#Blessed

Some of you may have heard of Twitter, the social media application which allows you to share your thoughts in 140 character segments to as many people as have determined they are interested in following you.  I follow Tweets from 50 entities: primarily news organizations, federal agencies such as FEMA and the National Weather bureau, and a few theologians, but not on a daily basis.  I have 144 followers, primarily those who appreciate headlines coming out of the Akron Bugle Facebook page, and not very many by Twitter standards.

There is the ability to collect all comments on a particular subject by adding a hashtag or pound sign in front of a label.  It can be used at the scene of an emergency so responders and the public can share critical information such as evacuation, sheltering in place, pick-up zones, etc.  Such a hash tag may be #FireMedinaHS.

I have used hash tags only three times that I remember: at a United Methodist Association of Communicators meeting where we were learning about them, during a FEMA training session at which instructors were showing first responders how to use them for on scene communication, and during a hazmat drill at Perry’s Ice Cream Company.  But I discovered this week that one of the many hash tags gathering tweets together in one place is the hash tag blessed.

It is interesting to see what people post on Twitter as blessings in their lives :

There are comments about support from parents, answers to prayer, developing relationships, healing, but in large, the comments gathering under the blessed hash tag are about sports, new jobs, new homes, gifts, financial gain, and personal gratification.

Many reflect what our culture lifts as things which are important and only a few reflect an understanding of the blessings which Jesus shares with his disciples in this passage in Matthew.

Jesus has called his disciples away from the crowds gathering in search of a leader who will free them from Roman rule, to a quiet place where he can teach.  His lesson – God’s Kingdom is not just one more political kingdom in which those with the power “win”, where those making the rules define success, and those with the most money get what they want at the expense of others.

With this sharing of blessings, Jesus is showing his disciples that God’s Kingdom has a different set of priorities and it affects the here and now as well as what is to come.  He shows them that in the Kingdom of God, blessings are not counted by the number of titles we hold or Twitter followers we have, how stress free or healthy our lives are, how many headlines we make, how much better we are at doing a particular thing than anyone else, how much money we have, or how good we are at following the Law.

What matters is finding our identity in true relationship with God and relating to the world through the eyes of God, in lamenting the current state of the world and how far we are from the fullness of God’s kingdom, in addressing our own actions and the actions of our communities which deprive others of the basic needs and rights they need to allow them to function as part of the community.

None of the blessings, that we hear Jesus bestow, reflect that we will never face difficult situations again after accepting God’s grace and direction for our lives, after we follow Jesus.

What is reflected are circumstances which can lead people to lose hope, to become overwhelmed by a life experience filled with anger, violence, destruction, and death; where many forget they are not above God, where actively doing the will of God can cost someone their position in society, job, friends, and family; where putting the needs of others first can subject us to ridicule; where acts of reconciling justice and grace are often misunderstood.

These are circumstances we hear in our prayers and concerns on a regular basis.  Circumstances for which we see prayers answered in many different ways, sometimes not in the way or time for which we hoped.  Sometimes we are caught up in evaluating our blessings or lack thereof through the lens of cause and effect.  We can believe that if we are good people who follow God’s commandments, work hard, and try to do our best in all circumstances, we will be rewarded with good health, food to eat, stable jobs, happy families, and prosperity.  When things do not go our way, or someone is suffering, we are drawn to believe God is administering punishment.

The life of a Disciple often gets harder, as following Jesus leads to choices which go in direct opposition of what our culture expects and rewards.  The blessings we hear in this passage can prepare us for that reality.  They can keep us focused on the right agenda in the midst of situations which tempt us to accept the world view that money, power, beauty, and health are the signs we are blessed.

Scripture tells us that God has promised to never leave or forsake us, and the blessings we hear as Jesus teaches his followers, then and now, affirm the ways He walks with us.

Ours is the kingdom of Heaven throughout time as those living under God’s grace, we can live by Kingdom of God standards even when we recognize and lament that the present condition of the world is far from God’s purposes,.

