HEBREW BIBLE LESSON: Jeremiah 31:7-14
GOSPEL LESSON John 1:1-18
SERMON: “Family Reunion”
Just curious if everyone has now completed the family gatherings and present exchanges for Christmas. . . Thanks to the weather and my trip to Detroit, I still haven’t gotten together with my daughter, but hope to in the next week or so. Did you get what you were hoping to get from Santa? Sometimes Christmas gift-receiving falls into the category of “just can’t win for losing,” like the husband whose wife gave him two ties for Christmas. He, being a peace-loving man, went immediately and put on one of the ties. Then he returned to the kitchen where his wife was fixing breakfast. Seeing he had one of the ties on she asked, "What's the matter, don't you like the other tie?"
If that tie-receiving husband was frustrated at his wife’s reaction to his attempt to do the right and loving thing, imagine how our Lord must have felt to have left the glory of heaven to live and work among us earthlings, only to be faced with the fact that much of the world did not recognize him.
How many of you have family reunions every year – or at least on some regular basis? I have had to learn about family reunions from my friends, because neither my mother’s nor my father’s side of the family did that sort of thing. I learned when we lived in Hesperia that the third week of July was reserved for the Turple/Kolbe family reunion. There was no point in asking my friend Ruth to do anything or go anywhere that week. The family reunion out-ranked anything and everything else. The same was true for my friend Carmen and the Hren family reunion. Ruth’s family reunion was held at the campground in Hesperia – easy to arrange since her brother owned it. The Hren family reunion was often held at Steve and Carmen’s house – which meant a lot of cleaning and cooking went on ahead of time.
I’m kind of sorry my family never did any of that. I am confident that the Hrens and the Turples all know each other well, and would have no trouble recognizing one another. I am sad to say I have three cousins on my mother’s side, none of whom I have seen since sometime in high school, and probably eight or nine cousins on my father’s side (sadly, I don’t even know how many) whom I have not seen in at least as long. Any one of those cousins could walk in here and I would not recognize them. My sisters and I are working on remedying that next fall.
Jesus, according to John’s Gospel, is the Word of God, who was with God from the beginning and through whom everything that was created was created, came to earth to get reacquainted with the human family, and develop a better relationship with us. But John wrote that the earthlings did not recognize him. Sad.
The overall message of John’s gospel is about clarifying who Jesus is and what he does for those who believe in him. 3:16 God sent the Son into the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus identifies himself as the light of the world, the bread of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, and still many, if not most, did not recognize him. He came to be with his human family and did not find a welcome.
Can he find a welcome here? In his church? Among us?
At a worship and preaching workshop, pastor, professor and author Tom Long spoke all morning to a group of people gathered in a church fellowship hall in Indiana. After speaking on everything from Vatican II to Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper to the pros and cons of doing children’s sermons, he took a sip of coffee and asked if there were any questions.
A hand went up and a man, eager to speak, said, “There’s one thing about our worship service which really gripes me, he complained, “like fingernails on a blackboard.”
Long, anticipating a comment about gender inclusive language, new hymns, politics from the pulpit or sermons on tithing, was taken aback when the man said, “The announcements. I just hate it when the minister spoils the mood of worship with all those dull announcements.” Lots of heads nodded in agreement. Dr. Long said he knew what the man meant. You’re soaring above the pews on a Sunday morning, your wings catching the strong breeze of the Spirit, when “thud. . . ‘the Christian Education Committee will meet in the library on Thursday at 7:30.” He agreed that the announcements can seem rather mundane, uninspiring, but the details of the church’s institutional life were important; five minutes of the couldn’t hurt . . .
After the meeting Rev. Long realized he blew it. He didn't give the right answer. What he should have said is that, properly understood, the announcements are one of those places where the rubber of the church's theology hits the road. Indeed, it just may be that by moving seamlessly from "Holy, Holy, Holy" to "the telephone crisis counseling ministry is in need of additional volunteers," by punctuating its soaring praise with the commas of the earthy details of its common life, the church is expressing in its worship one of its most basic convictions about the character of God: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us....
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we know this when we deliver shoeboxes filled with gifts for children who don’t hope for a Wii or X-box for Christmas; they hope they will have something to eat before they go to bed.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we know this when we deliver food and money for turkeys to North Kent Community Services.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we see this when we prepare a lunch for the family of someone who has passed into heaven.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we know this when we go, as our deacons and others of you do, to visit and take communion to those who are not able to attend worship and more.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we recognize this when we give generously to Christmas Joy, One Great Hour of Sharing, Disaster relief for victims of fires, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we see this when we study the Bible together, teach our children, volunteer to serve in the nursery so that parents can have 40 minutes to worship without distraction.
The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and we recognized this last summer when this part of the Body of Christ responded with energy and love to meet the needs of one of our church families.
The Church is the Body of Christ in the world today, and much of the world does not recognize it. There’s plenty of criticism, some of it deserved, because we are not Christ; we are not God. We do make mistakes. But we are what Christ chose to do his work here.
One of my colleagues sent me a link the other night, the content of which I really want to share with you. I don’t know the author’s actual name; his screen name is ‘the unappreciated pastor,’ I gather he pastors a small church somewhere in the Midwest.
Here’s what he wrote about the church today:
Hello my name is church,
I'm sure you've heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am...
A waste of time
You've heard that I am full of:
Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:
Maybe you needed me and I was:
Maybe you joined me and found I was:
Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:
Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:
Invited you back
Perhaps your experience has driven you to:
Speak negatively of me
Swear to never come back to me
Proclaim that no one needs me
Believe you're better off without me
If this is true, I have something to say to you:
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake
But remember, I never said my name was:
My name is church. I welcome the:
I welcome the
I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you:
But I would remind you that we couldn't always worship in the same room.
In the Old Testament there was a division between the:
In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was:
Which is far worse than being:
So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people:
I can't promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It's not:
The Celestial city
God wants you here.
The body needs you here.
The world needs your witness here.
You belong here.
Hello, my name is church.
I miss you.
I love you.
Can't wait to see you.
In this imperfect place we call church we have a little family reunion every week. We sing and play and study and read together. Sometimes we have a big meal together, sometimes just a bite of bread and a sip of juice. It’s where we know we are part of the beloved family of God, and everyone, including the weird uncle and the crazy cousin, the critical and the compassionate, the scholar and the beginning student, – everyone – is welcome and wanted.