Arise, shine, for our light has come!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Isaiah 60

Salvation is joining in with God, becoming partners in God’s initiatives of light, justice, mercy, grace, peace, love

One pandemic reality for which I am grateful is virtual church. Not virtual as an alternative to in-person worship, but virtual as an alternative to nothing. Across The Triangle, winter storms closed church campuses for a second consecutive Sunday. Pre-pandemic, worship would have been canceled.

Yes, virtual church has its limitations, and it doesn’t come close to offering the intense charge of community that comes with being together in person, but – especially in the Presbyterian tradition – hearing God’s word shared from the pulpit is an important element of Christian worship, and tuning in (via YouTube, or Facebook Live, or ZOOM…) provides an opportunity none of us should pass up.

Exceptional preaching, unfortunately, is seldom the norm in the average church experience. So I am very pleased to have landed at HMPC in Raleigh, where pastor Mac Schafer is both eloquent and engaging. Mac’s messages are obviously rooted in an authentic, deep, and very personal faith, and there is a quiet authority that undergirds Mac’s exposition, scholarship, stories, and commentary.

I guess, having listened to Rebekah in the pulpit for more than 40 years, I have a high standard and great expectations. She has taught me to appreciate the beauty of preaching that overflows out of an ongoing relationship with Jesus, a rich theological education, and a passion for living the Gospel out loud.

Back to Sunday:

So Mac wrapped up his Epiphany series on “Star Gifts” (see Jumping in at the Deep End). This Sunday, using the text from Isaiah 60, he reminded us that the Bible teaches how God works in and through community as much if not more than individuals.

It may be true that we are invited into a personal relationship with our Creator, and that Jesus stands as God’s invitation, but we are called to live out our salvation together (Remember my definition of salvation: “Salvation is joining in with God, becoming partners in God’s initiatives of light, justice, mercy, grace, peace, love, etc…”)

In other words, and I would like to think that pastor Mac agrees with me on this, our calling as disciples, as Followers of Jesus, as The Church, as People of Light is to work together in a partnership to the extent that who we are as The Body of Christ tells the truth about the Gospel of Love.

Not that joining a church is a means to salvation so much as Being The Church is how we live into our salvation.

Let me paraphrase part of the passage from Isaiah. “This is such a dark time on Planet Earth. Look how thick the darkness is becoming, smothering and viscous, sticking to everyone and everything. But glory, real and pulsing with power, is over and in God’s people, displacing the darkness with light; God’s people stand as an invitation to the nations.

Our Calling:

The Church (as a whole), and the local church (as represented by the congregation where each one of us shows up -or not – every Sunday), is comprised of individuals; and how we respond is going to make or break the whole thing.

So Mac charged us, in parting, to reach out to three others in our community and to be a light of encouragement to them in their journey this week.

I may be new, but I do know a handful of people and I plan to do just that later today.

– “in person” church!

My charge to all of you, to the thousands who follow this blog and the hundreds of daily visitors, is to do the same. Reach out to others, especially those in your church, and share a word of support and encouragement that will bless them.

And that – in turn – will bless this world!

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said. So shine already – DEREK

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