Rev. James A. Splitt
December 5, 1999
Mark 1:1-8 [NIV] The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" _ "a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him._ " And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camelís hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
What does communion, advent and paying off the debt have in common? Well. Today is the 2nd Sunday in Advent. We will celebrate communion today. And, we will rejoice and party down because today we also are paying off the loan we received from the Board of Missions to build this church back in 1960. For years we have wished that we could say those words "Hocus-pocus", wave a magic wand and the debt would disappear. There are even some letters in the archives from former pastors asking the presbytery to forgive our debt because of the burden it had upon this church. Do you know where the expression "Hocus-pocus" comes from? Hocus pocus is a phrase derived from the Latin words the priest chanted as he raised the bread and wine into the air and declared, "Hoc est corpus meum." It means this is my body. Like some mystical magical moment the priest took bread and it became the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Like some real life magical moment, forty years ago, followers of Jesus Christ broke bread and wished they could build a church, a church named Christ. Like the priest who transformed the bread and wine into the body of Christ, the founders our church became the body of Christ incarnate. Their lives transformed, began the process of building Christ Presbyterian Church. Hocus-pocus, Hoc est corpus meum!
This church was built buy followers of Jesus Christ. The term follower is deceptive of what a Christ follower really is. If I get up and lead a march, everyone behind me is a follower. If I write a great book and have lots of readers who get into it, I have a following. A follower looks for someone else to lead the way. But a person who follows Christ isnít really a follower. Following Christ leads to leading others to Christ. We are both following and leading; and, it cannot be just one or the other. Discipleship and evangelism are one and the same. Those who organized and built this church were not only followers Christ, but also those who led others to Christ. This church is sustained in being obedient disciples/followers and committed leader/evangelists. Those who follow Christ must proclaim the coming of Christ. This is when and where the Gospel begins.
"Evangelization and discipleship are two dimensions of every Christian life by the mere fact that it is the Christian life." [Jon Sobrino. Spirituality of Liberation. p. 132].
The advent story today calls us to proclaim the good news, to prepare the way of the Lord, to go up to the mountain and speak words of comfort and joy to the people. The advent message calls the followers of Christ to lead people to know Christ in their life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins right here, with us.
The story of Christ Presbyterian Church begins with a small group of Christ followers who light a fire (evangelize) in the hearts of others to go and build a church where people can come to know the power of Christ in their life. It was not a passive event. It was people, energized with Christ, getting excited about a new church in this community. The words Prepare ye the way of the Lord became: Prepare ye the way of Christ Church. Forty years ago, 111 Christ followers built a church and a community of faith. They build a visible structure and they created a visible community of faith. The structure cost tens of thousands of dollars. The community of faith was built on the cost of discipleship; a priceless amount paid for by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We are a part of that history; we share the hopes and dreams of those 111 charter members. Like the Hebrew people, the past is remembered by saying, "We". It is a Jewish practice to refer to the past by saying we. Today they say, when we were led out of Egypt, when we crossed the Jordan, when we were in exile. To identify with the body of Christ, the communion of saints, we say WE! As we remember the history of our church, say WE. We built this church, we went in debt to build it, we reached out in the community, we proclaimed that Christ is here and the gospel of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed.
The burden of the debt over forty years has been enormous with challenging stories to tell. I have no idea how much money the people of Christ Church have paid for this building over the past 40 years. I know that it started out about 80 to 90 thousand dollars in 1960. And in 1990, according to our Session records the same amount was still due, thirty years later. In this decade we have reduced the debt and today we have freed ourselves from a heavy burden and a most difficult yoke. The debt to the Presbytery Board of Missions is paid in full.
The burden for the cost of discipleship on the other hand is different. Remember when Jesus told his followers: (Matt. 11:28) "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The Gospel begins not with the debt of bricks and mortar, the Gospel begins with the message of the one who comes to free us from a burden of sin. In the Isaiah text it begins, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORDís hand double for all her sins. The advent message is one of proclamation! The Lord has paid double for us, just as it seems we have paid double for this house of worship. In some way, this may become a symbol for us as we envision the next phase of our cost of discipleship.
In preparing for this sermon, I listened repeatedly to Handelís Messiah. When I read this text, I hear the music of the Messiah. In preparing the libretto, the words from Isaiah 40 are used on five different occasions. Following the opening overture, the first three songs in this great Oratorio come from the 40th Chapter of Isaiah. The tenor begins with the recitative "Comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, the her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The tenor continues in the next song, an Air with the continued voice of proclamation: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. The chorus joins in: And the glory of Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. The ninth song is an alto solo with Chorus, "O thou that tellest good tiding to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain, lift thy voice with strength, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God. And there is the alto solo that captures the final verses of this text: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."
These are words that proclaim the Messiah, the God with us. We proclaim God who has been with us in the building of this church. We bring good tidings to Milford! We are here to share the gospel. We are followers of Christ and we are Christ ambassadors. We will continue to build this church not only with bricks and mortar, but also with the body and blood of Christ.
References: Jon Sobrino. SPIRITUALITY OF LIBERATION: TOWARD POLICTICAL HOLINESS. Trans. from the Spanish by Robert R. Barr. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989. Leonard Sweet. A CUP OF COFFEE AT THE SOUL CAFE. (Chap. 5). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998.