The Word of God. May the Lord add his wisdom and understanding to our interpretation of his Word this day.
We are stepping forward into the here and now. It is what our scriptures are telling us this morning. We will take a quick look at the scriptures, they come from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 verses 14 to 16. Jesus is telling us that we are to be lights shining in the darkness to God’s glory.
For the past few weeks Pastor Ron and Pastor Bob have been giving a series of messages about “Getting Ready”, to prepare us for the changes we experience when we accept God into our lives. This morning, I am going to end the series by looking at how accepting God’s Grace changes the way we look at the world around us.
The Gospel of Matthew was written to the Jewish community, sometime between 70 and 90 BCE about 40 to 60 years after Jesus resurrection with the purpose of demonstrating to the Jewish community how Jesus fulfills the requirements of the Old Testament to be the Jewish Messiah.
The Gospel starts with Jesus’ genealogy showing him as a direct descendant of Abraham, the founder of the Jewish faith and King David the first king of all the Jewish tribes and founder of the nation of Israel.
The birth narrative ends with Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus returning from Egypt after the death of King Herod the Great.
Next we have Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River with the heavens opening, the Spirit as the dove descending and the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Immediately the Spirit takes Jesus to the desert for 40 days where we can assume he prays and plans his ministry. The 40 days end when Jesus is tempted by and defeats Satan.
About this time John the Baptist is arrested by Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son, and thrown in jail.
Jesus moves to Galilee. Jesus settles in Capernaum, a small village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He calls his disciples and begins his missionary journey as an itinerant preacher, traveling throughout the area teaching, preaching, and healing.
According to Matthew at the time of our scriptures Jesus is drawing large crowds who follow him everywhere. On this particular day he is in a village on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As he and disciples leave the village, the crowds gather in around them.
Jesus goes up on a hillside and sits down. The disciples sit in a circle before him and the crowds move in behind the disciples. Jesus begins what we know now as the Sermon on the Mount.
We are all familiar with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. It starts with the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor is spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. What is unique here is that these poor and oppressed people are going to be rewarded. They will be comforted, their needs will be filled and they will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven.
What is happening here is that Jesus has turned the whole social order of Jewish society up-side-down. We could always tell whom God favored. They had property and wealth; they had prestige and power; they had the perfect family and mere people felt honored by being in their presence. They had all of this stuff because God loved them more than other people….look at all that God had given them.
Jesus is telling his listeners that this is not so. Those who need help and continue to suffer believing in a God who will take care of them, will receive God’s help. There will be a reconciliation.
Jesus goes on by telling the listeners that they are the salt of the earth. They are the people whom God has chosen, we know this because God has reached out and touched them and they have responded to God’s touch by coming to listen to Jesus whom God has sent to them. The same way we respond to God’s touch today by gathering and worshiping in a community of believers
Who are they? They are the hardworking, the trustworthy, family people, the poor, the oppressed, the infirm, and the ill. Those listening to Jesus are the farmers, the laborers, the carpenters and the mason.
They are the people who are trying to take care of their families doing the best they can to make their way through this rough period of time when the there are two classes of people…those who have, and those who give to those who have.
Which brings us to this morning’s scriptures where Jesus is telling us to be lights shining in the darkness.
We have a primary purpose as God’s children/disciples. That purpose is to proclaim the saving grace God has given to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. The related tasks are to support the community of believers that is the church community, Christ’s body on earth. And finally we are to reach into the world around us.
Our job is to lift up, teach and encourage people as we prepare them to develop their fullest potential.
So I am asking you this morning, how are we doing on that last part, that reaching out into the world around us. Think about that for a moment while I tell you a story.
Last month Priscilla and I took my Mom and my sister Hattie Marie on a cruise to Alaska. Mom is 93 and the only place she ever wanted to visit, and never went to is Alaska.
It was rainy, and cold and damp, and she had a wonderful time. We spent a lot of the time in the observation lounge where she could look out at the ocean. She has never seen the ocean. We played cribbage, and we talked, actually we told stories. I come from a family which tells stories.
She was telling me that a couple of weeks ago she drove up to the west corner of the farm to visit Elaina and Randy Johnson. They have been my Mom’s family’s neighbors for generations.
While she was there my Mom saw a trophy sitting on the fireplace mantel. Mom commented on the trophy and Elaina smiled. She said her son David and his family had been visiting over Memorial Day and David had told his grandson how he had won that trophy.
I remember the Johnsons from when they lived on the farm across the section to the north. Randy farmed about 80 acres there, and farmed Elaina’s father’s quarter section where they live now, and later Elaina’s uncle’s quarter section two miles to the south.
They had three children, David about 8 years younger than me, a sister Julie, a couple years younger than David and a little brother Steve about 2 years younger than Julie.
We knew each other as all neighbors did back then. My Mom and Elaina had grown up together in the neighborhood but we really became close when one afternoon about 50 years ago Randy stopped my Dad on the road to ask about a horse. He knew we were in the horse business and he wondered about buying a horse for David who was just turning 10.
We owned about a dozen horses at the time and had another three or four in training for other people. David had seen us working and training the horses and he thought it looked like fun.
