This sermon was the first I preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, NM-my first ordained call. After the service the congregation voted to receive me as their minister: I believe there was one vote of descent...What up with dat?
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29:1-11; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
It is hard to believe that we are in the year 2007! 2007! 2007!
Why is it is so hard to believe that we have entered into a new year? For any number of reasons, really. One, we get older with every year. And as every year passes, time seems to fly faster and faster. This year I am turning 32! I’m going to be 30 something, with a wife, a seminary degree, and I’m supposed to know where I’m going in life. Parents on both sides are pressuring hard for grandkids.
What happened to the days, long ago, when I was in my 20s, care free, loving life. What happened to those days when I was a teen playing sports, and hanging out with friends. Or when I was a pre-teen, in the 1980s, riding around on dirt bikes, and coming home with scraped up knees.
It’s 2007! Wasn’t it just a few years ago when there was the big Y2K threat! Wasn’t the fall of the Berlin Wall just the other day? Wasn’t Carter president a few years back? Another
Wow, we’re in 2007! But isn’t it great that a new year gives us an opportunity to put special memories of the past up in the attic, like Christmas decorations, to come out only on special occasions, or to bury painful moments of past years like a dog bone, only to be brought up when you are willing to get dirty. Now, on this the first Sunday of a new year, we face the wide open future…the infinite realm of possibilities. We set out to accomplish wonderful goals: I will go on long jogs with our Dog, Brinca; I will take time to stay in touch with family and friends; I will get organized this year. It’s 2007. What will a new year bring?
Was it a new year when John the Baptizer begins to preach in the wilderness? The people who followed John out there ask themselves:
“What are we to do? What do you want from us?”
Repent and be baptized! Start the new year off on the right foot! Repent! Give your extra coat to someone who is freezing in this cold weather! Give your extra food to the hungry! Do not give yourselves a pay raise while so many barely scrap by on the scraps of minimum wage. Do not accuse one who is not wearing a seat belt for reckless driving, and slap him with a $600 fine, because he is undocumented and you can! Instead, prepare the way for the Lord! Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
They were filled with expectations, and wondered in their hearts, Are you the one we have been waiting for? Are you the Messiah, the one who is to save us?
I could not help but laugh when I saw that this was the lectionary text for the first morning I was to preach before what I hope becomes the congregation I will serve with for many years to come. Many churches have great hopes when they call a new pastor. Hearts filled with expectations! I did a little homework before coming out here and read the transcripts from some of Bobb’s previous sermons. About a month ago, he preached:
I suppose there are some who believe the future of this church, the hope for what is to come, resides in the potential of the new minister to be called. He, or she, will make all things right, will bring in new members, make us visible in the community, revitalize our faith, give us a new direction and save this church. Send us a Savior! And teach him or her how to perform magic so that we may be dazzled by his, or her, abilities.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Let’s see what magic I can perform to transform this community into something that the entire community of Santa Fe marvels about. Am I the Savior? [Like I said, I could not help but laugh.] In seminary, we dream about opportunities to massage what we call our savior complexes: We want to go where we are most needed, where we can exercise gifts given to us by God to bring new vision, hope, and a future to any congregation that may call us to serve.
Am I the one you have been waiting for? What about Trasie, my wife? I’m sure there will be times that she will be the reason you even keep me around.
I will not deny that perhaps you do have great expectations of me. But, lest I leave you with the impression that I am the only one here who is the object of people’s expectations. I, too, have a heart filled with expectation about a new beginning in this congregation. For most of my final year at Seminary I poured through literature and information on the history of Presbyterian Mission to the Southwest. I was fascinated, as well as often times horrified at the mission efforts forbearers of Presbyterianism brought to this part of what is now our country. Many early missionaries came on their horses with one objective: to work among the Anglo “settlers,” and through their efforts First Presbyterian Churches of X –town were organized. Then, almost as an afterthought, efforts were made to convert the “heathen uncivilized” natives. From this emerged extravagant stories of early converts who, by simply reading the Bible were convicted of their sin, recognized “true gospel,” and joined the protestant movement. As a result another Presbyterian congregation was organized, traditionally called “La Segunda Iglesia Presbiteriana” of X-town.
And here I am, in the reality of what I only read about in books, Westminster Presbyterian, antes conocida como: “La Segunda Iglesia Presbyteriana de Santa Fe”. A church that has survived the errors committed in the past, as well as benefited from the work of the faithful saints, and is now, by God’s grace, this community, you who have sat in these pews and worshipped in this place for many years. A church that was once supported by Presbyterian Home Missions as a mission church, that is now self-sustaining and seeks to be missional by bringing the light of Christ to this community and to the world.
I have spent many months since graduation envisioning the community I would serve, creating a realm of possibility about ways in which we would work together for the Kingdom of God. And within me beats a heart that is filled with expectation about joining this place, becoming part of this 114-year history just as you are part of it. A place where I may bring new ideas and teach and preach fruit bearing lessons that brings true repentance, just as you are going to teach and guide me on what will become our collective spiritual journey.
Yes, I hope to meet many expectations and visions about the future in this New Year that you may have. And believe me, I do feel a bit of pressure regarding this. But, know that I too have many expectations for you as a congregation. I do not know the future, but I do have hope.
1But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Not only in the hope that comes from beginning a new life, far from that of the Southeast where my boyhood days were spent. But, even more, I recognize, as did John the Baptizer, that I am no Savior. And you, this congregation, while you may be wonderful Christian people, are not Saviors either. You and I may baptize with water. But the one who came, not as a celebrity, a powerful political leader, or a military commander, but instead as the baby of a poor pregnant out of wed-lock teenager, born not in a fancy hospital with the best doctors, but in a manger where there were shepherds and animals to welcome this baby into the world. We are not worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of the one whom we call savior. He will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Yet, he is one who in humility joined the long line of those who were being baptized by John, and as John dipped him into the cool water he felt the rush of the river flow over his head.
This is the Savior. He is the one we have been expecting. He is the Messiah. And as he was lifted up, the Holy Spirit descends like a Dove and a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
This New Year has so much wonderful possibility; as we consider a future together with hearts filled with expectations. What then should we do?
May we remember our baptism, when the cool water touched our foreheads signifying new life. We rise from the waters and embark on a new beginning, a new journey, in which Christ beckons us every day to follow.