SERMON JAN. 27, 2019.
Today is the last Sunday of January, and as we can hardly understand that the first month of 2019 has almost passed, so we do know for a fact that 2018 is behind us. Today when we gather for our annual general meeting, we will look back at 2018 with all its services, events, fundraisers, budgets, struggles and joys. Our annual general meeting is sort of a State of The Church speech, where we as a church and congregation come together to listen to facts and figures, but even more to engage in reflections on plans, visions, projects but most importantly to reaffirm why we are here and how we serve and express our faith as a church, a congregation, a council, committees and pastor.
My favorite quote this January month is from Samuel Wells, who is the priest at St. Martin-in-the-fields, London.
" Christianity is fundamentally a story about where we're going: into the company of God's Grace, in the harmony of the restored creation, through the mercy of God's incarnate love. Church means giving up the fantasy that we can find fulfillment and righteousness alone. It means doing things at inconvenient times with eccentric people in sometimes clumsy ways - because life is a team game, and on judgment day God will have nothing to say to us, if we think we can come without the others." - Samuel Wells
The quote so eloquently points out what it means to be a Christian church, a church body: cooperation, , conversation, compassion, and finally coexistence.
Look around at your fellow congregants this morning. Some you know very well, maybe too well! Some you have met and greeted a couple of times in the pews or in the hall. Others you will greet for the first time. Some we hug, others we handshake. Some we small talk with, others we confide in. Some we laugh with, some we cry with. But we are all here – and this is our church body.
As the old church joke tells, we do have many members of the TATE family in our pews:
There is old man Dic-Tate who wants to run everything, while Uncle Ro-Tate tries to change everything.
There's sister Agi-Tate who stirs up plenty of trouble, with help from her husband, Irri-Tate.
Whenever new projects are suggested, Hesi-Tate and his wife, Vege-Tate, want to wait until next year.
Then there is Aunt Imi-Tate, who wants our church to be like all the others.
Devas-Tate provides the voice of doom, while Poten-Tate wants to be a big shot.
But not all members of the family are bad. Brother Facili-Tate is quite helpful in church matters. Cousins Cogi-Tate and Medi-Tate always think things over and lend helpful, steady hands.
And a delightful, happy member of the family is Miss Felici-Tate.
And as Samuel Wells so rightly wrote: church means that we need to give up the fantasy that we can find fulfillment and righteousness alone. Church is built on relations. Christianity is built on relations. Granted- that means that we sometimes must do things at inconvenient times with eccentric people in sometimes clumsy ways…. because life is a team game and, in the end, God will look at our relations, our compassion, our care, our commitment to others, our generosity and grace.
That is why it is so important for us to gather for worship, for fellowship, here in the church and later at the lunch table. It is important for us to be a relational church.
That is why it is so vital for us as a church to gather for worship and be reminded again and again that “the spirit of the lord is upon us and within us.”
That we all with our different callings, talents, gifts, needs, griefs, problems or joys, that we all are called to be church together, and that we all have something to give and to share. Just like the parts of the body work together to make this wonderful body of our work – so we all the living stones – as Grundtvig described us – of the church now and the holy spirit of God is working within us, upon us, and around us.
Today’s Gospel is the first sermon ever giving by Jesus. After his baptism and after his temptation in the desert, he returns to his hometown Nazareth and goes to the Synagogue. He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him… he found it and read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus then rolled up the scroll and sat down. All the eyes were fixed on him… and then he began to speak and preach. Isn’t it amazing that this is still the format for our worship…? Reading and preaching. Reading the old words of OT or NT and then preaching over these words – in an effort just like Jesus first to relate these old words to this day, to our world and our lives.
That first sermon of Jesus was powerful, and we still hear about it 2000 later. Jesus chose to preach the unvarnished truth, and in doing so he did not only disappoint his listeners but angered many of them. He held on to the courage of his convictions and faith.
As we celebrated MLK this past week, we can only think of his courage and conviction of faith to speak the truth regardless of consequences and threats. And all the countless numbers of preachers who lost their jobs during the civil rights movement of the 1950 and 1960 that followed the courageous example of Jesus – to speak up knowing there is a price to be paid. Or think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who dared to speak the truth against the Nazi regime and paid the prize. Or the Danish pastor Kaj Munk who dare to speak the truth against the Nazi Regime and paid the prize.
Which reminds me of a wonderful story I read about a guest preacher that came to a rather large church to give a sermon; and he read the gospel and began preaching…” There are 3 point to my sermon….” Many people yawned at the point… they had heard so many sermons begin like that. There might only be 3 points to the sermon…. But so many words in between.
The guest preacher moved on saying: “My first point is this. At this time there are approximately two billion people starving to death in the world.” The reaction through the church was about the same, yawning and looking down, as the had heard that sort of statement so many times before, too. And then the guest preacher said: “My second point is that most of you don’t give a damn!” He paused again as gasps and rumblings flowed across the church and then he said: “And my third point is that the real tragedy among Christians today is that many of you are now more concerned that I said “damn” than you are that I said 2 billion people are starving to death.” And then he sat down!
That is powerful preaching! And even more a message that we truly can relate to in our time and age. Living in a time and age where we get so offended, so agitated about minor human mistakes and harmless offences that we totally neglect the real tragic disturbing offences, abuses, injustices of our time and age. As I have said before: there are far more offensive, disturbing, discriminating things to be upset about than singing an old Danish Song about a beautiful young blond danish girl.
A not so blond or blue-eyed Danish girl felt violated and discriminated against, because of the song and thus her school banned it. Of course, a lot of Danes then got very loud as they got offended and felt violated that someone could feel violated by their beautiful favorite song. Yet it is far more sad and upsetting that we feel violated and offended about all these small issues - like an old danish song or an unusual word from the preachers mouth – and forget all the big looming issues that sure are at hand and should offend all of us as Christians and decent human beings: the ugly racism that 50 years after the assassination of MLK still exists in our society; the horrible sexual abuse of children and the horrible culture of sexual misconduct; the attacks on religious minorities of the world; the inhumane treatment of refugee children at our borders, the disrespect of our native people and finally the ongoing increasing exploitation of all our God Give natural resource of this wonderful world. There sure is plenty to be offended over and angry about.
Jesus knew that in his time. Jesus was very short and to the point. He laid out his mission statement and vision that day in the synagogue: “to bring good news of grace and forgiveness, to proclaim release to all captives of past sins, acts of mistakes, to recover the sight and to tell the oppressed go free. “
Then the Gospels tells us the wonderful story of the preacher Jesus stepping down from the pulpit, us of the synagogue and into the streets, the villages, the squares, the homes, the families and the lives of people. He began to build relations, to build church, to build community. He began to form the sense of church and congregation that still manifest here today among us.
So, let us not only sing about it, pray about it, talk about it, but let us do so: as a church, as a congregation and as compassionate caring Christians. Let us all strive for the greater gifts together.
2. Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.