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Monday, January 26 2015

Mark 1:14-20

    A couple of years ago, I was at a continuing ed event for pastors.  I don’t remember much about the particular presentation I was at, but I do remember a film clip that the presenter showed.  

    The clip was from a Will Ferrell movie called “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”  I’m not a Will Ferrell fan – and I’ve never watched the whole movie – and I wish I could show you the film clip – but I can’t, because, some of it is kind of crude and – well, this is church.  Anyway, Will Ferrell plays the title character of Ricky Bobby – a successful NASCAR driver.  

    Ricky Bobby is morally and ethically bankrupt.  The only things that matter to Ricky Bobby are winning races – and self-indulgence.
    But Ricky Bobby is somewhat religious.  He even prays when it suits his needs.  In one scene he is saying grace before a meal.  He prays, “Dear Lord, baby Jesus . . .” And he continues to address Christ throughout the prayer as “Lord Baby Jesus.”

    Finally, his wife and his father-in-law decide to interrupt him as he prays to the Lord Baby Jesus.  Carley, his wife, says, “Hey, um, sweetie . . . Jesus did grow up.  You don’t always have to call him baby.  It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.”

    To which Ricky Bobby replies, “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”

    Let me suggest that what Ricky Bobby says about liking Christmas Jesus best, just might be true for a lot of folks.  I think that helps explain why we routinely get well over a thousand people here on Christmas Eve.  Talk to any pastor and they’ll tell you that attendance soars on Christmas Eve.  And that’s a good thing.  The thing is – there’s so much more to learn from – so much more to learn about Jesus than just that he is the Savior of the world born in Bethlehem.  Ricky Bobby’s wife Carley is right when she says, “Jesus did grow up.”  

    I think the appeal of Lord baby Jesus is just that.  As a baby, he makes no demands on us.  But as a man – he has plenty to say about what it means to follow him and be his disciple.  So yeah, I think there may be some people who just might like the Lord baby Jesus best.

    So here we are today in Mark’s gospel – the very first chapter.  And Jesus is all grown up.  You see, Mark skips all of the stories about the birth of Jesus.  No Sherpherds.  No wise men here.  The first thing we read in Mark’s gospel is about John the Baptist baptizing people in the Jordan River, and that Jesus is also baptized by John.  The next thing we find is in our Gospel reading today, where Jesus – grown up Jesus – is busy proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near – with a call to repent, and believe the Good News.

    Yeah!  Grown up Jesus lets us know right off the bat that we need to – number one – repent, and number two – to believe the good news.  No wonder so many folks like Lord baby Jesus best.  Grown up Jesus puts demands on us.  But the good news is that – the Good News he brings – really is good news.  The Good News is this:  God loves you, and God sent His Son Jesus on a rescue mission to forgive our sins, and to reconcile us to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Good news doesn’t get any better than that!

    The next thing we find Jesus doing in Mark’s gospel is calling the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John to come follow him.  And they do.  They drop what they’re doing – just drop their fishing nets where they are – and they up and follow Jesus.  Listen to what Jesus tells them.  He says, “Come follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  

    Now, you know what Jesus is saying when he says, “I will make you fish for people,” right?  Yeah, he’s telling them, “I want you to go get others.  I want you to tell others about the Good News of God’s grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – that is theirs – and I want you to invite them also to come and follow me.”  

    Last week, I told you about the disciple Philip who, when he first became a disciple of Jesus, went and told his friend Nathanael about Jesus.  And when Nathanael asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth, what does Philip tell him?  Yeah.  Three little words.   What were they?  “Come and see.”

    This week I want to add three more little words to that.  In essence what Jesus is telling the disciples – and by extension you and me is – “Come and see.  Go and tell.”  You see, not only does Jesus call Peter and Andrew and James and John to go fish for people – he’s telling us that that is what he wants us to do too.

    But you know what?  Going fishing – ala the way Jesus is talking about going fishing – can be scary.  It can be downright scary.  One of our challenges is that we talk an awful lot about fishing – doing the work of evangelism – but most of us never actually do any fishing.  

    Well, first off, let me say that in order to do this kind of fishing, you don’t need to go door to door.  That’s kind of a turn off to most people anyway.  BUT when we do go fishing – we do need to go to where the fish are.   

    And just in case you’ve never tried your hand at fishing, ala Jesus, or you’ve forgotten how to fish, let me give you the following tips for fishing.  A pastor by the name of Linda Jacobus wrote these in her blog:

Go where the fish are. Be with people on their own turf.
Be real, be vulnerable, and be honest.
Be creative. We don’t have to do things the same old way.
Be spiritual, but not "churchy".
Be patient
Be ready for surprises!
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone.
Be on the lookout for where God is at work.
Be praying.

    In a song we sang last weekend called “The Summons,” there is a line that goes like this.  “Will you risk the hostile stare?  Will your life attract or scare?”  

    If you’re willing to consider going fishing, ala Jesus, there just may be those times when people will look at you strangely – you know – they’ll give you the hostile stare.  When my son Matthew was on a travel league soccer team, Nancy and I would go to the games.  When the other parents found out that we are both pastors, we found them avoiding us.  I don’t know what they thought we were going to say or do – really, we were just there to watch the soccer game.  There were only two sets of parents willing to sit next to us – two couples who were members of this church!

    Look!  As disciples of Jesus Christ, evangelism is part of who we are and what we do.  That’s what going fishing ala Jesus means.  Remember what I told you last week?  That perhaps the greatest hero in your life could very well be the first person to introduce you to Jesus Christ.  And that you can be someone else’s hero simply by introducing them to Jesus or by ministering to them in the name of Jesus.

    Let’s go back to the Summons for a minute.  That other phrase, “Will your life attract or scare?”  What is it about the lives of other Christians – heck, let me make it personal – what is it about your life that would attract someone else to Jesus Christ?

    Pastor Billy D. Strayhorn tells the following story.  Listen.  “A mother tells how her daughter used to work for a pizzeria, and Mom had the job of picking her up from work every evening. When her daughter would get into the car she'd smell so much like pizza that often times Mom would go back into the store and buy a pizza.

    Strayhorn goes on to say, “When we give our lives to Christ, when we spend time with Christ and seek to live for him; when we let His love, grace and forgiveness cover us, then we'll have Christ's aroma in our lives. His love will spread and shine through us for others to see and breathe in. And when we live like that, our lives become an invitation. And when our lives are an invitation, others will be compelled to seek him and ask questions about our faith.”

    So – what about us? Will your life attract?  Or scare?  Is your life – is mine –giving off the aroma of the love, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ?  Most of your opportunities are likely to come in casual conversation.  And when the opportunity comes, gently tell that other person who you are, and to whom you belong, and why.  What you say does not have to be dramatic, or filled with churchy words.  And for God’s sake, please don’t be churchy.  But feel free to tell them about your church.  Feel free to tell them about Jesus Christ and what he means to you.  Simply – when given the right moment – simply tell that other person why you are a Christian.  You don’t have to argue with them.  That hardly ever works anyway.  Just tell your story, because that’s something that no one can ever take away from you.

    You are here – we are all here today to worship the Lord.   That’s one of the things we do each week as disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are here to worship– the grown up – resurrected Jesus.  We are also here to be fed.  And as a Catholic priest once told me, “People are going to go where they are fed.”  So I hope you are being fed.  But when you come to this place – or to any other church – it’s not the same things as going to a restaurant – where you are waited on and where you are fed.  The difference is that here – after you’ve enjoyed your fish fry – it just seems to me – that at some point – we’ll also learn how to fish ala Jesus.  

    And why is it that we that we’re not afraid to tell others about that restaurant where we like to eat?  The best steaks.  The best Friday night fish fry.  Why not tell them about your church?  Why not tell them about your Savior?

    It all boils down to listening – being sensitive to the needs of the world around us – meeting the need as you are able – telling your story – and offering a simple invitation.   “Come and see.”  “Come and see….and go and tell.”


Posted by: AT 10:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, January 19 2015

John 1:43-51

The word hero gets thrown around an awful lot these days.  Mostly for good reasons.  There certainly are many bonafide men and women who have earned the label hero.  War heroes.  Athletes.  Teachers.  Parents......heroes.

