Sky Full of Lighters – Sermon Preached with Beau Brown at “The Art of Preaching Conference”

Matthew 2: 1-12

This one’s for you and me, living out our dreams

We’re all right where we should be

With my arms out wide I open my eyes

And now all I wanna see

Is a sky full of lighters

A sky full of lighters

‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’

We are approaching Advent and Christmas and Jesus’ star is rising for all of us to see it and to help us find our way. This is not the Advent text for this year but I would like to ponder about it and the relation between the art of preaching and the idea of a star, a star as a lighter in the sky. A star of wonder, a star of morning, a star of midday, a star of night, a star of joy, a star of mercy, a traveling star, a star of consolations, a compass, a guide, a star eternal, a star of everlasting glory. The star of Jesus is the brighter lighter in our sky that guides us. And we, as preachers, become lighters in the sky for the people of God and the world.

Let us remember  the three Magi coming from the East to worship Jesus. It was a very important religious journey. Avery long one. Were the Magi priests of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) from Persia-Iran? Where they sorcerers, fortune-tellers, astrologers? We don’t know. Balthasar, Melchior, Caspar are the names we give to them. They risked their lives to travel so far. But the star, that was their assurance, their guide. The shining star was their compass. With this story, was Matthew recalling Numbers 24: 17-18 that says:  “a star shall come out of Jacob…Edom shall become a possession.” While it was common to say that famous people had stars moving around their birthdays it was unheard of that a rising star would guide high priests from afar to a poor child in a manger. A child who had to flee with his father and mother as illegal immigrants into other lands because they were in danger. A story that repeats itself without any rising star every night in the sky of the desert along the wall of shame between the US and Mexico.

These men where attuned to the sky and its movements. They knew their way around and the sky was a compass to their way of living. Their eyes were not buried in the ground but up, looking to the skies. Look up at the sky  – that is what we learn from the Magi. The sky is deeply connected to the earth and attending to the movements and changes in the sky is a matter of survival. Farmers and fisher people look at the sky often to understand the sea and the earth, to learn the intertwined movement between earth, sky and the sea for better harvesting, better fishing, for the best time to do their work.

The sky is filled with lights and colors, novas and supernovas, galaxies, universes, and so on.  Stars are not spread uniformly across the universe, but are normally grouped into galaxies. A typical galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars.  The nearest star to the Earth, apart from the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, 39.9 trillion kilometers from here. It would take about 150,000 years to get there. The oldest star yet discovered, is an estimated 13.2 billion years old. And when you look at a star like Sirius, you’re seeing photons that left the surface of the star 8 years ago and traveled through space, without running into anything. Your eyeballs are the first thing those photons have encountered.

When we look at the stars they are not there anymore and yet, yes, they are there. That notion can connect with us today as we ponder about the art of preaching.

As artists, as preachers, we have to be conscious that we are stars in God’s sky. Following the raising star of Jesus, we are stars in the world, guiding, helping, giving signs, warning and shining light to people in their journey. We are each other’s stars, shining God’s glory to each other. We are each other’s compass, guidance, strength, joy and hope. We shine the light of Jesus Christ who came two thousand years ago and is still shinning so forcefully. Around the raising star of Jesus our hearts are embraced by its warmth and enveloped by its light.

This one’s for you and me, living out our dreams

We’re all right where we should be

With my arms out wide I open my eyes

And now all I wanna see

Is a sky full of lighters

A sky full of lighters

Verse 1 – BEAU BROWN

In real time you are hearin this God has already shown up
used to dream of seein the light but now we’ve grown up

And just a little bit skeptical, we’ve witnessed too much fighting

Liars keep lying, trying to see a day that’s brighter

But Martin Luther King to Coretta Scott…King

Said Freedom is close, we can see the lighters pointing

I know lots of people feel this, so I’m convinced it’s real

And even when we suffer setbacks, as we inevitably will

There’s still a witness to follow, still a crowd to give direction

With the power to make plowshares from melted down weapons

We get to steppin and stretchin and reachin for the day

With forgiveness and love and peace to cover the mistakes

Don’t mistake this for blind hope, it’s the strength of memory

So when we see injustice, we could just let it be

Let me be frank in case I was unclear

The light of perfect love will cast out all fear

Don’t mistake this for blind hope, it’s the strength of memory / So when we see injustice, / we could just let it be / Let me be frank in case I was unclear / The light of perfect love will cast out all fear

Consider the world of fear we are living in today.  We live in fearful times with so much news about death everywhere. One of the consequences of globalization is that we see these disasters and read this horrific news of the world at the from the glow of our computers, ipads and the light of our cell phones. Not only that, the economy of US and the world is faltering.  We fear things might get worse. People are afraid and even paralyzed while “tea bag party” people are screaming on the streets that we need to privatize everything in this country and forget the poor. Churches are losing their members and more and more, fewer and fewer pastors earn a decent salary, if they can get a salary at all. While our churches follow the unregulated market, we have a very few pastors earning big salaries while the majority of pastors struggle to pay their school debts or to bring food to their family’s tables.

Two years ago I proposed this stupid and not new idea to the Presbyterian Church, USA. I said, let all of the PCUSA pastors, seminary presidents and professors, and high level administrative people receive the same salary, and then we will all will choose where we want to work by our vocation and call and not by the money. I know this is not that easy but it is not that complicated either.

We are here at this conference, gaining new insights, new strength, new ways to minister to the people of God and to renew our love for this vocation. We have received a call from God and we are trying to offer our best to God and to the world. How can we learn, unlearn and relearn the art of preaching in these troubling times? How can we continue to be filled by the power of this gospel and empowered by the shinning star of our redeemer Jesus Christ in this ministry? How do we keep our sanity in an insane world? How can we offer hope when it seems there is none? How can we read the Bible and plan a sermon when our resources are getting meager and our strength scarce? How can we have something to say to our people when we are the ones in need to hear something, even anything? How can we be like the Magi’s star, like lighters in the sky, when sometimes everything seems to be in darkness?

Today I will tell you just one thing: in the midst of turmoil and fear, look up! Look up and raise your hand to touch the city of heaven that is coming down with its rivers of justice and plenty. Look up and search for the star of Jesus Christ and the stars of those who are living next to you. Like the Psalmist we say every morning: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”

This one’s for you and me, living out our dreams

We’re all right where we should be

With my arms out wide I open my eyes

And now all I wanna see

Is a sky full of lighters

A sky full of lighters

 

 

Verse 2 – BEAU BROWN

Now reality is deep and my conscience weighs a ton

People talkin bout progress, but I’m on step one

What’s the difference when education is subpar, so

still divided by race and the new jim crow

Prison population risin when the crime rates declining

Hopelessness and stress, this moment seems defining

We can wax prophetic, but true prophets are rare

And true profits make monsters when the market’s not fair

We commodify culture and put a price tag on happiness

And the church joins in happily, watch how bad it gets

When jesus becomes a buzzword, a tool to oppress

And the cross becomes a symbol of greed and excess

That’s backwards, reversed, screwed up, the worst

Type of liturgy is the type where nobody works

For justice, for progress, for exposure of powers

But I believe in my heart that this is the hour

But I believe in my heart that this is the hour… This is the hour to look up. Not long ago I remember a story my 55 years old brother told me. For almost 4 years he couldn’t find a job and his situation was getting worse and worse. He lost a very good job he had, then he lost his car, his house had several payments late, his wife got sick, his daughter had to stop going to school and in spite of it all he went to the streets of São Paulo every day looking for any job he could find. His shoes had holes in it… One day, he went to my mother’s house for lunch and there is this long corridor from the street to the door of the house. He rang the bell and entered. As he walked towards her with his head down, my mother went to meet him and as soon as she saw him she screamed: “Son, look up! Look up right now! I ain’t gonna let you look down this way…” He was felling torn, bitten up, lonely, with no strength to continue anymore… She the approached him, hold his head up and said: “Look up son! For your help will come from the Lord…” He started to cry and could barely stay standing. My 80 year old mother had to hold his body and crying with him she said: “Look up and say with me: ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.” He couldn’t say a word but my mother said: “I am going to continue to say it until you say it with me: come on…”I lift up my eyes to the hills… say it… I lift up my eyes to the hills —from where will my help come?” With me now:
”My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.” In the midst of tears of exhaustion, with his head still held up by my mother’s hands he started to whisper with her: ”I lift up my eyes… I lift up my eyes to the hills…. I lift up my eyes to the hills —from where will my help come?” With me now son:
”My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” And she continued the Psalm for him that she knew by heart: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.”  Look up.

My mother knew that her son’s head should be kept up looking for God’s help! For in the hills and the mountains and the skies of God there is the assurance that God rescues us from the darkness. And sure enough my brother’s life changed a year from that day.  Today my brother has a new job and is doing well! But he needed somebody to admonish and even to scream to him to look up, somebody to give him perspective, to re-posit his body and his soul and his mind. He needed somebody to hold his head up and help him see, gain perspective, be reminded, add a new possibility, grow something inside of him that didn’t exist before or bring life to something that was killed by the adversities of life. And my mother continued: do you see the sky? It is full of lighters that God sent to us before us.

The lighters, my mother was reminding him are the people of God who come before us, our ancestors, and the people who are there for us. Brothers and sisters, we must look up to the sky and see the star of Jesus Christ shining in and through us showing the way to press ahead.

It was this little Presbyterian church in São Paulo who prepared the way for me. They were a sky full of lighters for me! I was a 8 year old boy walking on the streets of Sao Paulo shinning shoes with my shoe shinning box. It was that sky of lighters that gave me love, perspective, strength and brought me this far. What would I be without those stars sent by God, those lighters in my sky.

We must look at the sky to see the lighters that are there for us. We have our communities but also, we have the early Christians, prophets, teachers, pastors, people who came before us and showed us the way. Martin Luther King Jr.’, Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Desmon Tutu, Rosa Parks, all of them are stars shining right here to remind us that even in the midst of turmoil we shall overcome, that there will be a way out of no way! They are in our sky reminding us how and where to go.

For we are not alone brothers and sisters. Our sky is populated by stars of different sizes, colors and lights. Some died long ago some died recently and some stars are still alive guiding the way. All of these stars are surrounding the most bright shinning and powerful star of all: Jesus Christ the raising star of our lives and of our world,

So we too, brothers and sisters, must be stars for our people. We must learn to look up and learn how to see. We are not and we will not be alone in this journey for we have the body of Christ coming along with us on this journey. A sky full of lighters.

Who are the stars in your sky? We have a common sky with people whom, by the grace of God, brought us here. But I am sure you have stars in your sky that still keep you going.  I have so many in my sky. The church of Christ is this sky full of stars shinning to one another.

You and I know what it’s like to be kicked down

Forced to fight

But tonight we’re alright

So hold up your light

Let it shine

Cause this one’s for you and me, living out our dreams

We’re all right where we should be

With my arms out wide I open my eyes

And now all I wanna see

Is a sky full of lighters

A sky full of lighters

Verse 3 – BEAU BROWN

The mission is plain, it’s the kenotic embrace

Of chaos and shame, put the despotic in its place

Let the hypnotic displays of the erotic decays

Take a backseat to the primary task to liberate

And innovate new ways to create not devastate

Relate to each other in a brand new way

Reconciliation among all peoples and tribes

On a quest to discover the whats and the whys

Instead of giving up, we can unmask the disguise

And stop playing their game, don’t buy into the lies

The worldly wise immortalize legacies that don’t matter

But the ones who seek justice know the ones who do matter

To God, the poor and oppressed are favored

So that gives us a clue of where to direct our labor

Savor the moment, own it, never lose conviction

We go forth to serve, so we live out the mission

Go forth. We go forth to serve, so we live out the mission. Go back to your community being  a lighter, knowing that you are a star to them. You are beacons of light to the world! Go tell your brothers and sisters LOOK UP!

Under this sky full of lighters, we can change the world brothers and sisters! We can see justice rolling like a river… We can see kids being loved and fed, we can see everybody having health care and receiving a dignified salary. We can see people all around the world eating 3 times a day and women being respected and not beaten up or killed. We can see a world without racism where each of us can say: I am my brother and my sister’s keeper.  You know why? Because we are all pregnant with God’s dreams! We are pregnant with a new heaven and a new earth! And we will give birth to it, by the power and guidance and glory of Jesus Christ our God! As Toni Bambara  said: “The dream is real, my friends. The failure to make it work is the unreality.”

We will share communion now. At the end you will receive tea candlelight representing a lighter. Take it home and every time you are beaten down and forgetting to look up remember this lighter and remember my mother telling you: “Son, Look up! Daughter look up! I ain’t gonna let you look down this way. Repeat with me “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.” Shall we say it all together now?

“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”

May God bless us all!

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