Sermon: God Chooses Love

Scriptures: Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

Preached: Jan. 5, 2020 at Nottingham Presbyterian Church by Rev. Merritt N. Schatz

 

          Fifty years ago on Christmas Eve, astronauts looked out the window of their space capsule and were awed by the sight of the earth rising from behind the moon. One quickly located his color film and then took the now famous “blue marble” picture. The picture captured a view of our planet as we had never before seen. It is magnificent in its vibrant color, and awesome in its depiction of earth’s dynamic complexity. For the astronauts who first saw this sight, it was also a reminder that what they knew in their heads to be true, was now reality staring them in the face. They had left the planet earth; they were far enough away to see it completely.

          We have spent the last several weeks at ground level with the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. This morning, with our passage from the gospel according to John, we are catapulted into the outer space of faith. We have pulled back from the familiar, homey scene of the stable and the baby, to a cosmic picture of the world and of the divine. In doing so, we gain a magnificent perspective which reveals ever more clearly the significance of what happened in that stable on that night over 2,000 years ago.

          “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” John does not tell us of Mary and Joseph’s visits with angels, nor of the shepherds or even the Wise Men. John tells us that this birth of a baby was a part of God’s plan from the beginning; that all creation receives its life from this Word that became flesh. This Word, this Word which was from the beginning with God, this Word who was God, came and made his dwelling with us. The Greek for this phrase is actually that the Word came and pitched a tent among us – an image particularly chosen to ring true to a group of people who knew more about living in tents than we do. Eugene Peterson, in his modern paraphrase of this verse declares, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” My first thought on reading this version was that it seemed so impersonal – Christ dwelling outside us rather than within us. Yet the more I considered it, the more I like this version. What a thought! The power that created all that is, that gives life to all, comes and lives in my neighborhood – in your neighborhood, in this neighborhood. I wonder if Mr. Rogers knew this translation – or if Eugene Peterson took his cue from Mr. Rogers! Either way the image is impressive! From the beginning, when creation was first conceived, God planned to be a part of the community, to dwell with us, in our neighborhoods. It is as if that magnificent blue marble picture of the earth is given life. We are able to travel with the astronauts as they re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and can see the continents, then the nations, then the states and cities come into focus, until ultimately we return to our own neighborhoods and see the familiar streets and landmarks. Yet somehow, in all this, we retain the presence of the divine perspective. It is God the One and Only Begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, who has made God known in this very personal and community way.

          Even more amazingly, from the beginning God has planned to draw humanity into the activity of the redemption of creation. God planned to reveal the glory and grace of God in Jesus Christ from the beginning. In accordance with God’s plan, some, if not all, would hear and believe the gift of God’s grace, and then would live in ways that show God’s grace to others. By, in, and through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, God would, did and will, pitch God’s tent in our midst, move right into our neighborhood, so that all might come to live in Christ’s love. Chosenness, as we hear it in the Ephesians passage, was never intended for us to have pride in ourselves or to exclude others. God’s freely given grace, is the basis of our calling to proclaim God’s grace for others. God’s plan from the beginning has been “to bring all things together under one head, even Christ.”

          If we want to travel with Christ, we must stand in awe of what our magnificent and gracious God has done in coming in our midst, in pitching a tent among our tents, in living in our neighborhood. As we begin to grasp the mystery and wonder of this loving vision, we are called to proclaim God’s grace just as our Savior Jesus Christ has done – humbly, living in the midst of those whom God is still trying to reach, loving as we have been loved.

          Through the Holy Spirit, we experience this grace most intimately in Holy Communion. As we receive the bread and wine, we proclaim that God did and does come in our midst through Jesus Christ. We accept that the Word became flesh. Just as much as we believe that the bread and wine which we eat and drink joins with our bodies, entering every cell and fiber of our being, so too do we know that Christ’s Spirit unites with our Spirit through these elements. We declare the unique union of divine and human in Jesus Christ, a union which God planned from the beginning, is a union which makes possible our own union with God and with one another. In Communion we acknowledge that God’s plan was, and is, resisted by the forces of sin. However, we know that God’s light overcomes the darkness of sin – in ourselves, in our neighborhoods, in all creation. Through the Spirit we freely respond to God’s offer of redemption, not because we are better than others, but in gratitude for this undeserved gift of salvation. In Communion we are fed through the Holy Spirit, as God also planned from the beginning, so that we can go forth in strength, courage and love, to serve Christ in the midst of the peoples and to carry God’s awesome love to all peoples. We are not perfect when we receive Communion, or even after we receive Communion. We are broken, sinful persons whom God has chosen to carry God’s good news – chosen so that God’s love and strength might be visible; chosen because we have need of salvation and forgiveness; chosen to become evidence that God gives grace based on need not merit.

          Be stunned by God’s amazing love, by the grace of God’s plan to live in our neighborhood, in the midst of us, as we are called to live together as God’s children. Come, come humbly and lovingly, to the Holy Table. Stand humbly in the presence of the God of powerful love. Let the grace of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wash over you, sink deep within you, lift each of us to unimaginable heights, until we are filled to overflowing with this gift of the holy seeking the lost. Experience the dynamic vision of creation in all its complexity and pain; receive here life-giving forgiveness and hope.

From the beginning this was God’s plan – that the divine would dwell in our midst, move right into the neighborhood, right into our hearts, transforming us with love. Thanks be to God!

 

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