First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
How did this world come into existence? Who was in the room when the button was pushed creating light from the darkness? The who pushed or helped push the button is the question that defines all religious discussion. Were there many Gods in the room as many ancient religions believe? Or was there just one God, the Father almighty who created light out of the darkness. Who was involved in the creation of the world is the question that defines all religion. Many people don’t get the Christian answer to this question. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, our God was not a “lonely” god.
This week in The Scroll, I wrote about the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Why is this question an issue?
Last week at Christmas Eve supper, I was asked my opinion about a Christian College Professor down at Wheaton in Illinois who was suspended for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This professor Larycia Hawkins defended her position by stating that Pope Francis said the same thing. The following discussion sparked a huge debate about religious tolerance, which I would like to reflect upon today.
I believe as we reflect, we can begin by acknowledging some similarities between our faiths: Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe God to be all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing. We believe that God, in theory, can hear the prayers of believers from within any faith tradition. These three religions draw their family trees back to Abraham. All three religions believe that God is ultimately a God of mercy, who on the last day will judge all mankind.
The Christian God is different though because he does not stand alone at the dawn of creation. The Christian God does not only live in heaven separated from his creation. The Christian God lived as an ordinary man. For Islam, the idea of God living as a person would be impossible. For Islam, the idea of God dying on a cross would be the epitome of weakness and foolishness, they would consider such a belief to be blasphemy. Islam does not believe in the Trinity of God in three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), which is the fundamental defining belief of the entire Christian faith.
I believe the discussion of the differences between religions should not stop here. All religions and cultures contain a degree of beauty. There are positive practices that we can acknowledge from all faiths. I would never say that all religions do not contain good and kind people who make excellent neighbors. When we say Christianity is unique, we don’t’ say it because we don’t take the calling to love our neighbor seriously no matter who they are or what they ultimately believe.
One tendency that we often have in the world is to resort to a tribal mentality. We only wish to associate with those who think like us and believe like us.
As I’ve talked about before I used to be quite heavy, probably weighing nearly 100 pounds more than I did today. I knew a woman in Seminary who one time joked that “If Stew only ate with people who agreed with me, then he would be skinny.” The truth is though I’d probably also be less wise.
My fear is not that America becomes overwhelmed with followers of other religions, my fear is that we lose the conviction that our Gospel to matters to all who believe or who don’t believe.
The Gospel ultimately saves. In the words of Chad Bird, when we say all religions, worship the same thing? Such a statement that expresses the idea that we don’t care what other religions believe. When we seek to minimize or downplay our beliefs, this can be troublesome.
A few years ago, I was on vacation in Las Vegas. I had some time to kill on a Friday, so I decided to drive up to Utah a state where I had never been. I go to Saint George, Utah. I figure being in Utah I should go to some Mormon sites just because that’s what you’re supposed to in Utah. So I visit the summer home of Brigham Young, who brought the Mormon people out to Utah. So I show up at this house and begin talking to the guide who asks me what faith that I am. To which I told her “Lutheran”, and she described us as “Brothers and Sisters in the faith.” So we start the tour, I was the only non-Mormon on the tour of about ten people. The sales job then begins to start. Pretty soon everyone else on the tour gets involved in the sales job. You might figure I would be annoyed by this; only I wasn’t. If the friendly Mormons believe that they have a spiritual truth that I need to hear as a way of fixing the problems in my life, I admire them for trying to share it with me.
As we consider how we as Christians should respond to other religions all around us. We want to declare the uniqueness of our beliefs as an example of how far we are willing to go to preach the grace of a radical God.
Perhaps the central question in distinguishing between religions has to do with the direction of God. In all other world religions, people seek to bring forth their best efforts as a way of ascending into God’s presence. Muslims have very strict rules about eating pork or drinking alcohol. Following these observances would be mandatory for all believers. Whether one should eat pork or drink alcohol as a matter of health is not the issue, the issue is rather what we believe about the nature of God.
The way the Christian interacts with the world is going to look different than the way that Islam interacts with the world. The reasons and motivations for a Christian interacting with the world around them are very different. As Christian people, we are called to action. The reason for this calling is very particular. In Christianity, we begin with the premise of freedom. Within Christianity you’re calling to be a banker, bus-driver, or beautician belongs to you and you alone. We are not required to do anything because it’s the way that we’ve done it before. Your path to God’s presence might not necessarily be Charlie’s path. There is no such thing as the uniquely Christian life. In Christianity, we act because we believe that Jesus’ words on the cross “It is finished” to be real and effecting every moment of our existence. We are an imperfect faith made for imperfect people.
Our Good Friend and my frequent supply preacher Dan Tabor works as a claim adjuster for State Farm Insurance. Dan says whenever he’s talking to people there’s always a certain phrase that makes him a bit nervous that phrase is “I’m a Christian”. The only scarier phrase according to Dan is “But I’m a pastor.” Dan’s point is people will often play the religion card as a way to run from all responsibilities for their actions. Mainly since Joe never goes to Church, but Bill does go to church then Bill must always be right. Being a Christian does not prevent Bill being wrong. Bill being wrong doesn’t make him a hypocrite though it makes him an imperfect Christian who is probably stubborn. I’m sure there are people here that know stubborn Christians. I’m sure there are even stubborn Christians within this church. The type of Christians who need to keep hearing about God’s grace and mercy again and again and again.
The central Christian belief is the idea that Jesus Christ has come down from heaven to save the whole world from those in bondage to sin. “I have not come to condemn the world but rather save the world.”-John 3:17
Too often we get distracted by debates of which no certain resolution can come. Our energies should rather be focused out God’s grace and mercy upon a world that longs for it.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”- John 1:1
Everything that we believe as Christian people brings us back to the beginning itself. Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from the start of the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with a claim of a virgin birth. John’s Gospel rather begins with a more dramatic claim! Jesus was there at the beginning. Jesus was present at the creation of the world itself. Our whole salvation story centers on what we believe about creation. Creation is essential to the world. Creation is essential to God’s plan to make the world whole once again.
This Sunday morning, we are “In the beginning” of 2016. A few of you have probably set goals or resolutions for the year ahead. Chances are the best of intentions to lose 20 pounds will quickly fall by the wayside. Our motivation to exercise will probably wane as it gets windier and colder outside. As I begin my 37th year on Earth, I’m getting ready to abandon the resolution of growing taller.
The problem with all New Year’s resolutions is the people will often lack the will to carry them out because of what we cannot escape. The one prediction that I can make for the upcoming year ahead is that we will stumble an fall as people.
The truth is that we will never be able to escape the events of the past year. For some of these events, might be relationships that didn’t develop quite as hoped for or even came to end. For others, you face a time of uncertainty because of the mines. Many of us live in fear at the threat of terrorism. As we enter the Presidential year of 2016, there are probably very few politicians that people actually trust.
The birth of 2016 does not change the reality of the previous year just as the Birth of Jesus was not going to change the realities of sin and death. Adam’s curse still reigns supreme.
What every person in this room longs for on some level is a new beginning. Every person here probably has their hopes that they have for 2016. Our hope lies with Jesus being at the beginning with God. Jesus’ presence within our world will create new life within the year ahead.
The good news of the Virgin Birth is that just as Christ Jesus came from heaven to earth, we too shall ascend from the grave to heaven. Our proof of this is the Resurrection. To realize how amazing the Resurrection that is to come will be, we need to go back to the beginning.
We leave this place this morning with a promise. God is remaking our world. God’s work is not determined by the journey from January 1st to December 31st though. Our hope instead centers about being born again in the waters of baptism and reborn as inheritors of eternal life. Our rebirth is taking what is dead in sin and making it alive, once again. The story we are in the process of living out on this day, all comes back to who is in control of the button. Our God has not stepped away from it. Our Lord remains present in this place as we receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins on this day. Our Lord was there at the beginning, our Lord was there on the cross, and our Lord shall be present on the day of our resurrection that is to come. Amen
 John 1:1
 Genesis 1:4
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’. Catholic Answers. 25. Mar.2013. Web. Dec.30.2015.
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’.
 Bird, Chad. “Most Religions Do Lead to the Same God”. Chad Bird. 28.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 Rivera, Juan. “Christianity and the other religions.” The Christian Nation.org 8. Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 John 19:30
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN, 27.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.30.2015
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.