We can serve one another in humility even when others don’t understand our priorities

We can continue to do acts of mercy, to work to bring reconciliation, to not be discouraged when others seek to demean us because of our decisions which put God and others ahead of our own interests.

We are blessed in the midst of what the world identifies as hopeless situations.  We are blessed in the best times and the worst times of our lives.  We are blessed in knowing that in Christ everything changes, and joy is possible in the midst of the impossible.  We are blessed because God is with us.

We can feel and act and live in these ways because it shows that when it comes to God’s kingdom, we “get it.”  These blessings are not a list of entrance requirements for kingdom membership.  They are a description of what kingdom living is like after we have been saved by grace.  Of our behavior as disciples answering the invitation Jesus extends to “Come and See.”

The crowds gathered around Jesus because his ministry was taking off and his reputation as a healer was spreading quickly.  Today he might have several million Twitter followers, many following because they hope to get something from him or want to be part of the success story.  Many drawn to this charismatic leader, hoping his kingdom will end Roman occupation and bring Israel back to its previous glory.  They are looking for blessing in their life that translates into success as their world defines it.

Spending some time with the disciples away from the demands of the crowd, he shapes the message to let them know what his kingdom is.  To introduce them to the reality this is not business as usual.  He begins to reveal how disruptive to the status quo his kingdom is.  To show he came for everyone, not just for the righteous.  He reveals a kingdom that lives out the answer of what the Lord requires of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

We are able to meet that requirement through Christ and to recognize that in this world upside down kingdom, God’s blessing does not discriminate.  God’s blessing is for all.  It means no matter who you are or what you have done, you are blessed and welcomed.  You are in God’s presence and held in His Grace through every circumstance you encounter.  Your entire life is hash tag blessed.

Called

 

Isaiah 9:1-4

Matthew 4:12-23

From “The Message” paraphrase we hear these words: “A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.

 

Although not exactly a reflection of what is happening in this passage, images from the song “Suds in the bucket” flashed into my mind as I considered the emotions emerging as these two young men, trained to fulfill critical roles in the family business, take off to follow this son of a carpenter who is talking about establishing the Kingdom of God.

I could see Zebedee starin’ out the window scarchin’ and a rackin’ his brains.  How could 18 years just up and walk away?

They left “their tools” in the bucket and the nets hanging out on the line.

That image faded as I took a closer look at Zebedee in the passage.

He is mentioned three times in the two sentences describing James and John heading off with Jesus to go fishing for people.

James and John are identified as Zebedee’s sons,

Zebedee is the one identified to be in the boat with them, and

Zebedee is the one abandoned.

Yet there is no mention of Zebedee questioning who this Jesus is, no indication he thought the Call to his sons was misplaced, no parental yelling out to his sons pointing out their departure put the family business at risk.  No indication he invoked parental authority in anyway.

Maybe we don’t hear Zebedee’s voice because what is important to the passage is that James and John immediately answered the Call from Jesus, that they didn’t let anything hold them back, including family obligations.

If that is the case, we could arrive at the understanding that everyone’s call requires them to leave everything behind, to abandon people they love, to take immediate dramatic action if they are to follow Jesus.

Last week’s look at the disciples who went and stayed with Jesus for awhile, suggests sometimes it takes some time to consider the invitation Jesus extends.  Andrew and Simon Peter were among those who spent some time staying with Jesus.  If this passage reflects a later time, rather than a different telling of their Call, they had returned to what they knew how to do.  They hadn’t left to join Jesus yet, indicating they had to think about it for awhile.

Two who are called gathering more information and thinking about it before acting, and two who are called responding immediately.

One Call – that of following Jesus – ultimately accepted by all four of these fishermen turned disciples – yet the process for answering is somewhat different.

I think it is different for Zebedee as well.  Maybe we don’t hear Zebedee’s voice because we experience his role in the story in another way.  For some, his role is the one closest to our own experience.

