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Tuesday, January 26 2016
I’d like everyone to stay standing for a minute. And we are actually going to do something together [this morning], something that I did a lot growing up. And I’m pretty sure that once I start it, you’ll know what I’m doing almost immediately and be able to do it with me. Ready?
Head, and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes,
Head, and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes,
Eyes, and ears, and mouth and nose,
Head, and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.
Great job! Now, if you grew up in my house, you also had to learn it in Spanish! Feel free to hum along this time if you can’t get the words.
Cabeza, y hombros, piernas, pies, piernas, pies,
Cabeza, y hombros, piernas, pies, piernas, pies,
Ojos, orejas, boca y nariz,
Cabeza, y hombros, piernas, pies, piernas, pies.
…I think we’ll stick with the English! You can have a seat.
Now we didn’t do that song just because it was fun for me to watch you all (even though it was!), or because I wanted to get your blood moving (even though that’s also a valid reason). We did it because it’s kind of the song version of our reading from First Corinthians today.
Paul, the author of this letter to the people in Corinth, talks about how we are all part of the Body of Christ. He says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…”
So basically, the Body of Christ is all of us who are baptized and follow Jesus. So we are all members, or body parts, of this body. And who is the head of the body..? Jesus, yeah.
Paul explains how this works. He says, “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
We are all members of the same body, the Body of Christ. That’s unity. That’s everyone working together to do what the head, Jesus, tells the body to do. Amen? But unity is not the same thing as conformity. We are not all the same.
Because in the Body of Christ, all of us are different body parts. We all have different roles. Like, one person is a hand, and another person is a knee. If the knee tried to do what the hand did, man, would we be in trouble! As Paul says, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” So, YOU are called to be a certain body part and have a purpose. That purpose is going to be different than the person sitting next to you, because you are different body parts.
So—being in the Body of Christ means that we have both unity AND diversity. We work for a common purpose—for Jesus, but how we work for that common purpose is different for everyone. Unity and diversity, at the same time.
It’s important to remember that none of the body parts are more important than any of the others. Paul says, “19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…”
No member of the Body of Christ is more important. All are just as important to what Jesus wants us to do—share the Good News of what he’s done for us by dying and rising, to take care of those who need our help. And we all are going to do that differently.
When I was doing some prep work for this sermon, I came across a website called the “Ekklesia Project.” Ekklesia means “church” in Greek. And on this website, there was an article written by Brian Volck. And Brian tells this story:
Last year, while visiting our dear friends, Sandie and Owen, and enjoying an evening of good food and even better conversation, Jill, my wife, said, only half in jest, “When I look at what other people accomplish, I can’t help thinking about all those other things I should be doing: working to stop the death penalty, saving starving children, reading the best books, having informed opinions.”
Sandie paused a moment to ponder Jill’s concerns, and said, “All those things are important, but we’re all part of the body of Christ, and we have a role, however small. So what if you’re the nose hair? You’re there for a purpose. You may not have any idea what good you’re doing, but that’s still your job: to be a nose hair in the body of Christ.”
It’s OK to be the nose hair! Actually, nose hair has a big job to do. Anyone know why we have nose hair and what it does…? It is actually at the first line of the body’s defense system. It helps keep pollen, allergens, and bacteria and viruses out. That’s not to say that we never get sick, but we would get sicker a whole lot more often if it wasn’t for our nose hair. And, our nose hair actually adds humidity to the air we breathe in. Mucus and hair actually provide heat and moisture, so that our nasal passages don’t dry out and become infected.
Now when someone asks you what you did in church today, you can tell them that you sang “Head, and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and then-- you learned what nose hair does. They’ll think you’re nuts!
The nose hair thing is really important, though. It doesn’t matter how small your role is in the Body of Christ. Your role is just as important as anyone else’s. No one would think our nose hair does anything useful. But it actually has a very important role in how the body functions as a whole.
To put it in the realm of real people, everyone’s role in the Body of Christ is important. There are no roles that are more important than others. People think being a pastor is more important. It’s not. I, and Pastor Randy, aren’t more important in the Body of Christ. We just have a different role. We all are equally important in serving God and sharing in the mission of Jesus Christ.
So how do we know what body part we are? How do you know what YOUR personal role is, in the Body of Christ? I’m so glad you asked!
In our reading from last week, which, incidentally, was right before this reading in First Corinthians, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. This is also in chapter 12. He says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed… Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
So spiritual gifts are special abilities given freely by the Holy Spirit, to each member of the body of Christ, in order to fulfill the mission of the Church. And we heard some of the spiritual gifts that Paul talks about—wisdom, knowledge, miracles, discernment, tongues, prophecy, etc. This is not an exhaustive list. We hear of many other spiritual gifts in the Bible. I’ve seen as many as 30 different gifts listed, all different, all needed in the Body of Christ.
And everyone has a different spiritual gift set given to them by God. YOU were given spiritual gifts, special abilities, to use as part of Christ’s mission here on earth. That’s pretty cool. You may already know some of those gifts. You may be good at encouraging someone when they are down. You may be good at teaching people. You may be good at doing behind the scenes things to make an event a success. All gifts are equally important, and we all are given different gifts to serve God.
Paul says in our reading from today, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”
The answer to his questions are of course….? No. Not all people are apostles. Not all people are teachers. Not all people speak in tongues. But some of us do have these gifts. And all of us are given different gifts to use. All of us have special abilities given to us by the Holy Spirit, to use, as Paul says, “for the common good.”
So what does that look like? It’s when you use your spiritual gifts to the glory of God. It’s when you use them at Zion, in our community, in our world. Paul says “strive for the greater gifts.” It is those gifts that are used to build up the Body of Christ, to work for Jesus in our world by spreading the good news and sharing God’s love with others. THAT’S working for the common good, doing what God calls YOU, personally to do.
So today, I invite you to think about what special gifts God has given you. What is one of your spiritual gifts, a special ability, that God has given you? How can you use that gift this week in a special way, to furthur the mission of Jesus Christ and build up the Body of Christ? Think about it, and do it. Live out what Jesus is calling YOU to do. Amen?
Tuesday, January 19 2016
During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m to promise to ‘love and honor, and forsaking all others, to be faithful only to her,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He slipped the pastor the cash and walked away. By the way – if that ever happens to me – I would not perform that wedding. Just so we’re clear.
The next day – the day of the wedding – when it came time for the groom’s vows – the pastor looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”
The groom gulped and looked around and then said in a tiny voice, “I do.” After the ceremony, the groom pulled the pastor aside and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.” The pastor gave him back his $100, and said, “We did; but the bride’s father made me a much better deal.”
Let me tell you another story. This one is true. Years ago when Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight year old boy. The young man was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coalmine outside his hometown in West Virginia. As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian. So Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, “What are you learning in Sunday school?”
“Last week,” he said, “our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine.”
Johnny then asked, “And what did you learn from that story?”
The boy squirmed in his chair. Apparently, he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, “If you're going to have a wedding – make sure you invite Jesus!”
Now think about that for a minute. If you’re going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus. If you’re going to have a marriage, make sure you invite Jesus. If you’re going to have a family – or a career – if you’re going to have a life – make sure you invite Jesus.
As we take a look at this second chapter in John’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is just getting started in his ministry. And on this particular day we find that Jesus and his disciples and his mother, Mary, have been invited to attend a wedding in Cana.
Now, you need to understand that the Jews of Jesus’ day attached great importance to these kinds of celebrations. And what I find fascinating is that the typical wedding feast could last up to seven days. Seven days! And it was an event that was celebrated by the entire community.
Now, at this particular wedding, there is a shortage of wine. Not only is that a social embarrassment, but it is also a symbol. For a wedding to run out of wine was an omen – a sign of bad luck if I can use that phrase – for this newly married couple.
Now as far as we know, Jesus is about 30 years old here. He has just started gathering disciples to follow him. Perhaps he has just begun to teach here and there. But he has not yet performed any miracles – anywhere. At least not publicly anyway.
But here, on this day, in an event that begins his public ministry, Jesus takes ordinary water and turns it into the finest of wines. Or as we learned in our ALPHA class on Monday, Jesus turned water into a ‘45 Bordeaux. BC. Whatever! What we do know is that it was the best of wines.
Now I want you to notice that there is nothing dramatic about this miracle. It is not widely experienced like the one he would perform when he fed more than 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. It does not involve life and death as his final miracle would when he raises Lazarus from the dead. No. Just a simple – Yeah right, simple! – but just a simple turning of water into wine. And the only ones who know about it are the servants who filled the jars with water, and the disciples and Mary who watched the whole thing happen.
Now, Jesus does this at the urging of his mother, Mary. When she finds out that they have run out of wine, she goes to Jesus, and says, “Guess what, son! They’ve run out of wine.” And Jesus says, “Aw, Ma! What do you want me to do about it?” Well, something like that.
And she says, “Listen to me. I’m your mother. Do something about it.” And then she turns to the caterers and says, “Hey! You see that handsome guy over there – yeah – the one with the scruffy beard. That’s my son. If you want more wine – listen to him and do whatever he tells you.”
And it makes you wonder if Mary knew that Jesus could just whip up a batch of wine at will – or whether she simply expected him to go out and get some. We’re not sure what she thought he might do – but hey – Mary knows who her son Jesus is – and like every Jewish mother – she knew there was nobody like her son Jesus. Why – as far as Mary was concerned – Jesus walked on water.
All joking aside, I tend to think she knew. At Christmas time we like to hear the song that asks, “Mary did you know?” And I would like to suggest that it’s apparent from our Gospel reading today, that yeah, she probably did know. And thus we learn that this is indeed the first of the miracles that Jesus performs.
But why this one? Why this one? Listen again to how this passage ends.
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. It says that through this sign or miracle, Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Again, nothing spectacular like the feeding of the 5,000 or raising the dead back to life. The wedding guests have no clue that a miracle has even occurred. But Mary knows. The servants know. The disciples know.
May I suggest to you that this sign – this miracle – helps us to understand something of who Jesus is. That what he does that day in Cana shows that he cared. He cared about what was going on. His presence makes a difference. His touch can change something ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary.
And what Jesus can do with something as common as water – he can do for you and me. Listen! Let me ask you something. Has there ever been – or is there something going on right now in your life – when you feel like the wine has run out? Sure you have. I know you have. I have too. A son or a daughter rebels or disappoints you. You’ve had a fight with your husband or your wife. Life in general has been unkind at one time or another. Maybe it’s your job – or lack thereof. I don’t know, but something has happened and you’ve hit a major bump in the road.
You’ve run out of wine.
It happens. For the most part, my experience of life is that life is good, but still, shtuff happens. Yeah, you noticed that I didn’t use that other word there. But stuff happens – and we – we run out of wine. So let me ask you, what are you going to do when the wine runs out? What do you do? To whom or to what do you turn?
It is a sad truth that there are some folks who don't come to God until they have a need – or there’s some kind of emergency. God – Jesus – religion is for some people a 911 affair.
And yes, Jesus is there for us in our 911 moments. Jesus is there especially when we need him the most. And in those 911 moments it is good and right that we do come to him. But I want you to know that Jesus is here for us not just when the wine runs out – but all of the time. Whether things are going just about as smoothly as you might hope they would – or whether you come drained and exhausted.
I want you to know that no matter what’s going on in your life right now – whether your wine vats are full or empty – I want you to know that you can come to Jesus. Better still, like the little boy told Johnny Carson, no matter what’s going on in your life right now, make sure you invite Jesus into your heart. Into your life. Into your home. His touch – his presence – can make a difference. In your life and in mine.
By the way – if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you today. I wouldn’t be standing here today telling you that Jesus has come – and that he still comes to us. He comes to us in His Word. He comes to us in water and in bread and in wine. He comes to us in the time that we spend together being the church. You know. Wherever two or three or more are gathered in His name – there He is right there with them. And Jesus is with you in your alone times as well.
