Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sermon from 1-18-09

John 1:43-51 Following the Prince the Peace
by Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall

This past week, Julie our church secretary and I have been sending out invitations for next week’s special events. We are hosting our Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, as well as many clergy from our community, churches, our preschool families and the staff, former members and former pastors who have served here, the District lay leader, the conference lay leader, our California –Pacific Conference Staff Executive Director, our District Superintend, and friends. We have sent invitations via the e-mail, telephone calls, faxes, and the old-fashioned way, hard copies through the mail.
We have received a number of responses as a result of our invitations, and next week we will post all we can. That is all just for Sunday’s special events, starting with worship, then a potluck, then the planting of the peace pole at 12:30 pm.
Now this is only one of two events we will be hosting, on Wednesday the 28th you are all invited to a second event that will feature another group of people who have been invited to come and participate in a ribbon cutting for the opening of our peace pole plaza to the community at 11am. Invitations to the media, to the city council and other politicians, our regional chamber of commerce all have been invited to participate in this wonderful event.

But why go through all this fuss? Why do we have to put on our best face, extend all these invitations? Because, Jesus has invited us to follow him. We are not forced or coerced or predetermined to follow Jesus, rather we have been invited to the fellowship, to follow the Prince of Peace. It is from a stance of free will that we are able to answer either in the affirmative, or in the negative. And due to our special events coming up, it is good to remember our answer. Because, not just one time but also each moment of our lives that we answer the invitation of Christ to work for peace. It is each time we encounter a need of one of our brothers or sisters that we have the opportunity to step up and take Jesus’ hand and allow him to lead us, it is each time we worship we open our hearts once again to the power of the Holy Spirit, to shape our daily living. It is each time we see the hurting world at war with itself cause death and destruction, we can answer the invitation by turning to prayer and it is each time we find ourselves so moved we just have to do something to help heal the wounded.

Now I must tell you, not everyone we send an invitation to reacts positively and plans to attend. Some are too busy, some have other commitments, some are confused about what this peace pole is all about and reluctant to attend something that might be against their beliefs.

Sometimes it is just like that with Jesus, he extends his hand calls us to discipleship and we find ourselves too busy, to committed, too confused, too reluctant to drop what we think is important and follow him.

Tomorrow we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life and ministry. Here was one man who answered the call, but in answering put in motion a movement that would change of the lives of not only those who marched with him, not only those who worshiped and heard his sermons, not only those who watched him on TV or read his writings, but changed this country that I believe brought down walls of segregation, and separated rights, one for whites, one for blacks. Dr. King answered the invitation, and through the power of God to bring equality to all of God’s children changed the hardened heart of racism so that we can see now a time when a black man can be elected president.
But it was not just Dr. King that accepted the invitation, it was the people who saw in him a vision of what could be, and how to get there, through non-violent resistance, these who accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, those who opened their hearts to hear the Word of God being preached and found themselves taking action to change the culture, to change the way people related to one another and how they could do so hating the sin, but loving the sinner.

For us, as we celebrate the Birthday of this one man, it is our opportunity to look deep inside and to ponder how God is working today, and to what work is Jesus calling each of us?
Key to how we answer is who do we believe Jesus is? The scripture tells us: Philip 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.”

Philip believed In a man who was more than just a prophet, more than just a teacher, more than just healer, no the Jesus Philip believed in was the Torah had foretold, the one who would fulfill the law, the one who was to change their world forever and ever and ever. But Nathaniel remained skeptical, how could any good come out of Nazareth, that place with a reputation so bad you would not send your worse enemy to, or maybe you would only send your worse enemy to? John Wesley says this about the stigma of being from Nazareth: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? - How cautiously should we guard against popular prejudices? When these had once possessed so honest a heart as that of Nathanael, they led him to suspect the blessed Jesus himself for an impostor, because he had been brought up at Nazareth."

To treat one another with love and respect instead of hate and prejudice is vital to the work of peace in the world. When people make assumptions about another, based on biased opinions instead of love, we can alienate others with our judgmental behavior, blondes are dumb, they are too old to understand, they dress funny, the way they talk scares me, I deserve only the very best others will just have to work harder to get what they need.
Wesley goes on to say in his sermon on this passage: But let the humble, gentle, patient love of all mankind, be fixed on its right foundation, namely, the love of God springing from faith, from a full conviction that God hath given his only Son to die for my sins; and then the whole will resolve into that grand conclusion, worthy of all men to be received: 'Neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by love.'"

We can read between the lines of Jesus and what happens next:
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Jesus greets Nathanael, and this greeting reveals something about Nathanael that is true, but is not easily seen by a stranger. It is a value, a way of being in the world, someone who has no deceit. What we can read here is how deeply Jesus knew Nathaniel, Jesus knew Nathaniel in a way that would take others years of working and or living together to know his deepest desires, his most intimate thoughts.
We can read this into the story, because the transformation in Nathanael is immediate and opposite of how he had reacted to Philip’s testimony of who Jesus was. How amazing this is! To go from skeptic to believer so quickly, something happened the words of the scripture couldn’t capture. But the important part of this is that for us too, we are known by the Risen Christ in this same intimate way that Nathanial experiences, that all the disciples and followers in the ministry to follow will come to experience. Jesus knows us, and loves us, even our skeptical parts, even our sinning, broken parts of us. Jesus knows it all, and still issues to the invitation to follow him.

And the good news is there is more than we can even imagine in store for us when we accept the invitation.

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Jesus lets us know that we will see greater things ahead, we can honor the past, and honor those like Dr. King who helped change our nation.
Many interviewers have been asking black Americans what they think about the new president, and many of them have responded by saying they thought they would never live to see the day a black president would be elected.
For me, I have witnessed great things in my lifetime. I did get to hear Dr. King Jr. preach on TV. I did get to take a class about Dr. King and talk about what it was like to work with him first hand. I have been on a life long pilgrimage which has taken me out of Massachusetts to the Appalachians, to many states in the country, and I have been married for 26 years, have two beautiful daughters, I have been to Africa and the Middle East, I have so much to be grateful for. I love to hear the stories of those mountain top experiences in your lives as we serve the Lord together, and I bet there are some I have not heard yet. But the good news is there is more ahead; there are great things to come, in our life of faith, in our daily living. Jesus promises us that we will see heaven. a place beyond this life, a place beyond the suffering and chaos of this mortal life, a place where peace reigns forever and ever. We will understand the connection of heaven and earth, of the Son of Man and the Angels of believers and non-believers. This is all in God’s plan for our lives when we accept the invitation to follow the Prince of Peace.
Next week, we will welcome all those who have accepted our invitation to the special events we have planned for the peace pole planting. I believe it is our opportunity to reveal to the world that we follow the Prince of Peace, and that we have accepted the invitation to work with the Holy Spirit to unveil God’s will for the world, that we are to live together in peace with justice for all. Amen

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