Dare To Believe

Luke 1.67-79; 3.1-6

Can you use a Word from the Lord? A word from beyond? A word that speaks to your situation, to your circumstances, to your life? Can you use a word that says something to us about the current state of affairs in the world?

I don’t know about you, but I can.

If you can use such a word too, Luke, the gospel writer, knows how we feel. Luke knows that what we need is not a nice story, not a theological treatise, not a feel good scene in an escapist movie. We need a Word, with a capital ‘W’ that comes to us where we are, that speaks to the particularity of our lives and world…and brings life.

Luke does his best, in these opening chapters of his gospel, to let us know that a Word, a living Word with a capital ‘W’, is coming.

Do we dare believe?

Luke was a historian. He was not a historian as we might define one today, seeking the objective analysis of cold hard facts (we all know that historians today are objective and have no axes to grind or agendas they want to follow ;). But Luke does want us, dear readers, to know that a Word indeed came. He wants us to know precisely where it came, when it came, and to whom it came.

It was, Luke tells us, the 15th year of Roman Emperor Tiberius’ reign during which “the word of God came.” But that Word did not come to him.

Under great Tiberius’s judgment seat sat the lesser rulers: Pilate up in Jerusalem, the Herod boys down in Galilee and beyond, running things with their usual unbrotherly squabbling, and Lysanias stuck in Abilene (better known to us as the Bekka Valley). Annas and Caiaphas from the religious realm, were in their appointed places providing religious cement for Rome’s social engineers. But the Word did not come to any of them. Certainly, Luke assures us, the Word arrived in the real world of politics, economics, and religion. It arrived in the real world of history, our world; but it did not come to those who were in power, or to those with status, or to those on top of things. Oddly, it came to John, a man hanging out it the wastelands of a backward province on the outer boundaries of the empire–far from the center of things.

Even more oddly, John proclaims the he is but a harbinger of a greater coming. A Greater Word is coming which will transform not just one life, or two or three, not just one town, or city, or province, or people. With this coming (using Eugene Peterson’s message) “Every ditch will be filled in, Every bump smoothed out, The detours straightened out, All the ruts paved over. Everyone will be there to see The parade of God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6 MESSAGE) The word is for everyone, everywhere.

Do we dare believe that the Word of the Lord arrives in such an odd place, to such an unexpected person, in such an unexpected way, and with such a grand scope? Do we, trained skeptics, instructed by the principles of the modern world, bound by the precepts of human reason, and schooled by the hardness of life and the persistence of evil, do we dare to believe that such a Word is even possible?

We might be more comfortable with incontrovertible proof. We might be more convinced with signs of great power, or with logical arguments and scientific proofs that remove all intellectual stumbling blocks. We might be more convinced with the eradication of evil and the end of tragic events in our lives and world. But God has chosen not to act or arrive in this way. Instead, God has chosen to tell a story, and to sing a song, and to walk with anyone who is willing, inviting all of us to discover our own freedom to chose whether or not we will listen for God’s odd and challenging, but life giving Word.

Do we dare believe?

This is the invitation of Advent: to believe, to consider, to reflect, to dream, that this kind of Word is not only possible, but that it comes to us & for us.

It is when we dare to dream, that we begin to see and experience its reality, and it’s truth. It is not something that can be proven, or imposed, or domesticated in doctrine.

The Word is a song to be sung, a story to be witnessed, and truth to be discovered when we dare to trust and believe.

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Do we dare to believe?

The invitation of Advent, to take a risk, to wander down the path of belief, is a very personal one. You are not deciding for everyone. The choice John is challenging us to make is not to be imposed upon others. You are not pronouncing a verdict on Buddhists or Muslims, or atheists, or agnostics (discussions of doctrinal truth of the more universal variety are for another time and place). John, and Advent, invites you to discover a Word of life, spoken to you and to your particular situation.

So, in the first year of the Presidency of Barack Obama, when Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations, Gary R. Herbert is governor of Utah, and Randy Watts is Mayor of Logan, and when Gradye Parsons is Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and Paul Heins is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Logan, the Word of God comes to …us?

It comes to us when we dare to believe.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Lent in the Midst of COVID

    We’re in the church season of Lent, a time of journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem and to the cross.  In addition to Sunday worship services on YouTube we will be adding short mid-week Lenten devotions from Pastor Meg and myself (also available on YouTube).

     Last month Mary-Ann Muffoletto sent me a picture. She took a ‘screen shot’ of our most recent Zoom congregational meeting, and I’m thankful she thought to do this. This is the moment when we ordained and installed new elders and deacons to our church. This is usually a sacred moment of our worship together on Sunday mornings, a special time for those new deacons and elders and also for the congregation as these individuals step into leadership positions for us. We’re usually doing a “laying on of hands” at this moment, as we offer a prayer for these new officers. This last year Presbyterian churches around the country have doing this via Zoom, and here we are, lifting up our hands as a blessing for these church officers, as we lift them up to God in their new roles.

    The big thing on our mind in the church office and with Session is when will we be back in worship together? I don’t have an answer for you at the moment, but as more people receive vaccines and transmission rates continue to decrease in Utah and around the country, we get closer to that time. Two Session members have volunteered to work with Pastor Meg and myself on plans for when we get back into the building. Outdoor worship services in a park is also a possibility before we return to our church building. When we are back in the sanctuary and Bruner Hall together our plan is to record the service and make it available on YouTube for those who choose to continue worshiping from home.

    I want to close by sharing a few things with you about our building during this last year. You might think the building has been empty and unused, but I assure you this is not the case. While most of our activities have been put on hold, several things have been occurring in our building. Session approved Loaves & Fishes to serve take-away meals and that has been ongoing through much of the year. Additionally, numerous recovery programs (similar to AA) have been meeting throughout the year (for some people, being able to attend a sobriety meeting is a life and death matter). And finally, the Red Cross has been holding blood drives every month or so. Craig Mortensen passed along to me that Red Cross blood drives at FPC collected 490 units of blood in the last year. Most of these units even came from willing donors… (just kidding!). All of these activities have required people to wear masks and socially distance to prevent spread of COVID.

    It brings me great joy to think of how many people Loaves & Fishes has helped, how many people have continued their journeys of sobriety, and how many people were helped through blood donations in the last year. Each of these activities come with some risk of COVID transmission, but Session approved them because they are essential for certain members of our community. All of these happenings are possible because of the use of our church building. I thank all of you for your ongoing support of FPC Logan. I know we aren’t worshiping there, and many of us are anxious to be back in the sanctuary (I am too). Thank you for bearing with us and our cautious approach. Good things are indeed happening through use of our building and because of our collective journeys with Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace be with you on your Lenten journey.

    Pastor Derek

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