by Jeffrey Lindsay
January 12, 2020
If you were here last week Marie began our 8-week series reflecting on our church’s core values through what is offered in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Today we are “wrestling” with who the scriptures declare Jesus to be and what call is then extended to the church.
As I was preparing to go on our vacation a few weeks ago I prayed that God might use my time away to give me a new perspective or a sign that I was on the right track in my work at Colonial. I also prayed that a word from God about whether the work of the church in general was still possible and hopeful. I pledged that if God were willing to meet me in my need for answers I would listen.
As we sat in the plane ready to take off, a twenty something woman in the window seat took out her rosary, an ancient prayer tool often associated with Catholics but used in other traditions as well. She began to pray. Not wanting to give her the impression I was spying on her I went back to my book.
After we landed in California and were getting ready to disembark, I couldn’t help myself so I asked this young woman from Minneapolis if I could ask her a question and she was game. I asked her about her praying the rosary. She told me she had recently re-connected to her faith and was using a tradition she grew up with to help her in her prayer life. She said she wasn’t very good at the rosary because she found herself often drifting off into her own prayers.
I commented that I thought God would be okay with that and was just glad to have the time with her. As we shared this moment I told her I was encouraged to see a young person practicing her faith. She then asked if she could ask me a question and I said fair is fair. My new friend asked me why I cared about her rosary practice?
I told her I was a pastor and concerned about how faith beyond just spirituality was being experienced in the lives of future generations. I was grateful that she concluded our brief conversation by adding the news that several of her friends also had a new awaking of their faith and were “earnestly” looking for a community of some kind that might help them in their faith journey. We concluded that time, I think, with an encouragement for both our journeys. As I left the plane I wondered if God had already answered my prayer?
I have since chosen to believe God did answer my prayer and I also choose to believe that there is truth and illumination that can be gleaned from our text today that can direct our attention in this moment and in the days ahead with hope, hope for our lives for this church, for “the” church, and maybe even the world.
Why? Because, as the Message version of the bible says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The world has seen the glory with it’s own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like God, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
What the word, Jesus, did was get down on our level and play the game of life where we live and we got to watch him do that.There is nothing in the human experience that Jesus did not experience and we got to see how God in Christ lived, as one of us.
As our passage says, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” In Jesus we have seen mercy. We have seen grace. We have seen the loving touch. We have heard the kind voice. We have felt forgiveness. We have experienced the power of prayer. We have known hope. We have been inspired by faith. We have heard truth. We have observed character. We have been shown how a human being can live a righteous life in a pretty murky and messed up world, and then were told to go do likewise, with God’s help.
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. When the bible says the “Word” became human, the “Word” is God’s expression of Gods-self or revelation of Gods-self in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ life was to reveal first Gods love and then gave the invitation to experience it. Jesus came so that we might know reconciliation, to then be reconcilers for others, in the same expression of the acceptance, grace and mercy offered to us.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told the story of a prince in search of a maiden suitable to be his queen. He searched and searched, but found no one to his liking. One day, while running an errand for his father in a local village, the prince passed through the poor section of town. Looking out the window of his carriage, his eyes fell upon a peasant girl. Over the next several days, he passed by this young, poor girl, and he quickly became enamored with her and became convinced that she was “the one.”
His problem, though, was that he didn’t know how to seek her hand in marriage. As the prince, he could order her to marry him – wow, talk about romance! But, of course, he didn’t want her to feel like a slave the rest of her life. Even princes want their brides to marry voluntarily and not through coercion! He could put on his most elegant uniform, drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six beautiful horses. But if he did this, he’d never be sure she loved him or was focused only on the wealth and splendor.
So the prince came up with another solution. He gave up his royal robe for a time.
He moved into the village, entering not with a crown or elegant uniform, but in the clothes of a peasant. He made his dwelling among the people; shared their interests and concerns; spoke their common vernacular, which was quite foreign to the way of speaking he was accustomed. In time, the maiden grew to love him because he was just one of them and because he showed that he loved her first.
The prince’s entire plan hinged on no one recognizing him. In order for anyone to receive him and especially, in order for this peasant girl to receive him, she could not recognize him. And that, in many ways, is what John in our passage is describing God did for us. Of course, God went a step further.
