January 31, 2021

Sunday worship, January 31, 2021

Posted by FirstPresbyterian Regina on Sunday, January 31, 2021

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Matthew 5:13-16

“Shine Like A Star”

Adapted from the 2018 “Legacy Sunday” sermon by Lori Guenther Reesor and Karen Plater, with inspiration from the Rev. Herb Gale.

Take a moment and picture a star. Imagine it, see it shining in the sky. Now imagine a dark sky filled with stars – in the middle of a field, in the middle of the countryside, the dark sky illuminated with a multitude of stars so often blotted out by city lights. You see many stars – but there are so many that your eyes can’t even take them all in.   Keep this image in your mind.

Stars are a common metaphor in the Bible. The most famous star, of course, was the star that led the Magi to Jesus. But years and years before that, a man named Abram was praying in his tent. Unable to go back to sleep after waking from a vivid dream, he complained to God that he and his beloved wife Sarai were childless even though God had promised them an heir.

In response, God took Abram outside into the dark night and said, “Look up towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” As Abram looked up, he was awed at the canopy of stars shimmering overhead.  “So many shall your descendants be…” Abram was told.

It was a crazy promise. After all, Abram and his wife Sarai were far beyond child-bearing years, but what was promised came to be. Abram had a name change and became Abraham, which means “father of a multitude” – and Sarai became Sarah – “mother of nations” –  and their descendants would go to all parts of the world. Today people of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths all trace their stories back to Abraham and Sarah.

Let’s think about those stars for a minute. Stars are incredibly far way and starlight takes years and years and years to travel and be seen by us. It takes more than four years for the light from Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to us, to reach Earth. So, when we look up at the expanse of stars, what we’re really seeing is light from the past, light that started its journey years – hundreds of years – earlier.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Daniel talks about stars too. We’re told that “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

The book of Daniel was written for the Hebrew people who were living in exile. Jerusalem had been invaded and the people were removed from their homeland to serve foreign powers; they were oppressed, persecuted, and on the verge of losing all hope, and even losing touch with God.

Daniel’s visions and words were meant to bring hope. He encouraged them to persevere through the darkness, to hold onto their Jewish faith and be true to God, even in exile. The exile would last generations, but the way they lived in exile, the way they kept their faith, would shine like stars, for generations to come, encouraging them and giving them hope.

Paul had a similar message to the Christians living in the city of Philippi in modern day Greece. In Philippians 2:15 Paul directs the people to “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish . . . in which you shine like stars in the world.”

Daniel and Paul remind us that we are all children of God, all descendants of Abraham and Sarah and as such we are among those stars Abraham saw so long ago. “Shine brightly,” they encourage us. “Shine brightly!”

Jesus encouraged his followers with the same message. He was sitting with his disciples, a collection of common people – some fishermen, a despised tax collector and few other misfits. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells them. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Can you imagine their response? This was, after all, not a group of movers and shakers; they must have thought Jesus was a little crazy. But Jesus was not crazy, he just had vision. When he looked at the disciples, he could see his light reflected in their eyes.

“I am the light of the world,” he says. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Jesus taught his disciples again and again, with his words and actions, how to be that light: by sharing the word of God and living out their faith through acts of love and grace. Jesus reminded his followers not to hide their light under a basket, but to let their light shine.

And shine they did. From that hillside in first century Palestine, Jesus’ disciples fanned out across the world, spreading Christ’s gospel and shining Christ’s light. Peter carried the gospel west to Rome, the centre of political and economic power. Thomas carried the gospel east to India. Andrew carried the gospel to the region north of the Black Sea, where to this day he is known as the patron saint of Russia.

One by one, two by two, on foot and on horseback, by ship and by carriage, in synagogues and in prisons, in royal courts and courts of law, in the privacy of homes and in street corners and market places, they told the story of Jesus; and the light spread, shining for all to see.

Light we still see today – shining like stars. That’s a legacy.

As God’s children, we too are the light of the world, because our lives shine with the light of the one who is the light of the world. And we can share that light by sharing the word of God and living our faith through the simple acts of love and grace we do for each other.

Today, we are celebrating and giving thanks for the legacy of Elizabeth and Larry Kitson.

On January 5, 2021, Bruce Johnstone (nephew of Elizabeth Kitson and co-executor of her estate) presented a cheque for $173,609.74 to First Presbyterian Church on behalf of the estate of Elizabeth M. Kitson, who died on February 1, 2020, at the age of 91. This was an interim distribution of approximately 2/3 of the amount that First Church will receive. The bequest was designated in the will to be used as an endowed fund to support the property of First Church.

Elizabeth was a long-time resident of Regina, who, along with her husband, Larry Kitson, was a faithful and long-serving member of First Church. Elizabeth sang in the First Church Choir, and was one of the longest serving members of that group when she retired from singing in her eighties. She was also a devoted member of the Freedom 55ers. Larry was also a staunch supporter of the church, serving on the Session, the Board of Managers, the Memorial Fund Committee, and convening the Scholarship Committee.

Some of our current members have mentioned to me that Larry was the one who first invited them to come to our church, and who made them feel welcome when they did. He was the “official greeter” – visiting with anyone and everyone. An earlier gift from the Kitsons of a collection of prints still hangs in the Morris Room, and both are well-remembered and dearly missed by their friends at First Church.

Elizabeth and Larry’s extended family very much hope that their contribution will help to further the good work the church does for the congregation and the community at large. In addition to the financial bequest, portraits of Larry and Elizabeth were also presented.

In the last few years, we have discovered how a church building constructed almost a hundred years ago on Regina gumbo can lead to significant and unexpected repairs being needed. It is by God’s grace that we still have this space in which to worship, serve, share fellowship, and reach out to the world in love. And the Kitsons’ generous gift will help us to maintain the property in the coming years so that we can continue the mission tomorrow and for many years to come. First Church is very grateful to the Kitsons, and to God who blessed them with gifts to share.

Some givers, such as Elizabeth and Larry Kitson, may choose to designate their gift for a particular purpose. Acceptance of gifts is determined by the Session on a case-by-case basis, in consideration of the vision and mission of the church.

When undesignated gifts are received, we already have a plan for how they will be used appropriately. They are added to our Endowment Fund (which is used to generate income) which in turn supports our Action Funds: Joyful Worship; Tender Together; Daring Outreach; and Property. You may notice that these funds match up with our mission as a congregation, and they help us to creatively grow our mission in the church and in the world.

That’s what legacy is about. It’s about how we live our lives to shine the light of God – today and into the future.

Investing in an endowment fund is just one way that we can shine like stars in the years to come. We may not see the results – starlight takes years to travel – but God promises us that “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven.”

Anyone can leave a legacy. When we live our faith through acts of love and grace, Christ’s light will shine. We can give gifts of time, talent and treasure. Any gift – given with great love – can make a big difference in other peoples’ lives. God’s love will shine through the big and little things we do, like the stars in the night sky.