Sermon Preached the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Strong and faithful God, we confess that we have not lived as your holy people in the world. We have closed our hearts to your love. We have resisted your light. We have failed to proclaim your mercy. Forgive what we have done and what we have left undone, heal us with your abundant grace, and help us walk as children of the light. Amen.
Light, Oh how I love this season… Cold and dark winter days growing longer and brighter. Ground hogs and other weather prognosticators looking for shadows… shadows cast by growing, warming, illuminating light.
Light, an end to the darkness in days that brighten, with temperatures that warm. Springtime will come… Easter will dawn and a bright summer will follow. Ah summer days, days at the lake, hiking, sunscreen and wearing your favorite shades. And summer nights… dinner on the patio, kids laughing in the neighborhood, evenings filled with warm breezes and darkening skies illuminated with fireflies filling the night with wonder and light.
Light, Light to brighten and warm our days. Light to brighten the dark corners of our lives. Light that the Lord of sea and sky, snow and rain, and wind and flame gave in the form of God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ. Our loving creator saw you and I in the dark and deep sin of economic nightmares, greedy addictions, selfish distractions and in the dreary depression of our darkest days, makes our darkness bright!
In the texts for today, Paul speaks of this light filled good news by which our lives have been saved. He shares a creed, a statement of belief, the ultimate truth… Jesus died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it. He was buried and was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says. In the death of Jesus, God steps into the deepest darkness of this world, out of boundless unconditional love.
It doesn’t matter how deep our nights, how dreary our days, how dark the roads we travel… God calls out to us and illumines and sustains us. And at the end, envelopes us in the eternal light of the resurrection.
Light… Light given to even to a religious extremist, a radical who terrorized believers and sought to destroy the early church. Light… God appeared to Saul as light and in the blinding brightness of his conversion, loved, accepted and called Paul out of the darkness. Verse 10 leaps off the page and rings in my ear every time I hear it proclaimed…
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain.
God loves us, just the way we are! God calls each of us, just as we are! God equips those who God calls. God doesn’t call the equipped, the ones who have it together. The ones who have faith 24/7. The ones who seemingly lead perfect, godly lives. If God can call and equip Paul, a tent maker by trade who lived as a terrorist… imagine what God can do with us!
This afternoon many from this place will travel to an ordination. Judy Converse, someone dear to this congregation will begin her call as an ordained minister to proclaim God’s Word and administer the Sacraments. Judy, those of us in seminary, and even those ordained to serve the church are called, but they are no more ministers than each of you. God calls all of us, to be ourselves and to be God’s people using the unique gifts God gives each one of us.
All of God’s people, regardless of their call, experiences times of deep faith and times of no faith at all. I have a friend who in a conversation about faith said to me, “I could never do what your doing, I’ve got too many dark times and places in my past.” I assured him that we all do. As sinners and saints we each have dark places, deep regrets, and dreary days. In the spiritually dark days of my own life, when I long for light and a sense of faith, I try to remind myself of Paul, and that by the grace of God I am what I am. God loves us, and God calls each of us, just the way we are.
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For some the concept of being called by God seems strange, odd or an experience they can’t relate to. Some long for a holy, tangible mountain top or lakeshore experience. Some long to see the light, to have Jesus look into their eyes, kindly smile and call out their name. I admit that even as someone who has a strong sense of call, it would be nice to have experienced the type of call those first disciples did.
I think it’s because of that kind of longing that some Christians get caught up in trying to create those light filled experiences. It’s human nature to want to be in control, to want to feel the commitment and love of God in a powerful holy moment. Some churches even create a time and place for this in worship. Some through heightened music and prayer ask you to make a decision for Christ. To decide to come down the aisle to the altar and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. To decide to step out of your darkness, be reborn and walk into a bright new day.
These altar calls can be powerful and I don’t doubt filled at times with God’s presence. I have experienced them in Lutheran and other denominational settings. But often they seem to be manufactured ways that we as sinful people who long for the tangible, create an experience and decide to put ourselves at the center. We decide when to accept, when to experience and get holy in the worship moment of our choosing.
But God alone calls us! God loves us, just the way we are! And we need only look at the Word this morning for God’s presence. God calls a Isaiah—a foul mouthed sinner, Paul—a religious radical, Simon, James and John—three stinking fisherman, and just as surprising, you and me. Each one of us called, loved, and claimed as children of God. The God who loves us and knows us each by name: summoned us to splash in the waters of baptism, feeds us through the Word each week and welcomes us all to the table in the ultimate altar call.
We gather in worship to hear God’s promise of love and light proclaimed, recognize what God has done, is doing and will continue to do in our lives. God calls us to this altar each week, regardless of what we do, what decisions we make, or what we say because by the grace of God, we are who we are. And God’s grace toward us has not been in vain. Jesus finds us in the midst of our busyness, calls us to follow him and share God’s love and light.
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By God’s grace, I am who I am, and you are who you are. Jesus calls you to use the talents, strengths, knowledge and passions that you have to do God’s work, through your hands, making the difference that only you can make. This freedom means that Jesus summonses us to follow him by being who God made us to be.
We are equipped here in this place through God’s Word and the Sacraments that work in and through us as the body of Christ. Jesus the light of the world calls us to follow him and join in God’s work in ways that reflect who we are.
- We are called to live in the light and to be light for others in darkness.
- We are called to share our light, not by being, or becoming something or someone that we aren’t.
- We are called to bring the best of who we are together in community and reflect God’s love and light in the world.
- We are called to ponder how we might use them to welcome, be transformed, and share Christ’s love and saving grace.
It is freeing to be loved and called for who you are, just as you are. You could explore how to use that freedom and creativity to respond to God’s love. Engage in the conversation about how this congregation is a welcoming community, attend the congregational meeting next week, explore your spirituality through Akaloo, or on a peaceful retreat to Cape Cod. You could respond to the needs of those in darkness here in Nashua, Haiti or wherever you are drawn to bring light and love.
- Imagine if every person here at Christ the King followed Christ like that?
- Imagine if every denomination in every place responded to God’s light and love like that?
- Imagine if every person not connected to a faith community heard Jesus call them, and tell them they are loved just as they are through people like you and me?
- Imagine how much brighter the world would be…