Here is my manuscript from my sermon on December 28, 2008. Enjoy.
Good Morning and Merry Christmas. It is great to sing together Joy to the World, and to join with the angels singing Gloria, in Excelesis Deo. it is great to be here. One of the reasons that I am so honored to be here is that I get to say thank you. Not only thank you for what you have done for me the past ten-plus years, we have been here. But also, I am a proud recipient of the Christian Service Scholarship Fund. So once in the Fall and once in the Spring, I get an envelope from the First United Methodist Church of Owasso, and I look at my wife Heather, and I say we are going to Chili’s tonight.
It is great to be home and spend time with my family, and thankful for their support here this morning. Yesterday, we were able to spend time with my mom’s family in the youth area last night, and I just wanted to say, “Great job, church.” I remember dreaming and visioning about a youth room that will be place the place to be, not just because their friends are here, but because it is an exciting place to just hang out. It is the place to be for youth. It is the place to be for children. I just want to say thank you for your commitment to children and youth and for the journey that y’all have taken. The results and the fruit of the ministry will be long-lasting at First United Methodist Church of Owasso.
It is only fitting that on the first Sunday after Christmas that we read from the beginning of one of the gospels. This is Mark 1:1-11. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” ’, John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Let us pray, “Holy Spirit as you descended upon Jesus so many years ago at his baptism, descend upon us today. Lord, may the words of my mouth, what I am saying. What I am speaking; what I am communicating, and the mediations of our hearts, what we feel, what we hear, what we get out of this be acceptable unto You, this day. Amen.”
Growing up, I was a big Michael Jordan fan. I used to say that I was a Chicago Bulls fan, but once Jordan left the Bulls so did my love for them. I really loved everything about those mid-90 Bulls. I loved Michael Jordan’s tongue hanging out and his fade-away. I loved Scottie Pippen and his ability to do just about everything. I loved the way Dennis Rodman rebounded, but I hated his hair. I loved the way Phil Jackson always looked so calm on the bench no matter what was happening. It was a great time to be a Bulls fan. One of the other things I loved and this was during the mid-90s, so we will say that I was 10 (I don’t want to claim being older than that) was their pregame introductions.
They would always introduce the visiting team first, so they would say, “and from Gonzaga John Stockton.” Then, they would always introduce the visiting coach as fast as they could, so they would say “and the coach of the Jazz is Jerry Sloan.” Then, all the lights would go out in the arena, and you could feel and hear the excitement from the crowd. Then, you would here this little sound de, de, de sound indicating the Sirius music, and then they had this bull going down the streets of Chicago making turns until he arrives at the arena. And you hear this voice that sounds like it’s from heaven, but it really is the P.A. Announcer calling, “And now, the starting lineup from your World Champion Chicago Bulls.” The place of course is going absolutely nuts.
I was at my house watching all of this, so let me set the stage for you. I start by standing in the kitchen by a door that goes out to my garage. As we walk through the kitchen there are some cabinets and counters on both sides. Moving into the dining room, there is a treadmill on my left and the dining room table on my right. The TV is the left hand corner of the room, and a closet door finishes the line that I’m on. What I would do is that when the announcer started, “From Central Arkansas 6-7 Scottie Pippen,” and as Pippen started running through the tunnel of his teammates, so would I run through the tunnel of my imaginary teammates, and of course chest-bump the closet door at the end. Back and forth I would go. The high point of the introductions of course would be when the announcer would say, “From North Carolina,” and you couldn’t really hear the rest of it, but you knew what it was 6-6 Michael Jordan. So, I would run through my tunnels giving my imaginary teammates an extra hard five, and finish it off with a great chest-bump of the closet door.
You see we find that introductions are incredibly important. When my dad introduced me, it gave you a little bit of background about me. The fact that I attend seminary, gives me some sort of authority to preach to you, I don’t know how much authority. I’ll let you decide that. An introduction of a speaker gives you an idea about why that person is there, and it will cause you to pay more or less attention to somebody based on their introduction.
We find that introductions are important in all aspects of our life. You’ve heard it said, “You never get a second chance at a first impression.” “First impressions last.” As a student both in High School and even now in Seminary, I make a concerted effort to have a really good first paper. That way teachers and professors would be anchored to that first paper when they grade my following papers that I didn’t do as well on, but they would think, “Aaron’s last paper was a good paper, I’m sure this one is as well.”
Introductions are important in relationships are they not? There was a show on VH1 this past year called “The Pick-up Artist 2,” apparently there was a “Pick-Up Artist 1,” but I don’t remember anything about it. I believe that an Owassoan was on the show. Anyway one of my friends from seminary enjoyed the show and was telling me about it. The show was about young men who weren’t exactly savvy with their female counterparts, and the point was to teach these guys how to initiate conversations with and to introduce themselves to woman.
I found that to be true in my own life many years ago when I was a freshman at OCU. I was at a religion major get-to-know-each other before our first semester started. My now-wife Heather transferred in, so we were in the same group. I remember seeing her across the basement of Watson Lounge. I walked over to her, my heart pitter-pattering all the way. I got her attention, and I looked her right in the eyes and said, “You know my sister.” That was it. It worked. I would not recommend it for everybody, but they had worked together the summer before, and it served the purpose of initiating a conversation between the two of us. It introduced us to one another.
I think we will find that introductions are incredibly important. So, it is important for us to look at how Mark introduces Jesus to us, and he does so in a curious fashion because all the other gospels make some sort of mention to the birth of Jesus, a logical starting point. Matthew gives us a geneaology, but also gives us details about the birth. Luke is like the CSI of the gospel writers and he tells us that he has talked to eyewitness, and is giving us an orderly account. His birth narrative is the longest and provides some details about people and places surrounding Jesus’ birth. John gives that beautiful poetic prelude, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and it is climaxed by “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” Mark just jumps in. It’s not that he thinks that the birth of Jesus is not important, but the point of his writing was to get to the heart of why Jesus came: the Gospel, the good news. And so we need to ask ourselves what is so important about Mark’s introduction of Jesus.
The first thing that we see is that he calls us back to the Scriptures. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This is actually a conglomeration of texts, primarily Isaiah. Here Mark tells us that Jesus’ coming was not an accident. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, God has been working his redemption plan with humanity. It is not as if God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were sitting around heaven one day talking with each other about what they were going to do that day. The Holy Spirit says, “Well, I’ll probably fly around and just catch some of the sights of infinity.” The Father says, “I’ll probably throw some lightning bolts, they seem to enjoy those down there.” While Jesus says, “You know, I think I’ll go down to Earth, just to hang out for a little bit and see what life is like.” It was nothing like that. There was a plan. It was purposeful. So, by Mark calling our attention to the Scripture, Mark is telling us that Jesus, the Son of God, is part of the purposeful plan of God. This plan has seen itself through from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham and the Covenant, to Moses and the freeing of the slaves, to David and setting up the royal line, and even when the Jews dispersed God sent the prophets to proclaim of the one who is to come. Here Mark calls our attention to another prophet, the immediate forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist, who we will talk more about in a little bit.
The next person that introduces Jesus is God. Quite the person to have introduce you. At Jesus’ baptism, God appeared. This is one of the few times when all three members of the Trinity appear together. We have Jesus, obviously getting baptized. We have God the Father whose voice comes from heaven, and we have the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of a dove. Just the fact that these three are appearing, we need to take special note of that.
And the voice from heaven says this, “You are my Son, the beloved.” This is critical because we often introduce each other in the context of relationships. This is my friend, cousin, brother, etc. In some ways, we can take the virtues of that person and associate them with the person who is being introduced to you. So when a friend introduces you to someone, you are going to have a positive impression of that person. So if it is friend, who you do not like very much, introduces you to someone, you will at least subconsciously have something against that person. Here we have the God of the Universe. The God who made this redemption plan. The God of mercy, of holiness, of peace, and love introducing Jesus saying you are my Son. Those things that we associate with God in the Old Testament, we can associate with the Word became flesh, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
“You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” I have a friend named Bill who is preaching in Ohio today. It is his first sermon, so pray for him. He is very excited and very nervous, and he is preaching on this text out of Matthew. He is focusing on this concept “with you I am well pleased.” The fascinating thing is that Jesus had not done anything yet. He had not begun his ministry. In this context of the Gospel, Jesus had not healed anybody, preached a sermon, cast out a demon, or raised someone from the dead. Yet God is well-pleased with him because he is his son, not because of what he had done. It is because of who he is. This is a good word for us today because God is well-pleased with us, not because of what we have done or not done, but simply because we are His children. God’s word to each of us today is “You are my Son with whom I am well pleased. You are my daughter with whom I am well pleased.” Not to say that there are not things we need to do as children of God, but we will always be loved in the sight of God, our Father. Particularly here, Jesus is His Beloved Son. A special child sent into the world to bring about God’s redemption purposes.
Finally, we come to John the Baptizer. We find his story in all the gospels including highlighting his death, which is the only death highlighted in the gospel besides Jesus. John is a special case in fact Jesus calls him the greatest of all. When Jesus comes to be baptized by John, we find this note in the gospel of Matthew 3:13, 14, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John did not feel worthy to participate in the baptism of Jesus. Mark quotes John as saying, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” That was a slave’s job back in those days. I do not think that anybody would like to untie anyone sandals today, but especially in those times, as people walked on dirt roads and lived in dirt houses. They have to have some dirty and stinky feet, and it is to this that John says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”
God, however, chooses John to participate in the baptism of Jesus. Matthew tells us, “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” God made John worthy of participating in the baptism of Jesus. God gave him the opportunity to participate in that most holy act, and likewise God calls us to participate in those areas that we do not feel worthy. I don’t necessarily feel worthy to preach, but God has called us to preach. I’m sure that we all have felt unworthy of serving in some capacity, but God calls us and makes us worthy. I’ve heard it said that God does call the qualified, but qualifies the called. I heard a sermon one time where the pastor was remembering a conversation that he had with a gentleman, who asked him, “How can you serve a ‘loving’ God when there are so many people who die every day from starvation?” I’m sure we have heard this question before. We have heard this question or even asked it ourselves, and the pastor responded in a very Jesus way by asking a question. He asked the man this, “Is there enough food in the world for everyone? Do we have the capability of feeding the entire world?” The man thought about it for a second and answered yes. The pastor responded, “Then who is responsible.” Friends, we have an opportunity to participate in the most divine acts imaginable like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming strangers.
Another thing about John is that he was a weird guy. We can go ahead and say it. He was a weird duck. If John walked in here today, we would flip out a little bit. He would be stinky (not to many showers in the wilderness). He would have long hair and would be wearing that most comfortable of fabrics, camel skin. He would be eating a snack of locusts. Now, I doubt any of you are big fans of eating locusts, but I do not know how much honey you would have to put on a locust to even make it edible. So, let’s go ahead and call John a freak. In fact, a song written about 15 years ago did just that by highlighting John as a “Jesus Freak” in the DC Talk Song. The chorus went like this, “What will people do when they hear that I’m a Jesus freak. What will people do when they find that it’s true. I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, there ain’t no disguising the truth.” There is a rap lyric that highlights John, and it goes a little something like this, “There was a man from the desert with naps in his head. The sand that he walked was also his bed. The words that he spoke made the people assume, there wasn’t too much left in the upper room. With skins on his back and hair on his face, they thought he was strange by the locusts he ate. The Pharisees tripped when they heard him speak, until the king took the head of this Jesus freak.” John dressed in those ways and acted in those ways to remind us of the prophets of old, like Elijah living out in the wilderness. His appearance is a signal to us that he is a prophet. John was peculiarly called to dress that way and to live in the wilderness.
Now, I don’t think that we are called to wear camel skins (maybe you, but definitely not me). I do believe, though that we are each peculiarly called to live distinctly for God. We are to be Jesus Freaks. Our lives should show that we live not for ourselves, but for God. Songs have tried to capture this idea. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Another song has this is a chorus, “And with our hands lifted high to the sky, when the world wonders why. We’ll just tell them we’re loving our King.” Likewise we can say, with our hands reached low to the ground when we’re planting a flower bed for our neighbor. We’ll just tell them we’re loving our King. Or we can say, with our hands reached out to hug our neighbor. We’ll just tell them we’re loving our King. The peculiar way that we are called to live should give the world notice, and it should cause them to see something is strange about us.
