Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
With God there is no beginning. God was always! God did not exist as one entity. God is three entities at the same time. All three were together always! Who are these three entities? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Together they are God! Without all three God is incomplete. From John 1, “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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” If you are just listening to this message, you don’t see the capital W on Word. Here, Word refers to Jesus – Jesus the Son person of God. We could read this passage again inserting the word Son instead of Word.
It would sound like this: “In the beginning was the Son and the Son was with God, and the Son 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.”
Beginning of what? The beginning of the universe after there was nothing; nothing except God in three persons. I like to think of these three persons being delighted with each other. I picture them being merry; enjoying each morsel of simple banquets; dancing as they informed the waters to separate so dry land came forth from underneath. I picture these three beings gleaming with joy as the sun appeared and then the glorious moon to get its life from the sun. Then those sparkling stars, arranged into special figures even. My goodness! What a time! Why did they not keep this pleasure for themselves? They wanted to share their holiness, their pleasure, their enjoyment of each other with other beings instead of being selfish with their joy. So water and dry land became companions; sun, moon, and stars popped from the darkness with delight. There was light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Then came plants, animals, and finally people! The people with whom these three holy persons wanted to share joy. And what did these people do? You guessed it! For whatever reason this three-in-one God chose to give people minds – working minds. However, obedience was not a built-in feature. Free will was built-in. At least we people think we have free will. God certainly gives us enough rein to direct our footsteps into unknown territory without God’s blessing. We get burned and then we face God and ask for healing and re-direction.
I thought I heard the word delight earlier. What happens to delight when people can walk from the banquet of delight into the pit of chaos? The all-time exciting news is that the light never disappears. The Son is always where we are, even in the darkest cave or mine deep in the earth.
This Word, this Son, this light is with us in the most horrible of human conditions. I have not yet been truly tested; just a bit of testing. God was there when life seemed to be very frightening, mostly in situations of my own making. But through Jeremiah, God assures us that he does not desert us. Listen.
“With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; … They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, … their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” These lines are excerpts from Jeremiah 31:7-14.
Sounds more like heaven to me than earth. If that is what heaven is like, it is well worth the wait. But it seems that we are to expect that kind of happiness in our earthly existence. But wait – don’t we know people who seem to live a life of abuse with only brief hours of freedom and hope? The light seems to be missing. Who will open the heavy drapes to reveal the light that is continuously there? “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” All people! All people are intended to bask in the light of a life in the Son – S-o-n.
Who is to make the light known to the oppressed? Surely not gloomy us! Well let’s put on our dancing shoes and the Colgate smile. Let us put our own gloominess behind us where it belongs. Let us claim this light with delight! Believe it or not, John the Baptist, is still appearing in our scripture today. Delight and light do not describe John the Baptist very well. But he was pointing us to the Light, capital L. John the Baptist needed to be gray, in the shadows, so as not to claim the limelight. This John said, “This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” This reminds me of our friend King David. He could say a similar statement: This descendant of David, who would come as a baby in time, was really David’s Lord from before the beginning of time. Remember “In the beginning was the Word – the Son.” When the baby came to earth he was not a new being. He had been “from the beginning.”
Why, oh why, do we care when Jesus came into existence? We believe Jesus is with us now as in “Take It To The Lord In Prayer.” We care because we are natured to seek the truth, what is real. Scripture may seem elusive because of differences as we read chapter after chapter. Having read from front to back of the Bible, puzzled may be the best way to describe our thinking. But when we step away, when we involve our feelings as well as our minds, when we gather our experiences into this large perception bowl, we start to get a picture that fits, a picture that is truth. When we open our minds to new possibilities, God can paint the picture for us.
It will help if we empty our mind of vain thinking such as glamor, exotic travel, accomplishment, extreme efficiency, being consumed to find the best deals, amassing money, trying to run our children’s lives. Is this you? Do you tell other people what to do? Are you good at accepting other people’s suggestions? If so, I envy you. It is not true of me! I acknowledge that I have bumped my way through life, knowing that my way is the only way and, naturally, the best way. You can imagine all the bumps in my psyche.
The Apostle Paul certainly bumped through his life with stubbornness and persistence sure that his way was right until he was caught in “The Light.” Even though he spent the rest of his life zealously introducing Jesus Christ to people, his basic nature did not change. Paul seems to be very sure in his declarations. Some of this is due to the culture of his time. Some of it is due to the strange actions and thinking which he encountered in the members of his new churches.
However we feel about Paul’s teachings which seem to oppress women and and approve slavery, there is a core message in Paul’s letters. No matter how massive our sins, there is redemption in this Jesus Christ, this Son who was in the beginning, this Son sent to earth, this Son who made forever news by hanging on a cross to die, this Son who redeemed every last one of us no matter how we lived our lives – in delight or in despair. Paul is saying in Ephesians 1: “In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
Instead of thinking of the cycle of “sin, redemption, sin, redemption,” let us think sin, redemption, delight, dancing, thankfulness, kindness, goodness, transformation. Oh, yes, bless the Lord, O my soul! Lest we think that we can maintain this celebration for the sake of celebration, it won’t happen. In order to have a steadfast transformation, we need to be acting within it. Within? Well from within, we need to take a long, hard look around us. From within, we shall take an accounting of our own skills, our own yearnings, and link these discoveries to the needs around us.
As we read, or listen to, the news each day we find accounts of people who have bounced from sadness, or repulsion of past actions or inactions. People whose children have taken their own lives; people who have taken someone else’s life; people who were the main cause of a failed marriage; people who have caused all kinds of anguish by succumbing to drugs, alcohol, and worse addictions.
Just recently, I read of one such man. He blamed himself for the suicide of his son and could not make himself leave his bed. Something – I wonder who or what – planted the seed that he could rid himself of this agony by walking across the United States to raise the consciousness of society to surround troubled persons with acceptance and to work toward changing the culture of unkindness, such as bullying, to one of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Healing redemption in action! However, the very greatest redemption is wrapped in the forgiveness of this one come to earth who had existed since the beginning. Christ did not stay on the cross for our redemption. Christ rose! Christ danced for our salvation!
This delightful song, written by Sydney Carter, brings alive our scripture passages for today.
I danced in the morning When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon And the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven And I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.
I danced for the scribe and the pharisee,
But they would not dance And they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fisherman, For James and John – They came with me And the dance went on.
I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame; The holy people Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped And they hung me high,
And they left me there On a Cross to die.
I danced on a Friday When the sky turned black – It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance, And I still go on.
They cut me down And I leapt up high;
I am the life That’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you If you’ll live in me – I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.