Called into the Fellowship of Christ

Gracious and eternal God, open our minds and our hearts to your Word this day. And may the words that I speak be words, O God, that are faithful to you and to Christ's message to us and to all who serve him as disciples today. Amen.

'Called into the fellowship of Christ' is the title of a message that I've been working on trying to decide how these things fit into the context of also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., forty years of a change in our society that started with a dream, but also going back to the ancient history of our faith to the Israelites seeking a new vision, seeking a time of deliverance, seeking the anointed one who would come and deliver them from the tyrannies they faced, to deliver them from the sinfulness they had experienced, from the punishments that they understood came as a result of these things, or at least the consequences of their actions. They waited for a deliverer.

In the New Testament world, we understand that Jesus was that one of God, the anointed who comes to change all things, to reclaim the world for God's purposes, to restore and to renew God's people. And in John's passage, we are setting up for a series of stories about Jesus and who he was. The Gospel of John proclaims who Jesus was from the very beginning. And even in today's passages, we understand that Jesus is the one who is considered the anointed one of God who was going to be baptizing with the Spirit. John the Baptizer himself proclaims Jesus as the Lord's holy anointed one, the one on whom the Spirit descended. God's divine deliverance of the Spirit upon him, and God's voice in his ear telling him, "This is the anointed one," gives John his ability to proclaim who Jesus is. And so convinced is John the Baptist that Jesus is this anointed one to deliver God's people that he tells his own disciples, his followers, that this is the one, and the two disciples leave John and begin to follow Jesus. And they ask him, "Teacher, where are you staying?" and Jesus says, "Come and see."

It is an invitation for them to follow Jesus, at least to see where he stays. And next week we'll hear some of the calling of Jesus' first disciples following up on this theme of, "Come and see." Jesus himself, in speaking to us through the Gospels and to his disciples, constantly says, "Come and see." And to the people who question he says, "Follow me." And we will see how Jesus starts to address the tyrannies of his time. Peoples who were considered political outcasts, people who were considered religious outcasts, people who were seen as unclean or dirty, people who could not be associated with by God's children...Jesus will stand up to these established rules and point them out to us as tyranny. Jesus won't use that word, tyranny, but I use it to describe some of what people were begging God to deliver them from in their times. Much of that was church run and much of it was also the Roman political leadership. The people needed deliverance.

What is tyranny? There are two definitions; I'll give you the second. 'Tyranny exists when a person or entity exercises power, control or authority unfairly or harshly.' As we hear the stories of what Jesus begins to teach and do, we will see Jesus standing up in the face of the tyranny of his time. It is a time when we think things were very backward and ancient. But is tyranny any different in our modern times? Is there tyranny present in our world? Sure. There are oppressive regimes around the world. There are people who are deliberately kept impoverished by their governments so that those in power may stay in power. There are people who are treated like second-class citizens in many nations around the world. And, yes, even in our own nation, tyranny which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up against, the tyranny of racism, the tyranny of holding one separate and different from everyone else because of the color of their skin. And in his vision, he dreamed that one day people would count the character of the person to judge them and not the color of their skin. It's a dream that still isn't completely fulfilled within our society. And it goes to people who come to our country from other nations, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, people from the Africans who are not African-Americans, but who are Africans who come to our nation. People of different tribes and races, even Native Americans still fight the battle of racism in our country today.

But the tyranny does not end there. The larger tyranny in our country is the tyranny of greed and fear, the tyranny of those who have the most making sure they continue to keep the most and to keep the power. Therein lies the fear, the fear that they may have to give up some of their material wealth and possessions and their comfort and share with others. The fear that as they do that, they will also lose the powerful grip on the nation that is currently wielded. Greed and fear, two great tyrannies.

Fear is an excellent motivator. Fear is what keeps us away from the sick and the diseased. In my lifetime, a fear, at least in the 80s, was anyone who had HIV-AIDS before it was fully understood. If anyone was even supposed to have HIV or AIDS, they were kicked out of their families, pushed out of the workplace, pushed out of churches. They were isolated. That tyranny is being overcome, but there is still great fear over other sicknesses and disease. There are fears of others who are different, those who come from different cultures and have different cultural practices than ours. Those who have a faith that is different from the faith we proclaim. Those who may have a different sexual orientation than we ourselves possess. Those fears lead us to continue the tyranny.

But we, as a people of God in Christ, are called forward like Simon Peter, who was renamed Cephas (the 'rock') who we know is the one who began the foundation of the Christian church...he is called forward to come and see. He is set aside and renamed. He is given a new beginning, an allusion to the seeking that many had in the Old Testament that God would renew, restore and deliver the people. And Peter is the first to be renamed and given this new chance by Christ. Each of us in the Christian church has a time when we are claimed and named. It's no accident that I'm standing in front of this baptismal font, or for confirmands who will soon stand up to confirm their baptism at Pentecost. In the process of baptizing, we use the full name of the person. They are named and blessed by the Holy Spirit in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for newness of life, for a new beginning, for a change, for deliverance from the tyranny that binds us all.

Through that simple act of sacrament in the church, we are called into the fellowship of Christ to be his agents in the world, to be those who stand up and are counted. When we stand up with the voice of love. When we stand up with the voice of compassion for all of those who suffer the indignities of what tyranny brings. Now, we may not all agree that in the United States we are a tyrannous nation. And perhaps maybe added up or stacked up against other nations we seem to fare pretty well. But I would argue that we still are not free of our tyrannies. We are still not free of all the things that hold us back from being truly delivered and being the nation and the people that God has called us to be.

So as Christians, each of us who have been called forward to come and see, who have come to see and been renamed and given new life, it is our duty in Christ as we walk among the fellowship of Christ as his disciples to be those who continue to be the voice of people like The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who in our time tried earnestly and faithfully to stand up to at least one of the tyrannies that holds us back as a people of God. May we find our niche and may we find our voices on behalf of Christ. Let us pray.

Holy and amazing God, sometimes we don't like to hear bad news. Sometimes we become defensive. Sometimes, O God, we just feel completely overwhelmed, as if one person cannot make a difference. As your community in Christ, O God, Scripture tells us that you will strengthen us until the very end, that you will give us your voice and your Spirit. And I pray that that Spirit may fall upon us, O God, so that at least in our place in this nation and state and county that we, as a people here at Grace United Church of Christ in Taneytown, may be the voice of your vision for a humanity based in the love that Christ teaches.


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