2nd Sunday after Epiphany Jan 19, 2014
Last February about 30 youth from around the DRG gathered in Ruidoso
for what we call Snow Slam.
We went snow tubing, had a dance with karaoke,
ate and played games and watched movies together.
We also shared worship and prayer, and did skits portraying parables of Jesus.
On the way home, Father Brian Winter was driving a van with about 12 young people.
On the sidewalk next to the road, they saw a man in obvious distress –
lying on the sidewalk, shaking.
Father Brian stopped and went to help.
As the kids looked on, he spoke to the man, and used his cell phone to call for help.
Along with other bystanders, he sat with the man until help came.
When he got back in the van and they were driving away, one of the young people said,
“We were like the Good Samaritan in the story.”
She and her peers made a connection between their own lives, and the story of Bible.
That is Christian formation – the formation of an identity which sees our own lives
in the light of the larger story of God at work in the world.
John the Baptist has been talking to his followers about baptizing Jesus.
He asserts that Jesus is the Son of God,
that he saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus.
So a few of them go to find Jesus, to see him for themselves.
And he greets them with the question:
What are you looking for?
It’s a provocative question, and one that hits close to home for many of us.
What are we looking for we come looking for Jesus?
A sense of meaning and purpose to our lives.
A sense of belonging.
A way to make sense of this story of life we find ourselves caught up in.
When Jesus invites Simon Peter to follow him, he names him,
giving him, along with a new name, a place and a role to fulfill.
Isaiah gives testimony that God chose him and called him –
that God did, in fact, form him in the womb to be God’s servant in a particular way.
Psalm 139 shares this conviction:
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
These words are a comfort and a source of empowering faith,
that we have been known and our lives given meaning in our belonging to God.
As Jesus invited the ones who came seeking him that day long ago,
Jesus invites us to come and follow.
And his gives us, too, a name and a role.
We have received our primary identity in our baptism –
we are children of God, part of the Body of Christ in the world.
We can find meaning for our lives in finding our own lives to the part of the larger story
of Creation and Redemption by God through Jesus Christ.
A part of this identity as followers of Christ is that we are in community.
Like it or not (and some days we like it better than others),
being followers of Jesus make us part of a “great fellowship of believers”
that stretches around the world, 2000 years into the past and also into the future.
When Paul writes a letter to the fledgling community of Christ in Corinth,
he begins with the words,
“I thank my God every time I remember you.”
It might sound like Paul is writing to some ideal community –
the infant church, perfect and pure in it’s closeness to Christ and the apostles.
When we read the rest of the letter, we see that is far from the truth.
Paul chides the people of Corinth for various flaws and mistakes -
for inequities and misjudgments and for outright sin.
Paul has no illusions about the problems in the Corinthian community.
But he also knows that is not the whole story.
Years ago, in my seminary class on Christian Education, my professor led us through a Bible study which I have never forgotten
He asked us to divide a piece of paper into two parts.
On one side, we were to write down how we see ourselves.
We wrote: mother, student, husband, baker, soccer player, musician . . .
many words to describe the roles we play and what we do in the world.
Then he gave us a psalm to read,
and asked us to write on the other side of the paper how the psalmist sees himself.
We wrote: Forgiven. Loved. Saved. Belonging to God.
What difference does it make, our professor asked us,
if we see ourselves as the psalmist does – as beloved of God, chosen and redeemed?
When I read the opening of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this week,
I thought again of this lesson.
Paul knows only too well the faults and flaws of the Corinthians;
and he does not pretend that they are not there.
But they are not the whole story.
Not the most important part of the story.
Paul starts with what he knows to be true of these folks trying to serve God
and follow the way of Jesus in community:
They are called by God.
They are bathed in God’s grace.
They are rich with spiritual gifts.
They are strengthened by Jesus Christ and by participation in his fellowship.
Paul knows that God has gathered the people into this community,
and that God nurtures them.
God calls them to be more than they are –
to be the Body of Christ in the world, carrying the Light of Christ within them.
So it is with the church in every time and place.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the church is not a dormitory for saints,
but a gymnasium for sinners.”
The church is not and never has been a place where people who have it all worked out come together to rest on our laurels.
This is the community where struggling, imperfect human beings come
to be fed and nurtured and called to be something better than we are.
We come to hear that we are indeed a part of something greater than ourselves –
a part of the story of God’s saving love for the whole world.
We come to hear that we are, indeed, special and known and beloved –
made in God’s own image and invited to follow Christ.
There is a community in Denver called the House for All Sinners and Saints –
a Lutheran congregation led by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.
When Nadia has a gathering for newcomers to the congregation, she invites each of them to share – what brings you to House? What are you looking for – and what have you found?
Then she tells them: We will disappoint you.
The community with disappoint you.
I will disappoint you.
And when that happens – not if, but when – I invite you to stick around.
Because if you leave when you are disappointed, you risk missing a moment of grace.
We will disappoint you, but God will not.
That is the core of our community – not our own effectiveness or ability or goodness,
but the everlasting faithfulness of God.
As Paul says: God is faithful;
by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
What are you looking for?
If it is a perfect community, perfect priests, perfect organization – keep going.
But if you are looking for a place to bring your brokenness and your gifts,
to share with and learn from the giftedness and struggle of other imperfect people,
you may be at home here.
I thank my God always for you –
for each and every one of you –
for the grace you show me and one another and share with God’s world.