Monday, November 16, 2009

Sermon for Pentecost Twenty-Four, Proper 28, preached Sunday, November 15, 2009

In my off duty moments I sometimes look for those shallow but uplifting “feel good” movies to watch and I saw one a while ago called Stardust. It is the goofy story of a star that falls to the ground and becomes a beautiful young woman who falls in love with a handsome young man. It take some twists and turns to get to the predictable end. One of them is a witch who wants to steal the star and use her energy to renew her aging appearance. In the final attack, the star lady hugs her man and tells him to close his eyes. Why, he asks. What do stars do, she says. And then she shines with a light that destroys her enemies and they live happily ever after.

Obviously it does not take much of a plot to occupy my little mind. But there ended up being a sermon there in her words and in the words of the prophet Daniel this morning. What do stars do? They shine. The prophet Daniel calls upon the people of God to shine like the stars they are. We are the wise and the faithful of the Lord. We are those to whom God has made Himself known, to whom He has shown the redeeming and healing power of His love, on whom He has shown the brightness of the one true light of Jesus Christ. Even amid the sorrows, struggles, and strife of this earthly life, we shine with the brightness of Christ’s light.

Christian life is not for the timid but for the bold – those whose holy boldness comes from the Spirit. Our lives in Christ are not timid lives but the bold, courageous, and strong lives of a people who have been born anew in baptism from sin to righteousness, from death to life in Jesus Christ.

We shine not with our own light or righteousness but with the light of Christ, with the righteousness of Christ. We shine not with our earthly successes or accomplishments but with the glitter of a cross that has become the symbol of hope and the empty tomb which silences death’s taunt. The grace of God has come to us and we wear that grace as our badge of victory and the holy identity of the people of God, by baptism and faith. So what do those whom God has made stars do? They shine.

Today the Lord invites us, equips us, and makes us to shine like the stars we are in Christ. Not with our own light, not to illuminate ourselves or what we have done -- for sin has rendered us incapable of shining. We cannot reflect the light of our God because of sin. Christ, the Light of the World, came to restore what sin stole, so that we may shine with His light and to share the light of Christ to a world still in darkness. We shine not with our own light but with the borrowed light of Christ who lives in each one of us by baptism and faith. We shine not in testament to what we have done but to witness what Christ has done. We shine with the brightness of Christ’s one true light.

We shine as the people who through Christ have overcome sin, triumphed over death, and now possess the life which is everlasting. We shine as the people who have Christ and if we have Christ we have everything. It is not our light but Christ’s. Don’t give me any false modesty here. We are called to shine like the stars we are in Christ, testifying to Christ and all that He has done.

What do stars do? They shine... Today God bids us shine like the stars we are. We shine not at the conclusion when all our earthly battles are over but right now in the midst of the fight to remain faithful and true to our Lord. Here within the earth’s bleak wilderness, we shine with the hope of Christ. Here amid our wounds and scars and even while bleeding, we shine in Christ.

Here in the face of death that still must be faced, of illness that can steal our today but never our tomorrow, of economic troubles that can leave us earthly poor but not our heavenly riches... here is where we shine with the brightness of Christ’s light.

Be of good courage, my friends, your sins are forgiven, your lives firmly planted in the soil of grace, your hopes secure in the arms of our crucified and risen Savior. So shine, like the stars you are. Shine as the courageous in the face of persecution, fear, and uncertainty. Shine as the courageous in Christ, whose victory we hold on to when everything else is gone.

Shine in the fellowship of the Church, where our individual lights come together to form a giant beacon of light together. Shine in the fellowship of the redeemed who bear one another’s burdens, who love one another even with our failures and failings, who forgive one another not because we deserve it but because Christ forgave us, who bury every bitterness at the foot of the cross and who dig up a harvest of treasure in the life which never ends.

Don’t wait for your life to be perfect to shine... don’t wait until you become fully the person God has called you to be to shine... don’t wait for all the tears to be over or and aches of this mortal life to disappear before you shine. Shine NOW as the stars you are by baptism and faith.

As we face the uncertainties of the world and as we realize ever more that truly we live in the latter days, we cannot afford to be timid or uncertain or fearful about that which is most true – even Jesus Christ. Christ has given us His light so that we might shine with His light, marking the place where hope is planted on the soil of despair, sending forth a beacon into all the darkened corners where death reigns, refusing to allow the darkness its final word. Shine, like the stars you are in Christ. Shine with faith, shine with faithfulness, shine with works that glorify God, shine with witness to the cross and empty tomb, shine with humility that champions others before self, shine with love for the poor and needy, shine with care for each other as the family we are in Christ...

Shine not with your light but Christ’s... not for your glory, but His... not for others to see you, but to see Christ who lives in you... What do stars do? They shine!

...there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been... but fear not...your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, those in Christ to everlasting life...And all those who are wise in faith shall shine like the stars in the sky above; and their light shall turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. What do stars do? They shine... so people of God... stars who have been made to shine with Christ’s light... it is time to glitter and shine to your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, your community and the strangers you meet... shine with Christ’s light. It is what stars do. Amen.


William Weedon said...

What a comfort and joy! Thank you.

Rev. Ray Salemink said...

Something that has been on my mind recently. How do we as pastors improve our preaching? Well, sure, we can take more classes, read more books, study the way others preach, such as Luther and Chemnitz and Nagel. We can even pick several people from the congregation to fill out a survey each Sunday and give us feedback.
Yet, I must confess that each of these may not help. For all the agony it causes, one of the best methods that helped me to address my sermons was peer review, in hom classes with fellow homiletics students.
So, what do you think? I welcome your critiques, if you feel the urge to do so:

For my part, here's mine for you: I am extremely impressed with the way in which you make the Gospel predominate. Was it Walther that said anyone can preach law, but only the real theologian, who properly divides Law and Gospel, can preach the Gospel rightly. You do so with great clarity and I am most appreciative, because if anyone needs the Gospel, it's pastors!!
The other comment I would make is that in the three sermons I have read of yours, the Law is often implied and in this latest one, almost absent. When I read sermons, I look for those parts that force me to examine myself in light of God's Holy Law and drive me to confess my sins as a poor, miserable sinner.

OK, that's my two cents. If you don't like it, I am in no way offended and am sorry if I have offended you.

By the way, thanks for your bloggy meanderings. I enjoy reading them and like your insights.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this since I was unable to attend church yesterday because I was out in the field. It reminds me of how one of my co-workers and I had a discussion about how beautiful the sky was last night. My co-worker is from an island and she told me that last night was the first time since she moved to the United States that she has seen stars at night. Having been out in the middle of the woods on Ft. Campbell where there was no light aside from truck headlights and flashlights it was amazing just sitting out in the open field talking about it. I then started to tell her about a few years back when I was deployed to the middle east around Christmas time when there is a star in the East that shines brighter than all the rest that time of the year. She then asked me why. I told her I don't know the scientific explanation for that star but I can tell you from what the Bible says that I believe it is God's way of reminding us of Jesus birth in Bethlehem. She looked at me and smiled and said that she thought I was right. This co-worker of mine and I never really spoke too much and thought we would never find anything in common with one another till we started talking about Jesus. She might be a Catholic and I might be a Lutheran but when it comes down to it we both believe that Jesus was born to die and take away our sins.