Ack! I need to get in the habit of posting these sermons on Sunday night because once I get into the office on Tuesday, I hit the ground running and don’t have time to sit down and get it done. I had a really busy week, both at home and at church (which is made obvious by the fact that you can hear Harrison shrieking in my intro to this week’s podcast). I know life is just full of seasons, so I am trying to dance with the crazy instead of just looking to get past it.
Here is last week’s sermon! It is the call story of Philip and Nathanael from the Gospel of John. I actually kind of preached on star words again. If I remember correctly, I did this last year – I preached on star words the week we handed them out and then talked about them again the following week in case people weren’t in church the week before (also giving those folks a chance to get star words the following week!). I’m not sure I actually meant to do it again, but it worked!
Here’s my sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 14, 2018
Be Part Of The Mystery
Has anyone else’s star word been put to the test already?
My star word for 2018 is cheerfulness. And, I have to admit that, as Bruce and I were playing a game of childcare Tetris on Thursday afternoon (daycare was closed, Bruce was working and had wrestling practice, I had out-of-town meetings and my mom – who was planning on coming out to help us – was sick), I was having a hard time finding the cheer in cheerfulness.
Bruce and I were going back and forth by text and, as my stress level started to build, I look at my star word, tacked on my bulletin board next to my desk, practically mocking me. I texted Bruce and said: “By the way. I’m being cheerful.”
To which he replied, “That makes one of us.”
I am sure at that point, he was debating the irony of his star word for 2018: Serenity.
Here is the thing about star words – other than the choice to participate and choose a word in the first place, we really do not get much of a choice in what we will receive.
I was reading a blog post this week and the blogger was talking about her “word of the year.” Every year, in lieu of resolutions, she chooses one word to focus on. By doing this, she can apply her word to different areas of her life (rather than declaring a resolution, which kind of narrows your focus to one thing).
My initial thought when I read her post was that her word of the year is kind of like our star words. But then I realized there is one major difference. This blogger gets to choose her word of the year; our star words, for all intents and purpose, choose us.
The challenge – but also the grace – in participating in star words is that we do not get to choose them. Rather, we move forward in trust; trusting that our words have been chosen for us for a specific purpose, trusting that God will illuminate the journey that is in front of us and trusting that our minds and our hearts will be opened to receive wisdom and guidance.
Like I said, when it comes to star words, the only real choice we have is whether or not to take one in the first place.
Which is why this morning’s scripture stands in stark contrast to last week’s Star Sunday; because this week is all about making a choice. This week we talk about making a choice to follow Christ; making a choice to be a disciple and to strengthen both our faith and the Christian faith.
Because when it comes to our faith, we still have to take that first step; we must be active participants in this journey.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the gospel according to John, which is, by far, the most mystical of the four gospels. The gospels are the first four books in the New Testament; they tell the story of Jesus. And whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke – which are known as the “Synoptic Gospels” – focus on the life of Jesus the man, the Gospel of John really points to the divinity of Jesus the Christ.
The Gospel of John begins with those well-known words:
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.
There is deep theological depth to this gospel that sheds light on the mystery of Christ. Through some of the flashier miraculous stories that we only see in this gospel – turning water into wine, the resurrection of Lazarus – we are reminded that there are no limitations to the life changing power that Christ holds. Through Christ, all things are possible, even if we do not necessarily understand how it all works.
The tone of the Gospel of John ties in nicely with last week’s Star Sunday. There is, after all, a holy mystery to these stars. We are reminded as we receive and follow our stars that there are no limitations to the ways and places Christ can show up in our midst.
And yet, this morning’s scripture teaches us that even in the middle of the mystery that is the grace of Jesus Christ, there is still a choice; there is a call to action. We must choose to follow Christ.
The story we just heard comes from the very beginning of John. John begins with that theological discourse on the word becoming flesh and then introduces John the Baptist. Then Jesus enters and begins to call his disciples. In this passage Jesus called Philip and Nathanael.
There are three key phrases that jumped out to me when I read this story.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.
He found Philip and said to him, Follow me.
Philip said to [Nathanael], “Come and see.”
In a gospel that is filled with the mystery and wonder of our faith, there is still action required. Jesus decided to go to Galilee, Philip followed Jesus and Nathanael came and saw for himself.
This reminds me that in our lives and in our faith, there, too, is a call to action: We have to follow Christ.
This – the Christian faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the life changing truth that love will always prevail over hatred and evil no matter what is happening in the world – only works if we choose to follow Christ.
It is not enough to simply believe in the Gospel; we have to live it out, as well.
I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday and saw a post from a friend of mine that referenced her and her husband’s decision not to raise their children religious. Against my better judgment, I clicked on the post and read the comments.
Here’s the thing: Nothing about the original post or the comments were terribly offensive. In fact, in today’s political and social climate, I would qualify this particular post as lighthearted and polite.
However – it did make me kind of sad. Because I do not think there is anything wrong with raising your children religious.
In fact, I think it can be pretty life changing.
I get it; there are a lot of parts of the Christian faith that are pretty unbelievable. In fact, many of them actually occur in John’s gospel. But I believe in the midst of something that is pretty mysterious and hard to fathom, there is a call: A call to live your life a certain way, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and to work hard to make this world a better place.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is not just asking Nathanael and Philip to chase him around Galilee. With this call, Jesus is inviting them into the heart of the Gospel; he is asking them to do more than simply believe in this holy mystery, but also to be active participants as this mystery unfolds here on earth. He is calling them to love God and love one another. He is calling them to break bread with both their friends and their enemies. He is calling them to reach out to the poor and the sick and the marginalized. He is calling them to extend hospitality to all people and to put the needs of others before their own. He is calling them to show kindness and compassion. He is calling them to shine light into a sometimes-dark world and to demonstrate decency, courage and hope.
This is believable. This is Gospel. This is the kind of world – albeit “religious” – I want to raise my child in.
But this requires action. This requires us to follow Jesus; to go and see for ourselves what it means for the God’s grace to prevail.
Let’s face it: I am preaching to the choir here, because it is 20° outside, the Patriots played last night and you all still made it to church this morning.
However, this text boldly calls us to dig a little deeper and re-make that commitment to follow Christ and this morning, I encourage you to heed that call; to think about the ways in which you can engage and strengthen your faith. Set some goals for yourself this year and believe that God needs you to help write this Christian story.
You know that expression, “Don’t let life pass you by?” I think this scripture is reminding us not to let our faith pass us by. We must be active participants. We must choose to be part of the mystery.
Perhaps I did not get to choose cheerfulness as my star word this year (though, for the record, I thought this would be an easy one). But I believe every day God is calling me to action; I choose to follow my star, to seek wisdom from my star word even in those moments when the mystery does not seem so much holy as it does chaotic.
So decide, follow, go and see for yourself. Be part of the mystery. And may you not only find grace, but help to create it here on earth, as well.
Thanks be to God!