A Gathering Place
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

January 3, 2016

Jeremiah 31:7-14
John 1:10-18

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

I want to point out a couple of things about the baptismal and ordination vows that we took and heard a few minutes ago. [For those who are reading this and not in worship this Sunday, Pastor Tom and I renewed our ordination vows, and the whole congregation reaffirmed our baptismal vows.] First, did you notice how the questions to Pastor Tom and me were all about how holy we are, and how much closer to God we are than everyone else? No? Me, neither. From the Rotary 50/50 drawing to the weather, some people make jokes about how I have a closer connection to God, or a direct line to Jesus, or I am somehow more saved than they are. I say some people joke about it, because others say it as if there is not anything less than Gospel truth to be had in such statements.

But the truth is that with ordination, Tom and I, and Dick Bayles, and all the other ministers out there, have taken on additional responsibilities, assumed a different role, and pledged ourselves to the service of the Gospel and the church. But our connection with the Lord is the same as yours. It is in our baptism that we discover we are all called to ministry:

  • to follow in the way of our Savior,
  • to resist oppression and evil,
  • to show love and justice,
  • to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able
  • to grow in the Christian faith,
  • to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ,
  • to celebrate Christ’s presence,
  • to further Christ’s mission in all the world.

And we could spend a sermon or three on each of these promises, which is not a bad idea. But for this morning, let us unpack some of them briefly.

To follow in the way of our Savior: the fancy word for this is discipleship. To know what the way of Jesus is, we need to read and study the Gospels, the Prophets, the Torah, and we need to discern what this means in our moment, in our day. We need to discern what it is that we are called to do. And then we need to have the courage to do it.

To resist oppression and evil: this is not simply resisting oppression and evil that might be visited upon us, but also upon our neighbor. And if we have trouble figuring out if something is evil, substitute the word violence. If we are perpetrating violence, whether physical, mental, verbal, spiritual, economic, or in any other form, then chances are we are engaged not in resisting evil, but in its perpetuation. There are times when force is necessary, but we must confess we live in a world where violence is much more likely to be the next option rather than the last option.

From our Congregationalist Christian and Evangelical and Refomred forebears we inherit deep traditions of piety, compassion, and caring for the least of these. This is what shapes our to promise to show both love and justice of these and to acknowledge that they walk hand in hand with one another.

To witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best [we] are able. This brings us back to the answers we give. We do, we will, we promise, WITH THE HELP OF GOD.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

And it is this grace upon grace, unearned, unbought, undeserved, but real and true and trustworthy, that allow us to make such crazy promises, and to rely on God’s help with seeing them through.

And a church which takes seriously its baptismal promises, that seeks to show love and justice, that works together to the witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ, who pray fervently to follow in the way of our savior, a church like this will be a kind of gathering place like the gathering that Jeremiah spoke of:

  • Gathering together people wherever they are from
  • Gathering those who are hurting in body or mind or spirit, who need a place of respite and healing
  • Gathering those who are pregnant with new life both literal and metaphorical. For those literally pregnant, prayers, love, support, compassionate wisdom. For those filled with possibility, with a living expectation of what is yet coming to be in our midst, a place where it is good and safe to be creative, to think and dream outside the box
  • Gathering those who weep, and being a part of God’s consolation in their lives
  • Hearing and proclaiming the love of God that gathers the scattered, and that the Lord is our shepherd
  • Declaring that the Lord redeems us all from those things that too strong for us to free ourselves from

How will we know we are such a gathering place as this?

They will know because we sing hymns of praise and joy. They will know because we will live in the faith that God’s abundance is real and true and can be trusted. And we will know it as well. We will know because we will live secure in the knowledge that the Lord gives us all that we need to do the work and live the lives and be the church that God calls us to do and live and be. And the people will be glad to be here.

For God will turn mourning into joy for all who are gathered here; God will comfort all who are gathered here; and God will take sorrow and it for gladness for all who are gathered here.

Thanks be to God.