As You Come to Know Him
27 August 2017, 14:08
© Stacey Steck
I spent some time this week walking through the cemetery. As I wandered about admiring the shape of the tombstones, I also started wondering about the shape of the faith of our ancestors buried there. I learned some interesting things on my walk. The first is, that although I didn’t make an accurate count, my best approximation is that one-third of all the women buried in the old section of the cemetery were named Mary. Another third were just named “wife.” The other thing I learned is that the dead do not give up their secrets easily. I asked some of them for help with this sermon but they all remained strangely silent. Maybe I am just not perceptive enough. Maybe the eyes of my heart need better glasses.
What I wanted to know from them was what they thought about us now, here today, this generation of Thyatirans. Did they have any thoughts on the matter. And I also wanted to know what kinds of questions they asked God? What dreams did they have for this place? How did they understand their purpose for following Jesus Christ? What was their experience of grace? There’s a lot of history in this place, but that kind of information is not the stuff that generally gets recorded. What were their hopes and fears when they took the risk to start a congregation that was not under the authority of the English crown or its bishops? What was the spiritual impetus behind the decisions they made? Was it an agonizing decision to build a new sanctuary or was it just so obvious to everyone when the old one had to go? Things like that.
No, the dead do not give up their secrets easily, but there is one old dead guy who does still, upon occasion, illuminate things for us. He is, of course the infamous Apostle Paul, author of those wonderful letters to churches around the Mediterranean, including at Ephesus. And as we are gathered here on Rally Day 2017, and on the eve of Discernment Day, we can give thanks that someone was wise enough to preserve his words for us, and even more importantly, his prayer for us: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” How many of our ancestors fully knew the hope to which God called them? How many of us do today? Did they, do we, receive that spirit of wisdom and revelation? That glorious inheritance?
On Homecoming two weeks ago, I invited you to consider the question, “What is your purpose for following Jesus?” In those lofty words in Ephesians Paul offers a glimpse of that purpose, and he phrases it as “knowing God.” This is knowing in the Biblical sense, having a relationship with. Of course, it’s not exactly the same thing as “Adam knew Eve and she conceived a child,” but there is some overlap. There’s a sense of intimacy. There is a sense of oneness, of sharing, of communing. In that sixteenth chapter of Matthew we heard, Peter is approaching knowing who God is because he is finally beginning to see who Jesus is. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he says. Peter still didn't understand everything, or know everything, but he was that much closer. He still had to learn that the Son of Man must undergo suffering and be killed and on the third day raised again, as Jesus begins to teach the disciples in the very next chapter. He still had to learn about the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and about God’s plan for the salvation of the Gentiles. He was like all of us, even the Ephesians to whom Paul wrote, “My prayer,” is that God “may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” For Peter, and all the saints, for us, and for those in our cemetery, knowing God is a process, a journey, an unveiling, a revelation. “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood have not revealed to you,” that I am the Messiah, “but my Father in heaven” has revealed it. What we know about God is revealed by God, beginning and ending with Jesus. He is how we know God. The more deeply we know Jesus, the more deeply we know God, and the immeasurable greatness of his power. “As you come to know” Jesus, Paul says, you will know God. That’s our purpose for following Jesus.
So today is Rally Day when we embark on a new year of learning about Jesus and about our purpose for following him. Our process of coming to know Jesus gets a fresh start with new teachers and new curriculum and new workshop rotations. We come asking God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, to help us focus once again, that we may see the world through the lens of faith. For young and old disciples alike, the process never ends, because there is always more to know about God. That may sound daunting, I know, to never reach the goal. But it should offer us hope rather than despair. You see, our pursuit of knowledge about God isn’t knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but knowledge for relationship’s sake, for experiencing every drop of love, grace, mercy, wisdom and justice God can rain down on us. And which one of us doesn’t need and want more of those things?
But as much as this is our purpose as individual disciples of Christ, knowing God through Jesus Christ is also our communal task, and on this Rally Sunday we celebrate that God has called us to pursue these great gifts together. And more specifically, we are called to celebrate that God gives us the means to live out more fully those “riches of his glorious inheritance.” Yes, today, we want to rally you not only to come to know Jesus through the Christian Education programs of the church, but also to help us collectively come to know him through the discernment process in which all are invited to participate on September 9. Over the last several months, your hardworking Vision Discernment Planning Team has been making preparations for Discernment Day, the day we use the collective eyes of our hearts to know how we are called to fulfill God’s purposes through our church. One of the members of that team, Carly Moore, will conclude our hearing of God’s word today with some thoughts on how God will reveal that vision to Thyatira.