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First Sunday After Christmas
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, December 27, 2015

Grace, Truth and Glory

Text: John 1:1-14

The Gospel passage we read this morning was an important part of my early childhood. The priest would read these first 14 verses of the Gospel According to John every Sunday at the end of worship. I loved the sound of those words. I didn’t understand their meaning; but I loved hearing them. And that set me up to want to understand them better later in life. There is a lesson there for parents of small children. Bring them to worship. Let them hear the words of God spoken in the context of worship. It will stay in them for life.

These verses from John’s Gospel are known as the “Prologue to John.” It begins by proclaiming unambiguously that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word.” John refers to Jesus as “the Word.” He is the Creator. He was there in the beginning with the Father, and without His work, nothing would exist: no stars, no planets, no trees, no oceans, no people—nothing. And then this Gospel tells us that Jesus is the light shining in the darkness.

As we read on in this Gospel, we learn what this means.

• We see that Jesus is the truth shining in the midst of ignorance and lies and misunderstanding and denial.

• We see that He is the joy in the midst of suffering.

• We see that He is absolute goodness in the midst of evil.

• He is hope in the midst of despair.

Verse 5 tells us that the darkness does not understand the light. The original Greek word translated as “understand” is a complex one. It has been translated several different ways. What it means is that the darkness did not grab onto the light and make it its own. As Jesus will tell us in this Gospel, the darkness persists; some people prefer the darkness. But without the light, without Jesus, those who walk in darkness are lost. (See John 3:18-21) It is hard to understand why anyone would prefer the darkness and reject the light, but that is the reality. The Prologue goes on to say that Jesus came to His own people, and they did not receive Him. “Yet, to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

And then we hear the beautiful verse on which I want to focus today, verse 14:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John is referring to what we call the “Incarnation.” The Incarnation is God’s taking on human flesh to come down from His heavenly throne and live and die as one of us. He did it by sending us the Second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, His only begotten Son. And when He did, we were able to see for the first time face to face, the glory of God. For Jesus was full of grace and truth. Let’s take a look at each of these Biblical words—truth, grace and glory. And let us begin with truth.

Truth is a big part of what the scripture is referring to when it says that Jesus is the light of the world. The darkness dresses itself in several different guises when it comes to truth.

• One of them is ignorance. Ignorance is when you don’t know the truth.

• Another is denial. Denial is when you have been exposed to the truth, but aren’t willing to admit that it is true.

• Another is equivocation. Equivocation is when you have been exposed to the truth, and you believe it, but you put off embracing it; you aren’t willing to live as if it matters in your life.

• Another is lies. Lies are when you know the truth, but you change it around to make it false.

In all of these cases, people walk in darkness, which is the opposite of the light of Christ. The darkness opposes God; and that is why God is so concerned that we know the truth. That is why God has revealed many things to us in the Bible. That is why He sent Jesus into the world. Jesus said,

In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. [John 18:37]

And Jesus said,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]

And Jesus also said,

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

I’d like to speak about these things in the context of a pastor and his flock. It seems appropriate today. This is my last Sunday as your pastor, and you will have a new pastor starting next Sunday. Truth is very much at the heart of the pastoral relationship. When we ordain a person to become a priest, the Bishop reminds the candidate that he is to be a messenger, a watchman and a steward of the Lord. And he says,

Therefore, consider the purpose of your ministry to the children of God. Work diligently, with your whole heart, to bring those in your care into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of God, and to maturity in Christ, that there be among you neither error in religion nor immorality in life. Finally, equip and lead your congregation to proclaim tirelessly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

• The unity of faith and knowledge of God; this is about truth.

• Maturity in Christ—this is about truth.

• “Equip and lead your congregation to proclaim tirelessly the Gospel....” This is all about the congregation’s call to tell the truth to the world.

And one of the oaths the priest must take is to:

... be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Body of Christ all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word;....