May I suggest to you today that one of the greatest heroes in your life – and it’s quite possible that you never quite thought of this person in quite this way before – but may I suggest to you that one of the greatest heroes in your life is the person who introduced you to Jesus Christ.  Now I know that there are many, many people who have walked with you in this thing we call discipleship – teachers – mentors – pastors – friends – someone or someones who have helped you to grow in your faith and understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But I’m here to tell you today that one of the greatest heroes in your life may very well be the person who introduced you to Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading today we have one such hero.  His name is Philip.  This disciple of Jesus Christ is a hero to a man by the name of Nathanael.  Philip has already been called by Jesus to be a disciple.  With two simple words “Follow me,” Jesus invites Philip to come and be his disciple.  Philip immediately goes and gets his friend Nathanael.  

“Hey Nate,” he says, “Guess what?  We’ve found the Messiah.  Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Of course Nathanael is skeptical.  “O yeah?  Well let me ask you something Phil, old boy.  Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Notice – Philip doesn’t argue with him.  He doesn’t use elaborate proofs or convincing words to try to convince him otherwise.  He simply utters three words – three of the most beautiful words to be found in the Bible.  “Come and see.”

Come and see.  There’s not a one of us here today who is a stranger to that invitation.  You heard it – or some form of it – at some time in your life.  Some of you are here today because you did come – you did see – and you liked what you saw – you believed what you heard.  You took a step of faith.  You took a step towards Jesus. 

Others of you may be here today because you too heard the invitation to come and see.  And maybe you’re still wrestling with what this faith thing is all about.  Maybe you’re wrestling with who this Jesus person is and what he’s all about.  And that’s a good thing.  What is it Marv Levy used to say?  “Where would you rather be than right here, right now.”  So what better place than right here – right now – to wrestle with the things of God?

The thing is – we’ve all been invited.  By someone.  At some time.  And in some place.  I have to give credit to my parents.  They are the ones who dragged me – I mean, brought me to church and to Sunday School when – if the choice had been left up to me – I would have stayed home on Sunday mornings to watch cartoons.  How many of you remember Sunday morning cartoons?  If you remember Sunday morning cartoons, then you weren’t in church.  Anyway, I didn’t have a choice, and I never raised the question more than that one time.  So thanks, Mom.  Thanks, Dad for being the heroes who introduced me to Jesus.

So it’s one thing to be invited to “Come and see.”  The next step is that all important step of faith towards Jesus. You see, it wasn’t enough for Nathanael to meet Jesus.  It wasn’t enough for him to be introduced to Jesus.  No.  He had to take that all important first step – that first step in faith – towards Jesus.

Now maybe you have your doubts.  Your skepticisms.  Your reservations.  And I want you to know that that can be a good thing.  Apparently, Nathanael had his.  Truth be told, sometimes I’ve got mine.  Does that sound strange coming from a preacher’s mouth?  I sometimes still have doubts.  I certainly have questions.  And when I have those doubts and questions – I go back to the evidence.  That’s one of the reasons why I did that series last year during Lent and Easter — “Examining the Evidence: Asking the Tough Questions of Why We Believe.”  Not what we believe, but why we believe what we believe.  You can find those sermons on Zion’s website under March and April of 2014.

Anyway – when I have my doubts – I weigh the evidence – I ask the questions, “How did we get here?” and “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?”  When I weigh all of the evidence used to answer those two questions – when I weigh all of the arguments – all of the evidence – I always come back to saying, “This universe – this world that we live in – it’s just too complex and too precise in all of the hundreds of conditions that need to be in place in order for life to exist.  All of this just could not have happened by chance.  And all of the arguments I have read about that try to explain away the resurrection just fall flat on their face.  So still I believe.”   

So all of us are here today – believers – skeptics – or maybe you’re like me – you sometimes have a combination of both.  But every one of us is here today because of a hero in our lives.  The hero who – like Philip in our Gospel reading – invited us to meet Jesus.  The hero who invited us to “Come and see.”

Let me share with you a story.  Dr. Gordon Targerson, a Baptist pastor in Worcester, Massachusetts, was crossing the Atlantic by ship some years ago. He noticed on several occasions a dark-skinned man sitting in a deck chair reading a Bible. One day Dr. Targerson sat down beside him and said, “Forgive my curiosity. I'm a Baptist minister. I notice you are a faithful Bible reader. I'd like to meet you.” After introductions, the dark-skinned man told his story.  He said, “I am Filipino. I was born into a good Catholic home. I went to the United States as a young man to study in one of your fine universities, intending to become a lawyer. On my first day on campus, a student dropped by to visit. He welcomed me and offered to help in any way he could. Then he asked me where I went to church. I told him I was Catholic. He explained that the Catholic Church was quite a distance away, but he sat down and drew me a map. I thanked him and he left.

