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Back to the Beginning
GENESIS 1:1-15 MARK 1:1-11
It's another beginning! The beginning of a new year. Isn't it wonderful how we have been given new beginnings, chances to begin again. Take advantage of a new year--another page turning in the book of life--to pause, take inventory, and try a fresh look at yourself, especially a look at your spiritual journey. Let me ask on this second Sunday of 1988: How are things going with you and the Lord? Are you on speaking terms? Is the relationship deepening or is it cooling off? Are you taking God for granted, and forgetting to acknowledge, to speak, to pray? Is your relationship with God vital, dynamic, and growing?
When evaluating and renewing a relationship, sometimes it helps to go back to the beginning, to make sure the basics haven't been forgotten in the haste of today's pressurized living. This morning, let us not only make a new beginning in our spiritual journeys, but let's go back to the beginning to make sure our journeys are on the right road, and that in our haste to travel, we haven't forgotten something important.
The two Scripture lessons read this morning, which were taken from the suggested lectionary readings for this Sunday, are about beginnings. The Old Testament lesson took us to the first words of the Bible, to the beginning of the world, to creation itself, reminding us again, "In the beginning, God..." God was in the beginning. All things come from God, all creation comes from God, including your life. Your very existence has come from God. God made you. God placed you on the earth at this very time. God placed you in your family. God chose you, and placed you on the earth at this time in history, in the midst of your family and this church. Why?
The Gospel lesson read this morning is from Mark, which scholars seem to agree was the first of the four gospels to be written. Mark began his gospel with the words, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Back to the beginning begins with Jesus, the Son of God. A group of first graders wrote their own Christmas play. It was more modern than the traditional drama. There were the familiar members of the cast--Joseph, the shepherds, the three wise men, the star, and angels--but Mary was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly from behind some bales of hay came the sound of soft moans and groans. Evidently Mary was in labor. Soon a doctor came out from the bales of hay dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. With a big smile on his face he turned to Joseph and said, "Congratulations, Joseph, it's a God!"
The famous German theologian, Karl Barth, stood before students and faculty at Princeton in 1963. A student asked, "Sir, don't you think God has revealed himself in other religions, and not only Christianity?" Barth stunned many who were present when he thundered, "No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. God has revealed himself in his Son." God came into the world in the person of Jesus, a real human being. Christianity is not so much a religion, as it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The beginning of our faith, the beginning of your spiritual journey, is Jesus. Have you forgotten? Have you made your religion so complicated and cumbersome you have forgotten the beginning?
What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus? The Christian life is a walk with Christ. A Christian life begins with Jesus. When you become a full member of the church, and make public your response to God's acceptance of you in baptism, the vows of membership includes the answering of this question: Will you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and pledge your allegiance to his kingdom? That's where the Christian life, your spiritual journey, begins. That question gets us back to the basics.
Is Jesus your Lord? The question uses several words we no longer use in modern terminology. For example, we no longer have feudal lords in our society. The question--Is Jesus your Lord?--means, is Jesus first in your life? First in your priorities, first in your value system, first in your ethics? If Jesus is not first, what or who is? Back to the beginning of the Old Testament, the second creation story is Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve was told to answer the question, "What is wrong with the world? What has gone wrong with God's creation?" God made everything there is, God made you and me, but it went wrong. The world, including you and me, is not the way God intended. What happened?
Martin Marty tells of a cartoon in the London Spectator. The scene is the Garden of Eden with fig-leaved Adam and Eve exiting, passing an angel with a flaming sword who is guarding the gate. Adam says to Eve, "We never had a chance, coming from a single-parent family." Adam was not one to take responsibility for his actions. When he ate the forbidden fruit and God confronted him, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the snake. Whatever is wrong in your life or wrong in the world, it is tempting to blame Adam and Eve, or society, or heredity, or the social environment, or your mother. Go back to the beginning this second Sunday in 1988, and when you do your self-inventory, take responsibility for your life. You make your choices. You make your decisions. No one is to blame for your life except you. That confession is the beginning of self-improvement.
Not only did Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they refused to let God be God. Their basic sin was their refusal to put God first. They wanted to trust in their own resources. They were self-made people, and were proud to be a self-made man and a self-made woman. A man brought his boss home for dinner. The boss was very blustery, very arrogant, and very domineering. The little boy in the family stared at his father's boss for most of the evening, but did not say anything. Finally, the boss asked the little boy, "Why do you keep looking at me like that, sonny?" The little boy answered, "My daddy says you are a self-made man." The boss beamed and proudly admitted that indeed he was a self-made man. The little boy said, "Well, if you are a self-made man, why did you make yourself like that?"