My Dad told Randy he was out of his mind. The last thing anybody needed was horse, but if David wanted to ride we could always use someone to exercise the horses.
And that is how David came into our lives. We sponsored him in 4-H with a beautiful black and white pinto pony half Welsh and half Arabian named Sweet Polly.
He worked hard. He listened and watched and he became a pretty good rider. He had been with us for about a year when we took David and Polly to a horse show in Peterson, Iowa.
We entered him in a halter class, a trail class, a junior pleasure class and finally a costume class. He did very well, nothing outstanding, but very well.
When it was time for the costume class, Elaina and my Mom took David into the horse trailer. Elaina handed him a pair of swim trucks and told him to put them on. My Mom sat him down on a overturned bucket and using some acting make-up she had saved from when she taught school began to add war paint. Donny jumped up and demanded to know what she was doing.
“We are turning you into a Native American Warrior who will be riding a war pony,” my Mom told him. He started to object but Elaina gave him a mother look and he settled down.
Meanwhile Joe and I started on Sweet Polly. We took off Polly’s saddle and bridle. We made a makeshift single rein halter/hackamore with a half-inch hemp rope. We took out our book of Native American war horse pictures and began to add the images such as hand prints and lighting bolts to Polly using the make-up.
My Mom finished with the make-up and Donna did the final touch with a headband and feather. Sitting on Polly he made a very respectable Native American warrior. It was homemade and kind of rough, but looked authentic.
David was finally starting to feel good about this when the girls from Ryle’s Arabian Stable rode past. They had been winning costume classes throughout the Midwest for years. The girls and horses were dressed as Arabian princesses and no cost had been spared. I know each costume, complete with silver saddles, was in the $1,500 range.
When he saw them ride past toward the show ring David’s eyes got wide as saucers. He started to slide off Polly. Elaina caught him and set him back on Polly’s back.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I can’t compete with them ,” he answered motioning toward the two girls riding past on Arabian horses.
“Look,” she told him patting his leg. “We asked for Belle and family for help, and they are giving it. You’ve got the best-trained horse here. You’ve got the best ground crew here. You’ve got Belle who has 40 years of experience preparing people and livestock to go into the show ring and win. You’ve got all this experience focused on you and helping you into that show ring. All you have to do is do is show some faith.”
My Mom smiled at him and said, “It’s a leap of faith. Go in there and ride like you have already won.” She gave Polly a swat on the rump and sent them through the gate into the show ring.
The costume class is theoretically a competition on how well the costumes of the horse and rider match the performance of the horse and rider. They ride around the edge of the show ring in both directions at a walk, trot and canter. The judge watches each contestant to see how well the horse responds to commands and how the horse reacts to the needs of the costume.
Finally the class was over. Usually at this time the judge motions contestants to come from the edge of the ring to form a line starting with either the first or last in the class.
This time the judge stopped everybody on the outer edge and walked over to the microphone. He started out by telling the audience that this was an interesting class ranging from contestants who has spent a lot of money on their costumes to those who had used their ingenuity and imagination. He said any one of the contestants could be a winner in any costume class.
“But.” He said there was one contestant who had an original costume and actually looked like he belonged on his horse and, “would the young man riding the painted war horse come over here and collect his trophy.”
David’s eyes were glowing and his grin stretched from ear to ear as he rode out of the ring. We could not get him to give up the trophy and he spent the rest of the afternoon riding Sweet Polly around the parking lot, around the grandstand, around the show ring area and out through the stabling area in his Native American warrior costume and carrying his trophy.
It is our job to help by teaching, guiding and encouraging others to take that step of faith.
One of the basic fundamentals of our Reformed Theology goes back to Martin Luther in 1517, and his epiphany that we received salvation by God’s Grace. We cannot be good enough or work hard enough to save ourselves. It is only through God’s Grace granted to us that we receive salvation.
We do not do good works to be saved. We do good works because we are saved.
How do we do discern God purpose for us? There is a method. Usually we discover by hindsight and reflection that God has us right where he needs us and we have already started down the path.
If we are still looking for that path, start by praying. It is through prayer that we open ourselves and allow God into our lives. It does not matter what we pray about. The subjects will evolve over time.
Next stop focusing inward and observe the world around us. Simply be aware of what is happening around you and you will discover that will begin to impact the subject of your prayers.
Find out what weighs on your heart. There will be something or someone who just sticks in your mind.
Next find affirmation. Talk to the Pastor, talk to church members. Talk to friends and family. Think about the feedback you are given. If the feedback is positive get ready for the next step.
Do something. It does not have to be big. Take that first step on faith and see what happens.
If it is what God wants the way will be easy and clear. If it is what God wants you to be doing God will provide the skills, strength, courage and resources.
This is where some people become uneasy. What if God wants me to go to deepest darkest Africa and be a missionary, or to stand on a street corner and proclaim the word?
Maybe, but probably not.
God has lots of people to go to Africa and many who love to hear the sound of their own voice. What God really needs is good grandparents, and parents, and carpenters, and electricians, and plumbers, and schoolteachers, and choir members.
There is something there for each of us. God will not ask us to do something we cannot do. But God does expect us to do what we can.
If we are willing to take that step in faith and touch the world around us God will make sure we are lights shining in the darkness to his glory.