Well, haven’t we been there? It is hard to stand up and accuse the whole denomination of turning away from the truth and walking in darkness. It seems arrogant and presumptuous. It especially seems that way in our current environment, where truth is no longer regarded as coming from above, but rather from within us. The world no longer turns to God’s revelation. It turns instead to our own hearts—what we feel, what we experience, what we’re willing to accept. But a pastor, by the very nature of the calling, is required to—

• hang onto the truth of God,

• live by the truth of God,

• and lead the congregation in devotion to the truth of God, in word and deed.

The oath goes on to say that the priest promises

to use both public and private admonitions and exhortations, to the weak as well as the strong within your charge....

This refers to the times when a pastor has to say something to the flock, or to an individual member, which they don’t want to hear. That is one of the hardest parts of the pastor’s job.

A few weeks ago, at the annual meeting of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, we were offered break-out sessions on various topics. Mary Swann and I both signed up for one that turned out to be very popular. It was called, “Having the conversation you don’t want to have.” It was well attended by both clergy and lay people. Christians struggle with telling each other difficult things for their well-being and the well-being of the church.

• Your drinking is becoming a problem. Have you considered that you may be an alcoholic?

• Your unloving remarks to so-and-so were unchristian. You will need to ask her forgiveness.

• You are teaching our children false doctrine in Sunday School. We can’t have that.

• I want you and so-and-so to come in and meet with me, so that we can pray for you to be reconciled.

• Your living together with so-and-so is a sin in God’s eyes. We can’t have you in leadership as long as you continue this.

These are all conversations a pastor has. And I have found that the majority of people respond to them in a mature, Christian way. A minority get angry, and usually leave the church, which is a tragedy. It is tragic, because they need the fellowship, the truth and the love to guide them back to righteousness.

This is all about truth. As your new pastor comes on board, I urge you to remember the commitment that he has been required to make to the truth—preaching, teaching, and standing on the truth; and speaking the truth in love to each one of you.

The second Biblical word in verse 14 is grace. Grace: God’s unmerited favor. Grace is the quality of God that expresses His kindness and blessing upon us, even though we do not deserve it. Again, our current environment shouts loudly to us that we are okay as we are and have nothing to be ashamed of. But the Word of God does not say that. The Word of God says—

• that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

• It says no one is righteous, not one. (Romans 3:10)

• It says that the heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)

For all this, we deserve God’s punishment, not His reward. And yet, God loves us with an unconquerable love, an everlasting love. And God is merciful. And so, He sent the Word made flesh to dwell among us, so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) As Ephesians 2:8-9 says,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Our salvation by grace is only the beginning. It jumpstarts a walk with God in which His grace is upon us at all times.

• It was by grace Abraham was able to trust what God had promised him as the years dragged on.

• It was by grace Moses was able to tolerate the whining and fearfulness of God’s people and lead them to the Promised Land.

• It is by grace Paul was able to turn his life around and go from being a murderer of Christians to a powerful evangelist.

• It was by grace that Hudson Taylor was able to hang onto the vision for a mission to China despite setbacks, opposition and financial hardship.

• It is by grace that our brothers Walt and John and Ernie are able to go into Buckingham prison twice a year and see lives turned around by the Holy Spirit.

• It is by grace that we are able to worship in this beautiful building, and by grace our people are moved to contribute to the funding of it, and by grace that God will send children to our Sunday School

A pastor lives on God’s grace as an essential. It is just as essential to him as the food he eats.

• A pastor counts on God’s grace to help him discern God’s will for the congregation.

oEvery day’s mail has several requests for money, or ways to improve the church’s programs, or ideas to enhance worship, or partnership opportunities with other Christian organizations.

-Every day’s email has suggestions from parishioners.

-The pastor has to sort through all these things, praying for God’s grace to help him decide what to say yes to and what to let pass by.

• Not everything a pastor does is popular with every member. Sometimes the opposition can be very assertive. The pastor counts on God’s grace to continue to love and work together with people, and to not be wounded by disapproval.

