Bright Morning Star

Easter 7C Fr. J. Devin Rodgers

Wednesday morning I set out on a morning walk before the sun rose. 

The city, still asleep, very few cars, fog still looming over the Scioto River… This is my favorite time to walk, listen to birds singing, and spend time in prayer. 

This morning, I put on my headphones and began listening to one of my favorite devotional apps. I’ve found that actually listening to scripture is transformative and begins my day in a positive manner.

(I invite you to do the same practice I did.)

“What image that Jesus uses for himself speaks to you most deeply? I hold on to this image and use it in my prayers.”

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Revelation 22:16-17

The daily meditation ended, and the sun had still not risen as I continued my walk along the Scioto Mile. I walked, and despite the heavens being blotted out by thick cloud cover and the hazy illumination of street lights, I was most intrigued by the image of the morning star. 

Jesus said, “I am the bright morning star!”

If you are even a novice astronomer, you will probably recognize that the morning star is in fact not a star at all but the planet Venus. It also happens to be the most easily recognized planet because it is so bright. It appears just before the dawn of each new day.

I searched and sure enough, even with the hazy sky, I still found the Morning Star.

Perhaps this is why the image of Jesus as the bright morning star resonated with me. The morning star has served as a navigational beacon for sailors – a reliable, bright point of reference. 

Christ is our point of reference, the one to whom we must orient ourselves, and the one who will lead us to the promised, new day.

This image of a guiding God is not limited to Jesus’ words in Revelation. 

It occurs frequently in the scripture and in different forms. By a Pillar of Fire, God led the Israelites through the desert. The Shepherd leads the flock through the valley of the shadow of death. The Word of God becomes incarnate, serving as a light to shine in the darkness, to lead humanity to God. The magi are led to the Christ Child by a mysterious star.

Even in the darkest, haziest of mornings, the Morning Star is visible. It is particularly dark right now. 

Last Wednesday morning, 21 more families in Texas woke to the horrifying reality that their loved ones would not see the rising of the Sun on that very morning. Ten other families in Buffalo and one in Laguna Woods, California. 

Did you know that there are more firearms in the United States than people (in 2018: 400 million compared to 331 million)?

In 2021, 1,500 citizens under the age of 18 died of gun-related homicide or accidental shooting. 

Perhaps the most saddening statistic… right in the midst of immense suffering and death caused by COVID-19, firearm production increased from 3.9 million weapons to 11.3 million.

Legislation is blocked. The status quo remains. Politicians point fingers. Children continue to be gunned down in classrooms. Prayers are offered. Nothing changes.

We have an immense spiritual sickness that is CAUSING this darkness. 

The use of the word, “we” is intentional here as well. Our communal succumbing to evil and our inability, which is actually unwillingness, to stop what is happening means that we as a people, a broken community, incur guilt.

The hypocrisy is stunning when we consider that we and a majority of people in the United States, claim to follow a savior who said “…put down your sword…put down your stones” and died an innocent man at the hands of a violent system. 

The problem with spiritual darkness is that it becomes too comfortable. In the third chapter of John, Jesus explains that evil prefers darkness. It’s possible to hide in the dark and cover up one’s real intentions and self-service. Thousands of deaths and hundreds of preventable shootings later, we are still putting our hands over the mouth of Jesus and letting politicians, the NRA, and a broken system of violence speak on our behalf. 

If we claim to be a follower of the one who said “Put down your swords!”  we must put down our guns and obey.

Herein lies the problem.

We have to follow. 

Guiding stars, pillars of fire, shining light in the darkness… God does all of this for us, yet we still have to take the steps to follow. God promises to always show up for us, always provide grace, and ensures us that a new day will, in fact dawn, but it is up to us to take the steps of following.

It would be senseless for sailors to orient their navigational tools to the stars and then not use them, so it is with our response to the very real presence of evil and sin in the world. 

Prayers, much like faith, without works are dead. To pray for an end to violence, to pray for the world to change without actually allowing God’s Spirit to work through us for the purpose of Holy Transformation is meaningless; and I would argue, not much of a faith at all. 

The Resurrection of Christ transforms all things, and we either take part in it with God’s help, or we fight it. Transformation requires obedience to the Way of Love.

There can be no middle ground. 

Pastor and Theologian during Germany’s Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this obedience to follow in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.

“We shall be judged according to our works. This is why we are exhorted to do good works. The Bible never draws the antithesis between faith and good works so sharply as to maintain that good works undermine faith. No, it is evil works, rather than good works, which hinder and destroy faith. Grace and active obedience are complementary. There is no faith without good works, and no good works apart from faith.” 

Seeing evil and allowing it to persist, particularly at the expense of others malforms us. It’s the opposite of what we frequently discuss in terms of Christian formation: doing acts of love, mercy, humility, and kindness that transform us, making us more Christlike. 

Good works, the presence of God working through us, will serve as a “bright morning star” to guide others. Action, living as Christ intends for us to live, increases the light so that others might also see.

How might we ensure we are incorporating action into our faith lives?

Well, the first step is recognizing which direction the Bright Morning Star is actually guiding us. That seems obvious, but just as the sky is sometimes filled with fog and hazy light pollution, this is often harder than one might think. 

For issues of social justice, we must enter the very realm where justice is needed–society. It is essential that we are in true, honest, vulnerable relationship with one another. 

Social media advocacy, simply sharing an article on Facebook, doesn’t cut it. Nor does offering an opinion about what “ought to be done.” God, who is a Trinity of relationship, is found in relationship, particularly those most impacted by social ills. 

We must enter into these relationships with a posture of humility, curiosity, prayer, and listening for responses about how God desires us to “follow.” 

We simply cannot pray, “God, bring violence to an end.” Our prayer must be “Make me a means of peace. Move me to act. Lead me in what I must do in order to be Christ for another.”

 In this way, we are both finding and following.

“What image that Jesus uses for himself speaks to you most deeply? Hold on to this image and use it in your prayers.”

Bright Morning Star, you shine to enlighten the lives of all who seek you in the hazy, dark, unenlightened nighttime of this world. Serve as our guiding light. Inspire us with your Holy and life-giving Spirit. Embolden our prayer, but let it lead to Holy Action. Use our words and deeds of love to make us shine just as you shine. Together with you, O, Risen Lord, your children who number more than all the celestial bodies might create a map of stars. A map of stars that directs and guides us to you and the dawning of a promised, new day.

Amen.