Sunday, January 20, 2008

The sermon I shoulda have preached!

Come and See
January 20, 2008

We are still in Epiphany—the time when the readings deal with beginnings and light. And today we hear in our readings both very clearly.

In the reading from Isaiah we hear about Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet. Isaiah understands that God has called him before he was born, has hidden him away, protecting him until the time when he was to speak. It isn’t Isaiah’s calling that is important in this statement; it is God’s timing that is important. And Isaiah is to speak to the people of Judah so that the people may stream to the light of God.
The book of Isaiah is difficult to read. First of all he is speaking poetry—not the rhyming poetry of English, but the careful lines of comparison that is found in Hebrew.

Secondly, the book is a compilation of prophecy and commentary that is almost 2800 years old and spans an entire life-time. And thirdly, it was heavily redacted or edited in some 2500 years ago following the Babylonian Captivity. All of this does not take away the beauty of the book or the passage we have today:
“Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
It was through the people of Judah that God would be known in the world. It wasn’t because Israel was the greatest of nations; it wasn’t because it was the holiest of nations. It was because God had chosen them to proclaim the oneness of God and make God known to the entire world. It is this mission that was most misunderstood by Israel, and I would suggest that is still our problem today. We still do not understand what it is we are doing in the area of mission in the Church today.
In the Gospel reading we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John Baptist sees him and knows that his own ministry is to give way to that of Jesus. And some of the disciples of John begin to follow Jesus. They want to know where the Rabbi Jesus lived so that they could go and be a part of his community. That was the way that rabbis developed a following. They would speak and then those who liked the ideas would gather around him to learn from him. But Jesus doesn’t have a home. The Rabbi Jesus is an itinerant. And so he says “Come and see.”
There is not going to be a comfortable place for the followers of Jesus. He will not have a shul for those who hang on his every word. Jesus invites those who would follow him to live a life like his own—one of itinerancy, one of being continually aware that nothing is his own. He calls his followers to sell all that they have and follow. He calls his followers to let the dead bury the dead. He calls his followers to know that their only home will be in the Gospel promise. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God—not the sweet white baby sheep—but the sacrifice for the whole world. The invitation to “Come and see” is not a mere sales pitch. It is calling his disciples to enter into his life and die to self.

Every so often I get calls on the phone from those who want to get married, or have a baby baptized in the parish I am serving. Invariably I invite them to “come and see”. I want them to come and experience the community of faith to see if this is a place where they can live out their life in God. I want them to find out what it costs to be a follower of Jesus because it does no good for them to just believe certain tenants of the faith—they must be willing to live out what it means to be a follower of Christ in the existential reality of the community faith. That is what I believe Church is—the existential reality of people trying to live out their faith while being sinners as well as saints.

“Come and see” is the invitation we need to be offering to people who have no church home not because we want them to attend our church or help pay the way for our congregation to exist. “Come and see” is an invitation to follow the way of Jesus. It is our way of reminding ourselves that it is God’s work that we are doing. It isn’t a marketing ploy to pad our membership.
But when we do say “come and see” what will people find? Will they find people excited about following Jesus? Will they find people who can speak of their faith? Will they find people who know the Bible well enough to support the relationship they have with God? Will they have a community who can live together well enough to manifest Christ’s peace enough for them live in harmony? Or will they find what I see on Lutheran chat lists—a fractious bunch who are more worried about how we believe than in WHOM we believe?

Many of the young call churchgoers hypocritical. And we are. (My usual response to someone who calls the church hypocritical is “There is always room for one more!”) But it is true. We set our hearts on the imitation of Christ—of trying to live our lives by the light of Christ. We set very high standards for ourselves when we say we follow Christ. . And we are always going to fall short. But the invitation to ‘come and see’ is the invitation to come and live too. And by our living can others see the light of Christ?

Judy and I were discussing the other day what it meant to witness to Christ. The old adage “If it were illegal to be a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?” came up. What does it take for people to know or understand what the light of Christ is? What is the hope we live out here at St. Luke’s so that people understand the Gospel?

When I say that I am from St. Luke’s to people in the area, they say, “Oh, St. Luke’s, that’s the Zucchini church!” We are known by what we do for the community. They don’t know us for our faith. They don’t know us for our relationship with Christ. And I would suggest that even among ourselves we are not that comfortable about making that faith visible.

When Jesus said “come and see” he invited his followers to a relationship with God that went beyond the Law of Moses. He called them to a way of living out their faith peacefully and with respect. He challenged them to look at the things of their lives that held them back from entering into a life with God that could change them, focus their lives into living selflessly in joy. Can we here at St. Luke’s do the same? Is this a place where we can live into our vocation as followers of God by living in ways that confront the sins of consumerism, that challenge the egoism of a me-generation that has gone nutz? Can we here at St. Luke’s when we bid others to “come and see” be able to welcome those that Jesus would have welcomed?---Those who are cast out, those who don’t quite fit?

And if we really want to get down to it-- are we willing to look at our Sunday service with the eye of someone wanting to follow Jesus. Can they see his light in the way we worship? Are we willing enough to listen to the young to the younger voices among us to know what speaks Christ to them and provide that in our services? Does “come and see” mean “what we have always done before?”—or can it also mean—we are going to try some new things to find out if God can speak that way too?

As we prepare for our annual meeting, I would like to challenge you all to think about what it means to be a congregation that can make its faith visible to the community here along the I-88 corridor. I believe we are a lively,
Spirit-led Christian community that does proclaim the Gospel by the way we live. I think that there are ways that we as a community can provide for those who do come to see if that Spirit is alive and well among us. Yes, it might mean we would have to CHANGE. But thus it is ever so. For “Come and See” is not static—it means the same as when Jesus said it—it means we have a living faith that is constantly calling us, constantly inviting us, constantly changing and cleansing us to know the hope that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

No comments: