“The Morning Star of Grace”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
June 2, 2019
Revelation 22:13, 16-17, 21
I remember lying on a dock on the edge of a lake sometime during college. I was up in Maine and my family had rented a cottage. We were usually tent campers, but my parents were feeling like it was time to transition to a cushier kind of vacation, which was fine with us. My brother was there and we were lying on our backs and looking up into the late-night sky. We named as many constellations as we could and then we saw the planet Venus.
We had this cardboard star chart from my dad’s childhood, a 1935 publication from the Junior Astronomy Club of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It wasn’t like today when there’s and app for that.
One of the nicknames for the planet Venus is the Morning Star, especially when viewed just before dawn. It was more like 1 a.m., but we felt lucky to be seeing such an amazing array of constellations and planets, and we talked about how small we felt and how vast the universe was. Not in a bad way, just in a humble way.
As our confirmands made their commitments today, I thought about gazing at Venus all those years ago, shoulder to shoulder with my brother. There is something about looking to and acknowledging something greater than ourselves, something brighter, bigger, more powerful, more mysterious, that makes our lives more amazing and meaningful.
There are many ways in which we try to convince ourselves that we are the center of the universe, when of course, we’re not. At about age three, we realize, intellectually at least, that we are not any better or more special than others. It takes our emotional selves a lot more time to get caught up with that thought, and some of us never do.
And yet, if we are ever to be mature
adults, we must acknowledge and accept that we are not the center of the
universe. And that’s actually good news. Realizing that we are not the center
of the universe means recognizing that there are people who walk beside us as
equals and that there are people and powers and mysteries that are there to
hold us and care for us and guide us.
Our reading for this morning comes from a very strange, challenging, intriguing, troubling yet also very beautiful, exciting book at the end of the Bible called Revelation. You may have heard of it. Many unscrupulous so-called Christian preachers have used Revelation over the years to scare people, to manipulate them, and to get them to turn over their life savings. Really, though, (I guess I should say, from my perspective, though), Revelation was meant to reassure the early church folks that God had their backs, that they would be OK in this life and in death.
Our first verse reads: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The author of Revelation believes that Jesus is divine, that he is there at the start and at the end of life, that he helps to shape our lives.
This is a challenging idea, but to me it is very comforting. We don’t have to be everything. We don’t have to solve everything We don’t have to fix everything. Someone else is on that. God invites us into a world where we are welcomed and accepted. And we can find our way, by the light of that bright morning star, to being our freest, best selves.
Like the planet Venus, I see Jesus Christ as a guiding light, rooted in and expressing unconditional love.
In verse 17, we hear the author saying: The Spirit and the bride say, “Come” (the bride is a metaphor for the church, so the Spirit and the church) say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
I love that verse. The word, come, repeated again and again, emphasizes the invitation to grace. I have always thought of baptism, which our confirmands received and affirmed today, as a free gift from God. I have always thought of communion, which we celebrate today, as a free gift from God.
No tests to pass. No standards to live up to. No comparisons made between you and your “perfect” sister or bother. Just free gifts, straight from the heart of God.
Pure water, showing the unconditional love and forgiveness of the Divine. Bread and juice, feeding us with the compassion and the hope of God, sending us into the world to feed our neighbors.
Grace, God’s free gift to all, is the most powerful reality in our tradition. Grace does not stop us from suffering. It doesn’t keep us from getting sick or from making mistakes or from losing the people we love.
But the grace God does free us from guilt; it frees us from having to be perfect; it frees us from shame; it frees us to reach out to others with that same kind of unconditional, nonjudgmental love that God gives to us in Jesus Christ.
The six of you, those who were confirmed this morning, have a choice. Not just today but every day for the rest of your lives and at the great crossroads and turning points of your lives. You can fall for the lie that you have to be perfect, that you have to be everything to everyone, that you have to know everything. Or you can accept your own humanity, the humanity of others, your own limitations, and the limitations of others.
And then I pray that you will also accept the love and grace of your church community, of your friends and family, and of your God.
Surveys show that most millennials think that Christians are prejudiced and small minded, but I hope you have learned during your time with us at HCC and in class this year that there are different kinds of Christians.
I hope that the six of you realize that you are a part of a different sort of Christian church and I hope that each of you will commit to being a different sort of Christian — one who is the opposite of bigoted and who is committed to working toward social justice, the justice of our loving God, which takes the form of sincere hospitality and speaking hard truths to power.
One of the ways that we can make God’s grace real in this world is to show that unconditional love to all of our neighbors — those who look differently, think differently, believe differently, vote differently, and live differently.
Committing to Christ and to Hingham Congregational Church is more than a ceremony. It’s more than a rite of passage. It’s a way of life. And we welcome you to it with open arms.