Tag Archives: The Summons

Come and Change

A sermon for 15 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of John 1:29-42. Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel text assigned to the second Sunday after Epiphany all three years of the lectionary cycle. Listen.

“The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

There’s a word in the English language. It starts with the same letter as Christ. It starts with the same letter as another word prominent in this reading from the first chapter of the gospel of John, which actually brings it all about. The word I have in mind names a process most of us admit that we don’t at all like. Though it’s strange really, that we would have such disdain for this word and for the process. Because even in our own bodies, it takes place daily – naturally without any effort on our part; and mostly without much notice. History has shown that organisms that resist the process named by the word do not last. We label them extinct and include them in museums not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the warning we need to learn from them. Resist the process at your own risk. Deny the word starting with the same letter as Christ at your own peril. Fight against it – when it’s upon you for your own benefit and the benefit of others – and you’ll find yourself in the next extinct exhibit. Can you guess the word I’m talking about? The word that’s almost so taboo among too many churches that it’s up there with topics like sex and politics and money – all the hot button topics very few want covered in Sunday sermons.

The word is: Change. Change. Why do so many of us dislike it?

The gospel of John has an interesting way of introducing Jesus. It starts with its very high view of his divinity: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Unlike the other three gospels, John launches then into John the Baptist’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. Instead of the real-time view of it taking place, John the Baptist just speaks out loud, not really to anyone, but just as he sees Jesus in passing one day. It’s as if the gospel of John means to say from the start that the testimony about this incarnate Word is even more important to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, than is the actual event taking place for that Word in flesh. . . . The text we heard this morning is crucial for the church – so much so that, like I already said, every year after Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, the lectionary gospel reading turns to the gospel of John for one week prior to delving into Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C.

It’s about change. The whole story of those who would heed the call to come is the unfolding adventure of their lives. As John points others to Jesus as the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world, Andrew and another curious disciple of John begin following Jesus. Their lives never again will be the same. . . . If we were to see this on the big movie screen, we’d see John hanging out with a few folks around him. Jesus might have been just strolling by on his way home from a carpentry job ready to relax for the night, when John raises his voice to say: “Look! The lamb of God!” . . . It’s enough for Andrew and another one to take off after him. Was it a crowded village street, Andrew and the other ducking behind carts and doors as they tailed Jesus that afternoon? Or were they bold enough to just start walking right behind him. Step after step until Jesus, aware of their presence, over his shoulder turns to ask: “What are you looking for?” . . . It might it have been as simple as: “why in the world are you shadowing me?” Or maybe from the start Jesus was confronting these seekers with the much deeper question of what really it is in you that longs to be fulfilled? What is it for which you seek? . . . There’s no satisfactory answer about why they wanted to know his address. Though it’s of interest that, according to the text, they want to know where he is staying. I’m pretty sure it’s foreshadowing that though this enfleshed Word of God has a place to stay that night, he’s soon to set out on a journey that will lead to not one of the faithful ever staying in one spot again. According to the text, they will remain with him that day (1:39), as will the Spirit of God with us according to the resurrected Christ’s promise. But staying – settling into one secure little spot, metaphorically and literally, never again to change, will NOT be an option for a faithful follower of Christ. . . . Come and see he says to those who want to lay eyes upon where he stays. . . . It’s an invitation to a journey. A road Christ calls them to walk, which will be filled with twists and turns and changes all along the way.

We know it intellectually, even if we resist it emotionally. The Christian life is all about change – leaving behind the vices that bind us as we daily grow in the virtues of Christ. Finding increased in us things like love and patience and wisdom and mercy. Can you even remember now what you were like before you started to follow? Who was in your life then and what was typical of how you spent your time? For many of us our lives have been shaped from the start by the call of Christ. By our commitment to being his disciple through childhood in the church, our teen years, young adult and even until now. For others of us, there was a moment. Something brought us onto the journey – whether a wife that told you you were coming because the kids were going to be raised in the church. Or a first service here or elsewhere that really resonated within when you were looking for some direction in your life. Maybe it was a mission project with a population that mattered greatly to you that perked your curiosity around the kind of folks that would care about such a thing too. . . . Can we recall where we started and how incredibly far we have come? We have changed. Every last one of us. We have become witnesses to the way of Christ by the way we live our lives. Our pursuits have changed. Our priorities have shifted. The way we spend our time has become patterned after the things that matter to God. The very nature of who we are, if we’re really following after Jesus, begins to change as we grow with him in God’s Spirit.

I’m sure I’ve shared a hymn with you included in the latest publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God. The song is entitled “The Summons.” And unlikely many hymns, the second phrase of all five stanzas of the song come back to the same words. They are: “and never be the same.” It’s a little annoying when you sing it and perhaps necessary in order to keep the rhyme with the end of each first phrase that goes: “if I but call your name.” Imagine what would happen in you with a regular singing of such a hymn. Here’s how the first two phrases of each stanza goes: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? . . . Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? . . . Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? . . . Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” Then, in the fifth stanza, the singer finally addresses the One calling in the other four stanzas. “Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.” (Glory to God, Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013. Text John L. Bell and Graham Maule © 1987 WGRG; “Will You Come and Follow Me: The Summons,” #726). . . . May it be so.

In the name of the life giving-Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN 2017  (All rights reserved.)

God’s Mission

A Sermon for 26 July 2015

A reading from the gospel of John 1:1-14. Listen for God’s word to us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

           

Today we are launching a new way for the session of this church to be organized. It’s a way that takes seriously the reason why this church exists – to be a community growing in Christ through worship, study, and service. It’s a way of being organized for ministry to ensure ALL are In Ministry at least in some way. Large or small, one thing or as many as your plate has room for; the AIM is for every person to be about at least one piece of the collective ministry of this church as a way of growing in your walk behind Christ. And before these new teams and every one of you, we must remember to keep to the difference this church seeks to make in the lives of one another and those of the surrounding community: To support each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges for the grace of God to be experienced by all. It’s not like this is really anything all that new for this congregation – in terms of the reason why you exist and what difference you are trying to make in people’s lives. From all I’ve heard and seen, you’ve been shooting the arrows of your ministry towards this target for a very long time. It just might not have been as clearly articulated as it is now. And isn’t a clear target a lot better to aim at than one that’s just fuzzy or moving or not at all there?

It all reminds me of the beautiful new section of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order. Part 2 of our denomination’s constitution. This one’s just out this month. The 2015-2017 edition. Ok: truth be told, the new section of which I speak isn’t all that new. You may or may not be aware that in 2010 this part of the PCUSA’s constitution underwent a radical revision. Book of Order section F was created. . . . It’s not that everything in F was entirely new. Much of it had been in our Book of Order for years – since the days of John Calvin himself. It just wasn’t quite as organized and clear as it now is. It flows from that which we believe to know of God and God’s purpose from scripture. And it’s called section F: The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity. The core of what we believe and value and resolve to do because of the God we have come to know through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . . All this may be old news to you. You already might have fully digested and put to memory section F. But on the slight chance that you missed this radical revision to the Book of Order, I want to be sure you’re aware. Partly, it seems my duty to you during this time of pastoral transition. Partly, it seems a gift to keep us grounded and inspired as this congregation sets off intentionally to live according to the reason why you exist and the difference that has been discerned that you seek to make in each others’ and those beyond this membership’s lives. . . . All that we’ve been up to these past several months is not just for your Pastor Nominating Committee to be able to complete the paperwork needed for the search. It’s because of what we hear in the gospel of John and also in The Foundational Principles of Presbyterianism. There are four key principles in the new section F, so I’ve created a four-part sermon series for this summer. Don’t worry, we’ll space them out a little between now and Labor Day. But for now, listen to a reading from section F, Chapter One: The Mission of the Church. This one’s entitled: God’s Mission (F-1.01). Listen: “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. This one living God, the Scriptures say, liberated the people of Israel from oppression and covenanted to be their God. By the power of the Spirit, this one living God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to live in the world, die for the world, and be raised again to new life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church. In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.”

It’s beautiful. I love it! Because #1: God has a mission! . . . The opening to the gospel of John tells us about it too. “In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was with God and the Word was God” . . . “and the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1, 14). Because we needed life – the light of all people! As verse 5 states: it’s a light that shines in the darkness of our lives never, ever to be overcome! That’s God’s mission. Simple. Beautiful. The transformation of all things and all people! That we would be the children of – not just the creation of – but the precious, related, intimately connected children of God who are busy reflecting to the whole creation the very same mission of our heavenly parent.

One way to think about this is in the first essential tenet of Reformed Theological faith. Hopefully you know this one: the sovereignty of God! It’s the belief that it all begins and ends with God and it is THEE quintessential Reformed idea. That God is #1. The Alpha and Omega. The initiator. The One from whom all flows. . . . Why do we baptize babies who can’t understand one iota about God’s grace? Because of the sovereignty of God. Why do we welcome all to the table of our Lord – no matter who or how they are? Because of the sovereignty of God. God initiates it all – a plan to create us all. To love us all. To be with us all everyday and throughout eternity. God is the One that works to transform us all into the blessed creation God intends us to be. God has a mission – a purpose. A work on which God never shall give up. It’s God’s mission into which we are invited. Foundation #1 of Presbyterian Polity reminds: We are invited to “participate in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, “offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ” (F-1.01).

It has been said that Christianity is “a demanding, serious religion. (And that) when it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether” (Joseph D. Small, ed.; Proclaiming the Great Ends of the Church, Introduction, p. ix). We know that. Because Christianity is about what God wants – not us. It’s about God’s mission and God’s invitation to enter into a life of glorifying and enjoying God now and forever as we live in covenant fellowship with God by, like Christ, “announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom. By bringing good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and by proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation! That is the mission of transforming the whole world through the goodness of God’s love! (F-1.01)

There’s a wonderful song of the Iona community of Scotland. It’s called “The Summons.” It’s our invitation into the mission of God. The words of the song are: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me? Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me? Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?” (Glory to God; The Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013, #726, Text by John Bell and Graham Maule, © 1987; WGRG, Iona Community, [admin. GIA Publications, Inc.])

It’s a lofty summons indeed, from a God that’s in the business of re-making you and me and the whole wide world – all things new!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)