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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jesus and the Job Description

Luke 4.14-21
We are purpose – driven creatures. It has long been understood that people with a solid sense of purpose are generally healthier, happier, and more content in life. Knowing what our purpose, mission, or call is buoys our spirit, provides a focus for our energy and creates pathways for connections with others who have a similar sense of purpose.
Agnus Day lectionary strip
In our gospel lesson for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, the gospel text tells us that as he was attending synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus was handed the Isaiah scroll and from it he read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” Upon handing the scroll back to the attendant, our text continues, reporting that Jesus said to those gathered around in the synagogue, in the holiest of places, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In this text, Jesus is a) once again, announcing and confirming that he is the Messiah, and b) announcing his central purpose in life and in ministry: to proclaim good news to the poor, etc. and c) proclaiming that the promised liberating work of the Spirit of God is now present in him.
We might argue whether “the poor” he was referring to were those who were starving, homeless, or destitute – the ones who are economically poor, in other words. Or, we might interpret the poor to mean those who are spiritually poor – those who have little understanding of the presence of God in their lives and the love that God holds for them. Perhaps “the poor” to us are all of the rest of those who live on the margins – the addict, those suffering from chronic or terminal illness, those who, because of race, gender, sexual identity, religion, nationality, ethnicity, age, IQ level, or you might have your own definition of who the “poor” are in our society and in our world.
We will discover in next week’s text, which is the continuation of this story, how the people reacted to what Jesus was saying. But for today, let us consider these questions:
  1. 1

    Who do you think of when you hear “the poor?” Do you ever consider any of those (aside from the economically poor) listed above?
  2. 2.       If you were to think more expansively, who might we add to a list of “the poor” – who do we overlook when we refer to those who are poor, in need of liberation or attention?
  3. 3.       What is your understanding of the Christian mission or purpose?
  4. 4.       How do you think Grace is living out her Christian mission, and what more do you think God is calling us to?
  5. 5.       What is the good news for you and for me in this text?

In choosing this passage to read, Jesus is announcing his purpose may be summed up as prophet, Messiah, healer, liberator. In the gospel of Luke what we see Jesus doing over and over again is consciously working toward the fulfillment of the purpose he states here: to heal the brokenhearted and the blind, announce release to the prisoners, and reveal that God's compassionate, loving Spirit is loose in the world.
The big question for us is, What difference does this news make in our lives? What new sense of purpose does it give us? How does this text reflect on the Church’s mission and sense of purpose and how might it guide our actions, decisions, worship, prayer, and planning?
Let us each pray on these questions and seek the answers God has placed before us, and weighing how we might respond.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lotteries, Abundance, and the Promises of God

John 2:1-11 Wedding at Cana
On Thursday it was announced that finally, for the first time since November, winning numbers had been drawn in the Power Ball lottery. At least three winners would split a record jackpot that had grown to something like $1.5 billion.
While for some the news brought great disappointment because their tickets were worthless, for many, the news came as a relief. Not because they had won anything, but because finally, life – and conversation - could return to “before the lottery” normalcy. Because, the truth is that there had been little else to talk about for the past couple of weeks. Right? I know that everywhere I went, it was all I heard about.
Never mind the state of the world, the growing crisis in the Chinese markets which were causing stocks around the world to tremble and fall, or the increasingly wild weather patterns around the world progressively pointing to the build-up of what is perhaps a record-breaking El NiƱo still strengthening and growing.
Never mind the plight of the homeless throughout the northern hemisphere where winter is bearing down in so many areas, or the refugee crisis that continues to grow. Never mind the growing sense of helplessness for so many who are feeling the pinch but not the solution to the failed health insurance situation.
Rather, in the days before the drawing, the Power Ball seemed to be on everybody’s mind. The possibility of larger-than-life winning jackpots became an obsession. Dreams and schemes developed. Everywhere you went you could overhear or enter into conversations about the big jackpot.
