There are times when I look into the sky and see nothing. I live in the UK, after all, and often the skies are full of clouds and drizzle. Even when the night is clear, I’m on the outskirts of a city so a million neon bulbs fight the starlight and win.
So everything conspires against me and the stars. Passers-by might occasionally see me standing on my drive staring into the sky, waving an app in the air. But keratonocus makes everything a halo and rooftops get in the way. Even when the aurora borealis was creeping down the country, it didn’t creep as far as Derby. As for spotting the ISS, well, forget it. Sometimes it feels like the only way I’ll see real stars is through some Tom and Jerry style encounter with a frying pan.
“Shine like stars in the universe,” Paul said. Easy for him to say – no electricity, no skyscrapers, maybe even fewer distractions. He only had to look up to see stars stretching across the sky, and this wasn’t just astronomical, it was metaphorical. The stars represented countless descendants of Abraham, be they blood or be they adopted. The stars were a constant reminder of God’s promise.
But Paul wrote this from prison – how often did he get the opportunity to look into the night sky? All he had were his memories, and a trust that the stars were still shining.
Enough symbolism; there are times I don’t shine as brightly as I should. There are times when the resplendent galaxies of stars that should be our churches grow dim through a pursuit of power or an acceptance of abuse or because politics become more important than people. The light fades and those looking to it simply can’t see what they need to see; they can’t see it and so they walk away.
There’s a lot of talk about young people walking away from the church, and there are a thousand theories I why this should be so. But maybe this is sometimes rooted in a simple, convicting problem – sometimes the church as the light of the world doesn’t shine brightly enough, or when it does it’s yet more neon when it needs to be a sun. And people stop looking.
And yet, as cynical as I get when the latest scandal hits the church, I have to believe that things are bigger than this, no matter how many column inches or page hits the latest failing generates. Maybe that’s our fault: maybe we focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right; maybe we focus on the latest fallen mega pastor and momentarily forget about Jesus. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t expose crimes and misdeeds in the church, but we also need to look into the sky.
But maybe that begins by moving beyond our circumstances, by going outside and telling stories around the campfire, by reminding ourselves where the stars are. Here’s an offer – use the comments section below to tell your story, or the story of a church where you’ve encountered the grace of God, the love of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit. Speak out; celebrate; testify. There are stories of good news as well as bad; the stars still shine in the universe.