Louis XIV was the king who built the incomparable Versailles. Louis XIV was the king who declared, "I am the state." Louis XIV was the king who was called "The Sun King" because of his glittering, lavish reign. Thousands of people went to his funeral service, filling the cathedral and spilling out into the square beyond. When the Bishop of Paris mounted the pulpit to preach the eulogy for the Great Sun King, Louis XIV, he spoke just four words, "Only God is great." Then he left the pulpit and continued the service. Only God is great.
When you accept Jesus as Lord, Jesus is first in your life, and not yourself. Let God be God. Offer your worship (which means worth ship), offer your dedication, offer your homage, offer your loyalty to Jesus Christ. After all, what on this earth is worthy of you, other than Jesus Christ? Go back to the beginning this second Sunday in 1988, back to the basics, and accept Jesus as your Lord.
Secondly, is Jesus Christ your Savior? Savior, like Lord, is an old-fashioned word, not used in our vocabulary anymore, except in church language. Do I need saving, you ask yourself? If not, what do you do when you fail, when you make a mess of things? What do you do when you or a loved one becomes seriously ill? What do you when a loved one dies, or you face the imminence of your own death? What do you do when you are tempted to live with values, ideals, and ethics that are questionable and perhaps destructive? You need a Savior.
Or, are you too proud to admit you can't handle every situation? Are you self-made, needing no one and nothing but yourself? Are you so great you don't need God? If so, you probably live a lonely life, and are headed for big disappointments.
For those of you who admit you need a Savior, there is no other name under heaven that can save you like the name of Jesus. Who or what else is there in this world that is worthy of your trust, other than Jesus? When you are made conscious of your sins, of your shortcomings, of your mistakes, call on Jesus your Savior. When you are acutely aware of your inability to cope, when you are painfully aware of your inability to be on top of every situation, call on Jesus your Savior. When you are in terror with worry over a loved one, or your own health, call on Jesus your Savior. When you are tossed about, confused with many decisions to make, unsure of your priorities, not knowing which course to take, call on Jesus your Savior. Go back to the beginning this second Sunday in 1988, back to the basics, and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Thirdly, will you pledge your allegiance to his kingdom? Again, this question is using antiquated language, for we no longer have kingdoms, but will you do God's work? I'm thinking particularly this morning of sharing the good news of Jesus. Our church has adopted the goal of inviting and welcoming 10-15 people into our church fellowship each month. That is a lofty goal for us, and we will only reach it when you help do the inviting and welcoming. A recent survey of Santa Clara County showed that on an average Sunday, only 15% of our county is in a Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox church. Some 85% of the population is unchurched.
There are many people in your acquaintance, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your family, who are struggling, searching, longing for answers and direction; people who do not realize they need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You know many people who are longing to have a Lord and a Savior, people who are waiting for you to share. We have a mission here on the peninsula. We are in the middle of a mission field, and you are the missionaries.
There was a large church in the downtown of a city. It had a beautiful structure, with four stories. In the narthex, it had a ten feet tall marble statue of Christ with his arms outstretched. The church had a gifted pastor and a wonderful choir of professional quality. But times changed, and people moved away to the suburbs. The membership declined. The building deteriorated as the congregation could not afford maintenance. One night a fire broke out. Faulty wiring. Oak walls, walnut banisters all went up in flames. The floor in the narthex gave way and the statue of Christ went crashing to the floor of the basement. The next afternoon, workmen arrived to demolish what was left of the structure. They found the statue of Christ with hardly a mark on it. Gently they got a cable around it, lifted it out with a crane, and set it on the sidewalk. One workman said, "Well, it looks like Jesus is all they got left." Another noted, "At least they got him out on the sidewalk where the people are."
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is all we have. We have nothing else that matters. We need nothing else. Nothing else is worthy of our devotion. Nothing else is worthy of being first, of being our Lord. Nothing else can save us. Nothing else can save the people out there who are looking for love, direction and hope. Let's get Jesus out on the sidewalk where the people are. There are too many churches who try to hide Jesus inside a building, where they try to keep him for themselves. They like the warm feeling of the fellowship. They are accustomed to the church being the way it has always been. They have forgotten the beginning. They have forgotten the basics, where Jesus commanded us to share the gospel--to preach and teach, to care about people, to love them, and to invite them into Christ's church.
Let's go back to the beginning on this second Sunday in 1988, back to the basics, back to Jesus. Will you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and pledge your allegiance to his kingdom?
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris