Sermon: New Years Resoluteness
Sermon: "New Year's Resoluteness"
Delivered January 4, 2009 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Sermon Text: John 1:35-42
I hope everyone had a nice Christmas celebration, and maybe you had the luxury of a little time off between Christmas and New Years. On December 31, Ellen and I had just traveled back from Ohio where we were visiting family... spent a few days up there. We were pretty tired. I actually had to wake Ellen up to say, "Honey, the ball is coming down." Before that in the evening, we were having a simple dinner about 7:00, and we toasted each other, and we said, "To a better year, 2008 was pretty rough in a lot of ways, so may 2009 be a better year." That was Wednesday, December 31.
On Friday night, January 2, one year to the day of my mom's death, a call came telling us my father passed away when he was visiting California, visiting his brother. Honestly, I am still trying to process it all. It's not completely... I'm kind of in some other zone right now, and so I just want to tell you that. The pulpit's no place to be cathartic, but I thought you should have context in case my affect is a little different, or you wonder, "Is something wrong with Pastor George?" You know.
I am glad to be here. I don't think I would rather be any place else than with the body of Christ around the communion table. That to me is of great comfort. I think Psalm 66:10 is in operation at some level in my life, perhaps in all of our lives, a psalm that is a reflection, again, on the experience pre-exodus and then exodus. The writer says, "For You, oh God tested us, you refined us like silver." God leads us through some deep waters sometimes so that we might be strengthened, we might be purified for some new lessons that are ahead.
I don't know what the purpose is, I don't know why it happened the way it did. I just know I'm supposed to be here and try to share God's Word with you. Loss and suffering bring home in a way little else can why we need Jesus. That's my context.
Okay, this is true globally as well. We're four days into January and I don't think any day was as bad as what's going on in the Middle East in 2008. It's rough there. It's bad. You read about another suicide bombing in Iraq and 30 people dying. It's not just an individual experience. I don't know. I wish I could talk to each one of you and say, "How are things going for you 2008 to 2009 on this threshold of the year?"
Automakers don't think that the situation looks any better just because a few calendar pages have turned. Chrysler is probably wondering if they're going to exist a year from now, in spite of what the government is trying to do. Chrysler has been on the ropes before. I remember when Lee Iacocca was hired to bring things around for the company, and he became rather famous as a corporate leader. He was doing commercials and all.
There is a story I remember where he was on an elevator with another business man who recognized him and asked him and said, "You're Lee Iacocca, right?" He nodded, "Yes, I am." He said, "Boy, I just want to tell you Mr. Iacocca, I just really love your commercials on TV about Chrysler." Most of us when complemented say something appreciative, but Iacocca had such a focus, I guess, he was such a resolute leader that he knew what the target on the wall was for him. He said, "Sir, I couldn't care less what you think of my commercials. What I want to know is what kind of car do you drive?" That was what was important to him because if people don't buy the product all the commercials in the world don't count, right?
I can relate to that in terms of what we are advertising as God's people. People come up to me and they will say after the service, "Nice sermon, Pastor. Way to go." Or somebody will come up to Andy or the worship team and say, "Boy, what a great set of songs that was" or "Boy, the worship was really powerful." Other people will come, they'll look at this place and they'll say, "Wow. What a great spot this is. You have a great worship center; you have a lovely building... "
Now, I know we would never think to say it as abruptly as Lee Iacocca answered his questioner, but... I mean, we wouldn't say, "I don't care what you think of our sanctuary or our sermons or our songs," but with the same resoluteness, I think we should be thinking, "That's good, but what we want to know is what's the driving force in your life? What is it that you're all about?" In other words, are you following the Savior which all of these other things are intended to point? That's what we want to know. That's what we want to always be asking ourselves as we go through this journey.
In other words, if we aren't following Jesus, all the ads in the world don't count. What kind of following Jesus discipleship is needed in 2009 to help us continue to be resolute followers of our Savior? Because all of us at one time or another, or perhaps even often, get distressed by the gap between what we profess and what we demonstrate, right? Don't you get upset by that sometimes? Sure.
