New year…new possibilities

On January 5, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

New year…new possibilities Rev. Anne R. Atwell January 3, 2016 How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions? I usually begin a New Year by reflecting on what I accomplished last year as well as what I hope to achieve in the coming year. My resolutions often look like this. Ok, this year… – […]

New year…new possibilities
Rev. Anne R. Atwell
January 3, 2016

How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions? I usually begin a New Year by reflecting on what I accomplished last year as well as what I hope to achieve in the coming year. My resolutions often look like this. Ok, this year…
– I want to lose 10 pounds and I want to take better care of myself by eating better and getting more exercise.
– I want to get my finances in order so I can begin saving more for retirement.
– I want to take up a new hobby that will provide me with some fun and will be a good outlet for me when I need to step away from work.
Now, of course, I don’t always attain what I had resolved to do but what I’ve found that works very well is to imagine, to create a picture in my mind of what I would like the outcome to be. For example, I imagine how much better I would feel if I were able to lose those few extra pounds. And I picture myself including more exercise into my life and eating healthier food. It’s really about being intentional and I’ve found that by creating positive images, it makes everything very possible. It makes it real.

The readings we heard this morning call each of us to imagine what is holy in a new and in possibly a different way than we had in the past. Now if this seems difficult, listen again to what our very first reading shares with us. “I live in a Life that is constant and on-going and continually expanding in Light and Love. Gratefully, I shall grow in it and with it eternally.” The writer, Carley Dawson, is encouraging us to grow and change and expand our thinking of who or what God is. And just when we think we’ve figured it all out, we must then step back and admit that we can never fully understand or comprehend the fullness of God. We really can’t and shouldn’t put God in this box of our own making. And that can cause some conflict within people. I know it did for me. But we can move into a place, a community that embraces the search and will work with us as we find other ways of discerning for ourselves what is holy and what is Divine. We can and we should continue to search for new images, new concepts rather than clinging to the past and to the understandings that may no longer work for us.

The reading we just heard from John’s Gospel is rather interesting, especially since it follows the passages from Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels regarding the physical birth of Jesus, which are our Christmas stories. The writer of John uses imagery of light overcoming darkness which is one of the reasons the ancient faith communities placed Advent and Christmas at the winter solstice, at the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Commemorating Christmas during the year’s darkest days underscored humanity’s desperate need for light, for something to look forward to, for hope! Yet because the winter solstice also marked the reemergence of daylight, Christmas signaled to these communities of faith of the ultimate victory of light over something they imaged to be very frightening.
This imagery of light overcoming darkness is also why lights are used as decorations during the Christmas season, even though many of us never make the connection between Jesus and lights displayed in our homes and on our Christmas trees. And I think that is because we use, during our Christmas worship services, Luke’s description of Jesus’ birth and not the narrative from John. Let’s face it, it is much easier to image shepherds and angels and a little baby than it is to imagine light and “the word” from John’s Gospel. This morning, through the use of the narrative from John, we move into a different way of viewing Jesus and of understanding what Jesus may be for each of us. The passage we heard is kind of John’s Christmas story with Jesus described as someone who is divine and who has been part of God from the very beginning, as the light, as the word.

But here we are. It is January 3 and that season of preparation is over. The anticipation of Jesus’ birth is past. We are now in Christmastide, that reflective time after the big celebration. And now the real work of the sharing of hope and peace and love begins. This is, quite possibly the reason this scripture passage is presented to us today. John guides us to look at Jesus in a wholly different way, moving beyond what is easy and into different images that can be a little more challenging. But ultimately, if we are open to it, those new images will lead us into a deeper relationship with the Divine.

Think for a moment. Who or what is Jesus to you? For many people, it can be difficult to move beyond what we were taught as children. We may have seen pictures of Jesus looking kind of pale with long flowing fair hair, with little children and maybe a few little lambs surrounding him. Jesus meek and mild. Amy Jill Levine calls this Jesus, “Mommy Jesus.” The Jesus that no one wants to hurt; the Jesus that actually looks a little Swedish. And during this time of the year, Christmas/Christmastide, we may think of Jesus as a little baby born in a manger with angels hovering overhead. Or maybe we have images of Jesus on a cross, dying for our sins because that is what we were taught. But what if we were to imagine Jesus as light, as a Spirit of Love, as a word of compassion or a word of comfort to those who really need to hear it? This paints a picture of a different Jesus! This is a Jesus that embraces us and invites each of us to do the work that he did. By sharing a meaningful or a compassionate word, we become like Jesus and we share with others the Divine that is within all of us! We can be the light sharing a hopeful word to a hurting world. We can be, what the more familiar Christmas story describes as “Good news of great joy for all the people!”

