Moonlight – February 9, 2014 – Matthew 5: 13 – 20

The moon has inspired a lot of art and literature, even science and astrology. There are many myths about the moon, especially the full moon. Folklore tales tell of werewolves coming at the full moon and Chinese folklore says that love comes on a full moon night. There are some who believe that there is an increase in psychiatric and maternity admissions in a hospital, more confusion among dementia patients, and more crime on the night of a full moon. The moon has greatly affected our culture and our world, because of its mystery.

The moon lights our night sky, but the moon does not actually emit any light on its own. The moon reflects the light of the sun like a mirror. The material of the moon is dark grey like pavement and reflective. It only reflects the light shined upon it by the sun. It is quite reflective compared to other planets and moons, but it only reflects about 12% of the light that reaches it.

The moon affects our world more than just providing a night light. The moon’s gravitational pull to the Earth produces the ocean tides and the minute lengthening of the day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon). It is also believed that the moon stabilizes the earth making it a more stable climate for life. Fun Fact: scientists are now testing underwater turbines powered by the kinetic energy produced by the moon’s effects on water. There are 2 businesses in New York powered by these turbines in the East River. We could have moon power soon.

There are a couple things Christians and the Church could learn from the moon. Like the moon we reflect light. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says He is the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 11:9) three times. And, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says you are the light of the world (Matt 5:14). It is not that we have the same exact light as Jesus. We have a light within us that is a reflection of the light of Christ. Like the moon reflects the sun’s light, we reflect Son of God’s light.

Like the moon causes tides on earth, we can and have affected the tides of history. Christianity has greatly shaped human history in both positive and negative ways. Unfortunately, we have mis-interpreted the Gospel leading to war and slavery. Positively, we have founded nations on Christian values. We have saved millions through hospitals and fed millions more through the ministries of churches. Our values inspire much of our legislation that protects our nation and promotes our national well-being.

Christians have the power and ability to cause tidal waves in the world. We can stir up the waters drowning out complacency and apathy. If we believe the myths about more confusion and more births on a full moon, we could even say we can confound the wise and bring forth new life. Our faith can continue to shape the world as we are persevere in the promises of Jesus and trust in His coming reign of peace and justice.

A colleague once asked, “When is the church going to start acting like the moon that helps shape the waves, rather than the surfer who just rides them?” (http://dmergent.org/articles/2012/12/3/its-time-why-the-church-needs-to-stand-up-for-justice). He asked it in the context of social justice suggesting that the Church should lead the way in bringing forth a just society. We just need to be more like the moon reflecting Christ’s light and making waves in our society like Martin Luther King, Jr. did. We can stand against injustices. Too often, we are complacent with our progress and fail to see the continued need for all of God’s children to be free to live abundant lives.

I have recently heard in these walls that Christianity is being shaped by our culture rather than shaping our culture. I have also read many scholars who agree with the comment. The church risks becoming irrelevant by riding the waves that the secular world is creating rather than causing those waves and being ahead of trends. Some church leaders believe that one reason youth and young adults are leaving the church or not turning to the church is that the church has become irrelevant.

The world needs Christ’s church to lead the way in setting moral standards and working for tolerance and acceptance. It is not that Christianity is the authority on morality and solely exists for moral teaching. Our deep devotion to Christ and our vow to treat one another as we would want to be treated and love our neighbor as we love ourselves can be our impetus for serving Christ in a world plagued by human trafficking, war, and poverty.

Setting moral standards isn’t enough to keep the church relevant. The Christian Right has a very loud voice in influencing what they believe the moral fabric of our nation should be knit of. That’s all the Christian Right seems to talk about and those beliefs don’t seem to line up with the values of many Americans. The voice of moderate and even liberal Christians isn’t being heard.

One recent example of the moderate Christian voice not being heard was in a debate this week between Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye the Science Guy. They debated the viability of creationism as a scientific model for understanding the development of the earth and even the universe. Ken Ham argued that creation of the earth happened just as Genesis describes it and it happened just over 4,000 years ago. Bill Nye argued for the science of evolution.

Void from the debate is a third voice, that of Christians who believe in evolution and interpret the Scriptures as theology not science. Many Christians believe in evolution and the Bible, but are unable to explain how the two beliefs can co-exist, maybe even complement one another. Missing is the voice of Einstein who said that in his studies he found profound evidence of a master Creator (http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einprayr.htm). There is an opportunity for Christianity to speak about God’s creation of the earth through evolution. That is an opportunity for the church to have a relevant voice that could create waves as people understand belief in God is not opposed to science and reason.

Making waves will be easy when we reflect the light. We could think of our ability to reflect the light looking at the moon phases. The sun always illuminates half of the moon. We see the moon in different phases based on its rotation around the earth. We see the new moon, crescent moon, half moon, and full moon based on its position in the sky as it rotates around the earth. We should seek to be full moons fully visible to the Earth completely reflecting the light at all times.

Jesus says our light shouldn’t be hidden or, if we’re following the moon metaphor, we shouldn’t be partially turned away. Our light should stand atop a lampstand not hidden under a basket. We can’t reflect the light outside of us if we are hidden.

There are a few things we do that are like hiding under a basket. Dr. Amy Oden , professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma, suggests a few ways we hide ourselves under a basket (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1901). I’d like to add to her list.

First, we can have an inferiority complex. I want to focus on this one a little bit, because I want to gear us up for thinking big next week at the visioning retreat. I also think that Christians and the church often suffer from this. Individually, we get an inferiority complex by comparing ourselves to other Christians. We can think: we’re not good enough, our spiritual gifts aren’t as good as others, we don’t know the Bible as well as others, we don’t pray like others, our faith isn’t as sure as others, we don’t have as much to give as others. You aren’t justified by anything other than faith. And others doubt as much as you. Others struggle to give as much as they can and you have just the right spiritual gift for who you are. And, well, everyone can know more about the Bible, including me.

A church’s inferiority complex comes from comparing itself to bigger churches and the good ol’ days. We think: we don’t have enough kids, we don’t have enough young people, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have the right stuff, we don’t have enough people, we can’t do as much as others. Well, Jesus has a mission for us that is just the right size for us to do and we are expertly gifted for. We have the right amount of people and money and gifts and energy to fulfill what we are called to do. Sure, bigger churches do more, but they are called to do more with their resources. We can have the same impact on our world by doing what we are called to do.

We may not have a youth group, but we regularly gather as families for fellowship. We may not fill up all our classrooms, but we have engaging Bible study and Sunday School classes and our kids have an excellent children’s church program. We may not tithe 10% of our church budget, but we give a portion of our budget to mission and DOVE and we collect special offerings. We may not have 100s gather on Sunday mornings, but we have a close family that gathers for exceptional music and the best sermons in Bethany. (laugh) I know you can easily name all of the outreach activities and fellowship gatherings we do. We are a small church that does great things and God has big things planned for our future.

On the other hand, churches and Christians can have a superiority complex. I have known Christians who think they know more about the Bible than anyone in town. Some think they deserve preferential treatment, because they give more than others. Some think themselves better, because they volunteer more. Some might even taut that their spiritual gifts are better than others. They boast rather than act with humility. Churches can be guilty of it, too. But, I’ve seen this more in individual Christians than in churches.

Another basket we can put on ourselves is self-absorption. On a personal level, I think of Eeyore. The ‘woe is me’ Christian who thinks everything is falling apart around them and nothing can be done to change it. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes things do fall apart. The Eeyore Christian is in a perpetual funk and sees no possible end. On the church level, I think you might agree that you were once self-absorbed in the sense that you focused all your energy on your inner conflict. Thank God that is behind us.

Another basket is more a church basket than an individual basket. The church can have in mind a fantasy church. The fantasy church can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. The fantasy church is good when we envision a future and work to become that church. It is bad when the fantasy seems elusive and improbable and the church don’t work to become that church. Magical thinking can hide the light or holy imagination can allow us to better reflect the light.

I am guilty of the inferiority complex. I compare myself to other pastors and am sometimes jealous of what others are doing in their ministry. I worry that my sermons are irrelevant and that no one is listening compared to other preachers who are more experienced, more charismatic, and have different styles. I forget the power I have as a minister of the Gospel to accomplish exactly what God is calling me to accomplish. It takes a lot of prayer for me to remember all the great things I am doing and celebrate my own success.

I want to encourage you to think about what basket you may be hiding under. Do you compare yourself to others? Do you think you’re better than others? Do you see no possible way for abundant life? Are you paralyzed by magical thinking? I think we’re all guilty of having some basket at the very least hovering over us if not fully covering us. Pray for God to reveal to you your basket. Know that God will help you get rid of the basket. God wants to help us fully reflect the light so that we can influence the world in the Name of His Son.

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