January 2, 2022
SCRIPTURE READING: Jeremiah 31:31-34
We are a product of our times and as spiritual leaders we must speak to our times. So, to really understand what a prophet said many generations ago, we need to understand a little about the times in which he/she lived.
Jeremiah lived some 600 years before Jesus and was called to preach a word from God to the nation of Israel (which had split in two by now, and his people were the Southern tribes of Israel).
For many years before Jeremiah’s arrival on the scene, the people of Israel had been gradually losing sight of their unique calling to be the separate people of God – God’s family. They forgot WHO and WHOSE they were.
A man called Josiah became king as an 8 year old, and reigned for 31 years until he was killed in battle. It looked like he was going to reverse the downward trends and restore this close relationship with God. People were so hopeful. “Maybe now we can return to the “glory days” when we were powerful and noticed!” You could say they were Nationalists.
Although the reforms were commendable, they were surfacey. You see, if you commit to being “God’s people,” you can’t do that halfway. They became more concerned about being big and powerful than they were about being faithful to God! That route of becoming big through might and armaments is a short-cut that in the end doesn’t work. You end up sacrificing too much!
Jeremiah’s job was to tell them the course they were on was doomed unless they did a reset from the ground up! From the inside out – the spiritual first! They never did! They did not understand that the core values of a people (nation or church or whatever) must get regular attention and adjustment if you don’t want the whole thing to come crashing down!
It all is a little like Glenn walking around the church buildings just looking at things. Glenn is always looking for trouble! Always looking for what could go wrong! He’s a Jeremiah of the building. Jeremiah was the guardian of the SOUL OF THE NATION. I think this morning, I’d like for us to walk around the SOUL of St. Johns and see what shape it is in. Where are the cracks and are they significant? What needs a patch or a redo? Let’s hit the “reset” button to check on how far we’ve moved from the core vision. It is always a temptation to allow the URGENT to draw us away from the ESSENTIALS. Telling the difference is not always easy. We, as a congregation, have to think together about those things, and think openly and without preconceived ideas, and make a great effort to set aside personal preferences for the needs of the whole.
Our first priority:
TO BE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW JESUS
Without passing judgment on those who choose to do otherwise, we here are a people who have deep roots that go back to the first century and who have decided that God in some unique way was made plain in the life of Jesus. We are like Joshua in the Old Testament who, in effect, spoke to all the people at a reset time like this, and said: You all choose who you want to serve, but “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
That is the constant north star for us. Is the direction we are about to take in harmony with the spirit and the vision of Jesus? Of course, that doesn’t mean we all discard our shoes and wear rough sandals. It is about bigger things than that.
We don’t take our cues from other churches who might be larger and more successful. We don’t compare ourselves with our culture and models of big business or flashy billionaires. We insist on the much more difficult route of laying our plans alongside the life and spirit of Jesus and seeing if they match!
We don’t do what we do because we’ve always done it that way! Every so often we must reset the machinery and ask ourselves if what we have been doing is what Jesus would be doing in our time, with our people, in this place! And… we won’t always get it Right.
Our second priority:
WE ARE BELOVED COMMUNITY
Oh, this is a hard one! So easy to talk about, so hard to put into practice in day-to-day interactions with those we say we love. It is so hard because acting in ways that seem loving to me may not seem loving to you! And to simply disregard what feels loving to you, is to disregard the “Community” in Beloved Community.
And, if we get judgmental and say: “You didn’t act in a loving way toward me, therefore I’m dissolving the entire connection,” then the whole principle of Beloved Community dissolves.
We are just all amateurs – neophytes – beginners at being Beloved Community but 2022 is the year we try it again and this time we’re going to do just a little bit better.
And our third priority:
WE ARE “NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHERE YOU ARE ON YOUR LIFE’S JOURNEY, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE” PEOPLE
Once again, what a tough act – what a hard dream we have set for ourselves, but it is so like Jesus – and so worth the effort!
This is one of those principles where none of us is as good as we think we are at it. The kicker is that “No matter who you are” thing.
Most of us do pretty well accepting people who are different from us in a way that we find tolerable. But God doesn’t always play by the rules we set! The minute we learn to accept THAT kind of person, God sends along THIS kind and we flunk the course.
For example, I may get along with people of color just fine, but don’t ask me to welcome a handicapped person. I may not mind poor people, but don’t ask me to welcome the person who won’t work! You know what I mean, don’t you?
We have already launched another year together – 2022! It will go by in a flash! There are so many things that we could be doing this year! So many great ideas to benefit our worship, our music, our children, our young adults, our seniors, our long-time members, and the many people we haven’t yet met.
Every one of those will test our resolve around one or all of these three priorities. Every one will bring up resistance in us or in those we love and we will be tempted to back away or pray somebody else backs away first.
But there is so much at stake! This is a critical year, I believe and like never before, we must pitch in together and reaffirm our commitment to these three priorities and apply them the best that we know how to the visions and ideas and adventures we encounter on the road to becoming all that we can be for God and for our neighbors.
May it indeed be a HAPPY NEW YEAR. Amen