So the question today in the first days of the year is this: What is distinctive about followers of Jesus that encourages other people to buy in, to follow Him? What aroma are we giving off that will attract people so that they too will say, "You know what? There's life here. There's something here that I need."
When you look at Gallup or Barna polls and you see people's responses, people who are not yet believers, what they think of Christians... it's not good. So the question is, "What can we do to communicate more authentically?"
The text that we want too look at in John, chapter 1... we were in John, chapter 1 on Christmas Eve, but we're also there today, only... 30 years later in the life of Jesus and there are a few hints in this text I'm about to read that talk about authentic following which is contagious or three marks of resolute discipleship that I'd like to just mention to you. Hopefully it will be a word from God to you in some way. No matter how short or how long a time you've been a follower of Jesus these things make sense. So let's pray and read the text and discuss it.
Lord, thank you for this passage. Thank you for your Word which is a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path, which again hammers our insides and reveals what is really going on. Use it, Lord, to bring nourishment and transformation through the Holy Spirit. Through Christ we pray, Amen.
John, chapter 1, verses 35 to 42.
"The next day, John (John the Baptizer) was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 'Look, the Lamb of God!'" This is a wonderful epiphany text. An epiphany is about the revealing of God, and here, the Lord Jesus is revealed to the public, so to speak. "'Look, the Lamb of God!' When the two disciples [of John] heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, 'What do you want?'" In other words, another translation says, "What do you seek?" "They said, 'Rabbi,' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' 'Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.' So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah,' that is, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas,' (which, when translated, is Peter)."
Three things... first thing... discipleship, at its core, authentic discipleship, aspects of it... and we are all trying to be better disciples... number one... and this is not a new thought but it's got to be said again, it's about relational encounter with Jesus, with God, relational encounter, and a good, positive relational encounter happens on a regular basis. Discipleship at its core is not a philosophical or an intellectual enterprise alone. Jesus makes that very, very clear the first time he ever detects that someone is interested in a relationship with him.
He turns and he looks at these two and he asks, "What do you want? What do you seek?" The meaning of this question is this, "What are you striving to find? What are you aiming at? What is your goal in life? Is your goal in life a big house? Is your goal in life a certain amount of money? What is your goal? What is your goal? What are you seeking? What do you think is going to center your life," is really the essence of this question.
Then there are other relational hints. "'Where are you staying, Rabbi?' And they went and saw where he was staying." This same word is in John 15 about abiding, about staying. "Where are you abiding?" Then when Jesus says, "Come and see," it's a rabbinic way of saying, "Come, let's reason together. Let's talk things over, and we'll talk about the meaning of life, and you'll discover what life was intended to be through a relationship with me."
I had a relational encounter on the phone yesterday which was quite 180 degrees opposite of all of what I'm trying to communicate here. I called our mortgage holder, our mortgage company. I was curious about things I'd gotten in the mail about an accelerator mortgage program where you can pay off your house earlier and save interest and all that. I just had some questions.
The woman who answered... I could tell from the very first words, from the tone of voice, that she was not having a good day. It communicated something like, "Yeah, what do you want?" I mean, I guess it's tough to answer the phones for mortgage companies these days. I mean, everybody must be calling and saying, "We can't pay," or something.
She got a bunch of info from me, and she started asking me questions after I got my basic questions answered. "Are you going to pay by the due date?"
"Well, I called, but I am."
"Do you plan on selling your house?"
"Not today, but... "
I'm like... Why is she asking me these things? I thought about the recorded message on the phone before I got a hold of her, "Your phone call will be recorded for quality assurance purposes." I'm like, This woman believes that she is being taped? I can't imagine that!
I usually say goodbye on every other phone call I ever have, but I didn't say goodbye on this one. It was like, "Okay." Click. Then I thought of things I wish I would have said. Something like, "Lady, do you have a doctor's appointment?" She would have said, "What?" I would say, "You know, get them to prescribe something for that attitude." You know something like that. Then I got mad and I wanted to call back and the line was busy and I was like, Oh man, forget about this.
Sometimes I think when we talk about encountering God, I think some people believe that God is kind of like that phone call. Maybe she was just having a bad day. But you know... that God comes to us and says, "What do you want? Why don't you know this by now? Are you going to meet your deadlines or what?" I think people think that that's the way God is, but that's nothing like what's being communicated in this text. It's totally the opposite with Jesus.