What would you do with the sudden windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars? How would your life change if you fell into such a fortune? Who would be the first person to contact you if word got out that you had won millions? Would you work or would you retire? Would you spend or would you save? How much of the winning money would make you content or fill your need and how much would you give away? In the spirit of full disclosure I admit that although I didn’t purchase a ticket myself, I did my own kind of dreaming, and lots of it ..what if??? It’s fun to dream, isn’t it?
Conversations I overheard or comments I read either fell into the camp of wishful thinking like mine, or judgment against this outlandish form of gambling. Then of course were the often-repeated statistics and cautionary tales of the large percentage of previous multi-million-dollar lottery winners who ultimately went bankrupt, whose lives were ruined, those who regretted ever buying that ticket.
On the day that the drawing took place, as the cumulative winnings for the Power Ball jackpot grew, there was a conversation that took place in the office here at church which reminded me of one of the basic laws of human behavior which I learned in college in my Economics 101 class – that is the principle (paraphrased) that just about the only things we as a people have in unlimited supply are needs and wants. Everything else has limits, which we interpret as scarcity. There is never enough to go around, never enough to fulfill all of our real and perceived needs or wants. As soon as you fulfill one want or need, another comes along to take its place – in unlimited supply – an endless laundry list of essentials. It is the way we are wired. It is part of our human nature.
What catches the imagination of those who dream and scheme about winning fantastic jackpots comes from our very human desire for abundance. We see the possibility of winning millions of dollars for the price of a single lottery ticket as the chance to suddenly have our existence transformed from one framed by scarcity that frustrates and sometimes scares us, to one overflowing with abundance, which we are sure will lead to happily-ever-after, where we will never want – for anything - again.
The gospel text this morning is also a story about scarcity and abundance. What happens at the Wedding at Cana is considered Jesus’ very first public miracle or sign. In the gospel of John, from which the story comes, every sign Jesus performs points to something deeper – they point to his true identity as the Messiah, and to his role as the one who brings into the world God’s very Word, Light and Life of grace which is abundant – in Christ, it is overflowing, in fact.
In this action of turning water into wine Jesus reveals himself to his disciples as God’s own sign and promise of life abundant, of dreams fulfilled. Jesus is the jackpot – the winning sign of God’s love and unmerited favor for God’s people, the very finest gift, appearing at the end of the ages. Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of Israel for a life full of good things and the promise of God fulfilled.
The text tells us that after this miracle at Cana, this sign that Jesus performed on behalf of the bridegroom, this miracle that took Jesus and the partygoers from the embarrassment and humiliation of scarcity to one awash in undeserved and overwhelming abundance, Jesus’ disciples believed in him. Did they know they had hit the lottery? With the coming of Jesus, their hopes and dreams for a new life framed by this abundance of God’s love and of promise fulfilled would be realized – but perhaps not the way they first dreamt and fantasized – at least not at first.
In this story that took place in an insignificant little town called Cana, not only did Jesus change water into wine but in so doing he transformed the host’s crisis of disgrace into a marvelous feast of generosity and joy; not only had he saved everyone there from a miserable and embarrassing end to this story, but he did so by giving the very finest of the fruits of the harvest – saved for the ultimate party – at the last - a reversal of the customs of the day.
In first century Palestine, at a wedding feast which went on at times for upwards of a week, the host would exhaust the stores of the very finest – and most expensive – wines first. Then with the vast majority of the guests sated and many deep in their cups anyway, the cheaper stuff might be pulled out and served. But at this party, God’s economy places the finest tasting wine last.
The narrative here is not simply the telling of a nice story with a happy ending – a fairytale in which the fairy godmother – or father - comes to the rescue, leaving us with the joy we long for. As is the case throughout the scriptures, this story is filled with symbolism relevant for the life of faith and pertinent to the community for whom it was first written as well as for us, still, today.
As Jesus enters the human story, the old religion as it is understood and practiced has grown stale and now fails to reflect the vast abundance of God’s love. I wonder if the same could be said for today?
The wideness of God’s hospitality and the vigor of religious life are gone. Many are left out and turned away from the goodness of the mercy, care and blessing of community as the poor and the powerless, the diseased and the disenfranchised are marginalized – set aside - ignored. God’s people are oppressed by the very institution that God declared should be a source of blessing. The good wine of God’s abundance seems to be exhausted.
