Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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8:30 am & 10:45 am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: faith

Come and See

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."


There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months about my son Kyle’s upcoming birthday. Mostly, Kyle has been the one talking about it a lot over the last few months. Not only does this occasion make us think about presents to buy and cake to bake, it also helps Lindsey and I remember that cold day in January in Paducah, Kentucky, when Kyle was born. 

I remember how I couldn’t wait to share the news when each of my children were born. I called both sets of parents, sent text messages to friends, and posted pictures to Facebook as soon as I could. By the time I returned to work I had a picture album that I brought to the office to show everyone. 

Making an announcement like that is a unique experience. It is news that we simply have to share; and we never think or care about how people will respond. So many other times when we convey information to other people we wonder how they will respond to it. But not so with a birth announcement. We’re so happy and so confident our baby is the most beautiful one ever born, that we share the news without much thought.

I’d like you to take a moment to think about a time in your life when you felt compelled to share news without thinking how anyone would respond. Perhaps it was when you bought your first car or house; when you became engaged; etc. 

There’s a wonderful example of this in today’s Gospel. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he finds Philip and calls him to follow. And he does. And not only does Philip follow Jesus but just as importantly, he is compelled to go and tell someone else about Jesus.

Philip tells Nathanael, who, apparently, seems like a guy with quite a negative attitude! Nathanael, if you recall from today’s gospel, makes a smart aleck remark about nothing good coming out of Nazareth – a town that people view from afar with disdain and prejudice, as if the people from there are less than human or at least unworthy of welcoming to their town. (Which just might be a sentiment one could still encounter in our world today....ahem...say, perhaps in relation to Africa and Haiti...ahem.)

Surely Philip knew that Nathanael would react negatively to his invitation. We can assume they were apparently good friends; after all, aren’t good friends usually the first recipients of our good news? Philip probably figured that he would scoff, or make fun of him, or ignore him all together. But Philip goes and tells him anyway. Apparently this news was too good not to share, especially with such a good friend.

And I think what's just as admirable is Philip doesn’t throw up his hands in exasperation in response to Nathanael's dismissive remark. He doesn't retort something back, as I think I might. Or get defensive, as I know I would. Or walk away hurt or angry, vowing never to share anything with Nathanael again. No, he doesn't do any of these things. Instead, he just takes it in stride and answers, "come and see." 

The good news of the story is that Nathanael overcomes his prejudice and bigotry. If his heart had proven completely hardened against the people of Nazareth; if he held so tightly to his worldview and infantile understanding of God, he would have missed out on the salvation that had just entered his life. 

So, Nathanael goes and sees…albeit reluctantly. And his life is forever changed once he too meets Jesus.

“Come and see.” Such simple, open, and inviting words. Words, I think, that sum up the Christian calling. “Come and see” is the only fit response when you encounter Jesus and fall in love. These are the words we are compelled to share with others who are seeking something more from life.

Now, my initial impulse was to let this message conclude with a comment about how we need to invite people to our church. That our worship experience should compel us to go out and invite friends and neighbors to join us on Sunday mornings. More importantly, that we should be compelled to invite without any regard for how people would respond. 

And while that message is true, it actually misses the more important point of the gospel. You see, Jesus was never concerned about filling the pews or getting warm bodies into the temple or putting more coins in the offering plate. To suggest that these should be the primary goals of our Christian life would be downright disrespectful to the truth of the gospel and Christ himself.
Don’t get me wrong, as a leader of a congregation, I like the idea of higher attendance, warm bodies, and more offering in the plates. And those are things that I work on. But as your pastor, my primary responsibility is help you identify God’s active presence in every aspect of your life. 

Once we understand that God is as organically a part of us as our skin, or our eyes, or our hearts, then we can embrace the love of a God who created you and leads you through life.

And once we embrace God’s love and presence in our lives and encounter transformation ourselves, then we have no choice but to tell others about our faith and invite them to experience and embrace the love of a God for themselves. 

As a leader of an organization I do want you to go and invite people to become a part of this church. But as a follower of Christ, what I want more is for you to go and invite people to meet Jesus and be transformed by him - to come and see.

It’s one thing to invite people to church; for many people it’s even harder still to talk about our faith. But, in the end, we don’t have the choice -- the news is so good that we simply have to share it, especially with the people we care about. And if they aren't interested, or dismiss what we're saying, or make some smart aleck response, like, “What good could come from Cross of Grace,” that’s okay. 

We know that the good news of God's love for us and all the world can be hard to believe. We can understand that this news is so good it may seem too good to be true. So it's okay if they're not sure or walk away. It's not our job to convert, just to invite. 

“Come and see.” Over time, with practice, these are words anyone can say. Philip said them. We can say them. Maybe not right away, but over time, with practice, these are words all of us can say... and eventually might even enjoy saying. Because sharing something that matters to you with someone that matter is, as Philip found out, is what life is all about.

Amen

Christmas, Huh? – Luke 1:26-38

I’m grateful to look out on such a large gathering of people. I know that there were many other places you could have gone this evening. I’m not just talking about going out for Chinese food for dinner or staying home to watch A Christmas Story five times in a row. You could have gone to many other churches which would have proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ birth. Most of the other churches you could have gone to would have presented a message along these lines: Isn’t it so wonderful that God came to the earth as Jesus so that one day he could grow up and die in order for everyone who believes in him to go to heaven.

You could have heard that message elsewhere. But you chose to come here; and if you’ve ever worshipped with us before, you’ve noticed that Pastor Mark and I like to present the good news in a way that you don’t hear anywhere else. I hope you came here expecting to hear better news than what typically gets labeled as good news. 

It is good news that God came to earth in the form of a human called Jesus. But here’s better news: according to John’s gospel, God has always been present in creation. God existed in every facet of the earth and human existence even before Jesus was born in the stable. Just as incredibly, God is every bit as present in every inch of creation today.

It is good news that our faith in God leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. But here’s better news: forgives and reconciliation is possible only because God has faith in us. 

It is good news that Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of Heaven. But here’s better news: the Kingdom of Heaven is a reality that transcends time and space, meaning we can participate in its reality here and now. 

It is good news that Jesus was miraculously born to a virgin. But here’s better news: still today God miraculously works and miraculously reveals God’s self in and among the outcasts of society; just as God was revealed in two thousand years ago in a pregnant unwed teenage girl, stinky and despised shepherds, backwater unimportant towns, and entire tribes oppressed by ruthless empires. 

In order to proclaim the better news of the gospel, I’d like to take us back a bit in the story, roughly nine months prior to Jesus’ birth.

According to the first chapter of the gospel of Luke: 

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, ‘Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!’ 

But she was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ 

Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.

Then Mary said, ‘Here I am, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me just as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”

Mary’s three responses to the angel establish a profound pattern of faithfulness – a pattern that show up in our own lives whenever the divine confronts us in powerful and mysterious ways.

When God pronounces favor and blessing on Mary, her response is “Huh?” 

That’s not a common theological word, but I think it’s the best one to get the concept across. God’s word is inherently confusing and discombobulating. Contrary to the Christian hymn, oftentimes, God’s word is less a lamp unto our feet and more like a strobe light whose halting rays of light cause us to question the reality of what exactly we’re seeing.

The first movement of Christmas faith is to receive the word of God and let it disrupt everything you thought you already knew. If you hear a spiritual idea and your response is “Yeah, I already knew that” or “Sure, that makes sense” then you probably need to adjust your spiritual radio dial. God’s word of truth and beauty is always initially unsettling. 

Isn’t that better news? Doesn’t it seem like the solutions to the issues facing our world are yet to be uncovered from unexpected people and places? Doesn’t it make sense that there is truth and beauty beyond everything you already know and have experienced? God’s truth and beauty disrupts because divine truth and beauty cannot be contained within the human heart or mind. Therefore we are called to pursue truth and beauty, in whomever it shows up and wherever leads us.

The second movement of Christmas faith is to ask “How?” 

The divine calls us beyond the self-imposed limits of our body, mind, and soul. The divine leads us to say, “Who, me? I could never do that.” This was Mary’s second response to the angel. The angel countered, “You’re right, YOU can’t do that; but nothing is impossible for God.”

Once you have acknowledged your discomfort at a new idea and sworn that the thing it requires from you is impossible, you are ready for the third movement of Christmas faith: the movement of saying, “Here I am, let’s do this.”

If nothing is impossible for a God who loves all of creation and is a part of all of creation, then our call will be to do the impossible. 

The impossibility of a thing is precisely what makes it a miracle. The Christmas story is a miraculous story about light coming in darkness to people on the outside edges of society with no hope. 

It is a story of people responding to God’s impossible claim of love with the words, “Huh?” “How?” and “Here I am.”

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It is a story about movement from certainty to confusion; from confusion to questioning; from questioning to trust; from trust to action.

The glory of the Christmas story isn’t just in its historical truth, but in that it is happening right now; in your heart, in this church, in this community, in this nation, and in this world.

For inspiration, some you might need something more artistic than a three point bullet list, so here’s a beautiful poem, “Annunciation” by Denise Levertov. It is a depiction of the moment before Mary’s resounding, “Here I am.”

 

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 

almost always a lectern, a book; always

the tall lily.

       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,

the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,

whom she acknowledges, a guest.

 

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.

       The engendering Spirit

did not enter her without consent.

         God waited.

 

She was free

to accept or to refuse, choice

integral to humanness.

 

She had been a child who played, ate, slept

like any other child–but unlike others,

wept only for pity, laughed

in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence

fused in her, indivisible.

 

Called to a destiny more momentous

than any in all of Time,

she did not quail,

  only asked

a simple, ‘How can this be?’

and gravely, courteously,

took to heart the angel’s reply,

the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb

Infinite weight and lightness; to carry

in hidden, finite inwardness,

nine months of Eternity; to contain

in slender vase of being,

the sum of power–

in narrow flesh,

the sum of light.

 

                     Then bring to birth,

push out into air, a Man-child

needing, like any other,

milk and love–

 

but who was God.

 

This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.

 

A breath unbreathed,

                                Spirit,

                                          suspended,

                                                            waiting.

 

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

She did not submit with gritted teeth,

                                                       raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,

                                  consent illumined her.

 

The room filled with its light,

the lily glowed in it,

                               and the iridescent wings.

Consent,

              courage unparalleled,

opened her utterly.

____________________

My Christmas wish is that you would have courage to utterly open yourself up to God; 

that you would hear divine truth that surpasses all your current wisdom and experiences, leading you to say, “Huh?” 

that you would feel God asking you to do something impossible even though you can’t understand how. 

and that you, as brave as the bravest of all humans, would say, “Here I am, let’s do this.”

Amen. Merry Christmas.

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.