Sunday, December 26, 2010

“Heirs of Hope” A Communion Homily Titus 3:4-7 December 26, 2010

On Thursday I read an article on a large and historic First Baptist Church in Grand Falls, New York who are coming to a moment of decision. They are down to an average attendance of 80 in worship. They have come to the place where they know they cannot keep doing what they are doing and survive. They are pondering three options; close, merge with another congregation, or try to transform into something new. The article was fresh in my mind when I walked down the main hall between The Commons and the church offices and looked at the pictures that decorate the walls. There are pictures from grand worship experiences, the S3 community outreach week, KidsHope mentors at work, Malt Shop Memories, a mission trip to Malaysia, work in the Language Lab, and a wide range of other congregational events. What amazed me was what I saw in the pictures. The pictures depict a diversity of generations working together side-by-side and a diversity of complexions and cultures laughing together, working together, and ministering together. The pictures also show a diversity of languages and tradition in worship together. They are pictures of a historic downtown congregation who have already made choices for transformation; not for institutional survival but for missional purpose. What would motivate a church like this one to rise up and claim a new life and a new season of ministry?

Yesterday I witnesses something that was rather ordinary on the surface, but extraordinary when you looked a little closer. Yesterday Aaron, Elizabeth, and I joined the Sudanese Christian Fellowship for Christmas dinner held downstairs in the Coffee Shop. The food was different than that that had graced our table on Christmas Eve and for lunch earlier yesterday, but it wonderful in its own right. But it was not the food that made the event special, but rather the fact the meal was shared with Sudanese and their Eritrean guests. You see, historically there have been great tensions between the Sudan and Eritrea. There is a certain boldness for the Sudanese to try reach across cultural bounds to attempt to create a witness and a community with the Eritrean community. But for the Sudanese church leaders this seemed to be the only right thing to do on Christmas. What would motivate a people to risk reaching out to those others might call enemy?

For weeks we move with a slow but sure path to the Christmas manger. We sing songs of hope and expectation and we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. But now we gather in the hours after Christmas. We move from the service of carols and candlelight back to the rhythms our everyday. The good news is that while we will soon remove the trappings of Christmas from this room, the power of the gift of Christmas goes with us. Titus 3 offers one of the most succinct descriptions of the power of the gift we find in Scripture. In three short verses we hear the heart of the gospel story.
Verse 4 describes the power of a divine act of mercy. It reads; 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. This appearance of God’s kindness and love is found in the birth of the Christ child. The Savior came, not because we earned the right but in as a dramatic act of God’s mercy. This idea of mercy is a strong one. Mercy can only be given by the one with the capacity to change the story. The only one with the capacity to forgive us and offer us God’s mercy is God Himself. The power of the Christmas gift is born in God’s mercy. When judgment and justice would condemn us, mercy sets us free.

God’s mercy is not random; it is given with a purpose expressed in an act of renewal and rebirth. Verse 5 continues; He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. The reason a church can be reborn; the reason a people can reach across cultural boundaries; the reason generations can connect with one another; the reason the boundary of language can give way to a sense of family; the reason those who are apart from God can become children of God; the reason everything can change with the movement of the Spirit is that we are reborn and renewed through this amazing generous act of God expressed in Jesus. Faith in
Christ becomes the bridge between each other and God. This faith becomes our inheritance of hope- a real and lasting hope. Our passage sings; 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. The power of the gift of Christmas is the incredible inheritance of life with God now and for all of eternity. This gift is born in God’s love and mercy and is made real in the renewal and rebirth we experience in and through Christ. This is an inheritance we are not entitled to or did anything to earn. It is a grace gift of God for all who believe. This hope tears walls down and open hearts to one another.
There is nothing new or original in these words. They are the story the church has shared generation to generation. It is the story that has changed the life of each who has claimed it as their own. The great Baptist preacher of the last century, George W. Truett put it this way; "Christ was born in the first century, yet he belongs to all centuries. He was born a Jew, yet He belongs to all races. He was born in Bethlehem, yet He belongs to all countries." It is the story born out in the testimony of those that have gone before us and is proclaimed in the images on the hallway walls and at a Christmas dinner. It is the story that begins at a manger and carries us to the cross. It is our inheritance story of hope that calls into worship and invites us to the table to remember the power and the price of the great gift of God.

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