Risen Light – January 10, 2015

“Risen Light”

Isaiah 60:1-7

Matthew 2:1-12


As the new year starts I look at our Jackson Grove United Methodist Church family…and what has transpired over the past two years. And, I am reminded of something that occurred in my life a few years ago. I was having trouble with my knees. After a round of examinations and tests the doctor said that I should have both knees “scoped.” He said the surgery would have to be followed with a number of recuperative activities that I would control. Now, I’m not entirely afraid of surgery, but I did ask for a second opinion….took the exam and test results to another doctor in another practice and asked for her opinion. She concurred with the first doctor. So…on the Thursday before the Fourth of July I went for the surgery. Just before they wheeled me in to the surgery suite the doctor came to my side. He told me how long the surgery would take and reminded me that it would be up to me to follow through on the recuperation activities. Then…he said something that was most encouraging. He said…”This is all in God’s hands…I’m just His tool.” The surgery went well. I was amazed that I walked out of the hospital later that day…walked on my own two legs…not in a wheel chair. I was so amazed that I thought the recuperation was also done…and that was the end of it. All that was left was for the doctor to remove the bandages when I went for my follow up appointment on Monday. When the doctor removed the bandages I was shocked and frightened. Both of my legs were blue and looked badly bruised from my hips to my ankles. He said that was normal and that all of the recuperation regimen he had prescribed would end that problem. I became a believer quickly….followed the recuperation regimen…and was healed. The knees work fine to this day. You’ll understand why this incident reminds me of where we are today in just a few minutes….but do keep this true story in mind. As I was reading today’s passage from Matthew I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite short stories…one I first read in high school. You may have read it…also…O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” Della had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things. Now she whispered, “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.” What heart wrenching words! Della’s knee-length…cascading…beautiful…brown hair was her most prized possession…but she had just cut it off to sell to a wigmaker. She did it in order to have money to buy her beloved husband…Jim…a Christmas present. With the money from the sale of her hair she was able to buy a gold watch chain on which Jim could hang his most prized possession…the gold watch that had been his father’s and grandfather’s. Della and Jim were a newly wed young couple barely existing in near poverty. They had little money for finery in their hovel of an apartment…let alone money for extravagant Christmas gifts. Without knowing what Della had done…Jim would return home on Christmas Eve to find that Della had shorn her beautiful hair…all to buy the gold chain for him…the chain that he could not possibly afford to buy for himself. She prayed that he would still think she was pretty. But…in a tear-jerking twist in this classic story …we found out that Jim had sold his cherished watch to buy a set of tortoise shell combs with jeweled rims for his beloved young wife’s beautiful hair…the very set she had yearned over for so long but could never hope to buy for herself. Della’s hair was now cropped…but she had the finest gift her young husband could sacrifice to buy. And…Jim…now had no watch…but with the most precious gift his young bride could sacrifice to bring to him for Christmas. At the close of the story…O. Henry wrote… “Here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat…But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these are the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts…such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.” O. Henry certainly touched an element that is basic in all of us…sacrificial giving prompted by love. It’s an act that defines what it means to love one another. The magi in Matthew’s story may have been moved by that kind of love in their worship and gift-giving to the child they believed to be the King of the Jews. Their gifts were magnificent…and certainly of great value. Remember…the magi were members of the priestly class in their communities…not rich themselves. Yet…their gifts were the kind suitable for a king…or for one for whom one has sacrificial love. It is this kind of sacrificial love that God and Jesus have given us. How do we return the love? The answer comes in Scripture that we so well know. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whomever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” At this time in the life of Jackson Grove United Methodist Church how can we show that belief? We have had some difficult times over the past two years. During those times God has been with us. Along with God…the United Methodist Church has been with us. And…both remain with us…showing their continued faith in us…and in our future. It was the United Methodist Church that paid the bonding insurance premium and the district superintendent and bishop who fought with the insurance company to assure a significant payment to Jackson Grove United Methodist Church when the insurance company said no payment was justified. It was the United Methodist Church that chose to send this preacher with four simple instructions. Preach the gospel in truth and love. Visit the ill and shut-ins. Get a proper financial reporting system in order. Use as many of the resources of the United Methodist Church as needed to lead the church to recovery and growth. The first three instructions have been followed. With the help of the United Methodist Church consultant…at no cost to us…we are engaging this month in the fourth instruction. Just like the surgeon told me I had to go through a self-directed recuperation process…so do we….so that we will be healthy for a long time….and we will return to Jesus the love he has given us…even if it means some sacrifices on our part. As we…everyone in our church family…not just the United Methodist Church consultant…the planning committee…and me…go through the next month to prepare then gather for the planning retreat on January 31st there is much we need to do as part of the recuperation process. We need to ask ourselves and God: What is the true status of the church…and our individual commitment to its continued success in the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ? What ministry…outreach…opportunities are there…just outside our doors…not a check-writing activity somewhere many miles away…that we can pursue using our time…our talent and our resources….time talent and resources we long ago pledged to Jesus Christ and his church? What new ministry opportunities exist within the church family…that we can pursue with those very same resources of time…talent and treasure? How do we maintain the best of the tradition of Jackson Grove United Methodist Church as a place for our current church family and for families in our nearby community…and blend that tradition with the ever-changing definition of what constitutes family? How do we enhance our worship and study experiences so that those who visit and those who have been here for a long time leave those experiences ready to go make disciples and ready to invite others to join them in study and worship the next time we meet? Know that as we ask these questions…the answer will come from God if we go to him in earnest prayer. In addition to God and the United Methodist Church we are blessed by God with the time…the talent…and the treasure to enable us to return to Jesus the most precious gift we can give…a thriving…family serving…community building…Jackson Grove United Methodist Church…a church as alive as we experienced during our Lord’s Day celebration a few weeks ago. The surgery has been performed. We’ve walked out of the surgery center. There are indications of the possibility of future success. Now is the time for serious personal engagement in recuperation activities… activities that will make us like the star that guided the magi…a shining risen light in our community…an effective tool in God’s hands.