Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

lighting up the night

The hits just keep on coming! Where are you going to turn to find good news? 10 trillion dollars in wealth (or 'paper wealth' if you prefer, but let's not argue about it) have evaporated from the markets, injecting fear, isolation, job loss, and pessimism into cultures around the globe. Unemployment, over-leveraged banks, over leveraged-households: as the statistics keep pouring out, the sense of foreboding increases, and there's a collective weight in our global psyche as we wonder what will happen next. Economists can't agree on solutions, and CEO's who are supposed to be competent are, along with both Democratic and Republican politicians, revealing themselves to be both hopelessly incompetent and ignorant. These realities of course, fuel not only fear, but anger and cynicism. So when the insurance giant declared that it lost over 61 BILLION dollars in the 4th quarter, you could feel the collective, global moan on Monday (for some perspective, realize that the total revenue from all movie theaters in America in 2008 totalled 1.7 billion!). People are weary, confused, afraid.

Christ warned us there would, no doubt, be difficult days along the way. He warned us that, for some, these difficulties would be so overwhelming that fear would displace hope, and isolation/violence, would trump servanthood/community. Slipping into these destructive postures is easy - all we need to do is let the culture shape us. Of course, this is the very thing we're told, time and again in the Bible to avoid.

Jesus called those who follow Him, "the light of the world" and it is true that the single candle is increasingly visible in proportion to the presence of darkness. This is why now, more than ever, we who are the church (and even more so we who lead) must commit to "letting the light shine", because these days are as much days of opportunity as they are days of challenge. The bottom is dropping out; the institutions in which we've put our trust are collapsing. For many, it is only the reality of the storm that causes a search for shelter and God knows that the storm is here.

What kind of people light up the night?

1. Those who are rooted in God's revelation - We're told that God's Word is a lamp. That's why I'm grateful for the over 150 people who made their way through snow and rain, in business hours and the middle of the night, to read through the Bible, aloud in our church building, this past week. This is part of how we declare that we don't live by bread alone (or the market index) but by God's Word. The powerful imagery of the Light being declared in the middle of the darkness of 3AM is very powerful - this isn't just symbolism: this is our calling - to light up the darkness of our time by embodying the light of Christ's love and hope. If you stop by our church, take a look at the prayer journal where people wrote of their experiences reading the Bible. It's powerful.

2. Those who believe their identity. Jesus doesn't tell his followers to become light. He tells them that they are light, and because they are, they'd better start living as if they are. God knows there are plenty of reasons in each of our stories that might lead us to doubt that we're light - our failures, fears, prejudices, pride, and so much more, rise up to accuse us. But God sees us differently - sees our truest and deepest selves as complete, and is committed to working with us so that the light that is our life in Christ might shine. May we have the strength to believe we're complete and learn to say "thank you". This is why I was heartened to find 120 men from our church gathering in the mountains this past weekend to consider what role spiritual disciplines like prayer, serving, living out God's kingdom ethics, and resting might play in daily living. Habits formed around these categories ground is, giving us the faith and courage to believe that Christ is in us, with us, expressing life through us. Developing these habits is what this is all about.

3. Those who resist fear - Searching through the scriptures, we come to realize that those who missed fulfilling their destinies always had, behind their failures, a spirit of fear which caused them to disengage from naked trust and faith in God. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being different, fear of loss. Look through the Bible and you'll see fear displacing trust and faith over and over again. Into this we're told, numerous times, to 'fear not', precisely because we believe that God is in control and that, whether living our dying, our destiny of being light in the midst of darkness will be fulfilled.

Where fear is resisted, we'll be able to live honestly in the midst of deception, generously in the midst of hoarding and greed, and joyfully in the midst of anxiety. This is the calling to which we aspire in these remarkable days, so that wherever there is darkness, there will be light, "and the light will shine in the darkness and..." well, perhaps you know the rest.


At 3/3/09 19:18, Blogger Patrick said...

hey richard . . . really liked your sermon on sunday! I have a question about it. When you were talking about thin places, you mentioned that they were a place where you could see from "time into eternity." Does that mean that you see eternity as "time-less"? As in it exists outside of time?

At 4/3/09 10:34, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Hi Patrick...

when I spoke of the thin places on Sunday, I wasn't intending to imply anything about whether or not the eternal state stands outside of time. I'm of the opinion that NT Wright and CS Lewis both offer us well reasoned opinions on the matter (even though they differ) but that they are just that: opinions. There doesn't seem to be enough revelation on the matter in the Bible.

At 4/3/09 18:12, Blogger Patrick said...

Thanks for clarifying! It just led me to think about the implications of the "timeishness" of eternity, especially how it relates to whether or not God could truly experience what we experience if God were indeed "outside of time."

Also, I'm glad you juxtaposed Lewis and Wright. That juxtaposition is a favorite of mine . . . both British, both go by their first two initials, yet they are SO different in their approaches to theology.

P.J. Nygren

At 6/3/09 17:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"for some perspective, realize that the total revenue from all movie theaters in America in 2008 totalled 1.7 billion!"

That's not true. According to Rotten Tomoatoes, the current top 50 movies have grossed 2.7 billion in the 16 weeks or so.


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