“On the following Sunday morning it was raining. I decided to just skip church. But then there was a knock on my door. There stood my new friend and he was holding two umbrellas. He said that he worried that I might not be able to read his map. So, he said he would escort me to the Catholic Church. I hurriedly dressed, thinking all the while what an unusually thoughtful person he was. I wondered what church he belonged to.

“As we walked along I asked him about his church. He said that his church was just around the corner. So, I suggested that we go to his church this Sunday, and then to mine the following Sunday. He agreed. But somehow I felt so much at home in his church that I never got around to finding mine. After four years I felt that God was leading me into the ordained ministry rather than into law. I went to Drew University Seminary and was ordained a Methodist minister. Then I returned to the Philippines to serve in a Methodist parish. My name is Valencius, Bishop Valencius, Bishop of the Methodist Church in the Philippines.”

The hero of the story is not the Bishop, important though he is. The hero is that anonymous young man with two umbrellas. Whether they ended up at the Methodist or Catholic churches doesn't really matter.

So the upshot of the story is this.  I’m here to tell you today that YOU can be a hero. And you know what?  You don’t have to be like anybody else.  You don’t have to exercise your faith the same way that the people next to you exercise theirs.  In fact, there is none of us who can be like or exercise our faith like any other member of this church.  And that’s a good thing.

You are you.  If you are already a believer – if God has given you the gift of faith – then use that faith – exercise that faith – the best way that you know how.  God’s given you gifts and talents and abilities.  Doesn’t matter what they are.  God wants you to use those gifts the best way you know how.  Maybe no one will ever know.  But God will know.

And you know what?  Maybe you don’t want to be – or maybe you don’t feel like being some body’s hero today.  But let me tell you something.  You CAN be a hero in spite of a heavy burden that might be weighing you down.  Or maybe you can be some body’s here BECAUSE of that burden.  Some grief.  Some illness.  Some hardship.  Some hurt.  Some pain.  Because, let me tell you something.  Whatever it is you’ve been through – or whatever it is you’re going through right now – someone else will also go through.  You can be a hero to them – show them how to rise above their situation.   

The bottom line is that YOU can be a hero – a hero who introduces someone else to Jesus Christ.  A hero who ministers to someone else in the name of Jesus Christ.  
    You can be that person with two umbrellas.  
                You can be like Phillip, and simply invite someone with two simple words, “Come and see.”  
    You can be a hero to someone by being the best you God made you to be.  

I just want you to know that no matter where you are in life – no matter where you are in this thing called faith – maybe you’re still waiting to take that first step towards Jesus – or maybe you’ve been walking with him all along – let me be a Philip – let me be a Philip to you right now.  You want to know who this person Jesus is?

Come and see.  Come and meet Jesus.  Come and maybe even meet Jesus AGAIN for the first time.  Right here.  Right now.  Come and see.                                                                                                                            Amen

Posted by: AT 09:09 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 13 2015

Mark 1:4-11

    A Baptist minister was in the process of baptizing a somewhat reluctant 10 year old boy.  So, as you know, Baptists baptize older children and adults, and when they do it is by full immersion – which means that they go all the way under the water, head to foot.
    So this Baptist minister is baptizing this boy – immersing him under the water.  And as the boy comes up from the water, the pastor asks him, “Do you believe?”  And the boy says, “No.”  So the pastor puts him under the water again, brings him up, and asks, “Do you believe?”  And the boy says, “No.”  So the pastor puts him under the water for a third time, brings him up, and asks, “Do you believe?”  And the boy says, “No.”  

    Frustrated, the pastor asks, “Well then, what do you believe?”  And the boy says, “I believe you’re trying to drown me.”

    Thankfully that wasn’t the case on the day when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan.  We’re told that when Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are torn apart, and the Spirit of God descends upon him in the form of a dove.  And a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

    No attempts at drowning took place that day, let me tell you.  But something important happened that day.  When the voice from heaven spoke – the voice of God the Father – we discovered the identity of who Jesus is – for the very first time – we discover who Jesus is.  The voice from heaven declares that this Jesus is indeed the very Son of God.

    And you know what else?  In that declaration, God puts His stamp of approval on Jesus – “With you I am well pleased.”

    For most of us here today/tonight – for those among us who have experienced baptism – we too have an identity.  Just like I told you last week – your new identity is as a son – as a daughter of God.  You can also go by the name of disciple or Christian.  Because that’s who you are.  

    And the other thing I want you to know is that you have found acceptance by God.  You’ve got God’s seal of acceptance.  Did you know that?  Even though most of us probably can’t remember our baptisms – but then again there are some here [tonight] [this morning] who can – and it doesn’t matter whether we can remember our baptisms or whether we can’t – we who have been baptized have God’s seal of acceptance.  We have been marked with the sign of the cross forever.

     And through our baptisms, God creates for Himself the church.  

    Now, unlike that young boy in our opening story who apparently didn’t know what it was that he believed, I did a little googling this week to find out what it is that Americans do believe.  The latest data I could find were from 2013.  This 2013 Harris Poll shows that 74% of Americans do believe in God or a god.  Now that compares to about 92% from a 2011 poll.  So, apparently belief in God is on the decline.  Whether you believe those numbers or not, that’s what the polls say.  And then, 23% of Americans identify themselves as “not at all” religious – a figure that has nearly doubled since 2007, when it was at 12%.

    And then there is another category of believers who say they are spiritual but not religious.  Apparently, this group just doesn’t care much for churches and religious organizations.  They don’t believe in organized religion.  When I hear that I tell them, “Oh, well then, you’ll love our church.  We’re not always all that well organized.”  They’re believers, but not joiners.  One of the church’s challenges – is to evangelize and connect these so-called believers with the body of Christ.  You know anybody like that?  You know anybody who says that they’re a believer, but they aren’t connected in any way to a church?  

    And then there are the “nones.”  I’m not talking about the religious sisters you’ll find in the Roman Catholic Church.  No.  I’m talking about the nones, N-O-N-E-S.  When asked what their religious affiliation is – these are the folks who will answer, “none.”  And in talking with Pastor Tim Madsen from St. Paul’s in Williamsville at lunch this past Tuesday, I learned that if these nones might have been affiliated with a church at one time, we might even call them the “dones.”  They’ve been to church – they’ve tried church – but now they’re done with church.  

    Quite frankly – I find this sad.  You see, one of the things that Jesus did was to form a community of friends.   You know what we might call these friends?  Not the nones.  Not the dones.  But the ones.  The ones.   Again, a phrase I stole – I mean I borrowed from Pastor Tim.  But the ones are those who live their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.  They are not believers living in isolation from other believers – but those who live in community with other disciples.  And through baptism, Jesus is still gathering to himself the ones – the community of the baptized – the body of Christ – otherwise known as the church.

    I want to make this very clear.  You cannot be in Christ – you cannot be a Christian – without being attached to the body of Christ.  Again – it’s another reason why I keep telling you that church matters.  

    I would find it very difficult to be outside of the body of Christ.  By the way –we call that the lone ranger approach to Christianity – and quite frankly, it doesn’t work.  It just doesn’t work.

    Now I know that people today have lots of options when it comes to how they learn what it is they learn about God – about the Bible – about Jesus.  There’s Christian radio – there are what we call TV evangelists.  There are opinion blogs on the internet on just about every faith topic you can imagine.  Pastors post their sermons on the internet – either by live-streaming – or an audio version – or as in my case – a written transcript of the sermon itself.  And the radio and TV and the internet are tools – these can be great tools for growth in discipleship.  Anybody can get any kind of inspiration or Christian teaching by staying at home.  

    But you know what?  That’s not the church.  It’s how the church might choose to get the message out – but it’s not the church.  In fact, it’s a poor substitute for the church.  

    We need – I know I need – to be in fellowship – I need to be connected with the rest of Christ’s body, the church.  I need to be connected with all of you.  And through your baptism – and through my baptism – through the work of the Holy Spirit – Jesus is building His church.  Baptism is not a once and done thing.  And right there is another way to use the word done.  “Pastor – I need to get my baby done.” 
    Listen!  Christ is calling us to be – not the nones – not the dones – but the ones.  Again – it’s why church matters.  
    Now – you know what the problem is in preaching a message like this?  Those who need to hear it the most – aren’t here.  They aren’t here.  

    But let me tell you – God waits patiently – day after day after day – for lost sons and daughters to return to him.  And quite frankly it is our job – the church’s job – to go in search of them.  Inviting.  Welcoming.  Loving them – and baptizing them – teaching them – so that they too might enjoy the fellowship of the church – and to learn once again what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
    So in baptism, we have a new identity, and we have God’s seal of acceptance.  Now let me say one more thing about what your baptism can mean for you.

    Let me share with you a story I came across this past week.  Sarah Jo Sarchet is a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago. A 10 year-old boy in her congregation named Cameron, walked into her office and said he needed to talk to her. Fresh from soccer practice, and wearing his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he had a request for her. “I'd like to be baptized,” he said. “We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptized, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptized too.”

    Using her best pastoral care tone of voice, she said, “Cameron, do you really want to be baptized because everyone else is?”  His freckles winked up at her and he replied, “No.  I want to be baptized because it means I belong to God.”

    She was touched by his understanding.  “Well, then,” she said, “How about this Sunday?”  His smile turned to concern and he asked, “Do I have to be baptized in front of all those people in the church?  Can't I just have a friend baptize me in the river?”  She asked where he came up with that idea.  “Well, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John in a river, wasn't he?”

    Caught off guard, she conceded, “You have a point.  But, if a friend baptized you in the river, how would the church recognize it?”  Realizing this was a teachable moment, she climbed up on her foot stool to reach for her Presbyterian Book of Order that was located on the highest shelf.  But before she placed her hand on the book, he responded.

    “I guess by my new way of living,” he said.

    She nearly fell off the foot stool and left the Book of Order on the shelf. Cameron's understanding was neither childish nor simple. It was profound. Baptism calls us to a new way of living.
    My brothers and sisters – my baptized brothers and sisters in Christ.  Your baptism is how you got your start – your beginning – in the church.     
•    Because in baptism you have a new identity – you are a daughter – you are a son of God.
•    In baptism – you have the promise of God’s acceptance.  
•    Baptism is a new way of living.
•    Because in baptism – we are neither the nones nor the dones.  We are the ones.  

And that is why church matters.     Amen

Posted by: AT 09:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, January 06 2015

John 1:1-18; Ephesians 1:3-14; Galatians 4:4-7
    As I get older, it seems that each New Year comes around faster than the one before.  Do any of you feel the same way?  Man, time goes by fast!  Before you know it, Christmas will be here again.  So you’d better start getting ready now!

    Anyway, let’s talk about time for a moment – something most of us feel we never have enough of.  

    It was Albert Einstein who introduced us to the idea that time is relative. Sometimes his theory of relativity has been reduced to the example of a young man sitting for a minute on a hot stove vs. sitting for a minute next to a pretty girl. One minute can seem very long while the other seems very short.

    That is not exactly what Einstein meant. But he did show us that time is relative.

    Another scientist who has written extensively on time is Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist. In fact, he wrote a book titled A Brief History of Time.  I have read a book by Hawking entitled A Briefer History of Time.  I guess his shorter version was written for those of us who don’t have enough time to read his longer version.  Or maybe it’s just that for people like me, it’s just too darn difficult to understand.  

    By the way, I understand that Hawking is an avid fan of the cartoon show, The Simpsons, and has made appearances on the show. He likes to attend table readings of The Simpsons the cartoon equivalent of a dress rehearsal.

    One day Hawking was upwards of thirty minutes late to the rehearsal. As the other actors were sitting around waiting for him, one of the actors looked at his watch and quipped: “Does the man have no concept of time?” Ok, well, I guess you had to be there.

    And then there are time management seminars.  As though we can manage time.  24 hours a day.  That’s all we get.  That’s all any of us get.  I think the best we can do on any given day – given the time we have – is to manage our priorities, because time itself is not something than can be managed.   

    With that in mind, let me read to you a passage from the book of Galatians, chapter 4.  This letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Galatia speaks of time.  Not the passage of time or the relativity of time or even the management of time.  But I want you to listen for something that God did in the fullness of time.  Listen!

    “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”

    I don’t want you to miss this.  Another way to say, “…when the fullness of time had come,” is “…when the set time had finally arrived…”  What set time?  The time for God to send His Son Jesus to earth to be born of a woman.  We of course celebrate Jesus Christ’s coming to earth at Christmas – a season which we are still in, by the way – and we know that the woman’s name is Mary.  

    And why did God choose that time?  What we call the first century A.D. or what some call the first century of the Common Era.  Why did God choose that time?  Glad you asked.  Because certainly God could have waited.  He could have come today –for the first time – with all of our modern means of communication and networks and social media.  But I would like to suggest to you that God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ as soon as He could.  When the time was right.

    We know that the Jewish people had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah – in other words the Christ – to arrive.  And as Christians we understand that in Jesus, God’s Messiah has arrived. And the time was right.

    When you think about the conditions that were in the world when Jesus was born, then I think you’ll see why God chose that particular time as the right time:
       1.    When Jesus was born, Jews were scattered throughout the known world. In every major city, there was a synagogue. This   was the first place the early Christian evangelists went to proclaim the Good News that God had visited His people in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
       2.    Culturally, the world was ready.  About 300 years before Christ, a man by the name of Alexander the Great conquered a great portion of the known world, and established a great empire.  And here’s what he did that helped set the stage for Jesus.  Alexander spread the Greek language wherever he went.  Greek became the international language by which the gospel could be communicated.  When our New Testament was written, it was written in Greek.
      3.    Following this, there was the Roman Empire. The Romans – for all of their otherwise brutality – brought relative safety to the areas they had conquered.  Prior to this, it was not safe to travel very far.  But the peace of Rome changed all that.  
      4.    Julius Caesar built roads that made commerce possible over all the empire. Those roads facilitated travel by the first Christian missionaries.

    So things like a common language, the building of roads, and the safety of traveling by both land and sea, made first Century Palestine the perfect place and time for the Christ to be born.  

    So the time was right.  But the question I really want to focus on today is “Why?”  Why DID God send Jesus to earth?  Well, I guess the short answer would be love.  Certainly the love of God for you and me was the motive.  

    But we could also talk about our sin – and because that sin separates us from God – we could talk about our need to be reconciled to God somehow someway.  

    But I want you to notice something.  It’s in this passage from Galatians chapter 4 that I just read to you.  It’s also in our other readings today from John’s Gospel and our other reading – also written by Paul – a letter written to the church at Ephesus.  Why did Jesus come to earth?  Here’s what all three of these readings tell us – so that we might become sons and daughters of God.

    And this is what I am asking all of us to be mindful of as we begin this new year.  Because not only was the time right for Jesus to be born – when he was born – but the time is right for us – right here, right now – in the beginning of this new year – to remember who we are and to whom we belong.  I can’t think of a better message today than to hear that – because of Jesus – we are now sons and daughters of God.  Hey!  Is that a great way to start a new year, or what!

    So what does that mean to you?  I mean, I really do want us to see ourselves as God sees us.  It might just mean that how we see ourselves – when we see ourselves the way God sees us – that maybe – just maybe it will make a difference in how we live our lives in this New Year.  Who needs resolutions?  Resolutions that we find difficult if not impossible to keep anyway.  We don’t need resolutions as much as we need a foundation.  And part of that foundation is to recognize who we are and to whom we belong.  We are sons and daughters of God, and we belong to Jesus Christ.  I just think that makes all the difference in the world.  

    When my boys were young a movie by the name of The Lion King came out.  Anybody here seen it?  I think anybody who’s seen it – even some of you boys and girls – remembers this Disney movie.  

    There is in this movie a scene where Simba, the young lion, is being challenged to go back home and be the king he was born to be.  Simba had run from his destiny.  The struggle in confronting his mean uncle was just too difficult.  But in that memorable scene that represents a turning point in Simba’s life, he looks in the water and sees the subtle reflection of his father, Mufasa the King.  Mufasa says to Simba, “You have forgotten who you are . . . Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become . . . Remember who you are.”

    And that’s Paul’s message to us as we end one year and begin another. Remember who you are. “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as God’s sons and daughters. Because you are God’s sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

    Look inside yourself. You are more than you think you are. Because of what Christ has done in your behalf.  You are a son – you are a daughter of the King.

    What an amazing gift!  And yes, along with this gift, there come responsibilities.  And that’s a matter of choosing our priorities, and following through on those priorities.  But since we now know that we are sons and daughters of the King – King Jesus – who needs resolutions?  What we need are foundations.

    The time is right.  In this New Year – let me encourage you to remember who you are – and to whom you belong. You are a son – you are a daughter of the King…and we belong to Christ.


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