My friends, each of us has a word, a gift ready to be used, ready to be brought to life. Though you may believe that you certainly couldn’t have that kind of gift, that only special people could have something so important. But I can assure you that within every person is a beauty, a light and a word that is ready to come to fruition. For one, the word may be “empathy.” For another, the word may be “justice.” For someone else, the word may be “generosity.” And for another, it may be “serenity.” But these words are really only theoretical concepts; very good ideas that only a few people may have ever seen. But the moment we act upon them, the words become action which will lift others into a place of goodness and of wholeness. These words and these actions and these outcomes are there! But until we witness the word come to life, the concepts remains abstract. We have to act. We have to make these power-filled words come to life so that the empowering image will resonate everywhere!

If the Word, which was with God from the very beginning, is a metaphor for Jesus, it can also be significant to our calling, our direction and the way in which we may want to live. With meaningful, loving, and affirming words, we can create so many wonderful things. We can create endless and infinite possibilities!

Example, a few weeks ago, I was in my office one afternoon. It was a couple of days before Christmas so people were coming and going all day. The church felt very busy and very alive! I was working away and I heard the side door open. I saw a young man enter. He was fairly young, probably 18 or 19. I didn’t recognize him so I stood up and greeted him in the hallway with a “May I help you?” He looked at me kind of like a deer in headlights, a little frightened but willing to stand his ground. He asked me, “Could I possibly get some information on the church?” To which I responded, “Of course! Follow me.” We went into the production room and I got him a brochure about Sunshine Cathedral which tells about our ministry, service times, etc…

He seemed pleased to get it and I could tell he had a few other questions but probably wasn’t sure where to begin. So I stuck my hand out and said, “I’m glad you stopped by. My name is Anne. What’s your name?” He paused…and swallowed…and said to me, “This is the LGBT church, right?” I told him it was and he then said, “Ok…my name is Linda.” I smiled a big smile and said to her, “Hi Linda. I’m glad you stopped by today.” Just changing my image of this beautiful young person, and using the words that would affirm her existence caused a light to show through Linda that wasn’t there just a few minutes before. We had a great conversation and I was able to share with Linda not only what we offer here at Sunshine Cathedral but of the various resources that are available in our community. Creating a new image and affirming it with words and actions, is one of the most empowering and uplifting things you can do.

This past week, a friend of mine shared how sad she feels that Christmas is over. She told me that it just seems like everyone is friendlier at Christmas, everyone is happier and there is just so much to look forward to. I thought about that and I made a resolution right there. I decided that, for me, 2016 will be a year in which I do the hard work of making Christmas a year-round feeling. I will offer words that only uplift others and I will set aside the so prevalent negativity. I will look for new images of the holy in all that I do, realizing that as fabulous as our church is, we must go beyond these walls and make our society a safer and more equal place for all people. When you imagine these things and when you can picture how it will appear, it becomes easier to make it manifest in your life. As the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Coleman taught and as we hear frequently from our Senior Minister, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.”

There is poem from Howard Thurman that I find so very compelling. And as we move through Christmastide and begin the New Year and I want to share it with you this morning:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When (all royalty) are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among (all people),
To make music in the heart.

My friends, what are your resolutions? What is it that you can do? What are new, positive, uplifting images you want to create in your life? How will you keep Christmas in your heart during the coming year? Let’s each of us make a resolution to create an image or speak a word of joy, of compassion to be manifest in our world. We can do this. You just have to imagine it! And if you can, if you can make that step, there will be, in your life, infinite possibilities!
And this is the good news!

Today and always…
I will speak words of compassion.
I will speak words of joy.
My life is filled…
With endless and infinite possibilities!
And so it is!


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