All of us—facing the stars / Hope—a new constellation / Waiting for us to map it, / Waiting for us to name it—together.
Hebrews 12:1-3, Galatians 6:1-5
Last weekend marked the 10th year of our January Church Retreat at Pilgrim Center. There are so many things I love about this retreat including the setting on Green Lake, and in particular spending time in the chapel. Let me show you a picture. My favorite time to be in the chapel is late afternoon when the sun is setting—there is warmth, peace, stillness, beauty.
I looked at the breakdown of ages of those who came to the retreat. We had about 30 adults who were 60 years and older, about 30 adults who were under 60 years, and we had about 30 kids and youth. What a lovely mix it was!
As I shared, during our morning session the adults focused on this poem One Today and from that poem we shared in small groups answers we had to the following questions:
What is rising in you? In the church?
Where is the light shining in the church?
What vital light do you bring?
What are the gifts that have been passed down to us from previous generations?
And as I shared in the children’s moment today, you are invited to participate in this discussion we started at Pilgrim Center. I hope you take time to read the hopes that are there and also add your own hopes.
As I thought about the poem and these questions, I was drawn to these two scripture passages. First of all, that beautiful passage from Hebrews that reminds us that we have a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us, who have passed onto us gifts that make us who we are today. This notion of being surrounded by them, cheering us on is such a supportive and lovely image for us to remember.
The passage also reminds us that like the generations before us, we, too, get our vision and example of how to keep going from Jesus. Living in the life of God, Jesus never lost sight of where he was going, how he was to live, and his mission. Living in the life of God, the Grace of all Grace, Jesus stayed true to a way of being in the world—a way that had him in rivalry with no one, a way that had him not define the world in us vs. them categories, a way in the world where he modeled forgiveness in order to stop the cycle of violence and hatred, a way of being in the world that excluded no one. This is the Jesus the writer of Hebrews encourages us to keep looking to. And the writer goes on to share that if we find ourselves flagging in our faith we’re to go over the story of Jesus again.
Go over the story again and we’ll see that Jesus doesn’t give us a code of moral conduct to follow—Jesus shows us a new way to live and be in the world. Jesus shows us that when we are touched by the Grace of all grace, we can move in the world as he did—living without rivalry, resentment, and revenge and instead offering forgiveness and grace. We are reminded to stay living in the life of God, living in this grace (with a capital G)—or we’ll burn out.
The second passage, from Galatians, speaks to where we are now as a church. It gives us good counsel as we move through this time of transition. First of all, it reminds us about our way to be in the world similar to what we are told in Hebrews—a way that lives from Grace, and not from rivalry or competition. We are to live in the power of forgiveness and extend forgiveness to ourselves and others. The passage also calls us to explore carefully who we are and the work we have been given. I think that is what we are doing now. We explored this a bit at our all church retreat this past weekend. The search team is working hard on our church profile that is used in finding a new pastor. The Leadership Team is preparing for their retreat next weekend and formulating questions that have us carefully explore who we are and the work we have been given. And then the passage encourages us to sink ourselves into that work. No problem. I think we have good sinkers in this church.
Finally, the passage reminds us of 2 temptations that we easily succumb to as humans. First, it is very easy to get off track when we start comparing ourselves to others—which is driven by our propensity to be in rivalry with one another. It is very tempting to build ourselves up by comparing ourselves to what others are doing or not doing. We think this gives us a stronger sense of identity which leads to the second temptation—to be impressed with ourselves. When we notice ourselves slipping down this slope, let us circle back to the words from Hebrews which tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus. Perhaps this sounds like a trite solution but I would suggest that it is quite empowering. Why? Because as Jesus was defined by God’s grace, so, too, are we. Grace gives us our identity as children of God and as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Grace melts away our need to put others down in order to puff ourselves up. Grace moves us away from rivalry and resentment and into loving our enemies and stopping the cycle of revenge. This grace lived out in Jesus is what defines us and is what fuels our work and way in the world.
So as we face our future together as a church, let us ponder these last phrases of the poem One Today—
All of us—facing the stars
Hope—a new constellation
Waiting for us to map it,
Waiting for us to name it—together.
I invite you to find a star on one of the tables and share a hope that is rising in you that you have for the church. Help us name it together. Amen.