Speech on Christianity after Festive Season
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"A Job to Do"
It is all over. That for which we hoped has come and gone. Christmas is over. All of the excitement and energy has waned. The decorations have disappeared; boxed and stored in the attic, the garage or the basement for another year. School vacation is over. The old year is gone, and a new one has begun. Everything is back on schedule. We are back to life, as we know it. It happens every year.
It is part of life not just a Christmas, but at other times as well. Something is on the calendar for which we are filled with great anticipation-birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, vacations, graduations, a new job, a new adventure. Then in the blinking of an eye, the time has passed, and we are back to life in the ordinary, the normal, maybe it is a new normal, but there is a routine. There are things that need to be done - groceries need to be purchased, the house needs cleaned, bills need to be paid-we have a job to do, whether it is our employment, parenting, school work, housework. Whether you are in childhood, or are an adolescent, teenager, young adult, middle age, or enjoying the years of retirement, there are things that we have to do each day. We all have a job to do
Through the advent season, Christmas, and now into the New Year, into the season of Epiphany, the stories, the lives of John and Jesus have been intertwined. We have heard the sister stories of the announcements of their births, the sister stories about their births and today, the weaving of their stories continue, even now, in their adulthood. They too have a job to do.
John's job is to be the one who prepares the way of the Lord. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. In the other gospels, he is the prophet, the baptizer. Luke presents him differently. His job is not to baptize. His job is to preach. He is a preacher first and foremost for Luke.
Like any good preacher, some of his sermons point out the people's sinfulness and their need for repentance. He reminds them that they have wondered off the path, ventured into dangerous territory, and turned away from God and God's purposes.
Like any good preacher, some of his sermons focus on how we are to live life in the sphere of God's influence. He preached sermons that answered the question "What shall we do? How do we live as people of God?" These are the sermons that remind us of what we learned in Sunday School, Kindergarten, or around the dining room table-share, treat people fairly, be honest, and don't be greedy, but be content with what you have. All throughout life, we need to be reminded of these values.
Like any good preacher, some of his sermons focused on the judgment of God and his coming into to the world. The messiah, the anointed one comes to turn the upside down things right side up. A day will come when God will reveal himself and he will rid the world of evil, and restore creation to its rightful order.
John was to preach repentance, covenant living, and the coming of the kingdom of God. John had a job to do.
Jesus had a job to do as well. He came to the Jordan. He heard the words of his cousin. He stepped in line with the other people. If you want details about his baptism, you need to read the other gospels, because Luke is not interested in that event. For Luke, Jesus, in human flesh, joined the crowd and was baptized without notice. Just as his birth was unremarkable, for Luke so was his baptism. Luke tells us that sometime after his baptism, while he was in prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon him. I like to think that he was in prayer seeking, like you and I do, discernment and direction for fulfilling God's purposes, that the Holy Spirit came upon him, anointing him for the tasks that lie ahead, and through the blessing "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"[i] he was set apart for the task ahead.
Through his baptism, his commitment to prayer, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the blessing of God, and his experiences of the wilderness temptations, Jesus was commissioned for the job for which he was born, the job that will lead him to Calvary and the tomb. We will learn more about his job throughout the coming weeks
What is important for us to know is that after the visitations of the angels, the heavenly choir, the journey to Bethlehem, the smelly shepherds, the visitation of the Magi, the singing of Joy to the World, life got back to normal. John and Jesus grew up. The cousins matured. John and Jesus both had jobs to do.
This morning, we are here to ordain and install Stephen Anderson, Mary Anne Fitzgerald, and Bernice Gibson to the office of Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). They too, now have a job to do. The Holy Spirit led the nominating committee, through their prayer for discernment, to these three persons. The Holy Spirit came upon them as they sought God's will on the matter and led them to accept the job as Ruling Elder. Upon further assessment, this congregation, through its prayer for discernment, confirmed the call of God upon Stephen, Mary Anne, and Bernice, and elected them to the office of Ruling Elder, to lead this congregation in the work of the Kingdom of God. Now today, we will ordain and install them to the office, and bestow upon the apostolic authority to guide us in our Christian vocation.
Beginning today, they will attend to the job they are called to do. These three will join the other Ruling Elders on session who have also been called and confirmed in the job before them.
In that job, they will need to be prepared to be honest, pure, and loving in their lifestyle. Leadership is a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. God holds teachers of His truth doubly responsible because we who lead are in a position where we can either draw people toward Christ or drive them away from Him. This is illustrated in the life of the famous author Mark Twain.
Church leaders were largely to blame for his becoming hostile to the Bible and the Christian faith. As he grew up, he knew elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He heard men using foul language and saw them practice dishonesty during the week after speaking piously in church on Sunday. He listened to ministers use the Bible to justify slavery. Although he saw genuine love for the Lord Jesus in some people, including his mother and his wife, he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders that he became bitter toward the things of God. Indeed, it is a privilege to be an elder. But it is also an awesome responsibility. The Ruling Elders have a job to do.
But so do you. Each of you has a job to do. Just as the commission of Jesus began with his baptism, and was confirmed through his prayer life and his struggle with the temptations of the world, each of us, regardless of whether we hold a position of authority and speak from the pulpit, make decisions in the session room, teach Sunday School classes, work in the nursery, provide for fellowship or pray for those who do, we have a job to do.
Kimberly Leetch rightly states, "Every time we feed a hungry soul, visit one who is isolated, celebrate a widower's birthday, give money to charity, reduce, reuse, and recycle, we are bringing about God's kingdom on earth. God's kingdom is not an otherworldly, unreachable place. This is God's kingdom. Right here. Right now."[ii]
Each of us has a job to do. We may not all be preachers like John the Baptist. We may not all be called to be the decision makers. We may not all be called to positions of leadership in the church or in the community. However, we are called to live acts of kindness, to share what we have, to treat others with respect and dignity, to be content with that with which God has blessed us.
When Martin Luther became discouraged and filled with doubt, he would put his hands on his head while saying, "I have been baptized."
Friends, remember your baptism. In it, God claimed you, God called you out of the world, and he placed you back in the world to serve him: to serve God and to serve human need. Remember your baptism. Remember, that because of your baptism, you have a job to do.
[i] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Lk 3:22.
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