And that’s important. Why? Because Jesus is still in the business of touching hearts, and changing lives, and making a difference.
In Cana of Galilee, Jesus performed a miracle when he took ordinary water and turned it into the best of wines. But let me suggest to you that the real miracle – the real miracle – is what happened in the lives of those who followed him. And who – because of this miracle – believe in him. When Jesus takes ordinary fishermen like Peter and Andrew and James and John; when he takes an ordinary woman like Mary Magdalene – and transforms all of them into bold disciples – new creations – I’d call that a miracle.
So when the wine runs out – and we turn to Jesus – and he makes something new and different in our lives – something new and different with us – when that transformation that we like to talk about around here happens in someone’s life – might that not be a miracle too? From what some of you have told me about miraculous turn-arounds in your own lives – I’d have to say the answer is, “Yes!”
Hey! If Jesus can turn water into wine – can’t he – won’t he – turn our old – sometimes weary lives – into something new? You bet! And that’s why we can say – in Christ – we are a new creation.
Monday, January 11 2016
Pastor Becca Ehrlich
A man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the old country preacher. The minister notices the man and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?" The man looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher: I sure am." So the minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks. "No, I didn't!" said the man. The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?" "No, I haven't, Reverend." The preacher now holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water, and says in exasperation, "Man, have you found Jesus yet?" The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
Luckily, John the Baptist didn’t have to look very far to find Jesus! In our Gospel reading from Luke, we hear about John, Jesus’ cousin, baptizing people in the Jordan River. And he tells them that he is baptizing with water, but the Messiah, God’s chosen one, will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And sure enough, when Jesus is getting baptized with a whole bunch of other people in the river, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of the dove and God’s voice comes from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Sounds like a pretty awesome moment.
Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry here on earth. That powerful moment jump-started his travels, where he chose his disciples, and taught and healed and cast out demons and shared God’s love, until he finally saved the world by dying for us and being resurrected. A powerful baptism for the powerful ministry of God in human flesh.
It’s easy to forget how powerful baptism really is. On the surface, when we baptize someone, it doesn’t look like much. There’s water, and the promises of God are said. It’s pretty simple, actually, and doesn’t take a whole lot of time.
But being baptized is a huge deal. In a minute, I’m going to show a short clip from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Some backstory: Everett, Pete, and Delmar are all convicted criminals and have escaped from the chain gain. And then THIS happens. (Show clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDXJ6duyQ_A)
“Come on in, boys! The water’s fine.” Delmar’s baptism was a powerful moment, and completely changed his life. He knew that he was forgiven by God, loved by God, and that “heaven everlasting is [his] reward”.
In fact, Delmar’s baptism was so powerful, that Pete runs toward the river, ready to be baptized himself. Pete wanted to experience that life-changing moment, too.
And during the rest of the movie, both Delmar and Pete live their lives differently because of their baptism. Even though they were criminals before, they no longer live that way. They treat people differently, look at the world differently. That’s not to say that they act perfectly, of course—everyone makes mistakes. But their baptism wasn’t just a one-time thing that didn’t mean anything later. It was a powerful experience of God’s love that affected the rest of their lives.
Baptism is like that for us, too. When you were baptized (and if you haven’t been, please see me after worship so we can talk about it and make that happen!), you had a powerful moment of God’s forgiveness and love and grace when God’s promises were spoken to you and that water was poured on you or you were dunked. Your baptism is a life-changing moment when, just like at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit is present in a special way and comes to live in you. You have GOD IN YOU. And no matter what age you get baptized—baby, child, teen, adult-- that is the jump-start of YOUR ministry on earth.
Because when you’re baptized, you are claimed as God’s own child. You become the son or daughter of God. And as God’s child, you are loved no matter what. That’s grace—all the good stuff that comes from God: love, mercy, forgiveness. In baptism, we receive God’s grace, and we are always God’s children.
Doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Like Delmar and Pete, all your sins are washed away in baptism, even if you were baptized many years ago. That washing happens every day. That’s how powerful baptism is—it lasts your whole life! You are a new person every day because of your baptism.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavenly Father’s voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Well, God says the same thing when you are baptized. God says, “You are my son, my daughter, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” You are God’s son or daughter, and God is pleased with you! How cool is that??!!
The Isaiah passage we read earlier reminds us of God’s promises to us. God says:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
“I have called you by name, you are mine.” In baptism, you are called by name, and God says “you are mine.” And God is with you, in everything. Even when it feels like you’re drowning in life, when it feels like your life is going up in smoke. God. Saves. YOU.
And because of what Jesus did for us, dying on the cross and being raised to new life, we die to our old self and rise to our new self in baptism. That’s how we can be a new person, every day. Our baptism actually puts to death our old self and brings to life our new self. Delmar and Pete knew that in our clip, and we can remind ourselves of that every day. As God’s child, you are a new person, every day of your life.
And so, when you come up for Communion, you are invited to celebrate baptism at the font, and remember that you are God’s child and what Jesus did for you on the cross. If you would like, you can dip your hand in the water and you can make the sign of the cross. You are God’s child, with you God is well pleased.
So on this day, when we celebrate baptism, as Delmar says, “Come on in—the water’s fine!” Amen?
Tuesday, January 05 2016
Happy New year, everyone. Is it me, or does it seem that every year the New Year seems to get here just a little faster than the one before? I am amazed that we are already in a new year. 2016. And of course whenever we switch over to a New Year I almost always hear people saying – or thinking or feeling – two things. Either one or both of two things.
• Number 1 – folks are saying, “I’m glad 2015 is over.”
• And number 2 – “I sure hope 2016 is going to be a better year than the one we just had.”
I hear that almost every year at this time. Not everybody is saying it. But I suspect – for the most part – that there are a lot of people hoping for a better year than the year just past. And that’s not to say that the past year – or any past year for that matter – really was all that bad.
But here’s the thing. What we tend to focus on – what we tend to remember – are the not so pleasant things that happen in any given year.
That’s not to say that we are living miserable lives. We’re not. I mean, for the most part, we’re not. However, since it is a New Year, many of us – many of us – associate the start of a new year with something different and hopefully better. And quite frankly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for – for praying for – and working for a New Year that is what you really are hoping it will be.
But I gotta tell ya, I don’t believe there is anything magical about turning the page on a calendar and thinking, “Aha! Ok! Things are going to be better now.”
That said, even though there is nothing magical about turning that page on your calendar, I do want to talk to you today about someone – someone who can make a difference in your life. Let me invite you to watch this short video.
When I said I wanted to talk to you today about someone who can make a difference in your life, you already knew I was talking about Jesus even before I showed that video.
And I want to tell you that today’s Gospel reading – our reading from John’s Gospel – chapter 1 – is among my favorites in the Scriptures. Especially the first 5 verses along with verse 14. Listen to them again. And when you hear the word “Word” I want you to think of Jesus – because that’s who John is talking about when he uses the word, “Word.”
“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.”
Verse 14. “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.”
As we look back over 2015 it’s easy to pick out some dark moments of the past year. There’s the ongoing struggle between ISIS and, well, anybody who isn’t ISIS. Or the same thing with Boko Haram in Africa. These organizations have caused thousans of deaths and millions of refugees who simply want to escape the darkness – unbearable living conditions – to find places of refuge and safety. In 2015, we heard about – we read about – atrocious mass shootings in our own country. These I think are just some of the headlines that certainly would fit our definition of what it means to experience darkness.
You see, here’s the problem with these news stories of death and destruction – of refugees – and all the other things that are wrong with the world. Here’s the problem. Although we might not be affected by these things directly – what they do is cause many of us to live in fear. Or it might be a personal situation – something that’s going on in your life right now that’s causing you to live in fear. I don’t know.
But let me tell you – I don’t want to live in fear. I refuse to live in fear. And here’s the point. Because Jesus is the light of the world, we don’t have to live in fear.