Something in Zebedee’s parenting, his leadership in his family, the spiritual and business education and training he provided his children, his relationships with community, empowered his sons to recognize the importance of what Jesus called them to be.

It prepared them to recognize what being part of something greater than themselves as individuals meant, as well as how to work as a team.  In many ways we hear Zebedee in the actions of his son.

I think we also hear Zebedee’s voice in the evidence that he kept doing what he did best, providing food for his family and community.  When we find the disciples after Christ’s resurrection they are back fishing.  If the family business was dissolved, there wouldn’t have been anything to go back to.   It seems Zebedee answered the call to help build this God directed Kingdom in his own way, providing love, support, and sanctuary.

For many of us, that is how we answer the Call to Follow.  We build our relationship with God, family, and community.  We build teams that affirm, empower, and challenge the members.  We work to provide for not only ourselves, but our families and others.  We make our day in and day out decisions on what is best for building the Kingdom, looking to God for guidance through the life of Jesus as revealed by the Holy Spirit.

There are those calls on our lives which require we leave family and friends behind, travel to other places, connect with new teams.  They may come in short-term mission trips or in life-long commitments to a community struggling for physical as well as spiritual survival.

Several youth from our Annual Conference recently traveled to Nicaragua on a Mission of Peace this month where they experienced a different climate and culture, as well as laid concrete block and built relationships.  They answered a Call to connect with others in a place unlike what they know, to be part of the kingdom growing in a location far from their current home.

One of the women who attended undergraduate school with me has lived and worked with the Palestinian Christians for nearly 30 years.  She responded to a Call that took her far from her Mid-West farming roots, putting her in the position to make a difference in the lives of many who are just trying to survive in a hostile environment, answering a Call which led her to new relationships within the Kingdom.

One of members of the Rotary Club in Akron sold his business and his home, moving into the inner city to live and work with refugees who had to leave everything behind because of the conditions in their home country.  His Call was to leave everything behind in order to serve others.

Then there are those calls on our lives that require we stay where we are planted, like Zebedee.  Calls to share God’s love with those within and without our faith community.  Calls to build teams that can nurture and empower in such a way that decisions based on the values of God’s Kingdom are easy to discern and to live out.  Calls to sometimes provide the expertise and time, sometimes to provide the nourishment, and other times to provide the finances which share God’s love.

It is not easy to build the support system that launches our spiritual children out into the world in meaningful ways.  It takes deep spiritual roots of our own, a desire to serve God wherever and however called, a wisdom to know support roles are as critical as leadership roles, and the understanding God provides us with all of the talents and resources to respond to our Call.

The lessons we learn from James and John remind us to follow when Jesus Calls and to not let things, our perceptions of our skills, or what has been in the past hold us back.  Good lessons, but not the whole picture.  The lessons from Zebedee help us find ways to follow when our Call leads us to Kingdom build from where we are.

As members of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus brings near, we are a community first and individuals second, we are connected, bound together just as we sing in the hymn “Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.  Bind us together Lord, Bind us together Lord,  Bind us together with love.  There is only one God, and there is only one King. There is only one Body and that is why I sing!”

Jesus came to bring salvation to all people, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what kind of life they have led.  In Matthew we find him with a healing ministry in a land where the people at their best were seen as second class citizens of Judea.  The Greek word for healing reflecting the meaning of “attending to the needs of.”  People, particularly those who struggle in some area of their lives, need someone to attend to their needs, to listen and to care.  Those people are everywhere, even in our midst.

I believe Zebedee was as much a part of the team called to attend to the needs of others, as were the twelve who joined Jesus teaching, proclaiming the good news  of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.  His role just didn’t make headlines.

Jesus has called each of you this morning to be fishers of people.  To make every part of your lives a part of building up God’s Kingdom.  God has called us to serve God’s people through our vocations, through service organizations and schools, through food and clothing ministry, through volunteering and voting, through offering prayer and healing.  As Mother Theresa suggested:  We are called to “Spread the love of God through our life but to only use words when necessary.’

As the faith community known as the Abundant Harvest, we are answering that Call.  We reached out to many near and far over Christmas.  We are collecting for the local food pantry and bringing in shoes for those who have none in the Dominican Republic.  We work with and pray for one another that we may create a Kingdom culture that launches and supports all of us into the areas of ministry where we are uniquely called.  We are listening and watching for God’s direction.

What we believe and what we do are as interconnected as Zebedee’s nets.

As we look at this passage from the perspective of Zebedee this morning, I urge all of us to remember we are all called and are uniquely qualified to answer that Call in ever changing ways throughout our lives.  I am grateful to be part of this team and excited about the journey ahead.

The Invitation

Isaiah 49:1-7

John 1:29-42

“Come and See!” are familiar words, especially this time of year as friends or family stop by and we want to show them something we received or experienced as we celebrated Christmas.

Stopping by one of our daughter’s homes for the first time since all the family gatherings, the first words we heard from the grandchildren, even before the boots and coats came off, “Come and See!” what’s in my room.  Their enthusiasm had no room for patience and we needed to join them right now.

To fully experience what they wanted to share, we needed to stay with them for awhile, so they could show us everything.  Not only sharing what they received, but how it worked and what it did.

I have heard similar enthusiasm from some of you as you shared news of places you went, things you did, presents you received with others in our faith community.  Invitations to “Come and See,” the photos, the gifts, or other evidence of a great Christmas, all lifted with voices of joy.

Suggestions to go see “this movie,” or try out “this restaurant,” or “visit this store if you are in the market for one too,” dotting many conversations over the last few weeks.

This morning’s passage from John has elements similar to these experiences.  John the Baptizer is with his disciples and friends the day after he witnesses the heavens open, the Spirit of God descend like a dove and remain on Jesus, and the voice of God declare this is His Son.  John the Baptizer tells those gathered around him that he did not know Jesus, but it was the one who sent him to baptize with water who told him that, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

We know John knew Jesus.  They were cousins, John leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, expecting Jesus, came to visit his mother.  Likely they attended many family gatherings as children, playing and talking together.  Unlikely John was looking for the Messiah in his own family context.  Maybe not even thinking about family as he lived in the wilderness, growing in faith and preparing to answer the call on his life to pave the way for others to recognize the Lamb of God, the one sent to take away the sins of the world.

John was focused on living the life he heard God call him to live; trusting on the promises which were the basis of his faith.  He was living his faith without recognizing the man Jesus as the one who he called others to prepare to see, until that moment he experiences Jesus as the Son of God as Jesus comes to be baptized.  John lived the head knowledge of faith which allowed him the personal experience of faith in that moment.  Allowed him to notice God in that time and place.

I was asked last week if there is baptism in the Jewish faith.  I had to admit I didn’t know, so I looked it up.  Cleansing, washing is part of the Jewish faith.   It is baptism for the purpose of repentance for a special transgression, as is the case chiefly in the violation of the laws of purity; and is also to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God.  John and those at the river as Jesus came for baptism experienced God in a way they could not have foreseen.

Once he recognized who Jesus was, what Jesus was called to do, God’s promises made flesh, John was so excited he couldn’t contain himself, and he began to tell everyone, not only is the Lamb of God coming, He is here, He is Jesus!

John continued to diminish his own importance, to lift up the importance of Jesus, to point Jesus out to his own disciples as well as all those who would listen.  By the information we have, he didn’t become hurt and angry when people, including those closest to him, began following Jesus.   Once John experienced God among Us, his joy and enthusiasm could not be restricted and he kept answering God’s call on his life to point others to Jesus, to the best of his ability.

