Endings and Beginnings

Passage: Luke 2:41-52; Colossians 3:12-17
Date: December 31, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

ENDINGS

On this Sunday morning of New Year's Eve Day, it seems fitting that we do worship in a slightly different way. Turnings of the year provide for us opportunities to look back and to look forward. I have dear friends who go to the beach every December. Wife and husband, they walk and talk, write and reflect together. They review the year that is waning, looking for lessons, perspectives from which to grow as individuals and as a couple. They also look ahead, and share with each other personal and couple hopes for what is to come. Part of their process includes financial budgeting, and priority setting. They find this an excellent time for reflection, for learning, and renewal. I confess that I am lucky if I make ten minutes for such thinking and learning and growing. This morning, within the community of Christ, I invite us all to pause. In the first part, we will have opportunity to begin to look back. And in the second, we will quietly look ahead. All of this is within the context of the gracious love of God.

I heard recently that in a certain Italian village on New Year's Eve, citizens don't dress up or go to festive parities. Instead, as mid-night nears, streets become deserted. Even the police sort of take cover, because of what is about to occur. As the church bells ring midnight, the windows of the houses fling open, and everyone begins throwing away all sorts of things: chipped dishes, cracked glasses, worn out furniture, old shoes, photos of old boyfriends or girlfriends. They toss out stuff they do not want to carry into the new year. (Presbyterian Outlook, 12/25/06, p. 11)

As I read that, I wondered if there are chipped, cracked, or worn out things in my life I do not want to carry into the new year. Are there hurts I carry around that I may even enjoy having, but that probably bog me down and limit God's presence in and through me? Every once in a while, someone will tell me that they haven't gone to church in years. As I explore that, I discover that some church member a couple of decades ago slighted a loved one, and they have never returned. How do I help that person see that churches are made of fallible human beings? Even at our best, we can hurt and be hurt. So, how do we learn to use anger or disappointment constructively? The gospel calls us to move toward wholeness, and not remain stuck in the past.

One of the things I sometimes get hung up on are missed opportunities, things I might have done differently. The feeling for me is regret and self-condemnation. The movement for me is to remember that I am a person deeply valued by God not for what I do, but simply because Jesus loves me. This is not easy for me. Within that context, I can look at the missed opportunity, try to learn from it, and seek to be open to God's newness.

One person I heard about wants to throw away the presumption, the attitude of entitlement, that is, that somehow, "the world owes me." The list of possibilities here varies with each of us: a comfortable home, a life free of disasters, an ideal marriage, nearly perfect children, an annual increase in salary, never getting laid off. For people of faith, it may mean that somehow God owes me, and I freely tell God what that means in my prayers. If God does not, then I wonder, "What did I do to deserve this?" (Idea, same)

Looking back. Learning from, or perhaps being open even to begin a process to learn from, releasing or considering releasing. In the next moments, I invite us to take out the insert titled letting go, with a stanza from Alfred, Lord Tennyson on it. We can help children do this too. Then write: single words, phrases, sentences, perhaps a prayer; draw pictures. Whatever works for you. In this year nearly over, are there learnings from experiences, things to let go of? (Play sound track.)

BEGINNINGS

Scripture
Sung response
Reflecting

The only youthful story of Jesus signals a change, a beginning perhaps in his life, and some family recognition of it. What had been hidden and private about him became more public in the Temple.

The outset of a new year gives opportunity to wonder about what might be ahead, and what God's presence might include. For better or worse, most of us do not see handwriting on the wall from God. Nor do we have angelic visitors pointing the way. Instead, we move forward as faithfully as we can, seeking to live into the light we are given. Living faithfully includes looking back, trying to see God's presence in the events of life. Then, in that context, we peer ahead with wonder and anticipation and hope. Mostly, what we may discover are nudgings, tiny insights, a growing confidence. Occasionally may come a flash of knowing. But, I suspect for most of us, our journeys are a kind of groping, seeking as best we can to grow in faithfulness to the God we are coming to know in Christ Jesus. Are there places in our lives, issues in which the gentle brush of the Spirit is encouraging us to move ahead? Some changes in God's love are lengthy processes, involving struggle as well as joy. In all of them, we are accompanied by God-with-us, acknowledged and not.

In the next few moments, I invite us to use the other insert, with the reading from Colossians and the prayer by Thomas Merton. I included the prayer, because it speaks to me of my journey. I hope it may for you as well. As we consider 2007, let us pay attention to possible challenges, to things which give us energy, to that which stirs our imaginations; to that which makes us feel good about life, about our own efforts, about who we are as children of God. What might be our deepest hopes? Is it possible that those hopes are gifts from God to be nurtured this new year? How about fears? Might they be used by God in our lives and even through us? What feeds the springs of our gratitude? How might that feeding be enlarged? Nudgings, God's nudgings. Again, let us help children near us think about what the new year might bring, what their hopes might be. Drawings, single words, phrases, prayers. (Play sound track.)

Anthem
RECEIVING A POSSIBLE NUDGING: STARS

God's nudgings come to us in all sorts of ways. I am quite sure that I miss most of them. In recent years, one of the vehicles for possible nudgings are simple stars, with one word on them. One among us has written of the presence of a star. David will read what she wrote about how she worked with and her star word worked with her this year.

Last year was my first time to receive a star. My word was "Resourcefulness." I thought, "What am I going to do with this word?" I pinned it up on my bedroom mirror where I see it everyday. I started thinking about what resources I had that not every one had and what I could do with them. The first one that came to my mind was my car. I could see food specials in the paper, buy them and deliver them to Snow Cap. Not every one who sees the specials can go get them and deliver them. I also use my car to take friends to the doctor, take them to church activities and fun things.

I also started looking at the excess "things" I have and have tried to share them with people who need them.

I came to fee that my grief in being widowed twice was a resource. My Mother used to tell me that she and my grandmother had the gift of listening. She hoped I would have it too. I have found that I can listen to grieving friends. Sometimes they need to say the same things over and over and I understand. I try to get my grieving friends involved in some fun activities.

My flexible schedule is another resource. I can move things around so I can baby-sit my grandchildren when they need me.

My health is another resource.

I am looking forward to getting this year's star and seeing where it will take me. I plan to hang it on my mirror also with last year's star and my sign that says, "and whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Col. 3:23.

I'm far from a perfect Christian but I keep trying. I feel I have been blessed with so much.

This day, let us receive our star for the new year. They are not somehow spiritually magic. I am still working with mine for 2006. It has not become comfortable. That in itself may be good for me. In another setting, we passed the stars, and I watched as people turned them over until they found a word they liked. That is not how it works. As the stars are passed, our only choice is color. Let us all hold them word side down until we have all received one. Then, we will turn them over together.