John gives us a great example for how we are to live, and for how we are to introduce Jesus to others. Because of his freakiness, people were drawn to him. The scriptures tell us that they came from all over to see him. When they got there John was what I like to call “The Great Deflector.” Every compliment that was given to John, he passed it onward as praise to Jesus. It reminds me of the old saying that I’m sure most of us have said to someone or someone has said to us, “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Everything that you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” This phrase was often said when someone was making fun of another. Here, John is saying, “I’m rubber and Jesus is glue. Every praise you give me bounces off of me and sticks to Jesus.” One of John’s most famous statements gets to this idea, “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.” This simple and profound statement is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus needs to increase in my life, and I must decrease. That is how we are to be as proclaimers of the one who is most powerful. We are told that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, and that God is among us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We must be people who deflect things to Jesus.
Deflectors of Jesus give glory to God. Now, I always think of sports people when I think of giving glory to God. We’ve all seen them after a big game, they’ll give an interview, and they’ll make the statement, “Oh, I’ve just got to give all the glory to God.” Sometimes when I watch that I can see and sense the sincerity, and other times when I see that I just see the ridiculous of it. I remember when Terrell Owens was a San Francisco 49ers, and they were down in Dallas playing the Cowboys. After he scored a Touchdown, he ran to the star in the middle of the stadium and just extended his arms out for all to see, and looked skyward through the hole in the roof. After the game, he had the nerve to say that he was praying and giving glory to God. Yea, right. I don’t believe it. His celebration was look at Terrell Owens not look at Jesus Christ. We need to be careful and particular that we are people, who always proclaim that there is one who is greater than I. We need to tell people about Jesus and live authentic lives. (45:20)
We need to “shout it from the mountaintops; I want my world to know the Lord of Love has come to me. I want to pass it on.” From the mountaintops to our churches to our homes to our business to the retail stores, we need to be people who proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, and Jesus is alive! So here at Christmas, we need to be people who remember that Jesus Christ as Bishop Willimon says, “Lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectantly.” Christmas needs to always be seen in light of our resurrected Savior. This is the Jesus that we proclaim, and the Jesus that we need to live peculiarly for.
General Conference is a gathering of United Methodists from all over the globe that happens every four years. They make a lot of decisions at General Conference, and I want to highlight one for us today. They made a decision to add something to your membership covenant. This question was asked “will you support the church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” At this last General Conference, they decided to add witness to the covenant, so that you will agree to support the church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. This covenantal vow says that you will live out your discipleship peculiarly, but also that you will proclaim the gospel. Yes, we will proclaim it carefully, but boldly that Jesus Christ is Lord of Our Life. So, today we ask you will you be faithful to God and this congregation “by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” You will respond with I will. This needs to be an “I will” that comes from the heart and flows from that with an orientation towards it. So, friends will you be faithful to God and this congregation “by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?” I WILL.
Let us pray. Come Holy Spirit. As you descended like a dove so many years ago at Jesus’ baptism, we pray that you would descend upon us now. Lord, mold our hearts to shape and do your will. We thank you for your redemption plan and for Jesus Christ who fulfills the redemption plan and makes us righteous. We thank you for bringing him into the world, and we thank you for sending your prophet John the Baptizer who gives us an example of how to live. Lord, we pray that we might be like John and humbly participate in the divine that your holiness would reign as we participate and celebrate in your life. Lord, we also pray that we would live peculiarly not with camel skins and wild honey, but love, grace, mercy, and holiness being our trademarks. And God we pray that we would be proclaimers of who you are, that we would be great deflectors to the one who is more powerful, your son Jesus Christ. He came to show us how to live and gives us eternal life. Lord, may we proclaim it proudly, boldly, and humbly. Joy to the World the Lord has come. Let us, go tell it on the mountain.
 This just blows my mind. The person who we are not worthy of doing the slave act for, he person who we are not worthy to untie his sandals, the person whose feet we are not worthy to touch is the same person who humbly washed our feet, showing us true servanthood, and showing us how God views and loves humanity.