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which was liberated seventy years ago this week (January 27, 1945).  Wiesel writes about the concentration camp experience in Night.  In the passage I want to share with you, three prisoners are hanged, including a young boy who was accused of participating in a sabotage plot.
            “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.  But the boy was silent.  “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.  At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.  Total silence in the camp.  On the horizon, the sun was setting….  Then came the march past the victims.  The two men were no longer alive.  Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish.  But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…  And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.  And we were forced to look at him at close range….  Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?”  And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows…” (64-65)
            Where is God?  God is with us.  God is with us in the midst of our pain and bewilderment and discouragement and disappointment.  God is with us to embrace us.  God is with us to help get us through.  God is with us, and with God’s presence, we may even grow and change through the difficulties of life.  There is something deeper here than being tough and making lemonade, but at the same time, this is a word of hope.  With God, not only might we make it through life’s most difficult times, but we might even enlarge our hearts and grow our souls. Marcus Borg writes about going through a time of intense doubt about Christian faith.  “My doubts about whether I really believed in God were a source of deep anxiety” (Convictions, 29).  Borg drifted away from faith all together until he took a religion class in college and found intellectual passion and a revived Christian faith.  Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz, in a more recent book reflects on his life following emergency heart surgery, a surgery that may have marked the end of his life, but did not.  Reflecting on all his life, he writes, “And so, the patient that I am, more charitable, repeats, “Since God is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers.” (Open Heart, 69).  On the next page, Wiesel writes about his grandson, Elijah.  “Grandpa, you know that I love you, and I see you are in pain.  Tell me: If I loved you more, would you be in less pain?”  I am convinced God at that moment is smiling as He contemplates His creation (70).  Coming through crisis, Wiesel encounters God in new ways.  In a book on church leadership I just finished this week while sitting at O’Hare airport, I read: “it is precisely in the moments of crisis, despair, disorganization, and fear that God’s Spirit forms new community in the Bible” (Dwight Zscheile, The Agile Church, 128).
            The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.  Jonah had been through a lot – a stormy voyage, a few days in the belly of a big fish, being barfed up on shore.  God was with Jonah, and the word of the Lord came to him a second time.  This time, when he followed the leading of the Spirit, something happened.  The people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways.
            Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming  the good news of God.  After John was arrested.  We often miss the human element of Jesus.  Here the person who baptized him, who at some point was probably teacher, mentor and friend, he is arrested.  It is after this crisis that Jesus ministry begins.
            This past Monday, in our social hall, I listened as Vernon Jordan spoke to the gathered MLK breakfast crowd in the Twin Cities.  The speech was simulcast here.  Jordan, a long-time civil rights leader spoke about the world today, and how he thought some things would make Martin Luther King, Jr. cry tears of joy and some would make him cry tears of sorrow.  Jordan shared that he still had an audacious faith, and that arose in part from moments of crisis and pain.  Jordan shared a story about May 1980 when he was in Fort Wayne, Indiana and was shot.  He told those listening that he received many good wishes, but one that stood out among others was a telegram from George Wallace, former segregationist governor of Alabama.  It read, in part, “I am praying for your complete recovery.”  Recovered from his wounds, a year later, Jordan traveled to Alabama for a civil rights ceremony.  At that event, Governor George Wallace who himself was partially paralyzed and used a wheelchair as a result of an assassination attempt in 1972, was present.  The Governor’s wheelchair was brought to the stage, and Wallace asked Jordan for a favor.  He asked him for a hug.  Jordan said he wrapped his arms around "the villain of Selma, a mean old racist who once stood at the schoolhouse door to keep black people out."  Out of crisis, a deepened faith in the possibility for change.

            On any given Sunday, I don’t know all the disappointments, discouragements, bewilderments, pain that you all may be experiencing.  I may know some, but certainly not all.  Over time, I have learned a deep respect for people’s pain.  I can never see myself saying, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  Yet there is good news to be shared nonetheless.  It needs to be shared in a way that genuinely respects human pain, disappointment, discouragement, and bewilderment.  There is good news.  God is with us.  God is with us again and again and again, and the word of the Lord comes to us again and again and again.  God is with us, and we can make it.  God is with us, and we may even grow as we grapple with our disappointments, discouragements, bewilderments and pain.  There is good news.  When life hits the fan, as it sometimes does, God does not send lawyers, guns and money.  God arrives – embracing us, calling us.  Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Anything Good?

Sermon preached  January 18, 2015

Texts: John 1:43-51

            One of my favorite poets is the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.  A few times I have mentioned how I heard him on Minnesota Public Radio in the mid-1990s, a broadcast of a 1996 reading he gave at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis as part of their Global Voices series.  He read a poem then called “Keeping Going.”  After reading the poem he shared that he had considered entitling the entire book from which this poem comes “Keeping Going” but that he thought that might give a reviewer an undue advantage.  Yes, there’s that poet and he just keeps on, yeah, yeah, yeah.
            This morning’s sermon title could give critics an undue advantage.  “Anything Good?”  Was that sermon anything good?  Can anything good come out of his sermons?
            Nathanael asks Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
            This pressing question is now asked of the church itself.  Can anything good come out of the church?  The question may get asked when we read about the clergy sex abuse scandal that continues to rock the Roman Catholic Church.  Can anything good come out of the church?  The question may get asked when stories of clergy misappropriating funds make the news, as they seemed to regularly for a time when televangelists seemed to fill the airwaves.  Can anything good come out of the church?
            It can be easy to distance ourselves from those kinds of over the top scandals.  More problematic for the church, and more deserving of our attention is when the question, “Can anything good come out of the church?” gets asked because there is a sense that the church is significantly flawed at its core.  In 2007, researchers for the Barna Institute, which studies church trends, published the results of work they had done with young adults who had disengaged from the church.  Among the their findings: 91 percent of young adults who were not involved in church described Christians as anti-homosexual, 87 percent described Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent described Christians as hypocritical.  Among other reasons young adults disengage from church, or never engage with it: isolationism – the sense that the church demonizes everything outside the church including music, movies, culture and technology; the church is anti-science; the church is not a safe place to express doubts and ask questions.
            Unfortunately, wonderment about whether anything good can come out of the church goes even further back.  In a sermon at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted:  We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’
we stand in the most segregated hour of America. (A Testament of Hope, 270).  A few years earlier, 1963, while in the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King wrote to a few of his fellow clergy who were encouraging him to tone it down, to wait with more patience.  He responded powerfully in his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”  I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership.  Of course there are some notable exceptions.  I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue….  But despite these notable exceptions I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say that as one of the negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church.  I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church. (A Testament of Hope, 298)  King was disappointed because these clergy seemed to have a sense that “there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills” (296).  King did not think so, and wrote a profoundly moving defense of the need for creative, nonviolent action, now.
            We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights….  But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored
people so mean?"; …  when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. (292-293)
            Many in the church continued to ask him to wait.  Can anything good come out of the church?
            Of course it can, but Philip’s response to Nathanael is instructive.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
            I think that for too long the church relied on guilt, shame, fear and social pressure to get people to be part of it.  No matter how disappointing we may have been, we told people that they were in trouble with God if they didn’t show up – guilt.  We told people they were not very good people if they didn’t show up – shame.  We told people that they would go to hell if they didn’t show up – fear.  We depended on a social sense that respectable people have a church.  Of course, the church was doing this for our own good, because we really do want to be good and respectable people who don’t have God mad at us, so mad that he may send us to a pretty grim place.
            But because we overused such things, and have not always lived up to our best selves, some wonder, “Can anything good come from the church?”
            The appropriate response is “Come and see.”  Come and see.  We are human beings here who grapple with every side of the human condition. We are trying to grapple with the human situation, though, in light of God’s love and grace.  We are people who have some good news to share about that love of God – it’s for everyone.  We are people who are trying to care more deeply for this world that God loves.  We think Jesus helps us do all this.
            Come and see.  We will mess up sometimes, and have to ask for forgiveness.  We are people who take the Bible seriously, and if you do that, you soon realize that a degree of humor and humility is essential.  The stories of the Bible are stories of folks who often get it wrong when it comes to God, and God never gives up on them – or on us.
            Come and see.  Sometimes we will get it right, this love of God, this Jesus way.  We care for and about each other here.  We seek to offer each other a community of love and forgiveness.   We pray for and with each other.  We offer prayer shawls.  We visit the sick and those who can’t get out much anymore.  We cry together in grief, and we celebrate together in joy.  We come together to feed others, to share food, to support community ministries like CHUM.  We bake cookies for the incarcerated.  We pick up trash on the highway.  We read together and ask tough questions together.  We sing and make some wonderful music together.
            Come and see.  Sometimes we will get it right, this love of God, this Jesus way.  Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about getting it right as “the beloved community.”  “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the beloved community” (140).  Commenting on his own time, King wrote, “Here and there churches are courageously making attacks on segregation, and actually integrating their congregations.” (479)  Did you know that at one time in the Methodist Church, all the predominantly African-American Churches, regardless of geography, were in their own “central jurisdiction.”  That changed when The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church united in 1968 forming The United Methodist Church.  Sometimes we get something of the beloved community right.
            We will not be perfect at it, but I want us to be a “come and see” kind of place.  I want us to be a place where people can see that we are making our way on the Jesus way, that we are seeking to known and live the love of God.  Can anything good come out of the church – well, come and see.  We are not perfect, but we seem to be on to something here.
            As I wrap up, let me frame this just a little differently, with a song.  Bonnie Raitt, “Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About”
Let’s be a “come and see” kind of place, that leaves people talking – maybe saying that we laugh just a little too loud, stand just a little too close.
            Let’s be a come and see kind of place.  Let’s give people something to talk about.  How about love?  How about a God of love who makes a difference in our lives, helps us make a difference in each other’s lives, and helps us make a difference in the world.  Let’s give them something to talk about.  Let’ give them something to come and see.  Amen.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Sermon preached January 11, 2015