Jesus, however, brings change to the old order. Jesus transforms what was old into something new. Jesus provides overflowing vats of wine – more than even a very large wedding party could possibly consume. He transforms the mediocre party into the finest of celebrations. Jesus transforms the scarcity into a blessing brimming with an abundance of the very finest, unprecedented kind. The quality of the wine is superb. It is unexpected. It is unearned. The finest most abundant and generous gift is given when it is least expected.
Frankly, it is sometimes difficult to speak of true abundance in a world where many suffer from poverty, want, disease, injustice, hunger, terror and war. It is difficult to speak at times about the goodness of God’s grace when the reality is that the true scarcity of our lives resides in the depth of our broken hearts, broken systems and broken relationships. It is difficult to think in terms of true universal abundance when there are still so many who are shut out.
But the story of transformative abundance as revealed in this gospel text points to an economy that is new and strange and wonderful. It doesn’t follow human paradigms of extravagant abundance. Rather, God’s measure of love and mercy and promise, present in Jesus, overflow the boundaries of human need. God’s abundance comes to us as grace that surrounds us and fills us with good things.
God saves the finest gift of all to last – where we receive grace upon grace – at the cross.
Abundance begins for each of us at our baptism, and we are reminded of it each time we meet together as we remember God’s revelation in human history within our worship and at the table where we taste and see the goodness of our God; when we celebrate the abundance of God’s grace in the forgiveness of sin. God’s grace is not only sufficient, but it is the jackpot – the undeserved, unmerited, unexpected goodness of life overflowing with good things.
The richest jackpot of our lives is the one not won by chance with the purchase of a ticket, but the one that is revealed to us through the coming of Jesus. May we share this gift with those God places on our path and in our community, that all may know the goodness of sweet wine, the depth of God’s love, and the wideness of God’s mercy. May our hospitality be reflective of the abundance of God’s grace. And may we be ever mindful of the enormous treasure we have received through the priceless gift of Jesus

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dreams and Expectations - What is the Possibility....?

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Isaiah 43:1-7
Baptism of Jesus
The refrain “Happy New Year” is still ringing in the air. For some of us, its echoes are likely stirring up the kinds of hopes and dreams that new beginnings seem to invite. What kinds of exciting new things will come your way this year? Perhaps this is the year you have decided to take that dream vacation. Perhaps you are filled with the anticipation of transitions with all the joys and challenges they bring.
You might be looking toward big changes that will take place later in the year – we have some young people anticipating leaving home for the first time, or continuing study in a new, untested environment; for you, perhaps retirement is in the wings. Perhaps there is the expectation of a move, or big, potentially life-altering decisions that need to be made, or the anticipation of new life with the addition of a new member of the family in the coming months.
For others, the anticipation of new things may bring fear. Perhaps there is hopelessness because you can’t imagine a new thing coming, or you are concerned or frightened about the changes the new year will bring to your life and to your loved ones. You may be expecting changes that will present challenges you are not sure you are equipped to handle, and a future you really don’t want to face right now.
Perhaps you are dealing with loss, and expectation just doesn’t seem to mean what it used to. Maybe you are looking out at the political landscape and the increasing polarization of society. As we face the uptick of the political cycle and an election year that promises, frankly, to be quite ugly, dread may be winning over hope in your heart at the start of this year. 
This is the reality into which God speaks through the scriptures this morning. God speaks to the people of old, but also speaks into this time and this place, and indeed, into this time of expectation – whatever that means to you today.
 It is a new year – we are only 10 days into 2016. In the secular world, the new year traditionally signals a time ripe with fresh starts and new opportunities, including the chance to begin a new course of healthy living, or to engage in an activity too long ignored or set aside.
Here in the church we begin this new year of 2016 as we begin each new calendar year, in the season of Epiphany – a season framed by the revelation of Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah, the long-awaited one. It is the season of new light, of opening our eyes and our minds and our hearts to fresh understandings about who God is, what God is doing, and the lengths to which God will go to break down the barrier between heaven and earth and to remove the age-old separation between God and God’s creation.