• Every pastor has his own set of gifts from God. He can’t be everything. And it is God’s grace that enables Him to do better than his best and get the help he needs from other gifted Christians.

• Sometimes, things get discouraging for a pastor. It is God’s grace that keeps his eyes on Jesus and his hopes on God’s promises.

• It is God’s grace that enables the pastor to balance his time and energy between his family and his congregation.

• It is God’s grace that enables a preacher to have a Word for the congregation every Sunday.

I ran some numbers recently and calculated that I have preached almost 900 sermons to this congregation. I have had to lean on God’s grace. I tend to be nagged by a desire not to repeat myself. But how can you not repeat yourself when what you are proclaiming is the Good News of Jesus Christ? Sometimes I struggle all week to sort out the message from all the possibilities. Sometimes, on Sunday morning, God has said He had a message He wanted me to preach instead of the one I was planning on. The whole enterprise of preaching, from the first time you sit down to read the scripture to the moment of delivery is a matter of God’s grace.

You have a new pastor coming next Sunday. He is going to be leaning on God’s grace. And God will express that grace to Mike in many ways, one of which will be through you. I would like to leave you with a couple of suggestions.

First, don’t expect him to be like me. He will be who he is, with his own set of gifts, priorities, perspectives and preferences. In some cases, it will be a great relief that he doesn’t do something the way I do. And in some cases the differences may make you uncomfortable. Most of us are not particularly good with change. It is especially difficult for a pastor to come in after one who has been here a very long time, as I have. But you know what? This congregation has grown accustomed to change. We have been through one change after another for the last twelve years: new hierarchy, new location, new name, new building. Maybe you are a more flexible group of Christians as a result.

Nevertheless, you will find that some things haven’t changed in years, and you have gotten pretty used to them. So my first piece of advice is, let God’s grace enable you to be accepting and open to the way Mike does things. Trust in God that what may feel unfamiliar is something God will use for good.

Second, invite Mike into your life. It’s okay to make an appointment to sit down with him and share your stories. It’s okay to invite him over to your house if you want a pastoral visit. These are the times when you get to know a pastor, not at coffee hour, when he is pulled in every direction. The other times when you become close with a pastor are the times of crisis or family transitions. Welcome Mike when he comes to see you in the hospital. And expect him to do the weddings, burials and baptisms. I have found that when someone dies and I go over to sit down with the family, a bond is formed. I have always spent time with the spouse or children of someone who passes away, so that when I preach I know the deceased. Even when the pastor has been with you for a few years, he may not know your history or some of the things you do outside the context of church.

So let the new pastor be the one to minister to you at those times. I love you all very much. But I don’t believe the former pastor should do the funerals, weddings or baptisms of his former parishioners, even though he loves them very much. Please don’t put me in the position of having to say no to you.

God’s grace is always at work. The more you make room for it, the more you will see it—in you, in the pastor and in the congregation.

Our final Biblical word for the day is glory, to which verse 14 points us. God’s glory is His unique excellence. It is the aura of who God is by virtue of being the One and Only. God’s glory shines through all the things He does. It shines through all that God has created. And it shines through the Word made flesh who came and dwelt among us.

It is for God’s glory that we do the things we do as Christians—

• from the acts of love,

• to the proclamation of truth,

• to our worship and praise,

• to the building of gracious and beautiful churches,

• to the expressions of great joy.

And amazingly, God is grooming us to show forth His glory. 2 Corinthians says,

...we, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. [2 Corinthians 3:18]

I thank God for you. I will never tire of thanking God for these amazing 19 ½ years of ministry with you. And I thank you.

• Thank you for the way you have opened me up to God’s grace.

• Thank you for standing firmly on God’s truth.

• And thank you for the moments of glory as we have poured out our love for Jesus and gazed together on the face of God.

May you continue to walk in His grace and truth and share that grace and truth with others. And may the Glory of God show round about you always.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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