Could it be that Jesus’ plan for reconciliation of the world hinged on the idea that humans would neither recognize him nor receive Him. The whole plan for Jesus to redeem creation was for us to reject Him. Betray Him. Put Him on a cross to die, and to bury Him in a tomb. He was in the world and yet the world did not recognize him and his own people did not receive him. And for this — can we say, strange as it sounds — thanks be to God!
For now, as we come to a place of faith, it is solely because of the reality that God has first loved us and thus we can respond in gratitude both to God and to others.
This journey of faith, this life of seeking to follow Jesus’ example is not one for the faint of heart, is it? It is difficult to stay focused, to stay on track, to remain committed — even to continuously know what it all means. The follower of Jesus and the collection of like-minded folks, the church, must at times ask themselves hard questions and ponder new directions, don’t we? Or else we could find ourselves in the following story.
Years ago, on a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occurred prior to advanced navigation aids, there was a little life-saving station. The building was just a hut and they had only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea. When there was word of a shipwreck, they went out tirelessly searching for shipwreck victims.
Many lives were saved by this little life-saving station, and some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and give their time, money, and effort for the support of its work. New life boats were bought and new life-saving crews were trained. The little life-saving hut was replaced by a larger, nicer facility.
Fewer members were now interested in going out on life-saving missions so they hired lifeboat crews to do the work.
At the next meeting there was a conflict of opinion in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the life-saving activity because it was unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.
Some members insisted on life-saving operations as the primary purpose and pointed out they were still called a life-saving station and when they were needed to go to the rescue of shipwreck victims they were pledged to go. But they were voted down and they left to start a real life-saving station farther down the coast.
And as the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that occurred in the old and it evolved into a club.
The club members forgot that the purpose of the life-saving station was to go when the call was given.
God is constantly saying “Go!”, Go do the work you were created to do and God longs for us to do, in season and out of season, convenient or inconvenient, comfortable or not and do as God in Jesus did. God came that we might be set free to go, just as Jesus modeled for us. Go and be what God desires us to be as individuals, and as a church. To be present in the world’s needs, to be present with those in our neighborhoods, to be present with each other, inspired and empowered by Gods enduring and unrelenting presence.
In a conversation with his disciples in John 14, Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Wasn’t Jesus telling the keepers of the faith, the answer to the nagging need for purpose and meaning and hope, by declaring it to be in the example and relationship with The Word, Jesus, who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood?” May we continue to do likewise in ever expanding ways!
In 1915 Robert Frost gave us a gift in his poem, “The Road Not Taken”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And – sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could.
To where it bent in the undergrowth,
Then I took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as fir that, the passing there
Had worn them really the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way – leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever comeback.
I shall be telling this with sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I …
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Now, remember my prayer that God might use my time away to give me a new perspective or a sign that I was on the right track in my work at Colonial and that the work of the church in general, was still possible and hopeful? And my pledge that if God were willing to meet me in my need I would listen?
So I get on the plane to come back to Minnesota and we had to adjust our seats so our kids families could travel together and in doing so Tami and I got split up into middle seats in different rows. As I plopped into my seat I found myself sitting right next to a young priest from Minnetonka who is serving a bilingual church in LA. As we introduced ourselves, he ask what my work was and was encouraged when I shared I too was a pastor.
As our conversation continued, he wondered if he could ask some questions of me, as I have been a pastor longer than he has been alive! He was hopeful he might glean some wisdom from my many years working in the church. He had so many questions it was really a delightful conversation that lasted throughout most of our flight.
As a way to bring closure to our conversation I said I was encouraged by our chance meeting. I told him hearing about his call to ministry offered me hope for what some would suggest is an uncertain future for the church.
This young cleric very intentionally, turned and looked at me and said, “Pastor, there will always be a church. God is faithful and will gracefully sustain a remnant for the needs of the world.”
He didn’t say it, but I clearly heard it in his tone that he was thinking, “I cannot believe you don’t know that and I can’t believe you don’t believe that!”
He concluded as he opened his book of worship to offer some “safe landing” prayers for us all, that he is seeing more and more young people and families engaging in the church, as the church intentionally engages them. He then said, “You know, it’s like we moved into their neighborhoods so we could offer them what they need.”
I heard him. He was saying they had set the table and then went out into the neighborhoods to invite people to the banquet, just like Jesus did.
In that moment I prayed, okay God, you have my attention.
Colonial Church will you pray that same prayer with me?