He is turning around, trying to ferret through our motivations, asking us to inquire of Him, to work on the meaning of what life is intended to be with God, to get our most important questions answered in and through him. When he says, "Come and see," to see in this context is to know something intimately that can only be known by a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Things like, "You really mean that my guilt can be atoned for? It can be gone? Do you mean that I can really be free from fear? Do you... I can know I'm forgiven? I can have peace even in the storms of life? I can experience strength beyond the norm with Christ? You mean I can know these things? I can understand my purpose? I can give and receive love? I can know I am loved? I can have my burdens lifted? I can forgive myself?"
These things can only be experienced supernaturally, and we need them most when we need them most. Even when we can't name what we need, Jesus is moving toward us. God is always taking the first step. He's the one who is turning to meet us far more than halfway. God is interested in a relational encounter with us that's real.
One church father, when he sensed that his novices in the monastery were straying, that their souls were straying from following Christ and they seemed to be wandering, he would ask them in spiritual direction sessions, he would ask this question, "What do you seek? What do you want?" He would challenge them to think about that... that question. What is it that's driving you in your heart?
What our souls really need can't be found apart from an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, and when our hearts resonate with his peace and his joy and his love and the fruit of the Spirit, that sends an aroma out there that a source of strength beyond ourselves that advertises that there's something to be found in him. So in 2009, resolutely determine to seek a real relationship with him. That's the first thing.
Second thing... there is in here another hint about authentic discipleship, and it has to do with a diminishing preoccupation with ourselves. Discipleship, at its core, points away from us to Christ. John the Baptizer did this in verse 35 when he saw Jesus. He pointed and said, "Look there is the Lamb of God." Andrew does the same in verse 41 when after he encounters Christ, he goes and he finds his brother, and he says, "We found the Messiah." Then he brings him to Jesus.
The gospel writer himself in the space of fifteen verses... from verse 36 to verse 51... describes Jesus in the following ways: Lamb of God, Rabbi, Messiah, One foretold by the prophets, the Son of God, the King of Israel, and the Son of Man. Even the gospel writer is saying, "Look at Jesus. He's the one that you want to know." Everyone who follows Jesus wants to point to him... wants to point and move people toward him. Now that's a phrase we ought to put up on the wall somewhere. Let's move people toward him.
In verse 40, Andrew's giving a description, he's Simon Peter's brother. I think it's pretty clear listening between the lines that Andrew was always living in the shadow of his brother. Does anybody here have that situation in your family? You know, you're known more by who's your brother, sister, spouse, mom or dad than you, you know? You're so-in-so's relative, aren't you? You know, I don't know that guy... Arnold, Andrew he's Simon Peter's brother. I can see a temptation brewing for Andrew. Hey, wasn't I one of the first followers of Jesus? I mean, how does my brother think he found Jesus anyway?
And look who gets to go to the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John. It's always Peter, James and John. There's no indication that this bothered Andrew at all. Peter could take the lead, that's fine. To Andrew, matters of precedence, place, or honor didn't matter. What matters was that people met the one that he pointed to. Every time his name is mentioned he's bringing someone to Jesus. His bother, a little boy with the lunch, two Greeks in John 12 who want to know Jesus. They come to Andrew. The first thing (verse 41) Andrew did was went and found his brother. Pointing others to Christ in a non-threatening way is critical to discipleship.
In one book, an author tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read a question on the application form that asked, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious she wrote no, and returned the application and expected the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college. "Dear applicant, a study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower." Andrew was content to be that one follower. I don't care who gets the lime light, I am pointing to Jesus. That's the second thing.
Third thing... realizing that we're in relationship with Jesus, we understand it as a process of personal transformation. It's about personal transformation, but it's about a process of personal transformation. Discipleship at its core is about what Christ does in and through us. Certainly we need to intentionally cooperate the following... to intentionally follow, but healthy followers will not labor over failure or agonize over missteps. They will not allow that to keep them from moving forward.
In verse 42, when Simon was brought to Jesus, the Bible says, the text says... I wish I could, I mean this is going to happen for all of us... he looked at him, Jesus looked... almost like gazed at him. It's like he got a snapshot of his whole life... past, present, and future. He knew what Peter was like, he knew what his situation was then, and he knew what he would become. He gazes at him and reads his heart, and he gives him a name that wouldn't really fit for some time. "You're going to be called the Rock." He was anything but for some time.
Jesus sees what we are, he knows where we've been, he knows what we can become and it is never too late to become what we were meant to be through a relationship with him. It's never too late to be what we might have been. I don't care how old we are. When Peter received a new name it was like Jesus was saying, "Peter, this is what you will become even though you'll trip up many times along the way. It will take a while. It's okay. Stick with me."
Over the past few days, Ellen and I have really been working at steps that we've been learning in our Financial Peace University small group. We have never... I'm gonna... this is true confessions, friends... we have never in 35 years of wedded bliss ever had a budget that worked. Now there are two kinds of people here. Ones who are saying, "Oh, I can't believe that." Then there are other kinds of people saying, "Who cares? We don't do it either." You know? I would guess the majority are the latter, not the former.
But... we are trying, and we've discovered... this is the closest thing I can think of to a personal conversion in the moment... to actually have a new vision, an intentional plan and a method to accomplish what we want to do. That is necessary to transformation. It's not easy but those are the kind of things that are necessary. That's what Dallas Willard writes, it's "them", vision, intentionality, method. If you want personal transformation, you've got to have "them"... all three of those things.
As we labor over what we have been allergic to in the past, certain phrases are filling the air. We've been working on this for hours over the last few days around the kitchen table. Papers spread all over the place, right? Numbers, columns, all this business. This is what you would hear either Ellen or me say, "I can't do this. I'm getting a headache. This is so different. No credit cards, really?"
There's a little sleeve that they give you in the materials... caution, warning... this card may be damaging to your financial health, and you're supposed to put your credit card in that little thing. Cash in envelopes... what? These are the feelings and the thoughts of some kind of birthing process going on in our lives.
I can't tell you how many times we have had sticking points of conversations about money. I just can't tell you. We're still married, you know? It's been a struggle and now... now with this "them" thing, it's just, I feel some... I'm holding my breath, but I feel some inklings of peace.
I don't want to give you the wrong impression. We're not out of control. We're not in massive debt or anything like that, but we're not really in control either. It takes hours and hours of vision, method and intention, but after 35 years, I think there's a conversion going on. We don't want it just for ourselves; we want it for you as well. I'm telling you, Jesus and money... there was a lot of talk about all that, and a lot of measuring discipleship by it all.
Here's the thing about this, nobody has said you've got to do this; it's not intended to be a legalistic thing. It's like... here's the plan. If you want to follow this you're going to get to a certain place. It is going to work. You're going to be centered. If you don't, you don't. You can come and see or not.
In the same way, Jesus is saying to each of us today, "If you want a certain kind of life, a life that's filled with peace and joy and love and longsuffering and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control, if you want that kind of life, if you want to know how to get there... come and see, learn from me how to manage life. It's not complicated, but it does get in the way of our egos. It does demand a kind of humility and surrender where we say, "Jesus, you go before me. I am going to follow where you lead. I'll conform my life to yours by your help"
You know, there's no better Sunday to start a new year's resoluteness about discipleship and following Jesus than the first Sunday of a new year. I want to encourage you as we wrap it up here... that we're going to take communion in a few minutes... as you come for communion, I want to suggest that you might hear him asking you, not like that lady on the phone, but more like he would ask you, "What do you want? What are you seeking?" I want to suggest that you might hear him asking you or saying to you, "Take me in. Come and see." You will see, you will discover life as it was meant to be. Like the first disciples you will be lead to follow him this year.
Let's pray. Lord, we thank you for your grace and your love as we contemplate the words of the song, Draw Me Nearer, we know that only your Spirit can do this, but we pray that your Spirit would be making us thirsty so that we might find living water in you. Lord, we thank you that no matter what our situation, it is your life that matters most, so help us connect our lives to yours again, to be converted again, and to resolutely follow where you lead. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
© 2009, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145