Living our faith, even when it seems we haven’t had a personal encounter with God or that it has been a long time, develops our ability to experience God in our lives.  It can come in a heaven opening God speaking to you moment.  It can come to you in the whisper of someone you love, or in witnessing how someone is trusting God with what seems overwhelming, unfair, tragic circumstances.

The disciples who leave John to follow Jesus, don’t instantly have a personal experience.  We don’t hear God’s voice telling them, “Great choice, glad you get it.”  We hear Jesus inviting them to “Come and See.”  They accept the invitation and take time to stay with him awhile.  Just as we needed to stay with our grandchildren awhile to fully experience what was bringing them joy, they need to stay awhile to experience Jesus.

Like John, Andrew’s reaction following this encounter is to invite others to come experience Jesus for themselves.  His first invitation is extended to his brother, Simon who accepts.  Jesus recognizes Simon, and immediately renames him Peter.

Lives were changed in these encounters with Jesus.  So much so John is open to continually inviting others to look to the One who is greater than he is, that those who leave John to follow Jesus mark the exact time they made that choice: 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and Simon receives a new name and new path in his faith journey.

Our personal experiences with God are as life changing and as important to telling God’s story of lifting the sins of the world, as are these recorded in scripture.

God equipped John the Baptizer, John the writer of this text, Andrew, Simon Peter, and generations of disciples with the experiences they need to recognize God, even if only with limited understanding.  Empowered and equipped through the Holy Spirit they tell us their stories of personal encounters with God.  Many of us have heard those stories from our parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, pastors, youth leaders, co-workers, and others.

The stories in scripture, joined with the stories of the moments we experienced God in our lives and the lives of others are how we can answer the invitation of Jesus to “Come and See.”

Jesus does pose a question to those considering following Him.  “What are you looking for?”  It is a question we need to answer for ourselves as we consider what following Jesus the Christ means in our faith journey.  If we are looking for a comfortable place, where everyone agrees with us, where we know which seat we will occupy, can quote what the format of every worship service is, and where our membership has privileges we may not be ready to answer His invitation.  If we are looking for a clearly written or articulated outline of where this decision takes us, I don’t think it is what Jesus offers.

Jesus does not offer a without challenges, hurt, and sorrow invitation.  He offers a journey which reveals the living God to us and to others through us.  He offers us an opportunity to stay with him wherever he is; to “Come and See” God working.  If we accept the invitation we need to keep moving forward.  The days behind us are not the good old days.  Once we encounter Christ we are changed.  Every time we encounter Christ we are changed.

We know it was at 4 o-clock in the afternoon, on Saturday, as we held the hand of someone recovering from a life-threatening illness, or 1:05 a.m. in the morning as we heard the cries of the newest member of our family, or 10 p.m. at night as we listened to the pain of a teenager trying to find their way in a world that doesn’t seem to recognize their potential, or 8 a.m. in the morning as we sit with someone transitioning to  be with their Lord, or 11:15 a.m. as a child gives us new insight into a Bible story we have heard more times than we can count.

As John recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God in his baptism, we will notice God in many ways in unexpected places when we are faithful to the journey and actively looking.  As John and Andrew enthusiastically shared their experiences of God with them and invited others to “Come and See,”  we can invite others with our stories.

Some of you may feel you don’t have a story to share or the skills which allow you to share it.  You are a follower of Christ, a part of the Kingdom of God.  That equips you.  You don’t need a degree in public speaking or story that involves a dove descending from the heavens.

Your story is the one someone needs to hear.

Your way of framing it is the important way.

It may be that you tell the story solely through the decisions they see you make and the way you respond to others, and they ask you the question equivalent to, “where are you staying?” opening the way to your sharing how you stay with Christ.

John started with his friends, Andrew with his brother.  Not in judgmental, this is how your path is the wrong one, way, but in a “Come and See,” how my life is changed because I met Jesus.

Sharing your story may not be met with instantaneous response.  The one with whom you share may not answer your invitation to an event or worship service the same day as Andrew did.  They may not recognize what is clear to you for a long time.  Remember Peter denied Jesus after journeying with him for three years.

As we continue this faith journey together, to look at the lives of others who have responded to the invitation to be disciples, we need to remember that a disciple shares the good news of Jesus Christ with someone else.  Inviting others in the most authentic way we can to come and see the Jesus we have seen.  To do so effectively we need a good understanding of why we made a decision to follow Jesus.

We need to share our story and trust God to work within us and others to develop the storylines which fit God’s purpose.  We need to be patient with people and give them the time and space they need, just as Jesus is patient with each of us.

As we move back into a week of school and work, and maybe some recreation, I encourage all of us to watch for God in our lives and in the lives of others, to share our faith stories when given an opportunity, and to invite others to share a prayer with us, to come to an event, or to a worship service, as we continue to answer the invitation of Jesus to “Come and See.”

Only A Beginning

“Get this one Done.”  That is the theme of a commercial currently running. It suggests that if eating one piece of broccoli, one carrot, or completing one yoga position, or one push up would protect us from health threatening situations we would do it.   The marketing tool is encouraging us to obtain a vaccine which is said to protect us from a certain kind of pneumonia.  However, in some ways, it leaves us with the message that there are actions in our lives which can be “One and Done”

As I worked through this morning’s passage on the baptism of Jesus, it struck me that all too often there is an element of viewing our own baptisms as a “one and done” vaccination which saves us.  A “nothing else required,” “eternal-life time guarantee,” “freedom to live life however we choose” – “one and done” event in our faith journey, checked off our “important to complete” list.

I have no idea if it is has ever been true here, but I have witnessed in other congregations, as a family faithfully attends worship until all have been baptized and then somehow, being among the faith community seems to become less pressing, and their attendance become more and more sporadic. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until all are confirmed, but I have witnessed families abruptly invest their time in other priorities once they feel their “one and done” faith journey protection is in place.

As a church, we revisit the Baptism of Jesus each year after Epiphany. It is an opportunity for us to remember our baptism and the commitment we made or which we affirmed at our confirmation, to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

Our commitment to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves and to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, putting our whole trust in his grace, and promising to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Revisiting this covenant can easily become routine, annoying, or just another part of the church year.  A nice something to remember, but offering little in the way of changing anything in our day to day lives.  After all, most of us here have been baptized and we may be thinking baptism is an outward sign of God’s work in us, we do only need to be baptized once, so it is “One and done,” Let’s move on.

This year I suggest we take a closer look at the example Jesus set for all of us who follow Him and open ourselves to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit creating something new within us as we remember His baptism, and our own.

Jesus didn’t need to be baptized by John.  John was calling people to repent of their sins, to turn directly toward God, focusing on God’s priorities and perspectives rather than their own as we considered in the Advent message “Turn.”

Jesus was without sin, already focused on God’s call on his life.  John clearly understood that it was Jesus who should baptize him, not he who should baptize Jesus.  Martin Luther offered this statement as a way to understand Jesus’ own baptism, “Not water alone, but the Word of God ‘in and with the water’.”  Jesus – The Word made flesh – in and with the water of the Jordan.  Jesus didn’t come to be baptized for his own repentance; he came offering himself as the answer to John’s call for all people to repent[1]. Experiencing the fullness of what it means to be human, he showed us how to respond to God’s call on our lives.

His ministry and saving actions on our behalf did not end with his baptism. In Matthew’s text, the baptism of Jesus is the beginning of his ministry. His launching. His commissioning to begin the public ministry for which he was created and to which he was called.

His identity was affirmed as John and all those gathered at the river heard God’s words, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”, and saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove out of the heavens which opened to him.  But, His baptism was about more than offering himself for God’s purpose and having his identity affirmed, it was about the journey ahead, the developing, deepening identity of Jesus as he fulfilled the promises of God to all of us.  It was about staying focused on becoming all the Father had called him to be.  It led him on a journey which took him to the cross, to the depths of evil, resurrected, and now interceding on our behalf.

