Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nathan Mattox's Last Sermon in Waldron, June 11

John 3:1-17
Philippians 1:1-11

I’ve come to love this bit of scripture. It has been a journey for me though. To tell you the truth, John 3:16 used to annoy me to no ends. You see people wave big posterboards with it on it at football games. It always struck me as being a scripture some Christians with definite ideas about God were trying to shove down people’s throats. For God so loved the world that he gave his ONLY son, is how I always heard it. The “only” rang in my ears—I sensed people used the verse to further their ideas of exclusivity and narrowness. Jesus is God’s ONLY son—everyone else is wrong. Whether this is indeed the intention of those who wave the verse at NASCAR races, or whether I was being paranoid and hypersensitive, I had to come to terms with this verse of Scripture. “What about John 3:17? I used to say to myself.” For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save it? Didn’t that fly in the face of what I imagined those people saying?

Perhaps I just needed to grow up a little. I still don’t agree with the exclusivists—those who try to shrink God down to fit into our shabby boxes. I can tell you—especially at this moment—God and boxes have nothing in common. But as I became a father, I began to see into John’s statement about Christ in a new light. God’s only son? God felt about Jesus as strongly as I feel about Wesley? And Jesus is telling me that God feels the same way about me as well? It wasn’t until I had a son that I was able to see the depth and the mystery and the true emphasis of this scripture. “Only” is not a statement of exclusivity, it is a statement of theological significance. God loves Christ as a father with an only son loves that son. God loves me as much as I love Wesley! This is incredible! The emphasis shifts to “For God so LOVED the world!”
Isn’t it great when emphasis shifts? I think the emphasis shifted for Nicodemus, who came to see Jesus after the veil of night had fallen. He seemed to be more interested in flattering Jesus into telling him what one had to DO to know God like Jesus knew God. But Jesus unsettled him with a riddle of sorts—an idea that we don’t do much more than what we do when we are born. It is not what we do, but what we are that counts. Jesus wants Nicodemus to know that we cannot see the Kingdom unless we are “born from above.” Jesus wants us to know we are God’s children, born of the spirit.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that Paul was one who was born from above—and how did that new life express itself in his life? With an enormous amount of gratitude. Paul was thankful for life and thankful for each breath that brought a new opportunity to sing the Praises of Christ. In his introduction to his letter to the Philippeans, Paul is bubbling over with gratitude for the spiritual awakening of his friends in Philippi. I can attest to you that this great experience of being re-born by the wind fills one with gratitude because I am extremely thankful for who you are and what you are becoming as a church—a family of faith.

I told you last week about how celebrating the sacraments have been the most important thing I feel I have done here. It has indeed confirmed the calling that I have to the order of Elder (which is the only order in our system of ordination that is able to celebrate the sacraments) The Baptisms that I have been privaledged to celebrate—Garret’s, Cameron’s, Jaylon’s, Allen’s, Logan’s, Ethan, Evan, and Nathan, Hudson’s—Have been a blessing to me, as I hope they have been to you. Through the sacraments, This church family has shown me something of the familial nature of discipleship. As I introduced those I baptized to you as your new brothers in faith, and as I told each of you “Brother, or Sister, this is the Bread of Life,” the Spirit that works through me taught me something about being “born from above.”
You see, when we are born from above, we are all brothers and sisters, and so we should refer to, or at least think of each other as such.

But it’s verse 8 of John’s chapter that I wanted to especially lift up to you today. It has always been one of my favorites—the part about “no-one being able to see which way the wind has come from or where it is going. The same thing applies to people born of the Spirit.” We, as Spirit born people, must let go of our “destination oriented” mindset—we cannot tell which way we are going as a people because we are born of the Spirit—the Spirit leads us into mystery, and we must trust the Spirit’s guidance.
This is at no time more keenly felt than at a transition in the church. As I leave and a new pastor takes the leadership role in this congregation of believers, we must trust the Spirit’s guidance. We do not know the destination of our faith walk, but we know the path! Christ goes ahead of us in the journey. I see him putting luminaries along the way, lighting the path, being a lamp unto our feet. The Spirit is the wind at our back, propelling us along the way. It may seem like a difficult trail to traverse at times, but we know we are never alone along the way.
We know we are never alone because of this fellowship that we share—a fellowship of the Spirit. This fellowship is led by Christ. He is our captain, he also brings up the rear, comforting and standing with those who struggle.
Much like Nicodemus, I’ve only been here with you for a brief time—a visit in the night, in the scheme of things. But even though we’ve only been together for a brief time, you’ve given me some riddles that have moved me toward a more meaningful and mysterious understanding of discipleship.


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