This message was shared on Sunday, January 10, 2021 at First Wayne Street UMC.
One of the first things we see in today’s Scripture reading is John carrying out the ministry to which he was called. John had a passion for his purpose. He possessed a courageous commitment to his position. He was “all in” when it came to being God’s messenger. He was fully committed to his call to “prepare the way.” He knew what he was called to do. He embraced and fulfilled that role.
John also possessed a healthy amount of humility. Some would attempt to elevate his status and position. However, rather than getting puffed up with pride, he continually created expectation as he pointed others to the One who was to come.
Our staff is using the Bob Goff devotional, “Live in Grace: Walk in Love”, as part of our work together. This week, while preparing for the message, our devotional for Tuesday, January 5th made me think about the confidence with which John fulfilled his purpose. Goff writes, “God created you with unique gifts and ignited the passions God put in your heart for a reason – don’t let fear steal your opportunities and leave you on the sidelines wishing you’d tried. Do what you believe you were created to do. Is it possible it won’t work? You bet. Fail trying, don’t fail watching.”
John did what he believed he was created to do. I pray that each of us will do what we have been created to do. I pray that we will have a passion for our purpose.
This past Wednesday was Epiphany. When we think of epiphany, we should think of it in terms of a revealing. In the Christian tradition, epiphany is a revealing of Christ. It’s seeing Jesus for who he is.
Traditionally, we remember the wise men’s recognition and acknowledgment of Jesus as the One they had been waiting for. For us today, it serves as an opportunity to remember and proclaim Jesus is Lord.
In Mark 1, the author tells the story of John’s recognition and acknowledgement of Jesus as the One. If you are familiar with John’s story, you will know that this is actually his second affirmation of Jesus. John and Jesus were cousins. When Jesus’ mother, Mary, learned she would carry God’s Son, she ran to tell her cousin, Elizabeth, who was with child. When Mary shared her good news, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy! Elizabeth interpreted this as a recognition of the special nature of Mary’s child.
John knew and understood his call. If you look at verses 2-3 of Mark 1, you see John’s call spelled out. John was tasked to be a messenger, to prepare the way for the Lord.
John called people to repent and look forward to the One who was to come. His baptism of repentance was an outward sign of an inward transformation. This repentance indicates a changing of both hearts and lives. Repentance should have an impact on our actions.
John understood his role to point others to Jesus and faithfully lived out his purpose. When Jesus came to be baptized, John recognized Jesus for who He is and was stopped in his tracks. “I shouldn’t baptize you, you should baptize me.”
In being baptized, Jesus makes an outward declaration of being fully dedicated to living as God calls. Baptism is a declaration of repentance and a dedication to live in God’s way. Jesus didn’t NEED to be baptized. His baptism serves as a declaration that the One we have been waiting for has arrived!
Verse 11 is the bold declaration of Jesus as God’s Son. Jesus had been cleansed through the baptism of repentance – He was set apart and named as God’s Son. In many ways, this is another example of Epiphany, as Jesus is revealed as the One.
At His baptism, we encounter all three persons of the Holy Trinity – the voice of God, the spirit descending like a dove, Jesus – God in human flesh. It’s a powerful moment as the heavens are opened to announce the arrival of the One, the arrival of the Kingdom, the confirmation of the arrival of the “good news of great joy for all people” we celebrated on Christmas!
Some have referred to Jesus’ baptism as His inauguration or as His initiation and coronation for His divinely guided role to reveal and establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
John’s baptism was into repentance. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, baptism is now baptism into grace.
John was pointing others towards Jesus. Are we pointing others towards or away from Jesus? Are we fulfilling our role as messengers? You don’t have to be a pastor or work for a church or Christian organization to be a messenger! In fact, you may be better equipped and more effective as a messenger in whatever field you find yourself!
In your office, your home, your neighborhood, your school – are you pointing others towards Jesus? We touched on this briefly last Sunday and we’re focusing on it again today because it really is that important. We need to passionately embrace our call to be messengers for Jesus – wherever we find ourselves!
Here’s a simple way to be a messenger today– to point others to Jesus. As you are watching this, hit that share button and send the link by text, email or post it to your social media feeds – invite others to join us on this journey of faith. Tell others why Jesus, your church and times of worship (even in a season of physical distancing) is important to you.
Another way we can be messengers is to be encouragers. Be an encourager. Write that phrase “be an encourager” on a piece of paper and place it somewhere you will see it every day. Maybe place several “be an encourager” notes in places you will see them – on your mirror, in your car, at your desk, in your locker, in the refrigerator! Let it serve as a reminder to be an encourager – in all of our interactions – find ways to be an encourager.
