Sermons

"No Other Way To The Father: Challenging a Common Interpretation of John 14:6"

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

I am sharing with you a sermon that I recently preached at my congregation.  The text is John 14:1-14.  The particular focus of this sermon are the words found in the sixth verse, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”   In our pluralistic world, these words are often understood to be problematic.  I challenge the interpretation that creates this problem by seeking to understand these words in their context.  They are part of what is known in John as the “Farewell Discourse.”   In that context, these words were never intended to be a polemic against others, but a way to understand God’s presence in Jesus.

On the day it was preached, at the communion table even before worship was over, I was met by a church member who said that over the past several years she has been able to make the movement in her own faith that this sermon describes. It was very touching as her pastor to hear her say that.  Several weeks have passed since this sermon, and I have had other conversations with other members about it.  For some of those folks, it has been as if a theological weight has been lifted off of them.  For that I am grateful.  Maybe you can find something useful for yourself in these words.       

                "No One Comes To The Father Except Through Me: What Does That Mean?"

The opening words of our reading are some of the most beautiful in all of scripture, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, . . .” They are often read at times when we are indeed troubled.  When we have suffered a loss and our hearts are heavy with grief.  Maybe some of the comfort in these words comes not just from who says them, our Lord Jesus, but when he says them.  This is the night when Jesus stands at the edge of his own grave.  It’s Thursday night. Tomorrow is Friday. The day of his crucifixion.  So when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” we know that this word of assurance comes from someone who is not unfamiliar with the most difficult parts of our journey. 

Now, because we most often encounter the words of the 14th chapter of John as words of comfort, we are able to avoid the theological quagmire that is present in other places in these verses.  Like when Jesus says that those who believe in him will do even greater works than he has done.  I mean, just a little earlier Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He was in the tomb three days and Jesus gave him back his life.  Before that, Jesus had fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. Before that, he had turned 180 gallons of water into the best wine imaginable.  Now I believe the church does a lot of good in this world and that’s what we are called to do, but what does it mean that we will be doing greater works than Jesus?  His works are pretty high up on the ladder in my mind.  Are we supposed to be miracle workers in the same way Jesus was or do we redefine what his words actually meant?

Then there are those last couple of verses that can cause a lot of trouble. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, . . .  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Listen friends, in our westernized version of Christianity, with our consumerized culture and our service-oriented mentality, there may be no more problematic words than these. There is a brand of Christianity out there, you can find it without much problem, one that has turned Jesus into a divine maître de.  Just standing ready to do what whatever you ask.  Name it and claim it. Claim it in his name, of course, and unless your faith is weak, it will happen.  You come across that brand of Christianity and it won’t be too long before you hear these words from this chapter of John, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”   There are some sticky situations in this 14th chapter of John that are often glazed over because of how we most often hear the words from this chapter.

Then there are those words that occur earlier. Words that are closer in proximity to the words of comfort. Thomas asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It is the last words – “No one comes to the Father except through me” that create a matter that we have to deal with – thoughtfully, honestly and in a straightforward manner.  Because in our increasingly small and pluralistic world these words can seem embarrassingly exclusionary and narrow minded. 

Back in my first congregation in Dublin, Georgia – a town in which on St. Patrick's Day the local country club sponsored a “Green Grits Breakfast” (all the food was dyed green, not just the grits – the eggs, the ham, the pancakes, everything was green – even the orange juice was green); well, back in Dublin we welcomed a family into our congregation, the St. John’s, who came to us because they had heard someone in the church they had been attending say, “Isn’t it a shame that in this community of 25,000 people there are only ninety of us who are Christians.” Meaning, of course, the ninety people who were members of that particular church, who had their particular practices, traditions, and understandings.  Those ninety were somehow the sole possessors of a pure and unadulterated Christian faith.  That is quite a bombastic and arrogant claim isn’t it? One that pretty much thumbs its nose at those of us who claim to be Christians but understand things in a different way. The St. John’s did not want to be part of that type of church and I don’t either.   

I do wonder, however, if the way we often use these words of Jesus about being the only way to the Father often comes across to others outside of the church with that same sense of bombastic arrogance – “We’ve got the truth and you don’t!”   We have to ask, were these words originally intended to be a polemic against others?  Because too often that’s the way they are used.  I’ve encountered it numerous time.  I have seen some of my colleagues paralyzed by these words.  They set in an interview with an ordination council or a church search committee and somebody who wants to defend the faith and make certain that the new minister is doctrinally orthodox, asks “Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?”  A question which when asked that way means this beautiful Christian faith has been reduced to a prize we get at the end IF we get our ticket punched properly. 

In the New Interpreter’s Bible we find this commentary about these words of Jesus:

We have turned them into a weapon with which to bludgeon one’s opponents into theological submission.  A litmus taste for the Christian faith in a myriad of conversations and debates within the church.  Church triumphalism, proof positive that Christians have a corner on God, and everybody else is completely and utterly lost. (Vol. 9, p. 743).

Now let me ask, in the midst of these beautiful words of comfort and hope that have brought such peace and assurance to countless people through the centuries, does Jesus then turn on a dime and offer a word of eternal damnation on people who aren’t part of the church as we come to know the church.   Is that what this is? Because I’m afraid that is often what we have made it.

A few things to say about this.  First, don’t ever forget when these words are spoken.  In John it is known as the “Farewell Discourse.”  In all of John 14, 15, 16, and 17, Jesus is speaking to the disciples or praying in their midst.  Then with chapter 18 comes the betrayal and arrest.  These are some of Jesus’ last words before his passion.  Some of his last words before the betrayal, the denial, the beating, the mocking, the desertion, his crucifixion and his death.  He is emphasizing to his disciples that this path he is on, a path in which he does not respond with vengeance to the evil he encounters, a path of self-sacrificing love, a difficult path of grace and forgiveness, that this path is indeed the path to God.  That this journey is the way.  This journey is truth.  This journey even through death is where true freedom and life is to be found.

The words Jesus says here about being the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him, spoken on this night before his crucifixion, are John’s version of what we find in the other gospels when Jesus says to his disciples, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and undergo great suffering and be killed.”  And the scriptures read that the disciples did not understand what he was saying.

Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that in all that is about to happen to him, God is present with him and in him.  These words spoken on that night before his death we’re not spoken by Jesus to give the church through the centuries a line in the sand to determine who is in and who is out. They are words that are to help the disciples understand that in all he was about to experience and they were about to witness – God was not absent.  God was present in the very midst of it all, consuming into the divine heart all the betrayal and cruelty and evil that could be thrown at it and yet continuing to love.  These words are ultimately about the character of the God we claim to believe in and is present with us in Jesus.  And shame on the church, shame on us when we have turned these words of our Lord Jesus, who loves this world and gave his life for this world, shame on us when we have used them to bludgeon others.

We should also remember that Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life – not the doctrines of the church.  The theologian Paul Tillich in his sermon “The Truth Will Make You Free” writes it this way:

The church, very early forgot the word of our gospel that he is the truth, and claimed that our doctrines about him are the truth.  But these doctrines, however necessary and good they are, proved not to be the truth that liberates.  Soon they became tools of suppression, of servitude under authorities; they became the means by which to prevent the honest search for truth – weapons to split the souls of people between loyalty to the church and sincerity to the truth. (“Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching” Vol. 10, p. 71)

I remember a few years back meeting with a group of pastors who started getting together because we were concerned about some things happening in the larger church.  I think some of our concerns were legitimate and we met over a course of a few months.  I remember how uncomfortable I got, however, when one of the pastors said, “You know it may not be enough any longer in Disciples churches for people simply to express faith in Christ.  We need to know what they mean by that.  We need to have it clearly defined exactly what folks believe. We need ourselves to line up with the historic orthodox beliefs of the church.”  He said that as if there is one completely pure, unadulterated faith that is out there for us to get in line with.  That statement by that pastor made me so uncomfortable that I quit attending the group.  I knew if that pastor started drawing lines about who was in and who was out based on how they explained their beliefs, he was very likely to draw the line in a way that would not include me. 

Presbyterian Minister and author Fredrick Buechner, writes this about these words of Jesus in John:

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine or religion was the way, the truth and the life.  He said that he was.  He didn’t say that is was believing or doing anything in particular that you could “come to the Father.” He said that it was only by him – by living, participating in, being caught up by, the way of life he embodied, that was his way. (“Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC”, p.14) 

I believe Jesus is the fullest revelation of God the world has even known and I believe that we experience the Sacred and Holy by participating in the life of Jesus – his teachings, his healings, his feeding of others, his life, his death and his resurrection.  That belief is not intended to be a polemic that sets Christians apart from others. If anything, participating in the life of Jesus should help us to be people whose arms are open as wide in love as his are.  Amen

    

The Seriousness of the Preacher's (and Listener's) Situation

By Dr. Mark Poindexter 

For the better part of three decades, I have been involved in the task of preaching.  Standing in front of the church gathered in worship, trying to speak a word that helps us to live more faithfully as the Body of Christ in this day and time.  In these years, I have written more than 1,000 sermons and preached somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 times.  Yes, some of the sermons have been preached more than once and a few of them more than twice.  Most preachers, if they are honest and I tend to think most of us are, at least most of the time, would tell you the same thing.  Sermons get recycled.  Sometimes when you change congregations and sometimes when the well of creativity just runs dry.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a sermon being used again.  I mean we sing some of the same hymns and choruses over and over again.  I would even suggest that some of their beauty rests in our familiarity with them.  I like to think Jesus told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan more than just once.  As the church we have been working with these stories for 2,000 years and they are still full of meaning.  I’d hate to think those first folks who were around Jesus only got to hear those powerful stories a single time.

Even though I have been at it for a while, I know there is always more to learn about the art of preaching and the power of the spoken word.  That’s why I still attend continuing education events related to preaching and I try to read books about it as well.  I want to share with you something about preaching that I came across in one of the books I was reading recently, "Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich," by Dean G. Stroud.  The first third of the book sets the historical context.  This includes the divide between the “German Christians” who were those that incorporated Nazi ideology into their expression of church and created some form of paganism that worked through the existing church structures and held onto the word “Christian” and the Confessing Church which refused to swear loyalty to the Nazis.  For those pastors and congregations that considered themselves part of the Confessing Church it was a time when reading a Psalm in worship or referring to the Jewishness of Jesus or to the Jewish people as “our neighbors” could be considered an act of treason for which the pastor could end up in a concentration camp, or even dead.

One of the sermons that Stroud includes in his book is from Helmut Gollwitzer who called the German nation to repentance for their treatment of the Jewish people in a sermon preached in 1938 after Kristallnacht.   Kristallnacht was a two day event of coordinated attacks against Jewish people in Germany.  Nearly 100 Jews were killed and more than 30,000 incarcerated.  The name refers to the broken glass from the shattered windows of Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. Years after the event Gollwitzer spoke about the “seriousness of the preacher’s situation” who said of the importance of the sermon, “in no other form of speech are things taken so seriously, is our whole existence so challenged, even put at risk.  In no form of speech does our word itself so much take the form of action, of intervention in the history of the hearers” (p. 115).

These words which speak about the importance and power of preaching have stayed with me since I read them.  Though the forms and structures of the church are undoubtedly changing, I think there will always be a place of primary importance for the people to gather in worship and to hear the gospel proclaimed, a gospel that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  I believe there will always be a necessary place for a preacher to call the people to faithfulness, to live as the reign of God come upon this earth, to challenge the people to love their neighbor and welcome the stranger, to work toward a world of peace for all.

Sometimes, when you are engaged in something for as long as I have been engaged in preaching, it can become too much of a routine or you can began to wonder if it really makes any difference.  The words spoken of Gollwitzer reminded me just how important preaching is to the well-being of the church.

So, if you are a preacher don’t ever take the sermon lightly – the text chosen, the study done, the crafting of the sentences, the way it is delivered . . . it all matters. The words you speak are one way God has chosen to work in this world.  You should never forget that.  And if, you are mostly a listener to the sermons of others, again, don’t ever take the sermon lightly.  That which is faithfully and thoughtfully spoken, is a word that has the power to change the world when people hear it and respond.     

So, may we all pray that the word we speak and the word we hear be the Word of the Lord.

Being Persistent in the Faith -- a Lectionary Meditation

Jeremiah 31:27-34 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

Being Persistent in the Faith

“In those days,” is a phrase that sticks out from Jeremiah’s vision of God’s intention to bring into being a new community, one that is bound together not by a covenant written on stone tablets, but on human hearts.  “In those days” carries a future tense, a sense that God is up to something, and that God will bring this “plan” to fruition.  Theologians call this kind of talk “eschatology.”  Eschatology has to do with so-called “last things,” but it entails much more than wrapping up things at the end.  Instead, it is a conversation about the promise that stands out front of us as people of God.

As I read these three texts together, seeking a sense of what they might have to say to us today, the word “persistence” stands out.  You will find the word explicitly used in the 2nd letter to Timothy, a letter written by an experienced pastor to a younger one, seeking to offer a word of encouragement to someone who is struggling with the demands of guiding a community of faith in the direction he (I’m assuming the pastor is a male due to the times) believes God is leading.  Jeremiah has a similar job – announcing to a people living in exile that God is with them, and that God is going to do a new thing in and for them.

God will, Jeremiah says, “sow the house of Israel and the hose of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals” (Jeremiah 31:27).  Yes, the God who plucked up and destroyed will replant the houses of Israel and Judah.  But, the time is not yet present, because the message remains “in those days they shall no longer say.”  The time is coming, but is not yet.  The unstated request is that they remain persistent, until that time in which the new covenant is established, and then they shall again be God’s people.  Then, they’ll no longer have to teach one another to know the Lord, for everyone will know the Lord and their “iniquity” will be forgiven and they shall sin no more.  The time is coming, but is not yet, and yet, that the word is announced is suggestive that the recipients of this word should start living as if the promised age has already been established.

In Luke’s gospel, we have this parable, in which a woman comes to a judge seeking justice against her opponent.   We don’t know what the issue is.  Perhaps the opponent is seeking to evict her from her home, because as a widow with no visible means of support she’s unable to pay her rent.   Maybe the opponent is a family member who has taken control of her assets and is robbing her.  The judge, whose tenure on the bench seems so secure that he is unconcerned about how the public deems him, sees no point in acting on her request.  After all, she’s just a widow.  Why bother?  But the woman is persistent.  She keeps knocking on his door, perhaps even camping out in front of his office, until the judge finally relents and grants her requests.  The judge doesn’t act because it’s the right thing to do or because he’ll gain greater respect from the community or even God, but so that the widow will go away.  Well, Jesus says, if a judge will do such a thing due to the persistence of this widow; then surely God, who is just and merciful, will grant us justice without delay.  Of course, there’s a caveat at the end – one that again points to the future – when the son of Man arrives, will he find faith present in those who claim to be the children of God?  In other words, is their persistence in the things of God?

All of this leads to the text I’ve decided to focus on in my preaching this coming Sunday – the piece from 2 Timothy.   In this passage, the older pastor, the mentor of the younger pastor, writes a word of encouragement to one who is struggling to lead a beleaguered community of faith into God’s future.  The word is “be persistent whether the time is favorable or not.”   Indeed, the pastor writes that the younger leader should keep in mind the impending appearing of God and God’s kingdom, and so in that spirit be consistent in proclaiming the message of God, convincing, rebuking (oh a word that we’d just as soon leave out of the conversation), and encourage the people – with patience!  Persistence is needed because not everyone is ready to hear the word that the pastor had learned from the scriptures, a word passed on not only by this pastor, but others who understood the things of God, and had offered this guidance, so that this young pastor might be proficient and equipped for every good work.

Yes, be persistent in the things of God and carry out your ministry fully.  Do so knowing that God is at work in the world, bringing into existence the realm of God, the place in which people will in due time know God and thus no longer need instruction (including those rebukes mentioned in 2 Timothy).

By Bob Cornwall

Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November.  Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.

 

Lion of Judah, King of Israel [Hebrews 3:7-14]

I preached this sermon on October 29, 2006, and guess what -- the vision came true! A 53-year-old church still satisfies even charter members with traditional worship, draws young families with contemporary worship and children's church, and builds a new community on a recovery ministry. With 150-200 worshipers on Sunday and 60-90 at Celebrate Recovery, Tropical Sands Christian Church thrives because the old supports the new -- and vice versa! The premise is simple: If you want to settle down in the grasslands of Judah, you have to help the other tribes take the Promised Land!

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Accepting submissions of sermons.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

I love this quote. It is one of the mantras I use to remind myself that I speak of Christ when I should just be Christ-like to others.  When writing a sermon I try to balance my words with the call to action from the Word.

We are looking for sermons to feature on [D]mergent on Sundays.  We are seeking sermons that call us to action and demand that we “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  These do not have to be new sermons or even sermons that have been preached before.

We want sermons that move us as a people towards answering the call of Jesus the Christ.  If you want to submit a sermon please follow these guidelines:

Text:

  • Please keep it between 1200-1500 words
  • Submit as “doc” format or as the body of the email.

Audio:

  • Please keep it between 12-15 minutes.
  • Please submit as Mp3 or WAV file.

With All Submissions Please include:

  • Where the sermon was preached. If it has never been preached of was written for the [D]mergent community please indicate.
  • The name of the preacher.
  • Sermon Text
  • Sermon Title

Please email all submissions to dmergent@gmail.com.  We reserve the right to not publish sermons that are offensive, comprised of hate language or do not embrace the essence of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Darkness Has Not Overcome

Jeremiah 31.7-14Psalm 147.12-20 Ephesians 1.3-14 John 1.1-18 ________________________________________________________________________

When I was a child, I was terrified of the darkness.  I can’t remember when I first realized that darkness was terrifying, but I know that up until I was in junior high school I could not sleep at night unless I had a night light.  I can’t tell you what it was about the darkness that terrified me so.  We didn’t live in a dangerous neighborhood; we lived on a farm far from the violence we saw on the evening news.  We didn’t leave the doors unlocked at night.  My parents were always very intentional in bolting the doors as we went to bed.  There was nothing in the darkness that could harm me, yet simply the fear of the unknown was enough to keep me scared of what I could not see.

I remember when I was about 12 years old I happened to be visiting the older boy who lived near us, since he was the nearest neighbor who was around my age.  He wanted to watch a horror movie, and though I was not a fan of horror movies, I wanted to be cool and accepted by an older peer more than I feared the violent images of a horror film.  We watched the film, and before it was over I was physically ill.  I spent several minutes in the bathroom as my body wretched in fearful agony and expelled my dinner.  I was crying as I walked home to my parents that night, in the dark, mind you.  It was a fearful journey, but I didn’t stop long enough to be scared by the darkness.  I only wanted to get home as fast I could so that I could be safe in the arms of my parents.

I’m not sure I left our house for several days after seeing that film, and if I did, I was as skittish as a frightened animal.  If serial killers wearing hockey masks lived outside of my neighborhood, then I certainly had no desire to ever leave my neighborhood.  And so, I became a prisoner in my own home.  A prisoner held captive by fear.

It’s not only children who are held captive by fear; institutions can have fears as well.  The church, like a little child in so many ways, is afraid of the darkness.  We are afraid of the world around us.  We are afraid of being rejected by those around us who might think that we’re religious nutcases.  We’re too scared to speak up when others are maligned and abused for fear we might also face such violence.  We are afraid to stand up against oppressive regimes and proclaim the truth of the Prince of Peace—that violence is never redemptive.  We’re too frightened to stand up for what is right, and good, and true, in a world that is becoming ever darker because we are afraid of the consequences.  We allow fear to take us prisoner, and in so doing, we fail to be the light of the world Jesus has called us to be.

We cower in fear, while the Spirit of God dares us to move in faith.  The Spirit commands us to shine as light in the darkness.  And why shouldn’t we?

We are children of a God who called creation into existence with but a word.  God spoke a word into the darkness of the primordial world and brought forth light in all corners of the universe.  We believe in a God who created a people from an aged, barren couple and through them blessed all the nations of the world.  We follow a God who heard the cries of God’s children anguishing under the oppressive hand of slavery in Egypt and raised up a ruler in Moses who led God’s people through the waters of the sea into a land of freedom, hope, and promise.  We listen for a God who spoke words of challenge and indictment through the prophets to the leaders of a nation who didn’t give a damn about the poor in their midst; a God who reminds us always that there are consequences for our failure to care for those in need.  We have been healed by a God who brought comfort those exiled in a foreign land; a God who moved kings and queens to restore a people to their land.

We are the children of a God who has never been content to be separated from God’s creation; a God who violated the boundaries between heaven and earth, becoming part of the creation itself in the form of a tiny, fragile, vulnerable baby.  We follow a Savior, who though he was a humble carpenter from rural Palestine, dared to challenge the height of power and domination in the Roman Empire.  We worship a Lord who gave up his very life as a common criminal, crucified on a cross, in order to teach humans a better way.

Knowing all of this, we still allow our fears to keep us from shining as light for a dark world.  We come to church every Sunday and sit in our pews, lulled into complacency by the familiar rituals of our faith.  This is familiar, this is comfortable, this is safe.

We worship a God, however, who inspires not only warm sentimentality, but also awe.  Annie Dillard, one of my favorite writers, has written: The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God.  I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.  In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger.  If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked.  But in the low churches you expect it any minute.  This is the beginning of wisdom.

I am always reminded of Lucy’s question to the Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when she was told that Aslan was a lion. “Is he safe,” she asked. Mr Beaver replied, “Safe?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

We are a bit like the people who were always asking Jesus for a sign to prove his identity.  Jesus reminded them that they had Moses and the prophets, what more did they need?  We, like them, want an assurance that if we’re going to risk something, that it won’t cost us anything.  That isn’t really risk is it?  I suppose it isn’t really faith either.

Aslan, the great Lion King, could teach us something about the meaning of faith.  He offers his life to the White Witch in stead for Edmund, knowing that she will kill him.  He does so, dimly aware of a vague promise from before the dawn of time that when a willing, innocent victim gives one’s life in place of a traitor, death itself shall be denied.  Faith is stepping out and acting, uncertain of the consequences, but convinced that it is better to do something rather than set on the sidelines.  Faith is something which we lack in the church today.

Think of the faith that was required for Jeremiah to speak the audacious words of hope we have heard today.  The Hebrew people had been in exile for decades, and yet Jeremiah dares to promise that God will gather them up and take them home.  Think of the faith that the author of Ephesians demonstrated when boldly proclaiming that God had blessed the church with every spiritual blessing under the heavens.  The church was a tiny, heretical sect of Judaism at the time; hated by both Jews and Romans alike.

Our faith is a faith of bold, daring hope.  Our tradition is one of people who dare to look beyond the darkness of the world, and see a light shining in the midst of it all, and dare to proclaim that one person, one small band of committed followers can, and will make a difference.

We cower in the shadows, fearing what the powers that be in the world will do to us, and yet we claim to follow One who has defeated the ultimate evil of an unjust death.  Our Savior boldly proclaims that he has the power over life and death, no more shall death separate God from God’s people.

And yet, John dares to say that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Here at this table, the Word that brought creation into existence, that became the light in the darkness, stubbornly shines still.  Here at this table, with an extravagant welcome to all, the Word continues to take flesh and dwell among us.  As Christ’s life was a beacon of hope in a world dark with oppression and despair, so our welcome of all to this table shines as an example for all the world.  This is life as God intends it to be lived.  When all people are invited to sit down at a table where each will have enough to satisfy the hunger within, then, and only then, will the reign of God come on earth as in heaven.

May God give us the courage to step out and extend that welcome to all people, that we might be the light shining in the darkness of this world.

AMEN.

--The Rev. Wes Jamison, 2nd Sunday After Christmas, January 2, 2005

The Rev. Wes Jamison lives on a farm near Pulaski, Virginia, and is a minister-at-large for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.  He currently chairs the Open and Affirming Ministries team for GLAD (Gay, Lesbian, and Affirming Disciples) and serves on the Renewal and Nurture committee for the Virginia region.   He also works as a counselor with a social service agency.  He has been in the search and call process for almost four years now and has yet to receive a call.  In spite of the frustration and pain, he continues to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not over come it.