And because Jesus is the light of the world, and the darkness does not overcome it, I have developed a deeper appreciation for one of our favorite Christmas carols. We’re going to sing it in just a few minutes, and when we do, I want you to pay close attention to the verse that says, “Light and life to all he brings.” Light and life. To all. He brings.
Into your darkness – whatever that darkness might be – whatever it is that may be causing you to be afraid – whatever that means for you right now – I’m here to tell you right now – that Jesus is the light in your life – in your darkness – right now. Whether you feel it or not. Whether you believe it or not – Jesus came not only to bring light – but to be light in your darkness.
It’s what we celebrate during this season of Christmas. A new year CAN mean a new beginning. A new birth. Why? Because, “Christ the Savior is born.”
And here’s some more wonderful good news. Again from John’s Gospel. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” Did you hear that? By the grace of God – God’s undeserved love and favor – you are given the power to be a son – to be a daughter of God.
Made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world not just because he says so. But he is the One who brings with him grace and truth. That’s a promise I believe in. It’s a promise that all of us can believe in. And this is the reason why Jesus CAN make a difference in your life.
And yet – there is something that puzzles me. I know that some have a hard time believing this message. I get that. Some say that they’ve had enough, that they are done with church. And then there are others who for whatever reasons prefer darkness to light – I don’t get that. And they resist coming to the light. Maybe they’re afraid to come to the light for fear that the light might expose whatever darkness in their lives it is that they are trying to hide. So – let me share with you a story.
A man named Tom tells about a night when he was a teenager. He and his friends were walking around the neighborhood. It was a warm night and very dark. Suddenly one of them saw a police car. They hadn’t done anything wrong, but they didn’t want to be seen, either. So they began to run. The police car saw them and watched them turn down an alley. Tom tripped and knocked over some trashcans. The police officers got out of the car and began to go after them. One of the officers turned on a searchlight. Tom looked around for his friends, but didn’t see them. All he saw was that burning, searing searchlight, looking for him.
Tom jumped behind those trashcans, only to find his friends huddled there. With frantic energy they tried to hide, pulling trash over their heads and hoping to blend in. The spotlight fell on Tom. “Come out where we can see you,” said the voice behind the light. Tom stood up where he was, covered in garbage.
“What are you doing?” said the voice.
Tom stammered, “Nothing.”
The voice said, “I can’t hear you. What are you doing?”
Tom said, “Officer, I wasn’t doing anything wrong; I saw the light, I ran, I knocked over these garbage cans. I’m sorry about the disturbance.” The searchlight was beaming into his eyes, blinding him. He stood there in the light with nowhere to hide.
Then the voice said, “I think I recognize you. Don’t you live around the corner?”
“Yes,” he stammered. His heart was racing, and he thought to himself, “My life is ruined. If I don’t get arrested for disturbing the peace, something worse will happen: this officer is going to tell my parents.”
But then the voice behind the light said something unexpected. “Son, I’m not here to punish you; I’m here to protect you.” As he stood before that searchlight, Tom says he caught a glimpse of what it means to stand before Jesus, who is the Light of the World. There he was, fully exposed yet completely protected. He was fully revealed, yet free from unnecessary punishment. He stood hip-deep in garbage, yet cleaner than he had ever felt, somehow cleansed by a light that cast no shadow. In that moment, he saw something of what it means to stand in the presence of Jesus Christ, who is full of truth and full of grace.
“I am the light of the world,” says Jesus. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12). No matter how much garbage you or I are covered in – ankle deep – hip deep – neck deep – or in over our heads – Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness of your life.
So today – as we start a new year – in a few moments – Pastor Becca and I will invite you to come forward for a blessing. Come forward as a family. If you’re here by yourself today – don’t be afraid to come forward with the person next to you. And folks – DON’T EVEN HESITATE to ask that person who might have come here by themselves to come forward with you.
Because – in this place? – we are ALL family. God’s daughters. God’s sons. And therefore – in Jesus Christ – we are a new creation. He is the One who makes a difference in your life. He is Jesus – the Word made flesh – AND He is indeed the light of the world.
May the miraculous gift of Christ fill your home with faith, your heart with hope, and your life with love.