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

            Chicago, “Beginnings”
There is nothing like a little music to lighten a cold day.  Our worship service has been filled with music and with music references.  This song that I played a bit of is from the band Chicago.  If you listened to WEBC or WAKX in Duluth in the 1970s you could not miss Chicago, and the name of this song is “Beginnings.”
The invitation to worship this morning was filled composed to two musical references.  “Begin the Beguine” is a Cole Porter song, written in 1934, and made particularly popular by the clarinetist Artie Shaw in 1938 ( ) .  If you listened to music in the big band era, you would know “Begin the Beguine.”  And if you listened to rock music in the 1980’s and 1990’s you would know the band REM.  Their 1986 album Life’s Rich Pageant opened with a song entitled “Begin the Begin” – no doubt a play on the Cole Porter song ( ).  Music is a good way to begin a day, a sermon, a task.  I enjoy listening to music while I cook or while I exercise.
So we’ve had our share of music trivia already, but here’s one more interesting bit of trivia.  What’s a beguine?  A Beguine was first a Christian lay woman.  Beginning in the 13th century, Beguines were Christian women who joined together in religious community to devote themselves to a simple life, to caring for the poor and sick, and to religious devotion.  Unlike nuns, they did not profess a lifetime vow, and could leave this community at any time to marry or resume a different kind of life.  While they were in the community, Beguines did pledge to live a celibate life.
To creole people in the Caribbean, “beguine” became a term for white women, and then, in an interesting turn, the term was used to describe a certain style of music and then dance – particularly a slow couples dance.  Cole Porter was not writing a song about women in religious community, he was writing a song about a dance.  “When they being the beguine, it brings back the sound of music so tender.”
From a term for religious women who, among other things, were celibate, to a term for a slow, romantic couples dance – talk about beginnings and new beginnings, change, transformation.  I would guess for the religious Beguines, this was often an opportunity for a new life, for a new beginning.  Finding a partner to dance the beguine might also, I imagine, be an opportunity for a new beginning.
That’s what our Scripture readings are about this morning – beginnings and new beginnings, about a creative God of beginnings and new beginnings.
The God of the Bible is a God of creativity, of creative love.  This God creates out of chaos.  In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.  Life requires some kind of pattern and order to be lived meaningfully and joyfully.  Complete formlessness, undifferentiated darkness – that’s not life, or its life falling apart.  God is one who in the beginning brings beginnings, creates out of chaos.  God still does that.
But order can become stifling.  Too much order makes life rigid, takes the air out of living space.  Order can exclude.  The story of the baptism of Jesus in Mark’s gospel is also a story about the God of creativity, of beginnings and new beginnings.  The very first words of the Gospel are these: “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”  Then comes John the Baptizer, then comes Jesus, to be baptized by John.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart [sometimes creativity begins with an act of energy] and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Something new is happening.  God is up to something and it is different than the order of the Roman Empire.   To get a sense of God creating something new when order has become too rigid, it may be helpful to hear something of the Roman imperial theology, which justified certain kinds of oppression, certain rigid social norms.  Octavian, the son of Julius Caesar, but also the divine son of the god Apollo was proclaimed Caesar Augustus when he triumphed in the Roman civil war.  Here was a proclamation about Augustus: The birthday of the most divine Caesar [Augustus]… we might justly equate with the beginning of everything… since he restored order when everything was disintegrating and falling into chaos and gave a new look to the whole world, a world which would have met destruction with the utmost pleasure if Caesar had not been born as a common blessing to all.  For that reason one might justly take this to be the start of life and living, the end of regret for having been born (in John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable, 157-158).
