Renounce, Confess, Resist | The Journey of Faith

Before the sermon, we remembered our baptism. I invite you, if you did not participate in the service, to at least read through this service, for it will shed light on the sermon itself. But to wander, to take the journey of faith as the sermon says, is to participate in this service below. You are invited to follow the instructions outlined in the service, remembering your baptism.

Have you never been baptized? You are invited to contact the church office to schedule a time soon to be baptized. Email eastmanfumc@gmail.com or call 478-374-4327.

Remembrance of Baptism

On Thursday, our bishop, Lawson Bryan, sent out an email to the conference in response to the insurrection at the Capitol on Wednesday. In his email, he called upon all Methodists in South Georgia, our Annual Conference, to renew our baptism in response to the violence of that day. 

Here’s why: when we were baptized and when we joined the church, we said that we would renounce evil, confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and resist oppression and injustice. In that sacred moment, we also received the Holy Spirit inside of us. From time to time, then, it’s appropriate that we remind ourselves of our baptism; not only to remember the vows made, but also to remember that it is the Holy Spirit inside of us that gives us the power to do what our vows call upon us to do: renounce, confess, and resist.

This is a very Wesleyan thing to do. In the Methodist Church, we are not just saved for a future with Christ but we are also saved for this life; to help save this world. When we go out and serve in our community, we are renouncing the evil that says we can’t make a difference. When we come to church and take care of ourselves spiritually, we are confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. When we ensure the hungry are fed, we are resisting the oppression and injustice that creates hunger in the first place. 

This is a very Wesleyan thing to do: to say that in remembering our baptism, we are remembering that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to, in this life, renounce evil, confess Jesus Christ, and resist oppression and injustice.

And so, the violence we witnessed this past week compels us to remember these vows, vows empowered by the Holy Spirit, because the Christian response to violence, to any act of evil, must be to renounce it, to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and to actively resist oppression and injustice. And so, in place of our usual pastoral prayer, we come together to remember our baptism this morning.

Here’s what we mean by that, per our bishop:

First, let us make it clear that we renounce violence like that which occurred Wednesday. In addition to feeling sad and upset, let us do something: unite in naming any violent behavior we see and then say plainly, “We renounce this.”

Renunciation paves the way for the second vow: we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and unite ourselves to His Church which opens us to people of all ages, nations, and races. Here we become part of the worldwide movement in which Christ is our Peace and breaks down dividing walls of hostility to create one new humanity.

The third vow recognizes that there is that in the world which is opposed to God. There is that which wants violence, hatred, oppression, and death. Will we give in to this violence? Or will we resist it through the freedom and power God gives us? Will we resist this violence in our ways of thinking, our ways of speaking, and our ways of acting? Will we preach this, teach this, and promote this in our community and in our nation? Will we call upon our leaders, in the church and the community, to model this gospel-based resistance to violence?

The bishop calls on us to remember our baptism as the Christian response to violence; to renounce, confess, resist. I can think of no better way to respond to what we have witnessed this past Wednesday than that. 

Let us, then, remember our baptism. I’m going to read the vows taken at baptism and when joining the church and invite you to respond. At home, say out loud your responses to each of the three prompts; let yourself be heard, even if it feels a little embarrassing or strange, by saying with all boldness and purpose: “I do.” Even if you are not Methodist, you are invited to participate, as these vows and this commitment are as ancient as the church itself. 

As you respond, touch the water in the bowl, to be reminded of the waters of your baptism that sealed you in Christ and delivered the Holy Spirit. 

So the instructions are, after each statement, say “I do,” and touch the water you set out in front of you.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?      

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?       

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

As a sign of this renewal of our baptism, everyone gathered in your home should take their thumb, dip it in the water, and make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each other. If you’re at home alone, do it to yourself. As you do, say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” 

Remember your baptism and be thankful. 

Remember your baptism and renounce, confess, and resist. 

Amen.

Sermon

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 

Yonder broke that new and glorious morn on the first day of Mesori, an Egyptian month. The Dog Star, Sirius, rose with the sun, shining in radiant and spectacular brilliance in those days over two thousand years ago. A thrill of hope rose inside the astrologers who lived in Persia and across Arabia. Mesori, a word that, in ancient Egyptian means birth of a king, coinciding with the brilliant rise of this star; it could only mean one thing: a great king was born. 

Off the astrologers went, wandering on their camels, traversing the rugged terrain. This was no ordinary traveling, as we might think of it today. They spent much of their time in need of water and food, always with a watchful eye for it was terribly unsafe to travel these roads. Bandits waited to steal goods, robbers were at the ready to take what was yours and sell it at market. The wise men knew this; they had frankincense, gold, and myrrh, easily sold at marketplaces. 

So they traveled carefully, cautiously. 

These wise men wandered, hoping to find the truth they believed the star revealed: a great king was born! 

But at home, they were thought of as fools. 

