Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sermon: Lighthouses- Some things will suck but God will get us through, and through us get others through too.

Lighthouses, especially in today’s times when they are mostly obsolete, are still a source of much inspiration and beauty. There is so much technology for boats to find shore and safety these days, as lighthouses were originally meant to do, the technology even allows us to find fish, and steer away from hazards. Yet we love lighthouses don’t we. You can find inspirational lighthouse pictures in any store, we love to visit them. I am not a morning person at all, but I got up very early on a dozen occasions to go to one of my favorite lighthouses in Santa Cruz and photograph it in the sunrise. And then I have to admit, I turned those photos into matted pictures with Bible verses underneath. There is just something so encouraging and inspiring about lighthouses, standing strong along the coastline, ready to help people find port, or steer them away from danger. Their strength, their potential even if no longer in commission stirs something in us.  Maybe it’s that need for security that we all have.

You know we started this summer talking about Moses, and in Vacation Bible School and the Alaska mission we just returned from, we explored the story of the Israelites. Moses was this guy that lived through these crazy life events, because God got him through them, and then after murdering a cruel Egyptian and running away, God called him in his loneliness in his darkness and asked him to lead the Israelites out of Pharaoh’s enslavement. Moses felt inadequate and under-qualified, but God called him anyway. God equipped him. Moses may not have found much security in safety, in God’s call for him to come home, but God helped Moses do amazing things, to show God’s own power, and love for the Israelites. So in the Old Testament reading from today we see Moses leading the Israelites into the wilderness.

The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. Exodus 13:21  

The Israelites have just seen God do all these crazy things to get Pharaoh to back off, plagues of all kinds, rivers turning to blood, invasions of insect and amphibians. Perhaps the most shocking, was the killing of the firstborn, but God spared the lives of the Israelites. God has made it pretty plain that he is with them, he wants to free them, but as they start walking the Israelites start freaking out, they start doubting God, and what he wants to do with them. They can’t see God right in front of them. They start asking to go back to slavery. So God helps them out, he gives them a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide them. It is literally in front of them. His presence is right there, showing them the way to go. It is scary and the journey is hard, but there is hope, there is a huge tower of fire, guiding them through the darkness. It’s a mobile lighthouse; it’s showing them the way to the Promised Land.

God promised land, he didn’t promise an easy journey. He promised freedom and provision, he didn’t promise first class accommodations. Yet if we follow that story to its conclusion, he kept his promises and got them there, or their children there at least, and guided them all the way. When they lost sight of God, they got themselves into trouble; they added a lot of years to their journey, which is why some didn’t make it. God always bailed them out again and got them back on track, called them back to himself, back to his safety and love.

God stepped into the dark situation of the Israelites and brought them to freedom, and he steps into our own darkness as well. He literally stepped into humanity in the person of Jesus. He left heaven and dwelt among us in a fragile human form.  He did so, so that he could be a sacrifice for our sins, for our mistakes, for the darkness that is in all of us. He walked through the darkness of a horrible death and hell itself, but because he was God, he was able to bring light and life, as he resurrected. He brought grace to us in his forgiveness, love, amazing mercy.

We see the image of God as light over and over again in scripture in Jesus and in other places, in Psalms we see him as the light going before us to guide our steps, just like the Israelites wandering in the desert. We see the image of him again going before and guiding us through. We are not given a promise from God that things are going to be easy, ever. Instead we are given a promise that we won’t be alone, that he will be with us, that he won’t ever leave us. We are promised that all things will work together for the good of those who love God. Like the Israelites, we will find ourselves in hard situations, with hard things to overcome. We will have things in our life, that seem like they will never be overcome, challenges, health problems, family members that never change, friends that leave, relationships that crumble. Some of those things will never get better. Some of the Israelites never made it to the Promised Land, Moses didn’t, their kids did, but they didn’t. They didn’t make it there, but they were free, and they were protected, they had food from heaven. It might not have been their favorite thing, it was mana after all, it means what is it. But it was food. Their clothes and shoes never wore out. They wandered and they struggled but as a people they made it through. God didn’t leave them alone, he helped them conquer enemies, and he helped them figure out how to survive this wandering life in the wilderness. He does the same for us. He gets us through. Some things won’t get better until we get to heaven, and that is hard, but we aren’t left alone to deal with those things. We have hope that there is more to life than the darkness, that Jesus’ love is there for us, that he is caring in the midst, and that he can shine through our weakness and the brokenness of the world.God gives us his word to help us get through, there are sixty six books that show his love for us, and his power to work in our lives, just as he worked through the crazy life of Moses.  And while they may be old books, unlike lighthouses, they aren’t obsolete; there is power there, for more than just an inspirational quote.

There is a lot of darkness in our world today. Gosh, four boys were playing on a beach in Gaza and were killed, a plane with nearly three hundred people was shot out of the sky, and those were just two of the things that happened this week. This week!! The world needs more light. People need to know that God is there, that he is ready to help them, to bring them through the worst of the worst, to show them love and forgiveness. They need to see the love of Jesus, and guess what, God isn’t the only lighthouse. He gave us the job to be his lighthouses in the world. He gave us the responsibility to be light bearers. We see that in the New Testament reading today.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:14-16

We are the light in that lighthouse that is supposed to show the way to everyone. We are supposed to help people see through the darkness of the world, and understand who God is and how much he loves them. We are supposed to provide that light, that hope for each other that God showed us. We are supposed to allow God to work through us to bring heaven to earth. It says people will see our deeds. In the Message it says, we will show people the God colors, and they will open up to us and then open up to God himself. When the world thinks that God and his word are obsolete and technology is such that we no longer need him and his word, we are supposed to inspire them with his love, through us.

We aren’t supposed to bicker over things and get political, stand around waving signs of condemnation, or use God’s own words against each other. We are supposed to show people Jesus, reflect his light to the world. We are supposed to be a source of his light. Jesus showed us how to be a light. He spent time with people, getting to know them, showing them love, showing them a different way to live, with love and compassion, and he told us very specifically that the most important thing we could do was love others. We are supposed to get out in the world and show God’s love to others.

We are great as a church at showing love to each other. I know that, I have benefited from the amazing light filled love of the people in this church. A few years ago we had one piece of loss and misfortune after another. It started with the death of one of our students, which was awful, but so many rallied around our youth group family, and you helped us get through Vacation Bible School just a few days later. Then other things happened, my mom got diagnosed with cancer, and Barb and Nancy helped me to get through that and understand that as they shared their own cancer experiences. Our dog died tragically, and other pet lovers reached out to us in the church with compassion and love. Then our son flooded our house and Jeff helped put it together. I got into an accident in our only car, and Courtney and Dave loaned us one while ours was fixed. So many things happened all at once, and even though some were minor, we could have easily been consumed by darkness, but so many in this church showed us kindness and grace that we were surrounded by light. God was with us working through all of you, and we were able to see him through you in those tough days. And we continue to have challenges, things still go wrong in our lives, my husband battles mental illness, our house breaks without my son flooding it, we lose friends, people get ill. Things are going to happen. Life is going to be hard. But we have hope, that things can be good in the midst of that. We can find safety, we can make it to shore, because God’s light is leading us through, as we see it in the people around us.

It’s our job to be lighthouses, not just to each other, but to everyone around us. We should be a beacon of light to our neighborhood, so that people know they can find God on our campus, they can find people that will love them, a place where they can understand who God is, and grow in their faith. It says that people will see God when they see us helping and being a light.

That is our mission at the Open Door, our youth building. We want kids to know they can find love, and explore what it means to know Jesus and follow him. We want them to be open to him. We want them to see God through the welcoming atmosphere there, and through us as leaders. We want to be known as a place where it’s safe to do that and be yourself. So we let the kids be goofy, and we encourage fun, and we try to be a light, speaking encouragement into the dark and crazy time of adolescence. We want to be known for that. So we let the kids post silly pictures on Instagram from youth group and share the light of the open door with their friends. They aren’t just seeing crazy pictures of shaving cream covered faces in a game, they are seeing God. The groups are growing. 

We want to be that light to their parents and school communities too, so we are working on school partnerships with one of the junior highs and with our main high school. I volunteered in the high school office for the previous school year, at the suggestion of the team of youth leaders. We did it not to increase our  numbers, but so that we could be a light, a helping hand to ease the burden of their workload, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus there. Hopefully they saw more than just me sitting in there each week, I hope they saw Jesus. They must have seen Jesus, they asked us back, they want me there this school year, and I almost broke the laminator on the first day. We have more opportunity to be a lighthouse. I hope we can get involved in projects at the middle school too, where most of our group comes from, investing in the school community, so the parents and teachers see us, but more importantly see Jesus through us. We helped with a talent show there, and fed the stage crew pizza, just a small thing, but they noticed, and they knew it was a youth leader sponsored
thing, and we got one more student to come try youth group. One more kid, got to hear that she was loved. One more person got to hear about Jesus. It was a light bearing moment, and who knows what God will do with it.It's our job to just be there, and serve others, and let him be glorified through that. 

We just got back from Alaska. I have to be honest, knowing it was our fifth year of working with that church in that tiny community, I wondered if things would start to fizzle out, if we were still having an impact. We sent another church up last year, so we could do a youth mission here in Portland and include some of our Alaskan kids. So I was unsure, if the town would remember us, if we had made any lasting difference. I thought we had, I thought we had seen God at work, and they had seen him through us, but like the Israelites, I had my doubts. God shined a light on the trip this year through you guys once again, as you funded us through the mission auction, and we had a team so excited to go. On August third, you will get to hear more about the trip, from our students. But let me just tell you now. You all were a far-reaching lighthouse, all the way from Portland to Skagway Alaska. You shined God’s light by sending us up there. We were greeted so warmly and with such excitement, by a church that has grown, doubled even in attendance. The Sunday school rooms that we used to stay in with just a few children’s names written on the attendance charts, had lots and lots of names of kids that had come to our previous VBS programs. The youth group was overflowing with some of our VBS kids that had aged out and into the youth group and they couldn’t wait for the programming we came to do. The people of the town were excited to send their kids and their grandkids to us each day, they were so glad we were back. And the people of the church itself, would bring us dinner every night, and thank us for giving them the motivation, the shot in the arm they needed to reach out to their community. They would thank us for giving them the excuse to invite people in for real times of connection. That church is open 24/7 to the public, it isn’t ever locked, they are open to the community, but they don’t always invite the community, and reach out to them and make connections. Over the years though, God has used our mission teams to help them do that, to remind them to be the lighthouse. We called people into the church, by showing them, that a group in Portland cares about their kids and God will call them to his shore, to his safety of love and grace. They are more open to God now, and what he can do in their lives.

So how can we make more connections in our community? How can we bring the light out of our building and into the homes and neighborhoods around us? How can we be the light in the darkness, that tells a hurting world, there is hope? We have mission trips, we support great organizations in the metro area like Door to Grace, and Portland Rescue, we work with Slavin Court, but what can we do with our own neighbors and friends to help them see our church as a light?

This is a great step, being out in the park, the trees on our church campus kind of hide us sometimes. And we will get out to the Hops game in a few weeks, something we can invite people too, and to the Multnomah Days parade. But maybe there are other ways too, maybe we can host Alpha in our homes, or at a pub or pizza place. Maybe we can have more sports teams, like our softball league we were a part of. More concerts, more fun things like lip sync nights, more days of service in the community like faith in action. All of those things, are ways people not only see us, but see God, see something worth checking out, see a light in the darkness. Those deeds, as insignificant as some of them might seem, all glorify God. As we open up the church, we help people open up to God.

We can’t hide his light. It’s too dark out there. Southwest Portland needs to see the love of Jesus. He is our light bringing us through the trials of life, and we need to reflect that for others. In our homes, in our workplaces, at school, and as a church. We need to look to him and see where he is leading us. In a couple of weeks our pastors will be back from sabbatical, well rested and renewed we hope. So let’s greet them with excitement too, and be ready to follow their lead and sessions lead into the community, to be light so that everyone can see the goodness of God through us, so that he is known in Portland and we are known for showing his goodness.