Rome had one idea of beginnings and new beginnings, the Christian witness of faith had another.  It was not Casear Augustus and the social structures he created that were the beginning of life, but the God of creation who also acted in a unique way in the life of Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee, baptized by John in the Jordan river.
New beginnings.  God is a God of creativity, of beginnings and new beginnings.  While we cannot simply leave the past behind, as I spoke about in my December 21 sermon, we can re-weave the past more creatively in our present.  We don’t need to be slaves to the past.  It should also be said that we cannot repeat the past.  One of the painfully poignant moments in the great American novel The Great Gatsby is when Jay Gatsby tells his new friend Nick, “Can’t repeat the past?... Why of course you can!” (Maureen Corrigan, So We Read On, 11).  We cannot repeat the past, nor can we simply walk away from it, nevertheless, there are always possibilities for new beginnings.  God is a God of creativity, of beginnings and new beginnings.
This week I have been saddened, angered, and moved by the stories in the newspaper about human trafficking.  I have admired the courage and determination of the women who have been caught in the life of prostitution, most because they have been manipulated masterfully by men who know how to use reward, violence and fear well, women who have struggled for new beginnings.  They will carry the past with them, but they need not be prisoners of the past.  It takes work, but they can be free of fear and violence.  I believe God is with them in their struggles, God’s grace is a source of new beginnings.  God’s voice speaks to them, telling them they are beloved, not for the money they can make turning tricks, but simply for who they are.  New beginnings are rooted in discovering our belovedness.
I also hope and pray, and will do what I can, to help foster new beginnings for men.  It is men who drive this.  Men need to change, to see and think of women differently, to relate to their own sexuality differently.  We need new beginnings, and perhaps that starts with recognizing our belovedness is not found in sexual conquests, but in God’s love for us.  We men need to help each other with new beginnings in God’s grace.
God is a God of creativity, of beginnings and new beginnings.  One of the most powerful and profound testimonies I have ever read about the possibility for new beginnings in the face of the sadness and tragedy of life is Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book Lament for a Son.  Wolterstorff’s son Eric died in a mountain climbing accident at age 25.  Wolterstorff, a prominent Christian theologian writes as a person of faith grappling with this reality in his life, and testifies to this God of new beginnings.
In one section of the book Wolterstorff wonders what he should do with his regrets related to his son “over all the times I did not prize the inscape of that image of God in our midst which he was” (64).  I believe God forgives me.  I do not doubt that… [but] what do I do with my God-forgiven regrets?  Maybe some of what I regret doesn’t even need forgiving; maybe sometimes I did as well as I could.  Full love isn’t always possible in this fallen world of ours.  Still, I regret.  I shall live with them.  I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds.  But I will not endlessly gaze at them.  I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. (65)
God not only forgives, but God gives opportunity for new beginnings, for new creative weavings of the past into the present, for new opportunities to love and care and do better with those who share our lives.

