I love the Star Trek movies and TV series. Whether it’s the original Star Trek from the 60’s to the more recent series like Star Trek Next Generation, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine—I just couldn’t get enough of these Sci-Fi fantasy shows. Now I wouldn’t consider myself a Trekkie, per say, but I would pay to see a Star Trek celebrity if I had the chance. I think my favorite character of all of them, however, is Jean Luc Picard. And during this Epiphany season following our holidays I think it is appropriate for Jean-Luc to sing you his version of a favorite Christmas carol.
Star Trek Carol by Jean-Luc Picard (to the tune of ''Let It Snow'')
Oh, the vacuum outside is endless,
Unforgiving, cold, and friendless,
But still we must boldly go--
Make it so, make it so, make it so!
Okay…that was my only bad joke in this sermon. But think about the something with me if you will. Knowing what we know today about Science and the cosmos…just how do we interpret the story told in our Gospel text today?
A theologian and an astronomer were talking together one day about their different understandings about how the universe works. The astronomer said that after reading widely in the field of religion, he had concluded that all religion could be summed up in a single phrase. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," he said, with a bit of smugness, knowing that his field of astronomy is so much more complex.
After a brief pause, the theologian replied that after reading widely in the area of astronomy he had concluded that all of it could be summed up in a single phrase also. "Oh, and what is that?" the astronaut inquired.
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star; how I wonder what you are!"
If there is one thing we do know today about the vast Universe, it is the fact there is more empty space out there than there is filled. And that empty space is pretty dark and mysterious. We just don’t know too much about it. What we do know comes to us in small glimpses and flickers.
Light shining in the darkness is a central image in the story of Jesus’ birth. It is most obvious in the star of Matthew's Gospel, shining in the night sky and leading the wise men of the gentiles to the place of Jesus' birth. One of my favorite authors and theologians, Marcus Borg suggests that the symbolism of light and darkness is ancient, prototypical and cross - cultural. It has many rich meanings. Darkness is associated with blindness, night, sleep, cold, gloom, despair, lostness, chaos, death, danger and yearning for the dawn. It is a striking image of the human condition. Light is seen as the antidote to the above, and is thus an image of salvation. In the light, one is awake, able to see and find one's way; it is associated with relief and rejoicing that the night is over; in the light one is safe and warm. In the light there is life.
For Matthew, and for Christians ever since, Jesus is the light shining in the darkness. The author of John's Gospel makes the same affirmation: "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." Jesus is the light who brings enlightenment; indeed, he is "the light of the world." This is the truth of this theme of the birth stories. And it is still true independent of their historical factuality. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=16
And speaking of ancient history, as a boy I used to look forward to my camp outs as a “Royal Ranger,” the Pentecostal equivalent of the Boy Scouts. I loved going deep into the woods of the Hocking Hills where the sky was clear and there were no city lights to spoil the view of the night stars. Our trips always started with cramming into trucks and vans, which we rode in for what seemed hours and hours. The ride was always long and boring. Sometimes we would joke and tell stories. Sometimes look at the scenery out of the window. Sometimes we would try to sleep using our jackets as pillows. After a stop to get food and gas, we made our way to the winding roads leading into the national park’s entrance. The scenery got darker and darker and the road began to wind back and forth. Sometimes we younger boys got a little scared. The taller boys could see the white lines on the road with the headlights. But all of us knew one thing—we were out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.
Suddenly, we could see a few lights on the side of the road. The vans and trucks would turn onto a gravel road. The lights would illumine a small campground and the vehicles would stop. We would then unload our gear, and set up camp. After dinner, our leader announced we would hike to out to see the stars. I was excited to learn about the constellations and all the large lights in the sky. We would hike deeper into the woods to the top of the tallest hill. Then the leader would announce, "Lay down and look up at the stars."
One by one, we grew quiet as we looked at the thousands of stars in the sky. The leader would describe the position of stars and the images of constellations. Eventually the sky would cease to look like sand, and began to look like a puzzle with pieces that fit together. Some of us began to see animals and faces. Sometimes I thought I could see a familiar face looking back at me. Those nights changed me. I began to see how big the universe really was and how great God's creation was. I could see God look back at me.
My camping trips must have been like the experience of the wise men. They could see the stars, like me. They studied the stars, like me. They even traveled to see a star, like me. And like me, their travels changed their lives. But, they saw, for the first time, someone I started seeing a lot—the Christ.
I believe that God has created us to also light up the world. The movie clip I showed earlier is a great image of what we can do when our hearts are aligned with the Star maker. We too can shine in those dark places. We too can be a source of warmth and embrace for all people who are surrounded by darkness and emptiness. And perhaps you are one of those folks—cold, empty and barely able to shine.
How do you find that inner light? How can a relationship with God centered in the teachings of Jesus bring back your glow? How can you burn brightly with the light of God?
I propose three ways—I call them the three wise minutes. For the next three minutes I would like you to take your bulletin and identify three ways you can shine brighter the light that is already within you. These three ways have been identified as body, mind and spirit.
Under the Body column write down just one physical activity that you can do for yourself that will make you feel better and grow brighter. Something you can do everyday. It might be going to the gym to work out, walking around the block or inside your office building, taking a few minutes to just breathe deeply. You might enjoy dancing to a song, walking the dog or herding your cat. I learned a really great lesson at our bowling small group last Saturday. Karen Pryor, who is an amazing healer, taught me how to feel my arm before I throw the bowling ball down the lane. Really feel it…know that it is there. Make a conscious effort to feel my body work. It really helped! Look at my score!
It doesn’t matter how long you do these activities, just that you do something everyday. Start with 3 minutes, 3 times a day…and build up to more as you are able. And during these 3 minutes put your entire attention on God during the activity. Focus on the light that is within you and imagine it growing inside of you with each second of activity. Okay…simple enough?
Under the second column for Mind, decide that you will do something for 3 minutes, 3 times a day that renews your mind. Have you seen those Nintendo DS video games called Brain Power? These are simple games that sharpen your intellectual acuity. Engage in mind exercises that focus on building things like concentration, perception, insight or sharpness. Even just learning something new is an important task to keep your mind in shape. Read a book that stretches your knowledge base. Learn some new words—read the dictionary! Just 3 minutes, 3 times a day is all it takes.
The final column is for activities that feed your soul. These are spiritual, God centered actions that turn ordinary experiences into sacred moments. It can be anything creative that involves making God the central focus in the moment. Things like meditation, prayer, attending a small spiritual group discussion, being still, sharing acts of kindness, lending a listening ear, reflective breathing. Whatever the activity, do it for 3 minutes, 3 times a day. Now of course I think these are the most important…but they can be the hardest to make a routine. When someone asks for prayer, don’t just say “I’m praying for you.” But pray right then and there. It will make a huge difference in strengthening your own spiritual insight.
When we commit to growing our faith in these three ways, we may find that our understanding of God begins to expand. For so many years of my spiritual journey I thought God was an angry old man in heaven sticking his nose up at me, always judging if I was living the “right” way. And because of that experience of God I was the same way to those around me, always judging others by a really rigid set of expectations. The goal of this way of imaging God is really to make you feel better about yourself by making the other feel worse. This is the classic problem that most folks have with organized religion. We’ve become to heavenly focused that we are no earthly good. And people just don’t believe it anymore. We’ve made God so small in the eyes of the world.
We started our six week small group study this past week based on the book, “God the What? What our metaphors for God reveal about our beliefs in God.” It was written by one of my favorite professors in Seminary. And this little book really changed me. It started me on a journey of expanding my understanding of God, and expanding my capacity for being Christ-like. And I invite you to share in this journey. Its intent it not to get you to believe in God in a certain way, but to name options for considering God. For like my professor says in the book, if we expand our images and metaphors for God, then we will expand our experience of God. What images come to mind when you think of God? How much is your image of God in sync or out of sync with your beliefs about God? The search for authentic metaphors for God is really a search for what you believe about God. There’s still time to join a group! You can even join us online for our FB live events on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7 pm.
But even if you can’t join a group on Wednesday or Thursday night, if you begin to follow the three wise minutes of growing your awareness you will have spent almost half an hour each day expanding your image of God, and ultimately becoming more compatible with your creator. Because God is much bigger than we can even imagine! It’s that easy…and it is fun too!
Are you searching for an authentic relationship with God? I challenge you to make 2018 the year of getting to know God. It will change you forever! And when we all do it together, we will change too…and that change will help us grow and expand as a church! I believe that with all of my heart. Will you join me? Amen