How could they take such a risk? Over an inkling, a thought, that perhaps there was a great king born? Their colleagues, astrologers, too, just wanted them to record the star, note its brilliance, and then move on with their lives. Yes, perhaps in some far distant land a great king was born, but that was not of their concern. Their concern was more scientific. And indeed, the work of these Arabs some two thousand years ago led directly to modern astronomy. 

But not for these magi, a word that can mean magician, sorcerer, or astrologer. Something inside of them stirred. Something inside of them said, “go.” Something inside of them knew, as they wandered, what J.R.R. Tolkien famously said, “not all who wander are lost.” 

Let’s read together our scripture for today, Matthew 1:23-2:2

Scripture

A thrill of hope. 

It was enough to cause them to go search, to go and seek, to look for the truth. 

They had no guarantee they’d find any truth. They did not know that their journey would be successful. But there was a tug on their souls, a motivation deep inside of them to go seek, and so they did. 

They were thought of as foolish. Their journey was terribly risky. They had no guarantee of success. Their entire basis for traveling was a star that rose with the sun, shining brilliantly, on the first day of a month of an ancient calendar, a month whose name meant birth of a king in an extinct language. Hardly enough evidence to motivate us. Hardly enough evidence to motivate their colleagues. 

But here they came, “led by the light of a star sweetly gleaming…” 

And when they arrived, directed by the light of the star, they found “the king of kings lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friend.” 

They found a simple house. In a simple town. The home of a commoner, not a king. The home of a carpenter, not a royal ruler. And yet, that same stirring in their souls, that inkling, that thrill of hope, told them that this simple setting with an everyday baby was the king they had been looking for. This was the truth they had sought with their whole heart. 

Inside of them they knew, “Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!” 

And they worshipped him. They offered their homage. Their search had proven successful. The truth they sought in the light of the Dog Star, rising on the first day of Mesori; the truth they had only an inkling of, that same truth that set them on their journey, on their searching, on their wandering; that truth was there, in lowly manger. 

Not all who wander are lost; not these astrologers. No, they were found. They beheld their king, for in their souls, yonder broke a new and glorious morn. 

They had found the truth. And their response was the only proper response when we find the truth: worship.

The truth that “truly [Jesus] taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother; and in His name all oppression shall cease.” 

That’s the truth of today and everyday. Anything done in Jesus’s name that oppresses or promotes war, conflict, or strife, is not of Jesus. Anything done in Jesus’s name that promotes division is not of Jesus. Indeed, in all our trials, he was born to be our friend for he knows our need; to our weakness, he is no stranger. Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever. His power and glory evermore proclaim. 

They had found the truth! And so they worshipped and rejoiced.

But what if we haven’t found the truth yet? What if we are not so motivated? What if we feel like we’re just wandering, lost, not quite sure if what we say we believe here at church is what we actually really believe? 

Not all who wander are lost.

Those who have courage wander; they set out on a journey that begins with an inkling, a thrill of hope, that perhaps, maybe, just maybe, there’s something greater out there, there’s something worth worshipping out there, there’s some truth worth giving our lives to. 

It begins like it did for the wise men, with a faint inkling; a thrill of hope.

If we’re courageous, if we choose bravery, we go in search of that inkling, trying to find its satisfaction. People will call us fools, like the colleagues of these wise men. People will think we’re chasing after dreams. For we can’t prove the truth when we find it; not in the empirical sense. We can’t even prove with logic that inkling, that thrill of hope, for it defies logic. 

But it’s there. Inside all of us. In the Methodist Church, we call that “prevenient grace.” It’s God calling to us, wooing us, for God loves us and longs to have relationship with us. 

And the first awareness we have of that is like a star, rising off in the East; an inkling, a thrill of hope, that the truth is out there. 

Not all who wander are lost because faith is a journey. 

But faith isn’t a one time, say a prayer and get your fire insurance card, kind of deal. Salvation isn’t just a matter of ensuring you go to heaven. No, that’s just the beginning.

Growing in faith is knowing, deep in your soul that “truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease.” That doesn’t describe the world today, but it describes the world that Christ came to bring, the Kingdom of God, a world that Christ is birthing through all who claim his name. 

That’s why today we renewed our baptism: to call ourselves back to laboring for the Kingdom of God through renouncing evil, confessing Jesus Christ, and resisting oppression and injustice. Birthing the Kingdom of God into the world is why the church exists; at least, it’s why the church is supposed to exist. Plenty of churches fail to live up to this standard, aligning themselves with political parties or movements or simply proclaiming Jesus as fire insurance and nothing else. And let us confess that we are not perfect ourselves. But this is the point of faith: that we are on a journey. And the question before us as individuals and as a church is a question of trajectory: what direction is our journey headed? Away from Christ? Or toward Christ? Away from love toward hate and division? Or toward peace and unity? 

That’s why last Sunday we renewed our covenant with Christ; we renewed our relationship with Christ, because we’re on a journey. And it’s easy to deviate from the straight and narrow path of that journey. We all need to be called back. We tend to wander away, but we’re not lost; no, we’re just on the journey of faith. God will use our wanderings to teach us, to mold and grow us, if we will wander back to Christ when we find ourselves having drifted away. 

