Scripture: John 1:1-18
Given 08/03/2013 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY(9th in the Life, Abundant Series)
Some 14.5 billion years ago, in some far off portion of space, there was a huge explosion of pure, unadulterated energy. From that split second, emerged all the matter in the universe. In an instant, atoms started whirling and connecting to form more complex compounds like the air we breathe, the water we drink, the space that we occupy. Energy began to be thrust in every direction pushing the boundaries of the universe to a shape and area that borders on unimaginable. Planets and solar systems and galaxies too numerous to count began to populate this immense and ever expanding space, the full extent of which we will never comprehend. Our planet, one of the only planets that we know of that can sustain life, a relatively small planet in a relatively small solar system, one of thousands in our corner of the galaxy, with a fairly weak sun compared to other stars that power other solar systems. As the human race, our story begins with our ancient cousin Australopithecus first displaying the ability not just to walk on two legs but also cultural markers suggesting that they lived in groups with the ability to communicate in a rudimentary fashion with something that resembled a language. What followed after that were tribes, cultures, societies, empires, kingdoms before arriving at nation-states as we find ourselves now. It is a breathtaking story that we can tell of our origins in which any one part can be separated studied and spun out in equally breathtaking directions, from the origins of the universe to the origins of life on this planet, to the origins of our species. In the future, we will learn more, we will make better educated speculation and we will harness more of the knowledge to do both terrible and wondrous things. We will build taller buildings and race into space. We will colonize the moon and Mars. We will figure out more sustainable ways to live on earth without depleting the precious resources to which we now cling. We will cure diseases that threaten large swaths of the population. We will eradicate hunger and poverty. At the same time we are likely to weaponize space, discover more lethal ways to enact war on one another. Figure out what comes after the atomic bomb. We will continue to marginalize certain groups and we will likely find others to marginalize as well. We will fight and we will make up and we will do it all over again. We will have visions and dream dreams and reach for the stars and eventually be able to grab them. That is our story. A story that seeks to understand the past and boldly move into the future. It is how we as a people tell our story to each other and to our children and to our children’s children. That is the story of the human race. Here is the story of our faith.
“Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.”
“In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” I love the gospel of John. It is my favorite of the Gospels both because of its theological depth but also because of the manner in which the author tell the story of Jesus for his audience. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the story is told in the form of snippets, small episodes from the life of Jesus strung together in a basic chronological order with similar language and meaning behind many of the texts. John, on the other hand, reads much more like a Shakespearean tragedy. The stories told tend to be longer, containing a greater amount of detail and character development. If you close your eyes and listen to the words you can almost picture acts and scenes passing before your eyes as characters step onto stage and then in the same manner exit. While in the first three gospels Jesus speaks in collections of sayings that are strung together, in John, the author has had time to work out much longer passages of Jesus speaking and so it is that many times Jesus speaks for whole chapters, like a long soliloquy. Whereas Matthew and Luke begin their story with the birth narrative, of Mary and Joseph riding into Bethlehem, the filled up inn and the empty stable. The baby visited by shepherds and Magi, the flight to Egypt, John, no doubt struck both by amazement at the immensity of the time of Jesus but also with the wanderlust that causes folks to write poetry and songs, seeks to tell the story of Jesus in much broader strokes. “In the beginning was the word,” the author wrote “and the word was with God and the word was God.” That is, for John, the Christ, the divinity that dwelt deep in Jesus’s soul was that which has moved throughout all the world since the beginning of time. Not just a man, at a specific time but the spirit of God dwelling in Jesus and the rest of the world, moving through all creation. The word was with God and was God. But more than that, what was found in Jesus, what rests at the center of the whole of creation was, is, light shining in darkness, a light that is the life for all people. While the first three gospels often feel as if they are written for one or two specific communities, the Gentiles, the Jews, John begins by telling the story of all people that is for all people. The story John tells is a story that invites us all not just to invite everyone we meet to be with us in this place but rather to see each person as being a child of God, forged in the light that dwells at the center of all creation, and continues to course through the veins of each person as they seek to have visions and dream dreams of the world and how it could be. At the center of all that is the word, the light, the Christ.
