Psalm 63: 1-8
JOHN 3: 1-18


December 15, 2019

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On Thanksgiving Day as I held my new grandson in my lap watching our football team’s victory over Dallas, I sensed his not quite 5 month old legs attempting to stretch out and gain a balance that will allow him to truly move forward in his life’s journey.  I felt strength in Dax’s legs … no, I was not naïve enough to think that he would be walking by this Christmas but I can picture him in hockey skates by next Easter ready to learn how to play goalie.

There is something special when we take our first steps as infants because the world becomes ours and we are no longer dependent on the arms of loved ones to move us from place to place.  Friends and family members take great joy in witnessing those first steps.  Moms and dads get added exercise chasing after their children.

And, as Christmas Day continues to get closer … as the plans for holiday gatherings wrapped in tradition and sometimes in faith gain momentum we all want to insure that all goes right … I pause to consider again to have us where God fits in … how Jesus relates … whether I or you are open to sense God’s Holy Spirit’s always present directions.   Where are we headed?  Who do we want to be in the days to come?

But, those are the continuing steps of faith … since you are in church today whether physically present or watching us through the internet I am making an assumption that most of you are people of faith because coming to church or watching a church service online is no longer a social expectation of the community … rather it is an active decision from people who know that they will not be chastised for NOT going to church … their neighbors won’t gossip … LOOK AT THAT SMITH FAMILY; can you believe it they didn’t go to church today.  Heck, we all know friends and family members who choose to ignore church for a wide range of reasons beginning with they are too tired, overworked, too much on the schedule, church is boring, and continuing right down to not liking the pastor.

As we continue to unwrap the GLORY of CHRISTMAS this ADVENT season I would hope that each of us was agreeing with David’s words from today’s Psalm as we heard them read.   “O God, Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings.  My soul clings to You!  Your right hand upholds me!”

O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL … you agree with those words of David, right?  God is your help!  Do you sing to God when you are all alone?  Sing songs of praise and worship?  Do you sing songs of faith of the Christmas season in your car with your family?  After dinner?   Singing in the shadow of God?

OH COME OH COME EMMANUEL … does your very soul cling to Jesus Christ in your waking moments?  Do you not only sense God’s right hand holding you up … but do you allow God to be the force behind the person you present to the world?   Are you ready to stand up and shout that the Son of God appeared 2000 plus years ago and is alive?  Is God’s Holy Spirit holding you up in your moments of weakness and struggle.  REJOICE … REJOICE Emmanuel has come to rescue … you friends and family and members of St. Paul’s.  Jesus came to rescue the world from the dark side.

But do you remember your first step in faith?  Your baby step … the energy you felt when you stood up with Jesus Christ as your only guide … letting go of the world so that the Savior named Jesus whom God provided would be the One you leaned on …

Today, you and I were present when CAILYNN RENEE HOUGHTON was baptized into God’s church.  In case you didn’t know it … this was a special baptism because neither her mom nor her dad came to me asking ‘Pastor, can you baptize our beautiful daughter?’  This was not about the expectation that all too often taints baptism by pushing parents to parade their babies in front of a church.  Today we witnessed a child of God who just knew that she needed these waters …. She needed to stand up to declare her faith in God … her sense that Jesus is so much more than a Christmas decoration … CHURCH DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST STEP IN FAITH?  DO YOU REMEMBER the excitement and the relief in knowing JESUS for the first time?

Do you ever have moments when you need to feel the holy waters of the baptism font just because … because you are in need.  Just because you are calling out silently or perhaps loudly … “O GOD, You are my GOD … earnestly I SEEK YOU!!”  Church does your soul ever thirst for the Holy?  Your body ache to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence?  I know mine does … I need to be refreshed!  I need my God … I desperately require my Jesus … and I hope that I am willing to be led by God’s Spirit even in the times when I feel dried out and weary.  But …. Do you?  It’s Advent … Christmas is coming … we need to hear the stories of faith … today you and I have witnessed a faith story … we have seen eight individuals choosing to join this church as members.  But, we have heard again of Nicodemus … who came at night afraid to be seen by his friends but still coming towards the Light of Christ.

In his society … in his neighborhood … amongst his family and friends Nicodemus didn’t need Jesus.  In fact, since Nicodemus was a Pharisee; a member of the ruling council … he was one of the powerful haters of everything Jesus stood for … so he couldn’t walk up to Jesus in the middle of the day to ask Him what made Jesus so different.  He had to keep up his public persona … you know he had to stand strong in public affirming hate and power but he knew perhaps he sensed those opening lines from Psalm 63 O GOD I EARNESTLY SEEK YOU … and so he came at night and had that conversation with Jesus. A conversation that totally changed that man into an active believer.

Most of us know all about the born again thing.  But, I have to tell you it gets more complicated than those who spout the raise your hand line as the means of faith … in this Advent season as Christmas approaches … it is so important to realize that Jesus was teaching that we connect with God and Christ when we truly change.  In fact, Jesus pretty much says people of faith need to be connected to the Spirit of God not once or twice or in church on Sunday but that we are to become new people born of the Holy Spirit knowing God is real … Jesus is real.  Not people eager to condemn others but following Jesus who came to save not to condemn.  To rescue … because God’s “love is better than life … “. When you know Jesus your “soul will be satisfied as if with the richest of foods.”  And, when you really feel that … when you know it … then your lips will sing praises to God with love and an energy that you never want to let go of.

I first knew Jesus through osmosis.  I didn’t have a Jesus moment … He was there.  I often share that it was the night when Ed DeBryne, a preacher from New England,  came to a Sunday evening service at my church accompanied by tenor Ed Lyman as the moment when I felt a special transition.  Ed sang O LORD MY GOD … WHEN I in AWESOME WONDER … consider all the works thy hands have made.  I see the stars … Well, I just knew but then in 1991 I lost my faith.  Perhaps it had been waning but slammed in the face I ran from rather than embracing the Holy erasing God from my essential elements of life.  And, many of you know that it was while getting ready to go to lunch with my friend Bill Southrey that he took Philippians and revived my faith in God and Jesus Christ.  He gave me this Bible that day.

So, I want to do the unusual today … right now … I want you to turn to the person next to you whether they are family, friend, or stranger and tell that person when you knew that God was alive and Jesus was your Savior.  Not a long testimony but we are in church … Jesus is here … the Holy Spirit is here … so with joy and with excitement tell someone in church about your Jesus!  What were your first steps like?   And, if you aren’t quite sure … I am here if you want to talk with me.

Yesterday, we went to see Tom Hanks in that truly special movie about a Presbyterian pastor … a man of God … a hero to the nation FRED ROGERS.  The movie is powerful; Fred Rogers was an amazing man but there is one scene where Mr. Rogers told Tom Juno, a reporter who is working on a story about ROGERS, that one of the most special moments of his life was when a woman taught him the sign (SHOW THE SIGN) won’t you be my friend.

This Christmas season …. The proof of God’s love is the reason for the season but you have to make it personal.  You have to take the first step … if you haven’t been walking with Jesus then you need to revisit why you haven’t been.  Because Jesus Christ the Son of God wants to be your friend and mine.  You and I need to change but when we do choose to walk with Jesus WHAT A FRIEND we have in Jesus and then all of our days will be beautiful days in the neighborhood even amidst the storms the world brings.   Church cling to God … let God hold you up … and sing praises to the One who matters!


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