A New Action – January 21, 2018

Last week, my sister was teaching her kindergarten class about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and she was explaining why there needed to be change. A long time ago, she explained to the five-year-olds, if you were one color – you had to use one bathroom, and if you a different color – you had to use a separate bathroom. She listed the variety of ways people were divided along racial lines, along lines of wealth and poverty, along lines of gender and identity and at the conclusion of that explanation, one of the children spoke up, “Well, that’s just CRAZY! It doesn’t make any sense.”

And it doesn’t. And that five-year-old kindergartener saw the absurd harm we humans inflict on others and on ourselves: That 5-year-old saw with the eyes of God. No matter who we are and where we come from, no matter our skin color, our culture, our identity, we are all beloved by God.

Recently, there has been some discussion about what “kind” of people we welcome inside the borders of our country. Do we like Norwegians better than Haitians? Do we want more Scandinavians and  fewer Africans? Can anything good come from Nigeria? from Mexico? from Pakistan and India? from the Philipines? Does God exist in any other country, any other people, than our own?

In light of this discussion, our scripture from Psalm 139 is striking: God knows us inside and out, our ways and our thoughts. God formed our “Inward parts” and intricately wove us together.  And because God knows us so well, there is no place we can go to hide from God:

7Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, (the ancient Hebrew word for Hell,) you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If God knows each of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, formed each of us to be the unique people we are, if we are God’s beloved family, then how do we behave in this world – to honor the God that made us, the God that holds us, the God that finds us when we are lost?

We continue with our January sermon series with a subject close to my heart: A New Action! This subject follows our last weeks celebration of renewal of our baptismal vows for a reason – We make vows at baptism, and if we are too young – our parents and supporting adults make vows for us. In those vows we promise several things:

As an exercise this morning, I would like you to turn in your United Methodist Hymnal to page 34 at the very beginning of the book. You will notice that in this section of the Hymnal (and additionally in the back), several of our holy events – Baptism, Holy Communion, Marriage and Funeral services – are laid out for us to follow. And on Page 34 – section 4, we have the “Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith” section of the Baptismal vows: What do they include?

  1. The first is to renounce sin and wickedness in living. This is an acknowledgement that life will change – the way we are living before baptism and the way we live afterward should be different… whether in meaning or intention or motives, or behavior… Our claim of discipleship should be recognizable to others and to ourselves.
  1. The second is to accept the freedom God gives us and use that freedom for Good. God has blessed us with freedom to choose, and in that freedom there is always an opportunity to make a choice that will increase the Evil in the world- the greed, selfishness, separation from God, etc. etc. etc… and this second promise is a way to pledge to ourselves, to our community and to God that we will use our freedom to increase the Good – the love, joy, peace and hope –in the world.
  1. The third is a promise to confess Jesus Christ – to trust him and promise to serve him. And here is where it gets tricky: what does that mean? Notice we don’t promise to “believe in Jesus Christ” … Belief is neither here nor there… it’s inconsequential. The book of James, chapter 2, asks the ancient disciples of Jesus Christ, “ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  (James 2: 14-17)

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, following and serving this particular leader, means our actions must be an example of the way he would act if he were here on earth. The clichéd motto of the 1990’s becomes real: What would Jesus Do – in this situation or in this decision. How would Jesus react? What steps would Jesus take to ensue the well-being of others? How would Jesus react to the “spiritual forces of wickedness” we face in this world? And then… as his disciples, we attempt to walk in Jesus’ steps. That’s the tough part of discipleship.

Let’s take a look at his calling of Phillip and Nathaniel to try and understand how to proceed – to try to discern our NEW ACTION for 2018:

John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’

First – who is this Philip and why would Jesus be looking for him? Philip is described in the gospels as a disciple from the city of Bethsaida, which is also the hometown Andrew and Peter (John 1:43–44) and Nathanial.  “Philip” is a Greek name, indicating that he was a Greek speaker, thus introducing the idea that Jesus was not only a Savior for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. So perhaps in this way – if we believe the Psalm text – God knows us inside and out and so perhaps Jesus was searching for Philip – seeking his skills, his connections, the special contributions he could make to the movement – and that day, Jesus FOUND Philip.

But this Greek word (Heurisko) – used here as “to find” –  can also be understood in this way: “to learn the location of something, either by intentional searching or by unexpected discovery;” and “to learn something previously not known, frequently involving an element of surprise.” (1)

It is the aspect of “unexpected discovery” or “surprise” that isn’t translated well by our word “to find,” and this aspect of surprise and discovery, in my opinion, is used we Philip speaks to Nathanial.

45Philip (sought after and) 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.’ “ Surprise Nate! Guess who we just discovered!” You see, they already knew of this person – this one whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote. They were  – in there own way – looking for him and surprise, there he was!

This use of the Greek word “to find” is also seen in another example:

According to legend, Hiero II tasked Archimedes to find a method for determining whether a crown was pure gold or mixed with silver. One day when Archimedes stepped into his bath and noticed that the water rose as he sat down, (he suddenly understood the water/density ratio) and he ran out of the house naked shouting, “Eureka! Eureka!” (which means “I have found [it]” – a form of the same verb). 

“Archimedes did not ‘find’ this truth by searching after it — although he may have spent days thinking about a solution to the problem. His ‘find’ came as an unexpected surprise. It’s almost as if the truth found him more than he finding the truth. It was something that was there all the time. He may have noticed the rising bathtub water hundreds of times before, but its significance didn’t “click” in his brain until that “eureka” moment.” (2)

46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’

Nathanael is skeptical and begins his discipleship with an insult. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s unexpected. It’s too much to even consider. A Savior from the “bad part of town?” Nathanael  is much like we are – skeptical, reluctant, a realist. Based on what he knows of life and culture and faith, he thinks a Savior from Nazareth is unlikely. But Philip invited him. “Come and See.”

In these words, Nathaniel is invited into relationship. “Come and See?” It is encouragement to not make a judgement without being informed, and invitation witness for himself. “Come and See”.

Do we think our country is better than others? Do we think we are a superior people? Do behold “our culture” in a higher esteem, above all others? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? “Come and See.”  Come, be in relationship with Haitians and Nigerians. Come meet people and experience their lives, their struggles, their joys. Before you pass judgement on others, Come and See what God is doing in THEIR lives.

How do we respond to the invitation to “Come and See?” Do we politely decline? Do we avoid the invitation, crowding our calendar with other invitations? Do we accept and then cancel at the last minute? “Come and See.”

If we come and see, if we truly see what God can do in this world, with our help with our gifts and talents, with the love and joy for others, with the pursuit of peace and health and care for all God’s children… we will be COMPELLED into action.

You see, when we recognize the grace God has given us, when we see the life God has created for us – a life of joy and love and peace and justice, we have no choice – we accept our place – like Nathanael did – in the movement of Jesus Christ, as a disciple in this movement to be his hands and feet in this world.

Come and See. And THEN be the people God created us to be.

I will close today with a poem from St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic and Carmelite nun, who devoted herself to understanding the glory of God. She wrote:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. (3)

May we recognize that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, may we recognize God’s great work in this world, may we love our brothers and sisters no matter where they come from, may we accept our place in the family of God to be the hands and feet of God in this world. And may God bless us, everyone.

  1. Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john1x43.htm
  2. Stoffregen.
  3. St. Teresa of Avila, found on http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml