I've been away from my blog during the busy season of preparing for Christmas. and now I'm about to leave for a week of low tech vacation (i.e.laptop not going with me). I need a "reset" - seem to spending more unproductive time with technology. I'm headed for a time of reading, walking, maybe some biking - if the weather is warm enough in Destin, FL. Maybe a movie or two. Before I go, I'm posting today's sermon. The weather kept many folks home. And since I based the sermon on folks' responses to questions I asked earlier in the week, some are curious. If you want to hear it, you can go to the Church Hill website later this week: http://www.chumcnorwell.com/templates/System/default.asp?id=33862. But here's the text:
Sharing the Light: Jan. 3, 2010 Matthew 2:1-12 Isaiah 60:1-6
Most of you know that on Christmas Day, over in the Fellowship Center, over 130 people gathered for a celebration. The hall was beautifully decorated, the tables set with linens and centerpieces, guests were greeted with music and appetizers and laughter. Gail and her team of volunteers from Church Hill, and from other churches and from no church, give an amazing gift of love. In the days right before Christmas, I was regularly working in the office and answering the phone when it rang. I was glad to take folks’ reservations, but maybe even more moving for me were some of the people I spoke to who called to cancel their reservations. One woman who called to say she could not come after all said, “Even though I won’t be there, I still smile every time I drive down River Street and see your sign and think of everyone together there.” And another woman who had received a last minute invitation to a friend’s home said to me, “You have no idea how much it has meant to me these past weeks to know that I would not have to be alone on Christmas Day.” I thought about how many folks need the connection that we have here, the connection to God and Jesus’ message of hope and love and the connection to a community. I thought, maybe we need some more volunteers from Church Hill – not to help cook and serve – because we have plenty for that. But volunteers to sit at the tables and listen to people – get to know them a bit – hear their stories and make a human connection. To share a bit of light. On Epiphany Sunday we read the story of the magi, the story of those wise, wealthy, educated ones from foreign lands who saw a star and followed its light and came to worship Jesus. They were so different from Jesus and his people, the carpenter and the shepherds and inn keeper: different language, different religion, and different customs. And yet they came, guided by the light, and gathered with the others to worship the Christ child For us in the church, Epiphany is the season of light—the season in which we remember and celebrate that God is revealed to us—God’s light shines in the darkness. It begins on Christmas Eve, in the darkened sanctuary. I light my candle from the Christ candle, And then, very slowly, the light spreads. During this season, we focus on the ways in which we spread the light of Christ outside the sanctuary, in the places we live and work and play. To help my thinking this week I posed two questions via email: I asked: How did you come to know about Jesus? And then, what brought you to Church Hill church? I received 24 responses over the course of the week.
This morning I’d like to share some thoughts about your responses as well as some questions it has raised for me. I won’t be quoting or citing anyone in particular, but if you replied you may hear some themes from your response here. The majority of responses said that you had come to know Jesus as a child or young person. Some heard bible stories read at home, and others mentioned Sunday School. More than one person said, “I can’t remember ever not knowing about Jesus.” Knowing about Jesus’ love was foundational for many of you. And even though you may have taken other paths or gone in different directions at various points in your life, somehow that foundational knowledge stayed with you, and at some point, it brought you home. It made me think about what an important ministry we have with our children who will join us here in a moment, clomping down the aisles to sit with parents or grandparents and kneel with us at the table. We are laying a foundation with these children. We are giving them something that will always be with them. No matter where life takes, no matter their success or failures, not matter the choices they make – good or bad - what they learn about Jesus from us will always stay with them. And something that was interesting to me was to discover that for those who told me how you came to know about Jesus, about 50 % more of you mentioned learning about him at church than at home. For most of you, the church – and most likely Sunday School, is the way your faith was formed. A couple of folks even mentioned childhood Sunday School teachers by name. One person wrote of being a child in second grade and seeing the people come out of the church across the street from her home, smiling – looking happy – and so she took herself to Sunday School there. The church’s role in forming faith in children is crucial. Some parents do not have a faith to impart to their children. Some do not know how to talk with their children about God. And yet those children still need to hear the message of Jesus’ saving love for them. How can we reach out to those children? How can we spread the light that we have received to the children in our communities who need this foundation, too? Some churches have weekday programs or special events or programs during school vacations that draw in children from the community. At our vacation bible school this summer, half the kids who came were kids whose parents don’t attend Church Hill. How can we build on that? And how can we make sure that those kids who come only for a few hours that week receive the kernel of the gospel? In your answers to this question, several people told about how they came to know about Jesus and then went on to say how, at a later time, they came to know Jesus. Knowing about Jesus at some point has to translate into knowing Jesus and having a relationship with him. That’s another sermon at least. But it is also interesting to me that while so many mentioned the importance of Sunday School, of bible study classes, of small study and growth groups. And not one mentioned Sunday morning worship. Now, I don’t take this to mean that Sunday worship is insignificant. But I do think that being together in small faith groups is an important, formative way in which the light gets through into our lives – when we share and listen and ask questions and hear each others’ insights and experiences. And it makes me think that we probably don’t have enough of those opportunities here at Church Hill. I also asked the question “How did you come to Church Hill?” and, about half of you said that you came here because you were “church shopping” as they say – you were on a deliberate search for a church that was congruent with your own faith and where you would feel welcome. Maybe you were new to the area, or maybe you were just looking for a place where the light could shine for you. And an equal number of you said that you came because you were invited. Someone offered you a specific invitation: come visit my church, come try my bible group, come, bring your kids to Vacation Bible School at my church. I know that to some, that seems pretty risky – but someone who knew you did take that risk and invited you. And you accepted that invitation because what they offered in some way touched a need. And many, many of you said that once you came, someone specific made you welcome. Someone reached out to you and helped you find your place at Church Hill. And I’d like to name names: Ruth and Everett Russell, Roland Scott, Carolyn Hathorne, Luke Lukoski, Nancy O’Donnell, Dot Underdown, Joan Gabriel, Harriet Loring. Some of you were mentioned more than once. Whether you were searching for a church or came because someone invited you, it is the personal connection that has made it stick. Someone, in some way, shared the light. We are here today because someone, maybe many people, have shared the light with us. As we come to this table this morning, we remember that we are recipients of a gift. Our faith in Jesus is not something that we created ourselves – it has been shared with us. And we are called to share it with others. With children and families. With people who are searching. With friends and family. With strangers. With those who are lonely or alone. As we come to the table today, we reach out to receive. And when we leave, we go out to share the light with others.