Weekly Words of Wisdom 1-13-21

Sermon 1-10-21  –   Rev Jen Van Zandt 

Matthew 3:13-17

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Seeking and Following

            In the normal rhythm of the church calendar (and the usual rhythm of our church today), as we honor and celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we would also joyfully be ordaining and installing our new officers and sending them on a path to do the challenging and meaningful work of the church.  Being ordained and serving the church is truly a tremendous privilege.  Fourteen years ago to this day, I arrived here to begin the work of my call–a month before, I, too, would be ordained. In another few hours, I will also have the great privilege of preaching at the installation of the new pastor at the Morris Plains Presbyterian Church.   And, ironically, he comes from serving my home church in Caldwell.

            For those of you who have never had the privilege of being ordained or installed or even related to someone who has, you know it is a tremendous honor.  It calls for trust, discipline, faithfulness and courage to make hard decisions, to debate and discuss challenging situations with an open mind. It calls for patience and, above all, respect for one another in the call of Ordination.   When those characteristics and behaviors get lost, the mission and the ministry, the work of the church gets stalled and lost. The body becomes weak and spiritually adrift.

            I want to thank all the officers currently serving, those who have just finished terms, those who have yet to begin their service, and those who have actually taken additional terms–either now or in the past–to keep this church, this ship, healthy and strong.  It is because of you that this church has done, and continues to do, mighty acts in the name of Christ; for the homeless, the nameless, the grieving, and the sick. It is because of you that youth and children learn about the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to do amazing things even among the youngest and newest believers.  

            And while much of what we treasure and miss is being held at bay, it doesn’t mean that God’s spirit and God’s activity is being held at bay.  Even though we are not together, it’s just being manifested differently. As long as we continue to have strong, capable and faithful leaders, driven by the conviction of serving others in the name of Christ, this community of faith will continue to be a beacon of hope, a place for peace and renewal, a place where everyone has a seat at the table:  the Communion table, the table of Christmas dinners, the table of soup and chili cook-offs, the table in the library where officers gather as one voice to uphold the Gospel in their calling.  

            Our texts today reinforce and firmlyremind us what servant leadership is and whom we serve and for what purpose. The servant, Jesus, chosen by God, is to bring justice to all the nations; the servant is to bring justice and peace, not through force or aggression, but by example of mercy, equity and light.

            The events in Washington this week and all that continues to unfold couldn’t be further from God’s purposes, to put it mildly.  The work of doing justice is not just for the faint of heart in any setting.  Walter Brueggemann, who is an expert in the book of Isaiah and a well-known Old Testament scholar, says that the servant in Isaiah 42  “…is deeply conflicted; it is a high-risk matter, but the servant does not proceed with force or high-handed authority. God’s justice is brought gently, cheerfully, and caringly. The servant has respect for persons who are weak, fragile and in jeopardy”.

            My friends, what we witnessed this week was not only a failure of certain leadership, but a blatant disregard for all that we hold dear and sacred.  The call on our lives as servant leaders is not only for those who are public servants and elected officials or elected officers within God’s church.  It calls on all of us to fight for justice and uphold the Gospel.  It is our duty to uphold God’s purposes and to be the people, not of darkness, but of light; not of oppression, but freedom; not of tyranny, but transcendence.  The only way that is possible is if we have the courage to follow our servant leader and do the difficult work: to pay attention to God’s voice proclaiming who we are to follow, who we are to listen to, who we are to be led by, and who we can become fearless of.  

            I pray that peace reigns today and in the days and weeks to come.  But regardless of what happens next, know that we will be held together by our faithfulness, by our baptism, by our table and by a servant who has the sovereign power over not only the church, but all of creation and is about to do a new thing.  May it be so. Amen.