As the prophet Isaiah reflects God’s ideal of a good spiritual leader, Jesus was a righteous spiritual leader whose life changes the world.  A leader who leads with God’s direction, bringing healing, hospitality, and justice.  We see Jesus, who has all the power, willingly take on the role of servant, giving us a definition of leadership which reflects love rather than domination or supremacy, which encourages all to be who God calls us to be, affirming and unifying rather than dividing and conquering.

Our identity as children of God is affirmed in our baptism as we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church, incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.   Christ’s body, the Church, agrees to nurture one another in the Christian faith and life, reaffirms both the rejection of sin and commitment to Christ; Promises to proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ with God’s help.  The covenants made at our baptism include the church surrounding each of us with a community of love and forgiveness that we may grow in our trust of God and be found faithful in our service to others.  Promises are made that we pray for one another that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.

Baptism is not an end to our faith journey, it is only a beginning.  The water symbolizing that even when we do not recognize it for ourselves, God’s grace is within us.  Encountering the living Lord may happen at the time of our baptism, or sometime later.  That encounter, or encounters ,coming differently for each of us, but coming to us as the heavens opening up and the voice of God speaking directly to us.  Every person is different, and God speaks to each of us in the way that we can most easily hear. God continually reaches out to us in love, at work in our lives.

As we hear that claim on our lives, hear the words “this is my son or daughter, my beloved in whom I am well pleased,” our response should be to cultivate our lives so there is good soil in which our seeds of faith can grow.  We need to bear fruit that is so heavy and sweet with God’s love that everyone who meets us is able to see we are disciples of Jesus Christ.[2]

Every aspect of the life of Jesus reflected God’s call on his life even when different choices would have made him an earthly king or would have saved him from the cross.

It should be the same for us.  With the teaching of scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the nurturing we have promised one another as members of the body of Christ, we can develop and deepen our identity in Christ, becoming all God has called us to become, casting aside the distractions of the world.

I suspect that those gathered this morning are disciples who recognize that our spiritual lives are not a “One and Done” event, and as such we are called to continually deepen our response to God’s call on our lives, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  We are called to name and claim our own personal faith stories and to practice sharing those stories with those who are in our faith community as well as those we come in contact with outside of these walls.

Just as the baptism of Jesus was only the beginning of his ministry to and through us, our baptism does not complete our spiritual journey.  Our call to follow Christ’s example in all areas of our lives is stronger today, than when we began the journey.  Let us remember our baptism with grateful hearts that we are joined with Christ and through Christ can share God’s love with all.

We begin the Church season after Epiphany with a new series: “Come and See.”  We will come together to see what following Jesus means and what he teaches about life that is truly life.  It is designed with the hope we will strengthen our life and ministry, as well as begin to invite others to consider walking this journey with us.  That we will invite those once connected who haven’t been here in awhile, as well as those who have no faith community, to “Come and See” what Jesus is about and what following him with you might mean for them.

Some of you have already begun that inviting.  On more than one occasion as Ken and I have had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to people in the Medina area, we have heard the words, “Oh, you are the new pastor, I’ve heard good things about you.”  It is great we are generating a positive feeling about our congregation, and thank you all for the kind words, however, it is so much more than comments about Ken and I.  How each of us act and talk in the community can draw people to “Come and See” the Christ we serve, or it can push people away.  My prayer is our lives will so reflect the work begun by God in each of us, that others will be drawn to “Come and See,” and we will begin to actively invite them.

As we prepare for the New Year and this new series I am inviting you to join me in the Wesley Covenant prayer which John Wesley encouraged all Methodists to share as a new year began, to remind us of the covenant we made at our baptism.  You received a copy with your bulletin.  Please join me:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

 

[1] (Feasting on the Word, Loc 8543)

[2] Dawn Chesser Baptism of the lord Preaching Notes page 6 of 7