All noteworthy artists have something about them, that when you hear their music or see or their choreography or listen to their music, you know instantly who they are. Bob Dylan, Georgia O’Keefe, Fasse, Vivaldi, Johnny Cash, you know the artist by their unique style.
The Gospel of John is like that. It was written long after the other three Gospels and what written to a community of people who never came into personal contact with Jesus but were trying to follow his teaching. They were trying to remember the lessons of teacher they never knew.
The Gospel was written by a Jewish-Christian for and in a Jewish Christian community that was in conflict with the synagogue authorities of its day.
The writer wants to be clear that Jesus is the Son of God, which is why in this first chapter you have this dramatic story of John the Baptist making this loud testimony. You see it twice back-to-back. He says, Jesus out ranks me and then the next day he says, there is the lamb of God.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say anything, John speaks on his behalf.
Right after John defers to Jesus and claims him as the son of God, disciples start turning and following Jesus. He turns and asks them this profound question, that not just for the disciples in the story, not just for the disciples in the first century, but also for us today: What are you looking for?
This morning we perform three rituals that have been part of the greater church and the Presbyterian Church for centuries. We celebrate the sacrament of communion, we remember our baptisms and we ordain and install people in the ministry of the church.
Why do we do these scared acts? What purpose do they serve?
Sacred acts help us remember and ask us to pause and ask the question, what is it you are looking for?
We are going to do three sacred acts today, we are going put our hand in the baptismal font and remember that we are baptized, take the bread and cup and remember that we are forgiven and we are going to lay hands on each other and remember that we are called.
We are baptized. We are forgiven. We are called.
What does it mean to remember that we are baptized? I am reminded of the Sunday school teacher who would say to children who were running down the hall, “hey there, child of God. Stop running.” Our baptisms assure us that we belong to God. That we are salvation is secured by the Grace of God. Our baptisms remind us that if we ascend to heaven, God is in there, if descend to the pits of hell, God is there.
Now often people will say, how can I reminder my baptism I was only 3 months old. Ah, I say, that’s where the community comes in. The community, that’s us, is responsible for reminding us that we are baptized. The community responsible for holding us in the light of Christ when we do not see the light within ourselves.
Maybe you can’t remember your baptism, but can you remember people who reminded you that were baptized, that treated you like a child of God and held you accountable to that reality?
Think for a second – who are people who reminded you that you were a child of God and who are the people whom you are called to remind? It is our beloved community that reminds us that are baptized in the name of the Trinity that we are God’s children. Maya Angelou once wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s our job as a church, is create a memory for people, not so they remember our names, but so they remember what it felt like to be part of the beloved community
We live in a world that suggests that importance is based on what we achieve, what we earn, where will live, what we do. The Church is called to tell you otherwise. Your value comes from the who intricately wove you in your mother’s womb, who knit you together, who knows the number of hairs on your head and the different colors of your Iris.
As the song from Casting Crowns, Who am I, goes:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way for my ever wandering heart?
Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are
What does it mean to remember that we are forgiven?
To be forgiven, you have to recognize that you need to be forgiven, which means confessing sin. Confessing sin and asking for forgiveness and seeking reconciliation is so not 2023. What does that even look like to take an examination of your thoughts and actions and confess that you hurt yourself or hurt others?
Lewis Smedes wrote in his memoir: “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
As much as we have forgotten that we are baptized in the holy spirit, we have forgotten that we are forgiven by the cross of Jesus Christ. We have convinced ourselves that we can get through life without remember that cross, the reason Jesus died and why he rose from the dead. We forget that he did not do this for others who needed it, but for all of us who need to remember the night that he broke bread and shared it with his community and commanded that we remember him.
What does it mean that we are called?
In every Gospel story, right after Jesus is baptized, he calls disciples to follow him. They leave their careers and their families and livelihoods and go where he is staying to sit and his feet and call him Rabbi, or teacher.
Do you feel called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
If so, what are you willing to give up and or walk away from to follow him?
There is probably no more well known quote on vocation and calling than Frederich Buechner who wrote:
It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Now maybe you can’ t remember three things. I get it. It’s hard to go about your day and deal with people, problems and projects and stop to remember heavy topics like your baptism, and forgiveness and your vocation. So if you can’t remember these three truths every day, remember this –
It’s all about Grace.
By the grace of God you are baptized
By the grace of God you are forgiven
By the grace of God you are called to be his disciple
It’s all about grace.
Anne Lamott wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
When we remember our baptism today, we let Grace come in and say, “Hey there, Remember Who you are. You have forgotten who you are. You have forgotten you belong to God.”
When we remember Jesus today in communion, we let Grace come and say “hey there, Remember that you are forgiven. You have forgotten that Jesus died for you. You have forgotten that you can begin again.”
When we remember that the Holy Spirit calls us to serve, we let come Grace and say, “Hey there remember that you called. You may not be where you want to be right now, but I have called you to come and follow me and stay. -Will you follow me?
Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound
In you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.
Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood