The worship service for January 17, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany is ready to premiere at 10am! The bulletin for this service can be found here. As usual, the sermon in full is included below the service video.
For a more full at-home worship experience, you may have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle in your space. Instructions on how to use them will be in the video itself.
May your time of worship be filled with God’s love and presence!
By your Spirit, O God, open our ears, our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to hear, see, feel, and understand your Word for us through Christ, that it might lead and guide us as your beloved children along with Jesus your Son, our brother. Amen.
I want take this chance and platform that I have as a preacher to clear something up with all of you watching this. Last week I led a service and preached a sermon that I wrote when I was admittedly a bit charged up with the events that occurred a week and a half ago in the US capitol. After that service was done, I received comments both on how good the service was, and also how bad it was. I’m not apologizing for the service or the sermon in any way, but I do feel that it perhaps came off the wrong way in that I was somehow acting in a partisan way in my preaching and that I was using the pulpit to try to sway others in their views on politics.
I just want to assure you that nothing can be further away from the truth. In fact, when I first started here at Grace so many years ago, I was told by a now late member here that politics had no place in the pulpit. And while many of you might have differing opinions on this, I had to agree with this member. Not because I feel like politics are somehow holier than God. Not because I don’t think God has anything to do with the governing of the nations of the world. And certainly not because I’m afraid to talk about my personal viewpoints. No, I agreed with him because I quite honestly know very little about politics so I probably have no business preaching about it.
I mean, I know about the different parties and those running for office. I try to keep up with the news regarding our government in our city and the riding that I live in as well as the country if I can. And I like to keep up to date with just what’s going on for if and when the topic comes up in conversation. But ask me the history of our Canadian politics? Or what a majority government is? Or even what a caucus does? I have no idea. I had a buddy in seminary who was a political science major, and he’d every now and then try to teach me this stuff and I’d just stare at him blankly without a single clue of what he was talking about. Yeah, we’re not really friends anymore.
Anyway, to reiterate my point, I don’t think I’m qualified to try to sway your political slant any which way, and so that isn’t what I’ve been trying to do in last week’s service or any time. That isn’t my purpose or my goal. That isn’t even what I feel like I’m called to do here at Grace. Rather, I’m here as a preacher, proclaiming to you all where I see God in all the mess that we collectively see. I’m here as a pastor trying to make sense of everything with a theological lens that I’ve spend an almost embarrassing number of years in school training and honing. I’m here as a called and ordained minister of Christ, excited for God working in the world, and wanting to take you all by the hand and urge you to come and see.
This is what I believe I’m called to do. In fact, this is what I think we’re all called to do in varying degrees and methods. This is what Philip is doing in today’s gospel reading, when he runs up to his buddy Nathanael and says to him literally, “come and see.”
Come and see what God is doing in the world. Come and see where God is present in and around our communities. Come and see how God is providing for us, caring for us, and loving us in a way that we may not have thought possible.
But don’t get me wrong, just because I believe we’re all called to this, that doesn’t mean that such an endeavour is easy. In fact, it is super hard because even we who are called to proclaim, might have the same sentiment as Nathanael and think, “can anything good come out of such-and-such?” Whether such-and-such is a person, place, or thing is up to you, but don’t we all face that battle within ourselves sometimes, wondering how can anything good come from that?
Especially now, when the state of the world seems dire with this raging pandemic. Especially now, when the tempers are flaring with all the political unrest in the States, in Canada, and around the globe. Especially now, when the church in general is at an all-time low when it comes to attendance, seemed relevance, and influence.
And it’s really easy for us to just no. No, there is nothing good to come out of such-and-such a person, place, or thing. There is nothing good that can be had in the situations that we face. There is nothing good that comes out of all this stuff that we just don’t like.
But you see, that is where we’ll be wrong. Because as God continually shows us time and again, that God can be present in whatever situation we find ourselves in. God can be present in whatever hurt or pain we might be feeling. God can be present in that individual that we just don’t like, however deplorable we might see them as.
Earlier this past week as I saw this Tweet by writer and activist Anne Lamott, where she says, and I quote, “I hope Trump and his kids go to prison. But God loves this gross, violent, insane man. That’s the mystery of grace. I’ve said I’d wash Dick Cheney’s feet and I know he’d wash mine; while I’m not there w/Trump yet, I’d get him a glass of water. God and the pope would. Biden would.” And I know, not everyone is going to share this negative sentiment about Trump or positive sentiment about Cheney, Biden, the pope, or even God, but that isn’t the point. The point is God’s grace is big enough to cover even those whom we don’t like very much or even borderline hate. God’s love is bigger than us.
Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber retweeted Anne Lamott’s sentiment and added her own take, “this is why grace is not the most popular topic – because it is ****ing offensive. I will never understand why God isn’t more discerning” and then replies to herself, “to be clear: I don’t see anything redeemable about the man. I just need to believe that somehow God does.” Again, this doesn’t have to do specifically with President Trump, but it has to do with God’s grace, which again is bigger than us, bigger than our ability to even forgive, bigger than our inability to love. And not necessarily our ability to forgive and/or love Trump specifically, but anyone that we might not be able to stand. Be it our boss that inexplicably fired us. That ex-significant other that hurt us so much. That hypocritical friend that crossed that line for the last time. We don’t have to see anything redeemable about these people, we just need to believe that God does.
And this, my friends, is what I want to proclaim. This is what I want to shout out from the rooftops. This is what I am called to help you all come and see. It isn’t my political agenda or bias. It isn’t any partisan opinion or viewpoint. It isn’t even to draw to light how little I actually know about politics. But it is about God’s grace. God’s peace. God’s redeeming love for each and every one of us, wonderfully and marvelously made in God’s own image, held and blessed as God’s own, and called to share this good news with all people.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a young child like Samuel. It doesn’t matter if you’re an arrogant know-it-all like Paul. It doesn’t even matter if you’re sarcastic and cynical naysayer like Nathan…ael (who is totally who I meant, not myself). But God’s grace is big enough to cover even these. Even me. Even you. And God’s grace not only covers us, forgives us, and redeems us into God’s kingdom, but it also calls us to share this good news with others. Equips us, empowers us, encourages us with a love that truly surpasses any kind of understanding.
This is me. And I’d like to believe that this is you as well. This is us, God’s beloved children, working together to navigate this wild and crazy world, flawed but forgiven, wretched yet redeemed, lousy and somehow and some way, still dearly loved by God.
In this season after the Epiphany, may we heed the call to not just proclaim God’s good news, but to believe it to be true for ourselves that we might be excited to go out into the world and beckon others to come and see this God that is pure love. Thanks be to God. Amen.