A New Narrative for a New Year, Part II
- Prelude – “Come Thou Almighty King,” arr. by Lani Smith; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 139 – “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” by Joachim Neander; Hymn leaders Sue Ninemires, Ken Burres; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer Time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” by Thomas Dorsey; Ken Lillagore, accordion
- Scripture reading – Matthew 5:13-16; Dennis Westeren
- Sermon – “A New Narrative for a New Year, Part II,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 454 – “Open My Eyes, That I Might See,” by Clara H. Scott; Hymn leaders Sue Ninemires, Ken Burres; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Sung Benediction: Hymn 405 “Seek Ye First,” by Karen Lafferty; Hymn leaders Sue Ninemires, Ken Burres; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “Where He Leads Me,” by E. W. Blandly, arr. by Todd Kendall
Pauline Olsen, organ
In youth groups over the years, and with every confirmation class I led, we would always do what is called a blind trust walk. It involves teams of two people. One person is blindfolded. The other person is to lead the blindfolded person around for no less than 20 minutes. There are points in the walk where the one blindfolded is asked to reach out, touch something, experience it, even embrace it. One of those things always had to be a thick tree; most often a pine or fir. They were asked to feel the bark, feel the edges, the points of depth, the different textures, and then to hug it in such a way as to feel the energy; envision the sap, the lifeblood of that tree.
They would walk over uneven ground and be asked to feel every step, to be intentional about experiencing all of it. They were finally asked to walk on an elevated thick rope, hung between two trees – around two feet off the ground. They could either let go of the hand of the person leading them, and simply hang on to a rope just above their heads as support. Or they could hold on to the hand of their partner without the aid of the rope above them, or do both. It was in doing both where they most often felt safest, most secure, and most balanced.
The whole idea was to gain trust with each other, all while experiencing certain aspects of life, or even God’s creation, in a different way. It was always powerful and we would often spend hours working through what they experienced. The final piece of the discussion was always about God, how God works and, if we allow God to hold us, how much easier it is to find balance, and safety, see and sense what was really around us, and even find direction, all when we allow God to hold on to us.
I would talk about how we might take off our blindfolds and allow God to still walk with us, but with eyes wide open; how we could experience the same kinds of wonders if we allowed ourselves to take the time to notice, to experience, even to risk. Christ becomes the guide, but again, with eyes open. It was powerful on so many levels. But the other interesting element in the exercise was how differently each of the kids dealt with it. Some jumped in readily, willing to try something new and different, and a little edgy.
Others were much more cautious and were very hesitant to participate. I never forced anyone to do it, but certainly placed some pressure on them to consider it. It was important that the whole group be able to share this experience if a deeper level of trust was to develop. It most often took place somewhere in a retreat setting, toward the end of a weekend, or at the end of the whole confirmation experience. The group needed to know each other, trust each other, and be able to count on each other to not put anyone in harm’s way, to share some important experiences, and to build unity.
Only once in all of my years in youth ministry did a youth say no. And in that case, they had just come out of an extremely brutal family situation. They weren’t ready to do anything remotely like this. It was just too overwhelming, too risky, and required trust they didn’t have. So instead, I had them serve as the safety guide, making sure that everyone stayed within the safety guidelines. They got to share in the experience in a way that they could handle. So, in as much as everyone handled it differently, each was able to do it in their own way; experience it in their own way. It stretched them and allowed them to grow. These kinds of experiences can do the same for us. Now, why I’m sharing all of this with you?
As we finally bring Christmas to a close I wanted to go just a little deeper in what the whole story means, but more specifically for us here at Trinity. But first, I want to apologize for getting a little too academic last week. I know it was tougher for some to see what I offered as a sermon. Not going to happen today, and probably not ever again unless it’s a part of some weekly Bible study.
Today I want to go back to two sets of characters we find in our Christmas story, and talk briefly about one other thing that sets them apart from each other. Gay Lyn has done a beautiful job to make sure they are both front and center as they gather at the stable and approach the manger and examine one more element that differentiates the shepherds from the Wise Men. In this case, it’s not about the gospel writers, or what they were trying to accomplish when sharing these narratives.
Today it’s much more focused on each of us, and how God approaches each of us. It speaks deeply about just how much God loves us and uses what we need to guide us toward the Christ. The two stories offer us examples of just how much we can trust in God’s work as He utilizes our personal lives to help. Here’s what I mean.
Both the shepherds and the Wise Men show us just how creative God can be. We can already see that both groups bring very different perspectives to seeking and finding this baby. They bring two very different sets of life experiences, spiritual beliefs, and levels of need when it comes to God. Look at the stories again, and look at how different they are. My hope is that this will help us as we look at our own needs, our personal approaches to faith, and how God uses our past experiences to help us know a relationship is available.
First, let’s look at the shepherds. Please remember that the shepherds were not believers, in the sense of what most Jews believed. They didn’t feel a need to believe in anything greater than themselves. They saw themselves as fully self-sufficient. They didn’t need God. Yes, they were poor, but they felt that all they really needed were each other and the sheep. Sure they needed fields that could feed the sheep. Yes, they needed ways to stay safe, but they understood that they were the ones who would keep them safe. They didn’t need, nor did they believe in some God that would provide for them. They didn’t need guidance. They knew their way around. God thought differently and provided what the shepherds needed to help them understand who it was that provided for them and the sheep. God created an event that (shall we say) assisted them to become believers in something beyond themselves. Think about it.
God provided a heavenly choral light show; featuring the whole of the angelic choir. That choir was singing solely to them, these non-believing shepherds. God knew they needed Jesus, so God offered them a clear and succinct sign, and then clear and succinct directions. Kind of like: Here’s what heaven looks like – so believe, here’s where you need to go. Here’s how to find the child and why.
And finally, here’s what the child is. In order to get where they needed to go spiritually, this group needed something overwhelming; something so totally life-changing, something so huge that it couldn’t be ignored. And then, once experienced, would be something that would change them forever. God gave them that gift. I think it goes without saying that it changed their lives…forever.
Now, for the Wise Men, they didn’t need all of that. They already had some idea of what they were looking for, some idea of what they hoped for, even some idea of what to follow. They had an understanding of God. It just needed more clarity. What they needed was something heavenly, but for those astrologers, God provided them that singular, bright, guiding star. It was the star that they would follow, knowing it would lead them where they needed to go. It was a much more quiet approach, a more simple approach. Yet, like the shepherds, once they reached the destination, they were overwhelmed by what they found; and also like the shepherds, the lives of these Wise Men would be forever changed. I think the most important thing we need to remember is that God was at the center of both. It was God that provided exactly what each of them needed in order to seek and find the Christ child. God does the same for us.
I’ve shared a little about my life. There was a time in my early 20’s when I was in a very dark place. I had done things and experienced things I couldn’t imagine could have ever happened to me. I mean, like so many that age, I felt that I was immortal. I found that not only was I not immortal, I was so mortal that one mistake piled on another until I couldn’t see a way out. It was on a road just south of Olympia that God hit me over the head with what, at least in my soul, felt like a piece of lumber the size of the logs I used to use for building log cabins. I had to stop driving, it was so overwhelming. It was a wake-up call and conversion experience that I have never forgotten. It was what I needed – the kind of change of direction, overwhelming feeling, very much like the shepherds. Maybe some of you are more like me.
On the other hand, for most of my friends, their experiences of God are not like that. Their experiences are a bit more subtle. They would talk of times when they felt the deepening of the relationship within their lives. They would talk about growth and then about plateaus where they remained steady. It wasn’t that the plateaus were bad, it was simply what they needed. Like my conversion experience, they could identify those times when growth happened. Sometimes it was quiet, and other times a little less so. Most had never experienced the kind of conversion I experienced. They didn’t need to. God gave them what they needed to search and find the Christ child. God still does; kind of like the Wise Men.
Maybe you’re more like them.
Now, my role as pastor is to be a guide; a guide that you can trust; a kind of coach that can instruct and help you experience what you need in your faith. My role is to help you experience God more fully, to encourage you, assist you, and help you move deeper. From there, it is to encourage you to find others who may need you as a guide so that they too could find their way to the Christ child, experience God and God’s creation, and trust someone enough to take the kinds of risks that allow them to go deeper. And now, for us as individuals and as a church, particularly as we move into this new year, intentionality will become a key word. It will be about intentionally seeking and finding, intentionally trying and experiencing new things. Intentionally risking; stretching ourselves so that we can grow in faith. Only then will we be able to know just how God might be seeking to lead and guide us. It’s not all going to be serious. There will be times of fun and laughter, I promise you, and my hope is to have some that will also be experiential.
Here are a couple of examples, even in the midst of the pandemic. We’re going to have a healing service at the end of the month. Before that, you’ll find me on a balance beam. There will be a time where I’ll be your camp song leader with some really upbeat music. We’ll even do some art together during Lent, and even spend some time in mindfulness in worship.
The whole point will be to help us focus on our spiritual lives in relation to God in Christ, all while living in this time. And do it with intentionality. So, let’s grow together with love and grace, and particularly with hope in this new year. That’s my prayer. And speaking of prayer, let’s pray…
God help us first seek to live into your kingdom here on earth. Help us believe that as we seek we will find. Help us remember that, as Matthew states, it’s not about simply living by a law, it is in living a life of faith that we accomplish what you set in motion at the beginning of time.