Sunday, January 27 2019
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)
Last week, I asked our congregation to remember the time when they believed, truly believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. I mentioned that we all come to Christ in different ways and we sometimes wander off the path. God invites us into relationship through the person of Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He goes to the synagogue in his home town. He pulls out the lesson from the scroll and reads to them. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)
Each of us is invited to be the light of Christ in a darkened world. This week in bible study someone mentioned that we might not be enough to overcome all the darkness in the world, but we can shine our light to those around us and that might just be able to start a ripple effect. Since the day that Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, followers have been commissioned to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I ask you to find a bible passage that helps you to stay focused on our mission at St. John’s of knowing Christ and making Him known. We are called to love others as Christ loves us.
I have chosen Romans 8:38-39 because I realize that forces of darkness are always out there, but nothing can come between me and my relationship with Jesus Christ. I ask you to focus on a piece of scripture that helps you to stay focused on being the light (love) of Christ to those around you. Our parish is poised to fulfill the scripture right here and now. Please pray that wherever you might be, Christ will deepen his relationship with you. Please invite your friends, family, and neighbors to join us at St. John’s as we grow our presence and ministry of hospitality in Huntington.
Our warden, Scott Cooley mentioned that this is the time of year when new members join one of the many ministries that we do at St. John’s. If you are new to St. John’s, please join us next week on February 3rd at a special time of 9:30am for service and for the annual meeting from 11:00-12:00. Our Breakfast Group, Thrift Shop, Spirituality Group, Racial Reconciliation Committee, Hilda’s Guild, Bible Study, Prayer Shawl Ministry, HIHI, Confirmation, New Members Classes, Altar Guild, Vestry, Choir, ECW, and Youth Group would love to have you join them in their ministry. You too will unroll that scroll from Isaiah and exclaim, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Amen. Amen.
In Christ’s love,
Sunday, January 20 2019
On this weekend we remember the work and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, the issue of the day was forced segregation on city buses. Pastors gathered at a local Baptist Church to come up with a strategy to deal with the injustice. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white person and moving to the back of the bus. They tossed a few ideas around, but couldn’t settle on a single strategy until a young pastor volunteered to lead a boycott and civil disobedience. We segregated everything from schools to drinking fountains on the basis of ethnicity at that time in our history. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a perfect person, but when he had the courage to take action, he radically changed this country. He was called by God to lead the people of this nation to be transformed to a new place and it wouldn’t come without a cost.
I believe that people are called constantly by God, but we are too afraid of the consequences or too distracted to hear the voice of God. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which we studied in Advent. This letter was his response to the "A Call for Unity" where clergymen had criticized him and argued that social injustices existed, but needed to be resolved solely in the courts and not in the churches or the streets. His letter explained clearly that justice is a matter that we need to bring into the streets and into our churches. Dr. King argued that civil disobedience was justified in the face of unjust laws and was necessary if change was to occur.
I believe that it takes courage to transform ourselves into what God calls us to be. I agree with Dr. King that we should live in this new place where justice and equality prevail. We start by treating everyone with dignity and respect. We offer hospitality to all, food to the hungry, cloths to the naked, living water to the thirsty, and freedom to the oppressed. Let’s keep politics out of our conversation, but not be restrained from doing what is right. How do oppressed people get the respect and dignity that they deserve? Their hope lies in the abundance of God’s love. Jesus came that we might have the abundant life that turns water into wine and helps the poor, the orphaned and the hungry. Jesus teaches not only what this new place looks like, but shows us the path that we must take.
We have all the tools and resources that we need to make this an incredible year at St. John’s. Jesus, who can turn water into wine, can transform us into this new place, if we have the courage to take action. But it does not come without a cost. I would like every member of our parish to think about how they can bring the love of God to the community of Huntington. We promise in our Baptismal Covenant to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Perhaps you could help with the Thrift Shop, join our Racial Reconciliation Ministry, invite a friend to a service or one of our events, or just make a commitment to attend services regularly. God can do amazing things if we will only have the faith and courage to be a part of the transformation.
In Christ’s love,
Sunday, January 13 2019
Almost 40 years ago, Nancy Fees wrote a song titled I Have Called You by Name, a song that focuses, in part, on baptism and its attendant responsibilities. Below are the refrain and the third verse:
Refrain: I have called you by name and you are mine.
