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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  • Back to School, Not Back to Church…

    …at least not all the way. Some ministries of the church are in action, others are not.

    Ministry is Continuing!

    To date we have shared around $7,000 with our local community to help relieve those affected by coronavirus, and we have another $2,000 we will be distributing now. This has gone toward food, diapers for families in need, rent & mortgage relief, and other purposes.

    Thank you for continuing to worship with us—our YouTube videos get around a hundred views each week, and in some cases, there are multiple people watching one screen. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your continued financial support.

    We are going to be doing some new things in the interest of our own spiritual health, fellowship, and the ministry of the church. The first is drive-through communion (or drive-thru, as it is frequently written).

    Drive-Through Communion — Sept 6th, 9:15-9:45am

    If you wish, you’re invited to drive through our parking lot on Sunday, September 6th from 9:15-9:45am and I will serve communion to you. You are just as welcome to partake of communion from home, as we’ve done the last few months.

    Fellowship Bike Ride — Sept 13th, beginning at 1pm

    On Sunday, September 13th we will have an FPC Bike Ride. We will meet at FPC and go on a 10-mile bike ride led by John and Jean Stewart. Maps of the route will be provided, and a shorter route will be available if needed. Some of the route will be on streets and some on dedicated bike paths. Meet us in the parking lot at 1pm, and we will depart by 1:15.

    Zoom Bible Study — every Tuesday morning from 8-9am

    If you’d like to join us for Bible Study we will begin on Tuesday, Sept 8th, from 8-9am. We will meet via Zoom so you can enjoy breakfast and coffee from home. The zoom link will be available on our First Pres Logan Facebook page each Tuesday morning.

    My role as pastor is to be a spiritual guide, someone who helps each of you on your faith journey (and as you might imagine, you help me just as much). I confess to you that feeling like we are connected and in touch these months has been a struggle. Continuing to not meet in person remains one of the more challenging decisions of my career in ministry. I want to see all of you each week. Worshiping at home via YouTube is certainly just as pleasing to God as when we gather and sing, but it doesn’t feel the same to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to you. Hopefully, some of the above activities will help us with that.

    In the Presbyterian system the pastor does not make decisions about all of the activities and happenings around a church. The pastor leads worship, teaches through Bible Study and similar endeavors, provides pastoral care, and participates in many other diverse activities around the church and community. We have Elders and Deacons who take on other responsibilities, including making decisions about church activities (reserved for Elders, who serve on Session). Who does what around a church (and how we do it) is outlined in the Book of Order, which covers all kinds of things. But as you can imagine, there isn’t a chapter titled What To Do in Case of Worldwide Pandemic.

    The Elders that we elect as a congregation (you elect them, Pastor Meg and I do not vote) make many important decisions for each congregation, although pastors frequently share their thoughts and offer guidance for any vote that is taken. The Session of FPC Logan met on Wednesday, August 19 and voted unanimously to continue with online worship for at least the next month (until the next Session meeting, on September 16th).  At that meeting we will reassess the situation and take another vote for the coming month (or months). Session made this decision because we don’t feel it is safe for us to be in the same room for an hour together. Some people may be willing to take the risk. I am not, and neither are your FPC Elders. Of particular interest is the effect that the return to school will have on coronavirus numbers. Public schools and the Utah State University are back in class now, with both online and in-person classes. Also, of great interest is progress in vaccine trials. We are praying that one (or several) of these vaccine trials provides good news in the next few months.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all,

    Derek

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