Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, January 23, 2011

space to follow (1.23.11)

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

Matthew 4:12-23
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

There was something compelling about Jesus that made people come and listen. There was something special that made Peter and Andrew, James and John leave everything to follow him. There’s something amazing about Jesus that keeps calling to our souls today, even when we can’t put it into words.

His core message as Matthew tells it today was straightforward: “Repent. The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

There’s something about repentance and the kingdom that makes us perk up our ears. Maybe it’s because we long for God’s kingdom. We long for the feeling of true peace that comes with resting in God’s arms. We long for creation to be made whole; we long for peace and justice in our world. We long to know that someone else is in charge, that everything is finally taken care of. We recognize God’s calling and in the depth of our soul we long to be with God. So hearing that the kingdom of heaven has come near fills us with joy and excitement.

But our joy is always tinged with guilt, colored by sorrow. We know we’ve made choices that separate us from God. When we hear the message about repentance and the kingdom, we feel a stab of homesickness and regret, but we also glimpse a ray of hope.

Maybe the reason Jesus is so compelling is that his call to repentance is an invitation to all of us. We’re so aware of our sin and separation from God we wonder if there’s even a place for us in God’s kingdom. We wonder if maybe we’re so far gone that God doesn’t want us. Jesus touches the part of us that worries and doubts. He heals the pain inside us, because his ministry shows that God wants to bring all of us home.

Here Jesus walks down the seashore and calls out to fishermen to follow him. In Luke’s version of the same story Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, go away from me; I’m a sinful man.” But Jesus won’t go away. Instead Jesus keeps calling sinners like Peter and Andrew, sinners like you and me to come and follow. Repentance and forgiveness makes space for us to follow Jesus.

Sometimes Christ’s calling pressures us to work harder, and sometimes we feel that demand too clearly in a church like ours. This church has deep roots. Many here have rich memories of childhood here. Many also carry the burden of the way things used to be. There are so many things we feel have to get done and there are not so many of us to do them.

We work hard, sometimes too hard, to make sure the important things in the church get done. We work so hard that sometimes we start to feel overwhelmed or even resentful. We know when we come to church we will find not only the warm welcome of friends, but also questions and reminders of tasks yet to do. Sometimes we feel like church is all work, and we wonder if following Jesus always has to be so hard.

Alongside the strain that we feel, we hear the beautiful words Sally read:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

This is not the voice of someone putting together the next committee meeting or stressing over table arrangements. This is the voice of someone simply trusting in God’s care and resting in the joy of worship. This is the voice of someone simply glad to be in the temple of the Lord.

How do we create space for ourselves and space for others to relax and enjoy the sweetness of the Lord? How do we balance the call to follow and the need to refresh? How do we balance the needs of our congregation and our world with the quiet, often neglected needs of our souls?

Sometimes it means letting things go. I often hear about how we used to do dinners every month. This church does a great job with that kind of hospitality, and the dinners I’ve been part of here have been great fun. At the same time, the dinners are a ton of work. With work schedules, soccer practice, responsibilities for children and parents not many of us have time to pour hours and hours into a dinner on a regular basis.

This church was wise to recognize that the dinners were wearing people out and that something needed to change. Now we have a few dinners each year. Getting ready for the dinner is still a lot of work, but the excitement makes up for the challenge and there is time between dinners for everyone to be refreshed. Right now two, maybe three dinners a year feels about right. Letting something go made it more fun.

There may be other things we need to let go as well. At the annual meeting next week I’d like to brainstorm some of the things that sap your energy and take away your joy at being in God’s house. My suspicion is that we can drop some of those things entirely. For other ministries we can bring others in to help carry the load; there may be people here who want to help but don’t know whom to ask or what to look for. And even with difficult jobs, it’s usually more fun to do with someone else that to do it alone.

God is calling us to some new things, some new ways of engaging with the community, some new ways of working with others for justice. God is also calling us to old things like prayer, scripture and fellowship. As we seek God’s way forward we’re also called to pay attention to our need to rest in God’s arms. We all need space to refresh, relax and open ourselves to God’s healing touch. We need space to follow joyfully.

The disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus, not because they felt a sense of obligation to get the work done, but because they wanted to be close to Jesus. We are called to create space here where people can hear Christ’s call and feel the joy of resting in God’s presence. Sometimes the best way to do that is to strip away the extra stuff that weighs us down. When we enjoy worship and fellowship here more we will be more likely to invite and welcome others enthusiastically.

Our wider church recently took a small but important step in welcoming everyone to follow Jesus. For more than twenty years the Presbyterian Church has wrestled with the issue of sexuality. The debate focuses largely on a clause in our constitution that excludes lesbians and gay men from ordination. Our General Assembly passed an amendment this summer that would replace that exclusion with language about obeying Jesus Christ, and would open the doors for everyone to serve in the church. That amendment now goes to the presbyteries for approval. Our presbytery approved it 85-29 yesterday, so we’ll see how it does in the rest of the country.

This is an issue that raises strong feelings for many. There are loving and sincere people on both sides of the debate, and you need to know that no matter what you believe I will respect you; there is space for you here. At the same time we are not talking about an issue; we are talking about people. The world needs to know that the church welcomes everyone, especially those who have been excluded. The world needs to know that there is space for everyone to follow Jesus.

Today we baptize William M. We welcome a new brother into the amazing journey of following Christ’s calling. You’ll notice that the baptismal questions today are a little different than the ones we usually use because Ian is answering different questions than Kim. When we met to discuss what baptism means to Kim and Ian it became clear that it means something different to each of them.

Kim has heard the calling of Jesus on her life and she trusts him as her Lord and savior. For her, baptism is about welcoming Will into the journey of following Jesus and growing up in the faith. Ian has been part of this church his whole life. Like his father, he is an insistent and curious questioner; I believe that is a spiritual gift from God. He is open to the journey of faith, but he wonders whether God is real.

If church is going to be somewhere where we can be ourselves, where we can rest in God’s presence knowing we are accepted and loved, we have to be honest with each other. It wouldn’t have been honest for Ian to proclaim that Jesus is his Lord and savior, because that isn’t where Ian is in his journey right now. For him baptism is about bringing Will into a journey and a community that has meant a lot to Ian, even though he doesn’t know where the journey is leading. Ian lives out his values everyday, so his promises today are about supporting Will in the journey of faith and modeling integrity and commitment. There is space for everyone as we seek truth and faithfulness together.

Jesus called a diverse community to follow him, and we continue his ministry today. In Christ outcasts find welcome and people who had been divided from each other find unity. In his love and healing even those who felt far away from God are able to rest in God’s presence and rejoice in the sweetness of loving community. In his care the weary and worn down find rest and refreshment. Our calling is to enjoy God and to welcome others. Together we can support each other in ministry, worship and service. We can make space for everyone to follow Jesus with joy.

Thanks be to God.

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