Verse 3: I have washed you in refreshing cleansing waters;
I have included only this verse because it is the one linked most closely to baptism and this morning's gospel.
At baptism, even at the baptism of Jesus, is the call of Jesus Christ that summons each of us from whatever we are doing as it echoes through the pews of our churches, the corridors of our work places, the streets of our towns, and calls each of us by name as it proclaims, “Take up your cross and follow me.” One of the first things one notices about Nancy's song is that it is an attempt to articulate a simple truth about God's desire to maintain a special relationship with his people, a special relationship initiated in baptism as the child is named. Though the child does not yet know it, though the parents perhaps haven't thought much about it, this is the moment that one can begin to discover just who he is. In the process of that discovery, one's entire existence begins to be re-shaped and takes on new substance. This simple act of naming and calling declares ultimately that who one is gives way to who one is in Jesus Christ.
Nancy's song commences with the refrain and we are plunged immediately into an affirmation of the integral nature of God's relationship with us. That relationship is announced in all tenses—past, present, and future—and is repeated at the end of each verse: God has called us; we are his; he will keep us. Cemented in the fact that each of us bears the divine imprint and is meant to reflect the Lord as he lives in us, we discover an intimacy that is deeper than any human relationship. To live this out is to enter into the process of who we really are.
The final verse (printed above) recalls for us our baptisms, that ancient rite that incorporated each of us into Christ's body, the Church. To be “washed in refreshing, cleansing waters” is not some empty ritual, but an act that refreshes, that renews, that erases the stain of sin. Fully initiated into Christ's body, we are now prepared for what Alan Jones defines as the “journey into Christ.” When we “go into the world as [his] disciples” to “share [his] light,” we confess that he is the blueprint for what it means to be fully and gloriously human. As we continue our journeys into the risen Christ that were begun at baptism, let us remember the call of our names imagined by Fr. John Stott, Anglican priest, biblical scholar, and evangelist: “Yes, I do know who I am, a new person in Christ, and by the grace of God I shall live accordingly.”
With all blessings,
Sunday, January 06 2019
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen. (Psalm 72:18-19).
In my Christmas sermon this year, I preached about how God comes into this messy world in a position of vulnerability and powerlessness. God loves us so much that he came down to live with us, that we might know him and he might know us. God came down into this dark, messy world because he loves us. The God who takes on our flesh does not ignore the darkness but shines in the very midst of it. God transforms vulnerability into power when we are willing and open to God. This can come to us as an Epiphany when we see everything in the light of Christ instead of looking out from the darkness of humanity in its present condition. While one force makes us angry, selfish, envious, prideful, lustful, and greedy, God shines a new light that allows us to be humble, patient, self-giving, generous, and kind. Through the person of Jesus Christ, everything in the world looks different. Epiphany is when we reorient ourselves to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Our future looks very bright at St. John’s because we are willing to reorient our lives to the way God intended. The light of Christ is the hospitality we show to newcomers and strangers. From our ushers to our congregation, to our breakfast team, we offer everyone a friendly, hot meal after service. The light of Christ is the outreach that the ECW does in our community. Please support our ECW in every way you can in the coming year. The light of Christ is the passing of our faith to the next generation. Through our Sunday school, first communion classes, confirmation, and youth group, we share the light of Christ to our children and youth. The last way we shine the light of Christ is by bringing others to faith. Please invite your friends and neighbors to join us at St. John’s. We are growing because people come into our church and want to be a part of the Jesus Movement with us. Our priorities remain hospitality, outreach, children and youth ministry, and growth. I ask every member to think about how you might help us in these four areas of ministry in 2019.
As we approach our 275th anniversary at St. John’s in 2020, I would encourage every member to open your hearts to the love of God. Jesus will teach us through the Gospel of Luke this year to transform ourselves, our families, and our community to this love of God. The power of the Holy Spirit shines brightly in the darkness when we are open to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. I ask you in this New Year to commit yourself to the Jesus Movement in our church. God is doing wondrous things at St. John’s and I believe that this can be another amazing year. May we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and praise God’s name forever.
In Christ’s love,