Thom Rainer shared some interesting information on his podcast this week. To be honest, I’m hesitant to share it because it confirms that my wife is right and I’m wrong. I’m sure that none of you are surprised by that.
Maybe you’ve heard of warm fuzzies. If not, a warm fuzzy is a compliment that follows a sarcastic, hurtful or unnecessary word. Church camps love to teach people about warm fuzzies.
If you say something negative or trash talk someone, you will be told that you owe them 3 warm fuzzies. As a sarcastic and cynical person, warm fuzzies drive me crazy! I don’t want to give them – and I really don’t like receiving them! Warm and fuzzy are words that have never been used to describe me…cold, standoffish, irritating, agitating…those are words that give a more accurate description of yours truly.
Well, what Rainer shared is that 3 is an incredibly insufficient number of warm fuzzies to make up for that one hurtful and harmful word. Rainer shared that one negative or discouraging word carries the weight of 100 words of encouragement. In other words, it requires 100 words of encouragement to offset the negative word.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t say something negative. There are times when it is necessary to deliver a negative message. However, we need to do so carefully, with caution and with the understanding of the impact. Maybe a new litmus test for sharing a negative message is asking ourselves if it’s worth 100 compliments. Again, there will be some that are worth it…but most negative words probably are not.
Think about this in terms of the church. If you say one negative thing to a pastor, staff member or volunteer – it will take 100 compliments to offset that negativity, whether the negativity is warranted or not! No one wants to spend that much time complimenting the pastor!
Unfortunately, I don’t think half-hearted warm fuzzies count. For example, “You have nice shoes” doesn’t really cut it!
Be an encourager. Look for the good. Look for the positive. Point it out. Celebrate the good!
Our world is in desperate need of some Good News. Our airwaves and social media feeds are full of negativity and division. Negativity and division have infiltrated just about every aspect of our world.
Over the summer, we saw this division – we saw protests – we saw extremists committing destructive acts of violence – even right here in our city. While some understand the protests, the violence cannot be condoned.
On Wednesday, the day of Epiphany, a day when we remember Jesus alone is Lord and our Kingdom is not of this world, extremists stormed our Capitol building in a disturbing and terrifying display – it’s been reported that some demonstrators waved signs reading “Jesus Saves”, in a way claiming Jesus condones or supports their actions. While some may understand the motivation behind the protests, these acts of violence, destruction and chaos cannot be condoned.
We cannot embolden extremists nor ostracize the disenfranchised. We must also remember that we cannot confuse patriotism with Christian faith. Our allegiance is to Jesus.
We must remember that extremists do not define the whole. Many who support Black Lives Matter were disgusted by the violent turn of some of the protests. Many who support the current administration were disgusted by the violent events that took place at our nation’s Capitol. For those who may support, condone or excuse the actions of extremists, I would encourage spending a great deal of time in the Gospel’s, paying close attention to the words of Jesus – especially the call to “Love God. Love Neighbor. Love and pray for our enemies.” The polarized extremes cannot define us.
I think one of the beautiful aspects of our congregation is that we represent the wide-spectrum. We have people on every side of every issue. As we gracefully listen to and learn from one another, I believe we are better because of that diversity. Let’s be honest, there will be some who are offended that I even briefly addressed this issue. There will be some who are offended because I didn’t make a strong enough statement one way or the other. There are some calculating whether or not it’s worth 100 compliments to send me a note expressing their anger towards me. In many ways, that is a beautiful thing.
Today, I choose hope. I choose to hold onto the hope that our love for Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit can heal any divide.
The work to heal the division in our nation will be difficult and yet it is necessary. As followers of Jesus, we have a call to live in love, grace and truth. We have a call to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. We need to lift our nation, our leaders and one another in prayer. And, maybe a small step in the right direction is to become an encourager.
Being an encourager might be the most counter-cultural thing we can do today. We simply cannot know the power one small act of encouragement might have on those around us.
Who are we encouraging? Who are we building up? Scripture confirms the call to be an encourager. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “encourage one another and build up each other.”
I think it would be awesome if First Wayne Street became known as a congregation, full of love, grace and truth, full of encouragers.
The baptism of Jesus was a radical display of God’s love. We have a call not just to receive this love – but to make God’s radical love known in the world.
As we continue the journey of faith together, may we strive to live and love like Jesus. Strive to be full of grace and truth. Strive to be an encourager. Be passionate about our purpose. Go into the world and be a messenger, pointing people to Jesus.