I am a person who loves aesthetics. The daughter of an artist and collector of antiques, I was always surrounded with fine art and interesting objects. As result, I love to surround myself with unique things, but more than that, meaningful things. Some things are sentimental… I have a print of a farmhouse that was made by an Iowa artist that I love. I have my grandmother’s china hutch, my favorite part is the antique brass key that opens it. I remember it in my grandmother’s house. I remember when my mother inherited it and it came to our house. I love folk art, things that everyday people have made to add beauty to the world.
Some things remind me of things that I value…I have a woodcarving of the pieta. A piece of folk art made in Poland. I love the face of the Holy Mother. I have pictures of my kids in the living room. And I love crosses. I like that in almost every room in my home there is a reminder of my savior.
Most of you are probably similar, you surround yourselves with things that reflect what you like, what your value, things that are important to you.
Have you ever wondered about the objects in the church? We are continuing with our sermon series, Church 101 and today we are looking at some of the objects in church and why they are here.
But I want to start with today’s scripture. Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, throw off everything that hinders us and run with perseverance this race marked for us. In Wesleyan theology, remember John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist church movement, there is a method, or formula for helping to determine our knowledge about God. It is called the Wesley Quadrilateral. In it, Wesley says that there are four fundamentals in our understanding of faith; Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.
This cloud of witnesses, this is our tradition. All the people who came before and have followed in the way of Christ. We have not invented Jesus, nor are we the first to follow Jesus, there are nearly 2,000 years of Christ Followers that have come before us. They are the cloud of witnesses who have already run this race, who have already marked this journey, and they have found ways to worship God, connect with God, and understand God.
The cloud of witnesses are our tradition. And in tradition we have certain ways of running this race, of practicing this faith. This cloud of witnesses have fixed their eyes on Jesus, and this is the starting point for our discussion today. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
There are lots of ways for churches to look. In Catholic churches you find ornate artwork and architecture to mimic the grandness of God’s creativity. In Eastern Orthodox churches you find iconography, elaborate paintings of the saints to encourage one’s faith. Many Baptist churches don’t have any decorations, only a simple cross so that there is no temptation to worship idols. Quakers also embrace simplicity but for the reason of stewardship, a reaction to the elaborate and expensive treasures housed in other churches.
The Methodist tradition comes through a windy road in history. In a nutshell, John Wesley and his brother, Charles were Anglican priests. Remember the Anglican Church started because Henry the VIII wanted to get a divorce and the Pope wouldn’t allow it, so he declared himself head of state and head of church and started the Anglican tradition. Wesley began to suggest a theology which was more systematic and created a sub movement within the Anglican Church, Methodism. He sent missionaries to America to establish churches.
When the Revolutionary war began, Wesley knew that the church in America needed to separate from the church in England and there became Methodist Episcopal churches. The Episcopal church was the Anglican church in America. Because our tradition coming out of the Anglican church, which has its roots in the Catholic church, but with an American flare and independence, Methodist churches tend to be middle of the road when it comes to tradition and symbolism in worship.
This church is an early Methodist church for this area, founded in 1855. But was already firmly rooted in tradition as the Methodist church had been in America for about 100 years already.
So we are going to start with the candles.
Many congregations use two candles on the altar to point out that Jesus was both a human being and God. The acolytes bring the light in representing the presence of Christ and then light the candles as a reminder of Christ’s presence among us. At the end of the service, the light is carried out into the world to show that Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere…The acolyte leaves the worship service at the pastor’s direction, carrying out the lighted candlelighter. This symbolizes the light of Jesus Christ going out into the world where believers are to serve. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
In the Catholic tradition there is extra symbolism related to Jesus Christ: the beeswax or other material symbolizing his body, the wick his soul, and the flame his divinity.
Also, the symbolism of prayer has been connected with candles; the burning flame of the candle represents the prayer that rises to God.
The candles are to either side of the cross, our central image of worship. On the cross there is an inscription, IHS.
IHS – There are actually several interpretations for these three letters. The most popular and orginal interpretation, and most likely is that it is the name of Jesus, translated from Greek to Latin and then abbreviated. ιησους which is transliterated as “ihsous” Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
- Consider the colors of the alter table. Traditionally purple, represHoenting both royalty and penitence, is used during Advent and Lent.
- Blue symbolizes hope and may also be used during Advent.
- White and gold are used at Christmas and Easter to symbolize joy and festivities.
- Red symbolizes the color of fire to represent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and times when the work of the Holy Spirit is emphasized. During Holy Week it represents the blood of Christ. Red is also used for ordinations, church anniversaries and civil observances such as Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.
- Green represents growth and is used during Ordinary Time (the season after Epiphany and the season after Pentecost.)
And then there is this red light. Have you ever noticed this red light? It is red because red is the color of pentacost. It represents the presence of the Holy Spirit that is always here among us. It is an eternal flame. The Holy Spirit came to counsel us, encourage us on our journey of following Jesus. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
All of them, helping us to focus, reminding us of the seasons of the liturgical calendar… the calendar that organizes our year into seasons of worshipping Jesus. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
It is all about fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
Let’s look up. The tradition of stained glass, pictures illuminated by light- Fixing our eyes upon Jesus.
Fixing our eyes upon Jesus. All of this, is meant to help us fix our eyes upon Jesus. It’s meant to help us focus in worship. So that anywhere we look, we focus on Jesus. Did you know that there was so much theology, so much intention behind all of this?
When we gather, everything we do is supposed to be about Jesus. Taking courage from the tradition given to us from the cloud of witnesses who have come before us. Preparing to run the race set before us.
But I want to get back to the scripture. Why do we fix our eyes upon Jesus?
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I want to offer two challenges.
The first challenge has to do with our special presentation after worship. As a church community we are blessed. Consider the tradition that you represent… the grandparents, great grandparents who were children in these very pews. And look around at the fruits of their faithfulness. This church, this little church at the crossroads of a dirt road and a county highway is growing. We have been blessed to be able to worship Jesus together. Why wouldn’t we want that for others? We have this amazing place to fix our eyes on Jesus, after worship we are going to hear about the conference’s plan to help others do the same. How will we help other’s fix their eyes upon Jesus?
The second is how do you focus on Jesus? What things, what practices help you to focus on Jesus? Do you have reminders that help you focus on Jesus? It’s easy to focus on Jesus here at church where everything is purposed to accomplish that very task. What about the rest of your week when you are distracted and the goal is to distract you from Jesus? How will you fix your eyes upon Jesus?