First Sermon at McFarland UMC
July 1, 2018
1 Peter 2:1-12
Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom, and open our hearts and minds that we might know the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and hurting, and sometimes even dying without the knowledge of your love for them. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
This past week, my wife, Charlene, and I traveled to upper New York state to visit our daughter in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is the Assistant Stage Manager for Opera Saratoga. It was a 970 mile one-way trip and it took us 2 days to get there from here. We left last Thursday and arrived in Saratoga Springs on Friday evening. We spent a couple of days there in Saratoga Springs and then meandered back home via Hyde Park, the home and presidential library of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we then traveled west from there to Binghamton, NY on a scenic route that took us across the southern end of the Catskill Mountains; we travelled from there to Gettysburg where we visited the site of that great Civil War battle (which unfolded 155 years ago this week) – a battle that pitted brother against brother in a nation that was severely divided; from there we spent the night in Staunton, VA before making the final trek home on Wednesday. While we were making this journey, we also took advantage of visiting quilt shops along the way so that Charlene could participate in the “Row by Row” experience – I’ll let Charlene fill you in on those details after church, I was just along for the ride. 🙂 As we traveled, especially above the Mason Dixon Line, we had the feeling of being strangers in a strange land. The voices we heard had a different resonance and speed and people thought we talked funny, the sweet tea at Cracker Barrel restaurants in Pennsylvania and New York just wasn’t quite right, and things were just… different. But, especially in the quilt shops, we found that there were common bonds and common experiences as Charlene and the shop owners shared their love of the craft of quilting. And through that sharing, we found that we really weren’t strangers after all, that the things that we held in common were far stronger than the things that separated us.
Today, I stand before you as a stranger in a strange land. I say that because today I come before you as your newly appointed pastor as you continue to miss Ginger who is doing the same thing in a new location herself. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But that will change as we get to know one another in the weeks and months to come. The reception from you has been wonderful. The folks that I have met have been gracious and welcoming in every way. Just like we found commonality as we traveled last week, I am certain that we will find commonality here at McFarland UMC. But, I must admit that I’m a little nervous about this morning. This Sunday marks the first time in 10 years that I haven’t had my relationships at Sand Mountain UMC to lean on. Yes, we had been paired with Rising Fawn for 5 years and then with Wildwood for the last 2 years, but Sand Mountain has provided part of the foundation that I needed to be successful… and I will miss them. If for no other reason that they already know and appreciate my strengths, they know and forgive my weaknesses, they know and have come to appreciate my quirky sense of humor, and they know what a genuinely humble person that I am. (And the folks at Sand Mountain told me that you wouldn’t laugh at that, too). But I am looking forward to getting to know you, to hear your stories, to see your passions at work and then sharing this journey that we are all on together to spread the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ to a world that is in desperate need of Good News, in desperate need of the light of Christ, and in desperate need of the love and grace of God expressed through the church, and that is all of us together as the body of Christ.
Today’s lesson from 1 Peter is part of a letter that is generally thought now to be written by a follower of the apostle Peter around the year 90 CE. It is written from Rome to the churches in the five provinces of Asia Minor: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. In this letter, the author is writing to churches that are under stress in a hostile environment. He is writing to remind them of who they are and, more importantly, whose they are. He reminds them that they are called to grow in their faith and in their discipleship – to seek the “pure, spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2) that will lead to growth toward salvation when we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
The author reminds us that Jesus is the cornerstone of who we are as people of faith and that “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:7b). He reminds us that, as followers of the resurrected Christ, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation – as the church, the body of Christ, not as any sovereign, worldly nation. The author reminds us that, in Christ, we are more than what our citizenship gains us in a particular country, we are citizens of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that transcends an earthly allegiance and exemplifies the very principles that Jesus Christ himself extolled as being bound up in love of God and love of neighbor.
As the church, we are called to live into an existence that is not an easy one for us to live without the constant strength and power given to us from God. We are called to carry the light of Christ, the love of God for all of humanity and the grace of God into a world that is shaped by fear and haunted by darkness. We are called to care for the widow, the orphan, and yes, the immigrant in ways that reflect God’s love for us, a love that was extended to us when God “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” in the person of Jesus, the Christ, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message transliteration of John 1:14.
The fear and the darkness of this world are real. But the light that is Jesus Christ, the light that we, as followers of Christ, carry with us burns bright and can lead us and others out of the darkness and into life… and to freedom as the chains that bind us are broken so that the hungry are fed, the thirsty receive drink, the tired and the weary receive rest, and this broken world receives healing from the very source of creation itself.
Each and every person walking the face of this earth is created in the very image of God; the life giving breath of God breathed into the first human being is carried by each and every one of us. Our task is to grow in our faith in order to let that image shine forth in us, so that as others look at us, they will see the image of Jesus himself.
It’s not an easy task. It’s not a task that we can accomplish on our own. But it is a task that we can accomplish when we lean on God and serve God through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. It is a task that we can accomplish with the help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, given to us at Pentecost to be our helper and our guide into the presence of the living God.
Our task is before us. It is a task that each of us, individually, must seek out and it is a task that can only be accomplished when we work together as the church, the Body of Christ, to bring the kingdom of God to earth. It starts with prayer and it ends in us taking action, whatever the Spirit determines that action may be, to see that all of God’s children are loved and embraced, and empowered to live in and through the very Christ who came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. It is a task that is not conditioned by age or gender for God gives us the strength to do what we can to be the people that God calls us to be.
We are all strangers in a foreign land. A foreign land where we are tasked with sharing the love of God with every person that we meet. Over the weeks and months ahead, it will be my privilege to be your servant leader in this time and place. There will be challenges, there will be struggles, but if we walk with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, the challenges, the struggles, and the difficulties won’t matter because God is with us.
Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.