The Rev. Jerry True – August 11, 2019

Click HERE for the video of the sermon.

And Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Little Lance Morgan returned home from Sunday School. “How was it?” his dad asked. “Did you learn anything today?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” young Lance replied. “We talked about God and how God came into the world as the baby Jesus. We heard about how he grew up to show us how to love each other, to know that he loves us. God wants us to grow up to love him and each other and be happy; and then when we grow old and its time for us to die, he wants us to live with him forever in heaven.”

“Did you understand all of that?” his dad asked.
“Well, maybe not all of it, but I did learn one thing”
“And what was that?” his dad asked.
“I think it’s easier to think about God when he has skin on.”
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

What do we mean when we use the term, Word of God? What is the Word of God?

Better yet, “WHO is the Word of God?

From the opening words of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-13

There is this little word in the English language that over the centuries has led to a bit of confusion in our thinking, perhaps especially in the English speaking world, but in some other languages there is a similar problem.  It’s this big little word of. The word of has three quite distinct meanings. The word of can mean about or belonging to or from. For instance, “I have heard of Jerry True of Christ Church Cathedral of Springfield Massachusetts,” or “I have heard about Jerry True who belongs to Christ Church Cathedral and comes from Springfield Massachusetts. The Holy Scriptures, commonly called the Bible, are often referred to as the Word of God. This means that they tell us about God. The Scriptures also tell us of the history, the prophesies, the interactions, and the revelations experienced by the people belonging to God as they lived out their faith over time and history.

It is important for us to know where our faith comes from and how, through the Holy Spirit, speaking to and through imperfect human beings like you and me, our faith has been formed. The Holy Scriptures tell us, not only about God and who he is, but just a importantly, they tell us who we are, why we are and whose we are.

And then there is the context found in John’s Gospel in which we see the term Word referring specifically to the Word present with God from the beginning.

The Word who was with God and was God. That eternal Word became incarnate in the birth of Jesus Christ who became the Word from God. God the Son, God in bodily form: Jesus Christ. God with skin on.

Again, we use of to mean about or from or belonging to. I see the eternal Word of God of whom John speaks as present in all three meanings in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Word belonging to God, the Word from God and the Word about God. I am once again drawm to those opening words which we heard from the Holy Gospel according to John:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

And then once again, recalling the closing affirmation in today’s Epistle to the Hebrews:

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” I paraphrase: “so that which is seen was made by the reality of presences that are not visible to the eye.

Here, the writer is not referring to the earthly Jesus, but the eternal Word of God who became incarnate and came into the world as Jesus the human being, Jesus the God made Man, Jesus the Messiah: the “God with skin on”

Let us consider just what those words from the Letter to the Hebrews are telling us. For one thing, it seems to me that they are a clear rebuke to those who like to say, “I believe in what I can see and touch and feel and smell and taste. These are the things of reality. Anything else is fantasy and illusion.

I cannot believe in the reality of things which I cannot see or discern with any of my five human senses.”

The so-called realist cuts herself or himself off from the possibility of entertaining any further evidence of, or grounds for, an existence of truth and reality beyond the tangible, scientifically provable facts of life. Taking such a skeptical attitude, position and belief to the extreme, there is no provision for those things which bring joy and true meaning into our world, things such as faith, hope and love.

This leaves no room for dreams; for a meaningful and fulfilling future for our loved ones, ourselves and for those who will come after us. There is no room for images of a better world, a world which can become more peaceful, more just, more responsive to the love of our fellow human beings. Such things, such aspirations and dreams are important to the future of our human race. In blind and obstinate skepticism, we deny ourselves, in every way possible, the comfort and vision of a true and lively faith.

It’s OK to entertain doubt. That’s often a part of the process in the trying and testing our faith. What is not OK is to remain rooted there without asking God for help in discernment. Not with the arrogance of demanding proof, but in helping us to open our hearts and minds as we invite the love and grace of God the Holy Spirit to enter in.

There may be value in questioning our faith, but obstinate “show me” skepticism has nothing of value to offer us. By it we preclude and render pointless any aspirations for the future which are informed and energized by an atmosphere of adventure, caring love, affection and friendship.

If we deny ourselves such things, the real possibility of a meaningful, authentic, and uplifting faith and hope for a future existence will remain in serious doubt.

Many of us have met or at least been touched by the words of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry from his recent visits to us, first on our anniversary, and then again when he visited the diocese for a rally and preaching mission. Bishop Curry has summoned the Episcopal Church to become, “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” This “Jesus Movement” is a recent iteration of other such “Jesus movements.”

Such movements from the past have served to breathe new life and renewal into the faith and worship of Almighty God in his Church. Unfortunately there have also been times and places where good beginnings and pure intentions of the leaders of such movements have degenerated into waves of separation, judgment and hostility.

I remember that when I was growing up in the late forties and early fifties, there seemed to be very little emphasis on Jesus Christ in many of the sermons and worship of many mainline churches, including the Methodist church that my parents – well-my mother and I – attended. Sometime around my high school years, there arose a sudden upsurge of new, more evangelical Christian emphases, often leading to the formation of new sects and denominations. These were spurred on, I believe, by many sincere Christians who felt that the preaching of Jesus Christ had grown cold or even nonexistent. The preaching of Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, was sadly lacking in the existing churches.

Sadly, that iteration of a Jesus movement led to more separation between and among Christians. In families, there were disputes and fractured relationships due to self righteous judgments, and wrongful use of Holy Scripture. The Bible must never be used as a weapon, fomenting pointless arguments and a loveless division. I have the sincere hope and belief that this latest movement to which Bishop Curry calls us, will be different; that it will be truly of the Holy Spirit and, praise God, so far it does seem to be moving us more toward reconciliation, more toward fellowship across denominational lines, with less inclination toward judgment than was the case in those years of my youth.

Today is a special day of remembrance for some of us, some of us older folks who were around back in the 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s. On August the 12th , 1999, twenty years ago tomorrow, the Right Reverend Alexander Doig Stewart, Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and husband of our own Laurel Stewart, entered into the Nearer Presence of God.

I especially wanted to be a part of today’s remembrance because Alex Stewart was important in my life as the Bishop who encouraged, cautioned, guided, supported and prayed for me as I was testing a vocation to the Priesthood. On June 1, 1979, the Feast of St. Justin Martyr, he laid hands on me to make me a deacon and then on December 8th, observed in many places as the Conception of our Lady, he again laid hands on me along with many of my fellow clergy, and made me a priest in Christ’s One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

There are many stories that could be told about those days; stories of how Bishop Stewart endeared himself, as a spiritual leader, teacher, friend;

A faithful witness to Jesus Christ for so many, of us, and there may well be a time and a place for some of that, but not here and not now. He would have been the first and loudest to protest; “Today’s sermon is to be about Jesus Christ, not about me.”

I really think as I listen with my heart, that I can hear Bishop Alex Stewart, from the halls of paradise, applauding and encouraging Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in his call for us to become the Episcopal branch of this Jesus Movement. He would be delighted and grateful for all of us here in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, to continually strive to return to the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our worship, in our hearts in our minds and in our lives.

Though he may not have been known as a great singer, hymns were important to Alex Stewart. I always try to find an appropriate hymn with which to close my sermons; to end with the wonderful poetry of an inspired Christian hymn: This hymn came to mind:

I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow JesusGod set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus. 

In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I want to see the brightness of God. I want to look at Jesus.
Clear sun of righteousness, shine on my path, and show me the way to the Father.

In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

I’m looking for the coming of Christ. I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus.

In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

  Kathleen Thomerson (b. 1934)

Amen.

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