St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-05-2020

St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-05-2020
Enlightened LIFE!
Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147:12-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:(1-9), 10-18

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating; I like that we follow the lectionary for our readings. Although it does skip over some interesting and important readings, I like to keep myself (and hopefully you) challenged by not picking my own readings and preaching what I am in the mood to preach, rather being pushed to delve deeper into the Bible and attempting to get something useful out of texts I would otherwise not spend much time with.
Having revealed that about my approach, I must also tell you that John’s Gospel was never my favorite for reading, much less for preaching on.
As for reading, for me the lofty language is confusing; the writing style that makes it difficult to know when a quote ends and the narrative resumes leaves a lot of ambiguity; and the hard focus on the divinity of Christ was, too often, a distraction.
And as for preaching, John’s writing style always leaves me challenged to make the text at hand clear without having to refer to an abundance of other parts of his telling of the story owing to how he weaves in and out of the points he’s making throughout the whole of his Gospel.
Just in today’s reading, for example, we hear that “the Word” was with God in the beginning and that the Word was God and then goes right back to with God again; all in one sentence. In verse 5 the tense flips from present “The light shines in the darkness…” to past tense “and the darkness did not overcome it”. And, through the entire reading, we start with the introduction to “the Word” coming into the world, move to the introduction of John the Baptist, go back to the purpose of the Word, back again to John, back again to the Word, and finally, at the end of the reading, learn that the Word that was with God and was God, is now in the only Son of God, Jesus Christ.
If you are confused by all of that, I assure you, you are not alone! And it would probably take a year of sermons for us to sort out this one-page reading alone.
Still, with all that being said, my acceptance of the challenge to follow the Lectionary, even when readings from John’s Gospel, has been rewarded over time with a greater appreciation of his work than I ever had before. By delving deeper and struggling beyond the confusion, distractions, and the ambiguity I found new insights to the understanding of the Heavenly Father’s spiritual presence in the earthly realm that I (we) live in.
The reading for today is John’s prolog; his introduction to the whole Gospel. And in it, he doesn’t only introduce God, God’s Word, the Baptist, and Jesus Christ; he also shows the reader how to take the message into his or her heart and soul; he shows us, through all that back-and-forth, how to keep our thoughts moving through the telling of the story and the ancient Scriptures that are called into the story.
We can begin to make those connections right from the start as we read John’s opening three words “In the Beginning…” and recall the opening three words of the entire Bible, the first three words of the book of Genesis “In the beginning”. With that connection the whole creation story comes to mind and tells us that God’s Word, his plan of order for the universe, is tightly intertwined with John’s Gospel message.
Moving back and forth, then, between the Creation and John’s explanation of the coming of the Christ (as John induces with the back and forth in his writing) we are able to make the connection between light and darkness; both mentioned in Genesis and John. And from there we might be able to make sense of that confusing, ambiguous line that reads “What has come into being in him was life, (as in creation) and the life was the light of all people” which in turn reminds us again of the intertwining of the spiritually divine and the earthly life of “people” in the creation story; and that also expands into the connection between the spiritual and the human in the Gospel story.
Carrying all this interconnectedness with us as we read the rest of John’s Gospel, we will notice even more direct contact between the spiritual and the physical mentioned either literally or metaphorically. There are those we hear in today’s reading of the Word being with God and being God; as well as the reference to the Word becoming flesh and living among us (A more literal translation says “pitching his tent among us”) Not just being with us in spirit but literally living with us, making contact with us in the world we live in.
It is in John’s account that we hear of Jesus picking up some dirt, using his spit to make mud and rubbing that onto the eyes of a blind man to restore his sight (9:6). In John’s account Jesus wept over the death of his dear friend Lazarus (11:35). In John’s account Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment, and wipes them with her hair (12:3). It is in John’s account that Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples (13:5). And it is also in John’s account that Mary Magdalene wants to grab hold of the resurrected Jesus. (20-17)
And then there’s that long prayer that John records for us in which Jesus speaks of being one with the Father and adds “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… … that they may be one, as we are one…” (17:21-22)
Perhaps now, if I’ve had any success at all at leading you through this part of the maze of faith, you can see the confusion caused by John’s lofty language, not as a flaw, but as the reality of simple, human minds meeting the Word of a far superior God; maybe now you can see the ambiguity as an invitation to delve deeper into the Word with your heart and soul rather than your mind; perhaps you can see the focus on the divinity of Christ, not as something that creates separation between the Word and humanity, but as the emphasis of the wonder of the Divine living with us, making contact with us in the complicated, muddy, sometimes tearful, (but never hopeless) world we live in; and, if you’ve gotten nothing else from my thoughts, I hope you are reassured that we don’t have to be more Christ-like to be nearer to God, for through Christ, God has made himself nearer to us, where we are, as we are

Jeremiah 31:7-14
31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”
31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
31:14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

Psalm 147:12-20
147:12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
147:13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
147:14 He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
147:15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
147:16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
147:17 He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?
147:18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
147:19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
147:20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Ephesians 1:3-14
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight
1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)
1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.