Sermon for January 4, 2015: “Prologue”

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:(1-9), 10-18


Does this sound familiar to you?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Or how about this:
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
What I just read to you are two examples of a prologue:
The first is the prologue to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
The second is the prologue to Star Wars, episodes 1-6 (and soon to be 7).
According to Webster’s dictionary a “prologue” is:
• an introduction to a book or play or movie, or
• an event that comes before or introduces something
In works of art, a prologue serves a purpose.
It sets the tone and it gives us a sense of what has happened, what is happening, and what is about to happen.
And this morning, we get a very famous prologue, at least in Christian circles.
We get the opening 18 verses of John, which is considered the Prologue to the Gospel.
And just like a piece of art, the prologue for John serves a purpose.
The prologue introduces the five themes of the gospel (list)
1. Light and Darkness
2. Belief
3. Truth
4. Witness
5. The Identity of Jesus.
These are the themes that can be found throughout the gospel.
Why do these themes matter to John, his audience, and us?
The people who are reading John’s gospel for the first time are looking for a sense of identity and purpose.
Many of them are Jews who have been thrown out of the synagogues because they have become Christians, followers of Jesus.
For a Jew, being thrown out of the synagogue was a traumatic experience.
In a way, it was like being shunned by family and community.
We see an example of this in John 9 when a man who was blind and healed by Jesus is sent away from his synagogue because he would not denounce Jesus.
So John is reaching out to a people who are looking for something…someone…to give them hope.
And to let them know they made the right (and brave) decision in turning their lives over to Jesus Christ.
And so, in a way, John is giving the first readers and us a new beginning.

A new identity.

And a new opportunity to write a new prologue for their lives.

This morning, I invite you…I encourage you…to use this New Year, this New Sunday, to write a new prologue for your lives.
If you want to know where to start, let me point you to our readings where we hear people, our ancestors, who receive identities and new opportunities.
In our passage from Jeremiah 31, there is much rejoicing.
The Israelites who have been thrown out of their home for almost 60 years…who have been living in exile…are finally coming home.
For the Israelites, this is as New Year Celebration as they can get!
And Jeremiah is pointing them to God as the One behind this joyful news.
And it is God who gives the people the reason for bringing them home:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love (31:3).”
What makes this an amazing statement, and one that I want us to remember and to highlight is that Israel has not been faithful to God.
They have turned their back on God many times.
And because of their evil ways, they believe that God has left them to die, to fade away.
They believe there is nothing they can do to make God come back for them.
BUT God sees things differently than they do.
God has ransomed the nation from “hands too strong for him (Jacob) (31:11).”
In the OT, these two actions, “Ransom”/ “Redeem” are the same.
A “redeemer” was a person’s nearest family member who paid the damages (“ransom”) so that the accused person could go free.
The LORD acts as the next of kin (the Father of Israel) and redeems the people from exile.
God sees Israel and us as members of his family,
and God has an “everlasting love” for his family,
and he has “continued in (his) faithfulness to (His family) (31:3).”
God has a love for you that knows no end.
No matter what happens.
No matter what you do.
God’s love is ever-lasting.
Paul continues this thought, this belief, in our passage from Ephesians.
Again, pay attention to the verbs Paul uses in our text:
“Just as he who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Eph. 1:4-6).”
Did you notice how God CHOSE us and DESTINED us to be a part of His family?
God does this because it is “God’s good pleasure.”
God WANTS to do this for us!
God WANTS to save us because it brings HIM joy!

So think about it.
God’s love for you is as enduring as it was for the people of Israel.
It is as everlasting as it was for the people in John’s Gospel and the church in Ephesus.

So how do YOU respond to this unconditional promise of divine love and faithfulness?
How do you respond to the Grace that God gives you?
And it’s not just one helping of grace that God gives you.
It is “Grace upon grace.”
It is an overflowing gift that is there when we need it.
When we fall down, there is grace.
When we hurt, there is grace.
When we fail…there is grace.

And a very interesting “Did You Know” that I want to share with you:
The word “grace” never appears in the Gospel of John after 1:16,
BUT the entire gospel shows us what “Grace upon grace” looks like in the form of Jesus.
The Jesus who came to live among the people, to teach the people, to love the people, and to save them.
And us.

How will you respond to this Good News?
I say you respond with a new prologue.
A new introduction, better yet, a new EVENT that leads to something else.
The EVENT is the grace that God has given you.

The “something else” is a life of discipleship.
A life of returning the love back to the God who FIRST loved us, CHOSE us, and ACCEPTED us for who we are.

And who we can be. Continue reading

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2014: “Yes”

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2014: “Yes”
Reading: Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’*
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Sermon: “Yes”
A few months ago, I was walking into a Target store when I overheard a conversation between a boy of about 3 years old and his mom.
The little boy asked, “Mommy, can we go see the toys?”
And the mom said, “Sure.”
There was a little pause, and then came the big question…
“Will you buy me a toy, mommy?”
That was the moment my heart sank, because I know I will the same conversation with Paul and in just a couple of years.
Continue reading