When I was preparing to preach at the circuit Easter Offering service, I wondered what the subject would be on this occasion. I was intrigued to find that the title was ‘Shine like a star’. By the Thursday before the service I was no further ahead with deciding what direction this should take, when someone asked where my favourite place was.
This was an impossible question to answer. I could have said the Lake District, or the North York Moors, Wales or Cornwall, or Scotland… but then there’s… Or the places we’ve been fortunate enough to have visited abroad: Rome, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus… My mind settled eventually, and three particular places came into focus in connection with the idea of stars.
The first place was at a time when there were certainly no stars in sight except the sun. Instead there was desert and the Step Pyramid; we were in Egypt – it was hot and parched and we were virtually the only people there, but it was very special. Did I mention that it was hot? The sun was searing everything around us and we couldn’t spend long there as there was no shade. There weren’t even any lizards to be seen. It was a star too close for comfort.
The second place was the same desert but in a different country – Morocco – the majestic Sahara. I said I’d never go on a camel again after Egypt, but there we were on camels going over the most amazing sand dunes at dusk. It was golden and it looked just like a picture postcard. We swayed silently back and forth on our patient camels, it was so peaceful and no-one spoke. It was dark by the time we returned to the camp for refreshments and we didn’t notice the stars and the milky way appearing at first. It was a moonless night and a stunning sight; billions and billions of stars just like our sun, but so far away. It was one of those times when I was so aware of the vastness of creation and how small we are.
The third place was another desert. This time the Wadi Rum in Jordan, a stunning place with smooth sand in places, it had been covered by sea at some point in its past. The most amazing rock formations rising majestically from the flatness and nestled under one of these towering rocks was the Bedouin camp we were staying in. We experienced delicious food cooked on a fire pit while we listened to stories of Laurence of Arabia – this was his desert after all. If I was expecting stars I was to be disappointed. There was no light pollution, but as we settled down in our sleeping bags under the stars we realised that there would be no star gazing that night. We couldn’t see them because the moon was so big and full that it appeared they had vanished. Instead we could see the rocks bathed in a beautiful silver light; every detail shining clearly. We stayed out there absorbing the beauty of this place until someone spotted a hyena and then there was mention of scorpions and we decided that the tent might be safer and to be honest warmer. I know – what wimps!
What on earth has this got to do with the Easter offering service you may ask? I found myself wondering if God was like the sun in Egypt so filled with light, holiness, grace and power that we couldn’t gaze in his direction or even be in his presence – was God like that, unfiltered? A blinding light too holy for us to bear? Is that why Jesus came, so that we could see what his Father was like in a form we could understand and relate to? Seeing ultimate holiness through the filter of a human being who could stand in the presence of the God and show us what it means for humanity?
I concluded that God is less like the stars shining brightly in the vast universe, beautiful and too numerous to count, but far away, unconcerned about our very small corner of the galaxy – that isn’t a very helpful image of the God we know who promised to be with us always. However, the moon struck a chord with me. It has no light of its own but it reflects the light of the much greater power that is the Sun. This is an image I can work with; surely we are called to reflect the greater light that is God in the same way the moon reflects the Sun. We aren’t people who gaze at God from afar as we do the stars and say “Wow! They’re beautiful”. They remain far away and mysterious. We are a people who have the potential to know God in the depth of our being. The light doesn’t just shine upon us but has the potential to grow within us. Jesus said “I am the light of the world,” and then “I am in the Father and the Father is in me and we are in you.”
We are called to a very intimate relationship with the Holy God through Jesus and to reflect the light that is shed in our lives because of this. Not that we can do this consciously of course, if we were to go round saying to ourselves “I’m going to reflect the light of God today” that might be a bit weird. Instead as we draw closer to God and allow the light to shine on us it should happen automatically in the way we live our lives and deal with others. But the moon waxes and wanes – it’s still there but some parts are turned away from the sun at various times. In our lives God is always there but sometimes we find ourselves living in shadows caused by pain, or grief, or lack of love and care, or having taken a wrong path and not being able to find our way back. It’s then that something else happens. We realise that we’re not alone but part of something very great – called together as this organic organisation called church to pool our light and create something beautiful, so that if there are shadows somewhere in our lives the light of Christ still shines on us in other people protecting, guiding, caring, teaching…
How lucky are we that we don’t travel alone. That God is with us and that we have a family to be a part of – we are bound together with cords that cannot be broken.