Our commitment, our relationship with Christ, isn’t an on/off switch. It’s more like floating down a river. Sometimes we drift toward one bank, and we need course correction. Sometimes we overcorrect and drift toward the other, and we need course correction again. But the fact remains: we’re in the river, being swept downstream by God’s love for us. The act of faith is to choose to get in the river in the first place, to allow ourselves to be swept away by a force we cannot control, a force we believe is good even as much as it is powerful. Choosing to get in the river is what matters. 

That’s why not all who wander are lost. If you’ve chosen to get in the river, to take the journey with Christ, you’re not lost. You’re on a journey.

Faith is a journey. Not all who wander are lost.

And that journey begins with an inkling, a thrill of hope, that perhaps there’s something greater than ourselves; that just maybe, the truth is out there.

I’ve been on that journey for a long time. For quite a while, I was agnostic. That wasn’t wrong; it was part of my journey. A little more than ten years ago, I decided to follow the inkling in my soul, the thrill of hope. 

And like the wise men, I was not disappointed. 

Today, I am still on that journey. Now, I believe I have found the truth and I have dedicated my life to serving the truth I know as revealed in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean that my journey is done. That thrill of hope that something greater exists for me is changed; now it’s a thrill of hope that through me working within the church, working with all of you, and working with all churches who properly understand Jesus Christ, that the world can be changed. That’s the something greater that we’re all after, a changed world marked by love and peace. 

And in Christianity, that world we’re looking for is called the Kingdom of God; a kingdom marked by love, not hate; by peace, not war; by unity, not division. And a unity not of the elect, not of a privileged few, but a unity of all that’s born out of God’s love for all of humanity. When we sing, “chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease,” we’re singing of the Kingdom of God. 

But let us make that a bit more personal. The journey of faith should lead us to be able to sing, “chains shall he break, for the democrat is my brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Or on the other side, “chains shall he break, for the republican is my brother, and in his name, all oppression shall cease.” Because the Kingdom of God bears little resemblance to our politics. Perhaps I should say that again. The Kingdom of God bears little resemblance to our politics. Those carrying Jesus’s name as they entered the capitol on Wednesday were not there in Jesus’s name nor did they represent what we stand for as Christians. Those who claim Jesus’s name to oppress others, to divide and condemn through violence and vitriol; those are not people acting in Jesus’s name. Those who claim Jesus’s name and then commit acts of violence are not acting in Jesus’s name. 

But the beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is this: for those who carried Jesus’s banner into the Capitol, revealing how little of Christ they actually know; for those who committed the violence on Wednesday, Christ calls upon us to still sing, “chains shall he break, for the rioter is my brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

That’s the Kingdom of God; this radical, beautiful, other-worldly vision of what the world can be when God’s love conquers evil. And it’s for that vision that we wander, that we take the journey of faith. 

The kingdom of God is a call to something else, something far beyond the imagination of our politics, something far grander than any party platform. It’s a call to a world where we renounce evil and resist oppression because we confess that we know the love of God through Jesus Christ. 

If we’re on the journey of faith, then, swept along by the current of the river, the end result is this: we become more and more loving, such that through us, God’s love breaks the chains of oppression; God’s love through us renounces evil and resists injustice. We become standard bearers of the kingdom of God. 

That’s faith. That’s the journey the wise men undertook. That’s the journey we together undertake as a church. 

Faith is a journey. Not all who wander are lost.

This morning, where on the journey are you? 

Do you have an inkling but aren’t ready to commit? Choose courage and commit, for God’s grace is beckoning you, calling you. There is something greater out there.

Have you committed before, and maybe even recommitted last week, but aren’t sure how to move forward? Follow your heart, for Jesus is there through the Holy Spirit. Wander around, you’ll find your way, for you are not lost. 

Are you fully committed? Serve. Be the difference you want to see in the world. Believe that through your efforts to renounce, confess, and resist, God is making a world of difference. Wander around in service to this community and be fully committed to the spiritual disciplines, for you will find your way to greater love and service for the Kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is what we said a few moments ago when we remembered our baptism. In the Methodist Church, we are not just saved for a future with Christ but we are also saved for this life; to help save this world. When we go out and serve in our community, we are renouncing the evil that says we can’t make a difference. When we come to church and take care of ourselves spiritually, we are confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. When we ensure the hungry are fed, we are resisting the oppression and injustice that creates hunger in the first place. 

Does that describe you?

Not all who wander are lost. No, in fact all who wander will eventually find their way. The question is simply this:

Are you wandering? 

Because faith is a journey. It requires that we take the initiative to say that we’ll take a step toward God, a step to confess Jesus Christ, to renounce evil, and to resist through service to our community injustice and oppression.

So, take the initiative. Take a step on the journey. It might feel like wandering, but faith is a journey. 

Not all who wander are lost.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen. 

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