God is a God of creativity, of beginnings and new beginnings, and all these new beginnings are rooted in God’s creative love, in that creative love of God which also says to each of us, “You are my beloved.”  With this new year, let’s begin again.  In God’s grace, let’s hear the sounds of music so tender that we can incorporate some new dance steps into our lives, dancing to the unforced rhythms of God’s grace.  Amen.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Sermon preached January 4, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

            Arise! Shine!  Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  People shall come to your light, and to the brightness of your dawn.
            Get out of bed!  Wake up!  Put your face in the sunlight, God’s bright glory has risen for you.  God rises on you, God’s sunrise glory breaks over you.  People will come to your light, to your sunburst brightness.
            Among the songs I appreciate this time of year, this Christmas season is a song written and performed by Sheryl Crow, “There is a Star That Shines Tonight”.  It begins: There is a star that shines tonight, for all the world to see.  We hear that in Matthew’s story of the three wise men from the East.  While we read this story during the Christmas season, or as the Christmas season moves into the season of “Epiphany,” a word which means an illuminating discovery.  Light shining is the primary image for this season in the church year.  A light shines, and it illumines our lives.  A light shines, and somehow we take that light in and are asked to shine ourselves.
            Matthew’s Gospel speaks of this.  Sheryl Crow’s song speaks of that, of what it might mean to shine.  Tonight my Christmas wish will be, for all to heed the call.  Peace on earth and in our hearts,  That love ring out ring near and far, And lift the weary and the weak, Keep you near this Christmas Eve, There is a star that shines tonight
Sheryl Crow, “There is a Star That Shines Tonight”
            Arise!  Shine!  God’s sunrise glory has broken in on us.  God’s sunshine brightness touches our lives in Jesus.  So how are we gonna shine this year?  How are we each gonna shine in our lives this year?  What are you thinking about?  What are you planning?  And how are we gonna shine this year as First United Methodist Church?  How can we shine more brightly with God’s light, with God’s sunshine brightness?  How are we going to cultivate peace in our hearts and work for peace in the world?  How are we going to cultivate love in our hearts, and let it ring out near and far?  How are we going to lift the weary and the weak?
            Sixty-first Avenue United Methodist Church is located in West Nashville, Tennessee, in an area where 90% of the children quality for free or reduced-price lunches.  This is not an affluent congregation.  Yet, for eighteen years, this church has operated the Last Minute Toy Store in the final days before Christmas.  The toy store in recent years has typically had more than 20,000 gifts worth more than $200,000 donated by individuals and organizations, and it is aimed at reaching persons who have missed the deadline for toys from other agencies.  During the four days the store was open last year, more than 4,600 children and youth from more than 1,400 families received new toys and gifts, books, oranges and candy canes.  To make all this happen requires hundreds of volunteers, many from outside the congregation and many who receive assistance themselves.  The pastor of the congregation says “It’s not about caring about people from a distance….  It’s helping grow a community of struggling folks into a community of mutual caring and being there for each other.  It’s giving them an opportunity to serve and encourage others, and be disciples themselves….  What I see with the Last Minute Toy Store is people giving - - - often just of their time, because they don’t have the resources to give money or toys - - - out of a genuine kindness, and often with a very intentional desire to celebrate the birth of Christ through acts of caring for those who are struggling.”
            There is some shining going on there.  We often shine here, too – providing food, and warmth, and care, and a place to gather for many.

            How are we, each of us, gonna keep shining this year, shining with the brightness of dawn?  How are we, together, gonna keep shining this year with sunburst brightness?