Last Sunday, Reverend Miak kick started a new sermon series entitled “Preparing the way of love”, by sharing with us from the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Today, we will continue with the narrative from John chapter 1 verses 29 to 42.
1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’
1:31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
1:32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
1:33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
1:34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,
1:36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
1:37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
1:38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
1:39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
1:40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
1:41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).
1:42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Today, I will not be going through the historical context of the passage, or where the timeline of this event took place in the four separate gospels. On this second Sunday after epiphany, after the manifestation of Christ to the three wise men, I would like us to relate to the journey of the first disciples, and think back of our first encounter with Christ. All of us came to the Christian faith in different ways; some of us were born into Christian families, and followed the family tradition into Christianity. Some of us went to mission schools, and were exposed to the Christian faith via chapel sessions. Some of us may have been brought to church by friends, and accepted Christ as our savior during one of the altar calls. Some of us may not yet be Christians, and you are just visiting Free Community Church to have a sense of what this church is about. Whatever journey we took, it brought us to this present moment, in the only inclusive church in Singapore, to worship together as a community.
Our Christian journey
Our conversion to Christianity could have been dramatic, where we clearly hear God calling us to the faith. Or it could be just another ordinary day in your life, after being exposed to the faith for a period of time. It could have been an easy decision, where we just made up our mind. Or it could have been a struggle, with us facing objections from family and friends. Whether you have been a Christian for weeks, months, years or decades, how has your journey been so far? Has the Christ and/or God that you have been taught, introduced or proclaimed to, been the same throughout? Did the image of God evolved with our faith journey, from the strict and just Father, to the indulgent Santa Claus; from the wise teacher, to the guiding companion; from one who controls everything, to one who allows our participation in her/his plans? Are we as close to God, and as enthusiastic to learn more about god’s teachings as when we first believe, or has the fire burnt out in us? Does the name of god still inspire awe in us, or it has become another term that we just throw about in church? Do we take little notice of god’s existence, until we want something from god?
Why would we need to ask these questions of our journey and of ourselves? Why can’t we let god simply be god, and we live life as we are? Because in our relationship with god, we are to allow god to transform our lives, and if our lives has not been transformed along our faith journey, who are we to call ourselves Christians. We are not Christians just because we come to church, sing a few songs, maybe utter a prayer or two and take part in the communion. We are not Christians just by wearing the cross or crucifix around our neck. We are not Christians even if we read the bible everyday. If we just say the words with our mouth, but not let our lives reveal god in us, then we are not Christians at all.
We are Christians because we have a relationship with Christ, took the step to acknowledge god’s presence and work in our lives, and would like to commit to following the teachings of Christ. If we pick and choose which part of the Christian faith we would follow, and which we can discard at our own convenience, then I think we should go back and examine the Christian tag that we place on ourselves.
Being a Christian does not mean that we will do no wrong, that we become better people immediately. We all know this is absolutely not true. We will still stumble and fall, we will still be angry, bitchy or sarcastic if that is who we are (which is quite common in our community). There will still be jealousy and envy when we see others doing much better than us, and sometimes we will be tempted to make the wrong decision because it advantages us. Being a Christian is to acknowledge our weakness, but we are willing to make an effort to make a change because we believe that is what god asks of us, to learn to see and love the other as ourselves. And know that the change is not by our effort alone, but is made possible with the nudging of the holy spirit and the help of our fellow sisters and brothers by our side.
So, today, on the 19th of January 2014, while some of us are still keeping on to our new year resolutions, and some of us have already given up, I would like each of us to recall our first encounter with god, when we first experienced god’s presence, and remember what that felt like, and how we chose to respond. Refresh this memory in our mind each day as we go about living our lives, so that we may be the encounter for others with god.
So where does this all lead to, in preparing the way of love? Here in FCC, we have called ourselves a family, and our tagline is welcome home. But what exactly does home mean to each of us? Is home a place where we feel safe, where we can be ourselves, accepted for who we are, no matter how quirky or weird we may be? Is home a refuge for us to escape from all the hurt that we have suffered? Is home where we can come and release all our unhappiness, grief and anger, and know that we will still be loved? Is home where we come and take what we need to face the world outside? Indeed all these are aspects of what an ideal home should be, and most of us here probably have felt one sense or another of home in FCC, which is why we are still here.
But the strange thing about this place we call home is that many have come, and many have left. Some leave because they have gotten what they need from here, and have outgrown this little cocoon. Some leave because this place does not feel like home, instead of acceptance, they still feel rejected; instead of love, they actually got hurt. Some leave because they cannot get their needs fulfilled, that FCC teaches a theology that makes people uncomfortable, instead of the feel good emotional high that they can get somewhere else.
If you have been with us long enough, you will know the frustration and sadness, seeing people coming in and out of the revolving door, the anger at people who takes what they need, coming only when they can get something, and leaving once they have gotten what they need, instead of choosing to give back. It is frustrating that even among us who stayed, some would still prefer to live our own comfortable lives, choosing not to step out and care for those who may still be struggling in the community and the larger society, for those who are different from us.
So what should FCC do? Change our theology? I do not think so as I do believe it is one of our strength to offer the diversity in views, and challenging people to move out of their comfort zone. However, in many ways, we can still do better. It sounds like a broken record, but perhaps still one that deserves repeating. We should not stick to our comfort zone or our cliques, be more welcoming to newcomers to help them fit in, treat each other with love and compassion, knowing that there is a story behind each person, and there is a reason why they are the way they are. Do not judge, be kind, everyone is fighting his or her own battle each and every day.
Maybe preparing the way of love, is to know that we are not alone on this journey. We have each other, to pull us up when we are down, to give us a push when we are tired. To cheer each other on in our walk to become better persons, to be there to share in any pains and losses. Or maybe simply to know that there will always be someone walking by our side. And this may just be how we are called to prepare the way of love ahead.