I think over the last few weeks I have seen no less than 5 different articles written by religious folks not unlike myself that bemoan the flight from the church of those who have come to be called the “Millennial Generation.” Coming right after my Generation X, they are leaving the church and religion in general in a staggering number that does not bode well for the future of the church. There are any number of reasons why they might be doing this. A lack of connection to the previous generation, a lack of connection with the language and symbolism of the Christian faith, a lack of hope that anything, much less the church can begin to save this world and all the issues that face it and will face it in the next 50 years. A sense that the church has become to divisive and judgmental. A group that would rather tear down than build up and I suppose that there is some truth to their struggles. Because the reality of their life is that our world has asked these young people to grow up much too fast. Events beyond the scope of their control have thrown the whole of the world into chaos. We in the older generations have too often let them down by creating the conditions by which bombs explode and bullets fly on a daily basis and we continue to figure out better ways to deliver those sounds and images onto television screens, smartphones, and the world wide web. For many of them coming of age today, the nodal event in their lives remains watching planes fly into buildings. The result of those earliest memories is a severing of relationships. A general distrust of the world and and most of the people who govern it. It is hard to blame them for being so focused on their own needs when from an early age they learned that horrific events could take place at any point and that there was no one who could ultimately protect them. For those for whom 9/11 remains the chief nodal event in their lives, it is hard to understand what redemption looks like within the Christian worldview when it is so hard to imagine it in the present. When the cocoon of safety is shattered at such a young age it is hard to picture a better, safer way to be with one another and more often than not it is just easier to wall off than to put your heart out there to be crushed. For those who have grown up seeing images of war splayed on their television screen it is impossible to imagine what a peaceful world, much less the peaceable realm of God might look like. All this serves to throw up barriers between them and us, some our fault, others not and increasingly, they are unwilling to try anymore. And it seems to me at the heart of the struggles that the millennials have encountered with religious communities as they have come to age at this time is the inability for the church to tell her story in a manner that conveys the sense of wonder and excitement that faith should lead us to. Our stories of faith no longer lead us to do great and wondrous things. Our stories of faith no longer speak of the Christ who dwells deep in the heart of each one of us and the whole of creation. Our stories don’t strive to change a broken world in desperate need for someone, anyone to care about them. And yet, there is still hope. There is always hope.
As you know, I’m about to become a father for the second time and as the days draw closer that reality has slowly washed over me until it feels like he is always on my mind. In fact, it seems like there are only a handful of moments in the day when I am not thinking of him. Waking or sleeping. And of course questions begin to pop in my head. Are we ready for this? How will Jameson handle the transition? Will everybody be healthy after birth? All kinds of questions. Before Jameson was born I started thinking about issues of faith and how it is that one explains the story of one’s faith to a toddler, to a 4 year-old, to a 6 year-old. And with this new one soon to be coming into the world that process starts again. How do we tell the story of our faith? Is it important to simply tell the Bible stories in the same way that our parents and Sunday School teachers did when we were growing up? Is it important to talk about other faith traditions in a world that is shrinking by leaps and bounds each day and both of my children will surely have friends from other faith traditions who hold important places in their lives? Do we use the strategy of “just the facts, ma’am” and let them figure the complicated stuff out on their own when they are old enough? I’m not sure I know the exact answer to all these questions and I imagine that much of it is a process of trial and error. Of seeking to impart as much of the story of our faith as we can and let the movement of the Spirit blow where She will in each of their lives. And maybe at the end of the day all we are ever called to do for our children is to tell a story of hope and peace of joy and love and of abundance. And so as I think about telling the story of our faith to Jameson and the as-yet-to-be-named second Earles-McLeod baby, I think about telling them about the wondrous love that dwelt at the beginning of creation infusing each of us with the opportunity both to experience that love but also to share it with other. I think about telling them about the folks that came before them. Those earliest Christians who so believed in their message of love that they were willing to give their lives to a cause greater than themselves. Those reformers who came along in every era of the church pushing it to be better tomorrow than it is today. To better embody the person of Jesus and the love of God. Those folks who marched for peace and continue to march today. Those folks who worked for equality and those who continue to work for it today. Those folks who taught me the faith, my parents, grandparents, pastors, Sunday School teachers. I am excited to tell my children about the ever widening circle of God’s love constantly pulling folks from the darkness and into the light. What is your story of faith and with whom would you share it? What is the story of United Presbyterian Church and with whom shall we share it? And what are the chapters that we are going to write together in the future? Will we tell the story of a church that like most presbyterian churches once had its heyday or will we tell the story of a church that God never gave up on and a church that never gave up on God. We have an amazing story of strength and persistence to tell the world and we remain a force within this community for good. What comes next is in the hands of God but we welcome it with excitement and amazement and faith that if we allow ourselves to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ here in Amsterdam and around the world that we will do and accomplish amazing things. We have an unbelievable story to tell. Let’s go out and tell it. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace among all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.