God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s unmerited favor to us, that thing we call “grace,” are at the core of God’s action and God’s revelation in this epiphany.
And so, on this Sunday, the first Sunday after the Epiphany of Christ that was heralded by a guiding star and the magi, these words begin our gospel reading: “As the people were filled with expectation…”
The reading goes on that to explain that the thing the people are really wondering about is John the Baptist, the one who has gathered quite a following. He has been baptizing people, has been preaching the word and urging the people’s repentance. John the Baptist has been going around exclaiming that soon and very soon, God would reveal Godself in one sent by God as the awaited, promised, anointed one – the Messiah.
John has been talking to those who gather around him about the advent of God’s mercy and salvation, and they are wondering, with great expectation perhaps, or maybe even with a sense of trepidation, about John himself and whether he might be the Messiah. Perhaps they wonder if John will soon reveal himself to be the one that God in fact has promised and sent.
You see, the people Israel have been existing in this state of expectation for a long time. Their lives are hard. The political landscape that surrounds and envelops them is as ugly as it is frightening and oppressive. They expect deliverance. They expect God to save them. God has promised it and so they wait in varying degrees of hope and anticipation for God’s coming to be revealed, bringing with it a liberating sigh.
The expectation of their deliverance reaches as far back as hundreds of years, and it reaches into a future that is yet to unfold, a future that they have been praying for, hoping for, and looking for. Their expectation is based on God’s promise. Near the end of the captivity and exile of the people of Israel in Babylon, where they languished for more than a generation persecuted, oppressed, and burdened, God promised to bring them home, promised to bring them freedom and relief.
Now, hundreds of years later, again oppressed, again persecuted, again burdened and hoping against hope for God to save them, these words from God, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, seem to speak to them out of the past and into their present, offering the balm of hope.
 “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,” comes God’s word. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” This is God’s signature of supremacy and might. “I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
The people who surround John have been filled with expectation and anticipation, and hope and longing for as long as they can remember. They have been filled with hope that the promised Messiah would come and that through him God would do something amazing, fabulous, and everlasting - for them.
Their sense of longing has been building and building, filling them with the expectation that God will answer their prayer. In recent times, the rhetoric of John the Baptist has not only caught their attention but has led to a heightening of their sense of anticipation for the coming of the Lord.
Finally, in this gospel lesson in which it is reported that Jesus has been baptized, as he was praying, the heaven was opened. The Holy Spirit descended. A voice came from heaven, announcing Jesus as God’s divine representative. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
At this holy baptism, the realm of God is announced, a realm where “new life” means love, peace, justice, mutual support, freedom, and dignity hold sway over the complicity of the old age of sin and rebellion. In this text, we are reminded that that which separates us from God is no longer. In Jesus, God enters the world – God is no longer up, behind the firmament, up in the clouds, far, far away from us and from our struggles, rather, God is here, now, among us.
At the beginning of our worship today we remembered the gift of our own baptism. We remembered God’s promises to us. The reason we frequently have this intentional remembrance of the gift of our own baptism, through the reading of scripture, prayer and the sprinkling of water, is that every baptism is an epiphany kind of moment.
It is a moment when the heavens and the earth meet in determined solidarity, and then open, reminding us of God’s promises of everlasting love, grace and forgiveness for us all.
It is the promise that because Jesus lives, we can live too. Not just exist. Not just rest, mired in our own complacency, but we can really and truly live.
Jesus joins with us in our baptism, showing us the way. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire – the fire of a love so strong that it transforms us into the living breathing children of God for whom God opened the heavens.
God’s claim on us at baptism is for a lifetime. It fills us with holy expectation. It anticipates for us the words we long to hear, regardless of our circumstance, regardless of what we might hope for or dread for the coming year:
Do not fear
          For I have redeemed you
                   I have called you by name
                             You are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
          I will be with you;
                   And through the rivers,
                             They shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
          And the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
          The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Do not fear, for I am with you;                        
Karoline Lewis writes, “Baptism is about promise – the promise of God’s love and God’s grace, God’s protection and provision, and the comfort of God’s community. But Jesus’ baptism reminds us that baptism is also an epiphany, and what God chooses to reveal about God’s self is not always seen in white gowns and water. The season of Epiphany….brings us closer to the fact that God will also be seen in rejection and suffering, death and denial, pain and injustice.”
At our baptism God tears the heavens open, pushes through the firmament and claims us. “You are mine.” “You are beloved.” “My grace is sufficient for you.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Emboldened by this claim and promise, let us go forth, washed and empowered through the Holy Spirit’s transforming grace, power, and through prayer, to face the new year with all of its joys and challenges, living as though we believe God’s word, “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Do not fear, I am with you. You are mine.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Kings, Sheep, and the Stars in their Courses

Matthew 2:1-12
 Today we celebrate the epiphany, that is, the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, the light of world, revealed in our gospel lesson by a star that shines overhead. And in our gospel story, strangers – foreigners from another land – outsiders in fact, become key witnesses to both the threat and promise of the Christ child. The question for us today, is this: how will we witness to the light that shines in this world through this Jesus who abides in us and guides the way of the church?

There is a lectionary comic strip called Agnus Day that I occasionally share postings of on Grace’s Facebook page.
It features two “sheep” named Rick and Ted, who we get to listen in on as they meet up at coffee fellowship after church each week. There, they comment on the lessons, usually the Gospel heard in church that day. Rick is Ted’s mentor and tries to help unravel the mystery of the text by answering Ted’s on-point questions. The cartoon is the creation of a Lutheran pastor and can provide some chuckles and well as “ah ha” moments for church nerds like me – and you.
Three years ago, when Epiphany actually fell on Sunday, with the title “The star wasn’t the only miracle that day,” Rick and Ted’s conversation went like this:
Ted: So, the magi just walk in on Herod and ask where to find Jesus?
Rick: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Ted: Amazing!
Rick: What, that they are seeking the Messiah in the company of a tyrant?
Ted: No! That three men would actually stop and ask for directions!
You’ve seen similar cartoons and punchlines to a similar joke, I’m sure – the absurdity of men asking for directions.
        But the cartoonist points out another strange detail from the gospel lesson for today – that these travelers, foreigners from the East, likely from Babylon or beyond, would not only stop and ask for directions – but that they ask these directions from Herod, who is well known as a tyrant king, and they are asking him where an opposing king might be found.
Surely, if these were, as tradition later defined them, “wise men,” they would have known that they were indeed stirring up some very dangerous waters with their question. Herod’s tyranny and cruelty were well-known. And no king would tolerate the presence and competition nor even the suggestion of another king within his realm.
        But that is not the only strange detail in the telling of the gospel story today. In fact, strange details are stacking up.
        There is this business about that star. The star that the text says, went ahead of the magi until it stopped over the place where they found the child – the now nearly two-year old Jesus – together with his mother.
        Who were these men who have so stirred our imaginations? They have been called “wise men,” and later were defined as “Three Kings.” Yet this term, magi, comes from the Greek text where the word to describe them is magoi.
This is a word that might better be translated “magician” and yet it is highly likely that these men were astrologers – another way this word is used in antiquity, and an apt description of men “from the east” who were known to spend much of their time searching the skies for signs and portents connecting the astrological occurrences to occurrences in the physical, earth-bound world.
We can imagine them as either the scientist astronomers who scan our skies looking for origins of stars and the secrets to the universe locked away in the skies; or as astrologers, who study the skies comparing them to star-charts and seeking to find the keys of the future unlocked through their interpretations.
Either way, they knew the skies. They sought answers to the past, present and especially the future among the stars and planets they studied. And there, in those skies they knew so well, they observed changes that point to something wonderful and strange and awe-inspiring.
If they lived in contemporary times we can imagine them reporting to Science Daily or the Institute for Creation Research: Astronomers have found a new star, hitherto before not observed in the skies and it beckoned them to follow, which they did, stopping in Jerusalem for clarification and direction. Now, they themselves enter the story.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes that the arrival of the magi in Jerusalem signals the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy, the prophecy that was reported in Luke’s gospel when Simeon first sets his eyes on the infant Jesus in the temple on the day of his circumcision and naming – “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”
The magi, outsiders, foreigners, Gentiles, no less, are among the first to recognize – and witness – to the miraculous presence of God in human form among us – in the Christ child. By their very presence they themselves become part of the portent of what is to come – that truth that will be born into its own forms of opposition - that through the Messiah God is calling and blessing people of all nations and tongues to participate in the new kingdom God is creating, to share in the blessing of God’s incarnation among us, and to join in the refrain of homage to Christ, the king.
The response of the magi to the vision they behold is that of overwhelming joy. The Greek translation expresses their reaction in terms that go well beyond the contained joy of our Christmas and Epiphany songs and carols. The joy of the magi is expansive, explosive, heart-bursting, mind-blowing, uncontainable joy. It is the kind of reaction that demands movement and action and their first response is to give to this king the finest gifts within their means.
The magi have much to teach us about this business of testifying to the miracle that God has placed before us. Their astonishment at God’s presence among them sends them to their knees.
Their joy is remarkable. In it, they offer their very best gifts. They enter the story as strangers and they leave as friends – friends who teach us the way of obedience to God and wonderment at what God has done.
They pay homage to the Messiah.
This is the story of the first epiphany, for the revelation of God’s glory and incarnation to the magi is for us a preview of so many more epiphanies to come:
In our scriptures, God is revealed in Jesus at his baptism, a story we will hear again next week. Just a few weeks after that we will once again celebrate God’s revelation at the transfiguration of Christ on the mountaintop, where the glory of God shone around him. God’s revelation happens again through the miracles Jesus performs, and then, through his Passion, death and resurrection.
God’s presence among us in revealed in the everyday stories of our lives, too. God’s presence is revealed in ordinary people who do ordinary and extraordinary things.
The news is full of horrible stories of violence and terror and horrible suffering at the hands of fire and storm. But if you listen, if you pay attention you will find within each story the accompanying stories of angels of mercy who reach out to help, rescue, heal, comfort, extend mercy and grace, offer forgiveness, show God’s love, care and compassion.
God’s presence is revealed for us each week as we celebrate God’s Word come among us and as we celebrate the revelation of God’s healing, abiding, forgiving word through the holy meal we share. God’s light is revealed in moments quiet and moments profound.
A couple of weeks ago, the Vatican had announced forward movement in the process that will lead to Mother Theresa being canonized a saint. Regardless of how you view the process and practice of the Catholic Church in the naming of saints, you probably agree that certainly in the way she lived her life and served the poorest of the poor, Mother Theresa shined the light and love of Christ on those with whom she came in contact.
Last week, we received a thank you card here at Grace, from one of the residents of St. Mark’s Village, an elderly recipient of Christmas gifts through Grace’s Christmas adoption activity and also a regular recipient of meals provided through feeding programs in which we engage each month, where the light of Christ shines on our small act of outreach: "Thank you so much for gifts through your Christmas gifting project,” he wrote. “It made my Christmas--made me feel so good. May God bless!!! [I] Just like what your church does for me. Happy New Year!!!"  
On Thursday a young man came through our doors, looking for assistance and thanking us for the help we’ve given before – assistance which has helped him and his wife show their young son what the love of strangers can do, in the name of Christ. At the end of our meeting, I held hands with father and son, as we prayed together for God’s light to continue to shine down on them.  
God’s presence will be revealed when we come together and profess our faith and when we open our doors for strangers and foreigners to enter into this sanctuary, so that together we can celebrate with overwhelming joy the light of God’s love. That love is made alive when together we are sent out to serve the community around us, to proclaim the good news of God’s glory, and when we reach out into the world through our collections and activities to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
Thanks be to God who uses us to witness to the Light. Thanks be to God who is revealed through the ordinary and the extraordinary. Thanks be to God, who gathers together all the nations of the world and proclaims that tyrants need no longer be feared, because God’s light is revealed in Christ the King. Thanks be to God, the brightest star in the heaven, who blesses us with overwhelming joy, that we may be a blessing for the world. AMEN.