El Monte Presbyterian Church
Psalm 23; Luke 18.31-34
Good morning and God’s peace to all of you.
It’s good to be here …
Today is Presbyterian Heritage Sunday …
We celebrate our corporate story, and quite a story it is … it’s a good story, and sometimes a sad story … we’ve done it all …
From the best of it, to the worst of it … but this much I can say, and say to you with confidence: our Presbyterian story is mostly a good story … a story of faithful people doing their best, relying upon Christ, seeking to make the world better …
We’ve opposed war and sought peace … we’ve struggled for civil rights and these days, we work for environmental justice.
We’ve built hospitals and schools around the world … we’ve blessed the world with our medical missionaries, educators, preachers and teachers … we’ve done much to touch the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We’ve done good.
But to every story, a story with many chapters … we’ve had our struggles.
The Presbyterian Church split over the issue of slavery … some of our Presbyterian brothers and sisters thought slavery was a good thing, something to defend … even as the whole nation was torn apart by Civil War.
And it took us a long time to figure out that gays and lesbians are Christians, too … and have a place at the Table … one of the great joys of my life is that I can now officiate for all weddings, gay or straight.
I remember my first gay wedding … during the ceremony, there was a moment of revelation … “this is just another wedding” … two people who love one another … who will face all the challenges of marriage and enjoy all of its blessings.
I’m grateful that we Presbyterians finally figured this out … it took us a long time, virtually of all of my career, too long I think, but we did it … we’ve done good on this one.
We’re doing good on immigration issues, too …
Because we Presbyterians recognize the great truth of God’s love for the world.
We are first of all Christians, and then we’re citizens of a nation.
Because we’re Christians first, we see people first, people, real people, mothers and fathers and their children, young people, old people … people, people hoping to find a better life for their children.
Is there anyone here who wouldn’t sacrifice everything for the sake of their children?
When we’re Christians first, before we’re anything else, then our eyes clear, we see people!
We see their hearts, their needs … we don’t worry about borders and boundaries … and for heaven’s sake, we don’t fret and fuss about legal and illegal … those are categories that have no place in the kingdom of God!
When we’re Presbyterians at our best, we rise above the usual ways that people and nations think … we think as Christ thought, as the great prophets thought … we think on a higher plane … we think and live the Kingdom of God.
And that means constant learning … throughout the centuries, we’ve learned a lot about the ways of God, and we are still learning, still growing … still discovering how deep and wide and broad is the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD.
One of the sayings that come out of our story is this: The church reformed, the church always reforming.
Because God is infinite, Jesus is always out there, ahead of us.
Jesus never said: Come and sit down here - no way … Jesus said, Come and follow me.
Always the road ahead, more to the story.
Our challenge in Christ: to keep on following, following Jesus, toward the Kingdom of God … thy kingdom come, we pray … seeking that which is yet to be … never satisfied with what is, but long for, working for, praying for, the better world.
The Presbyterian Story.
We begin in Geneva, Switzerland, with John Calvin … in the 1530s … and then with John Knox from Scotland … and throughout the British Isles … by the boatload, Presbyterians came to America, with bag pipes and energy … Presbyterians moved around the globe, from Asia to Africa, and throughout the Americas … we are a strong and resilient tradition … we’ve made our mistakes, and we’ve done right and good.
One of the key pieces of our story is a theological idea: the sovereignty of God …
Whatever the task might be, God does the work, the heavy lifting … all along the way, God saves, God forgives, God paves the way, God opens doors, God gives new life … God at work in all things for good.
When the women came to the tomb on Easter Morn, they wondered who would roll away the stone … but fear not dear ladies, fear not dear people, God rolls away the stone.
I was privileged to attend a Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan … a school of the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, and one day, in a Bible class, a student from an evangelical church was arguing with the teacher about how salvation comes about … as most evangelicals believe, the student made it clear that he believed salvation is up to the believer … you hear the gospel, it’s up to you receive it, it’s up to you make Christ your savior.
The teacher then added something I’ve never forgotten, something that became a part of my life … the teacher said, Salvation is too important a thing to be left in our hands.
To even think for a moment that we had a hand in our salvation is an insult to the glory of God … never in my life have I ever said to anyone: Let me tell you how I accepted Christ. Because I never have accepted Christ. It was Christ who accepted me, embraced me, loved me, forgave me, and made me a part of God’s work … it was Christ who saved me, then and now, and forever, and it’s Christ still saving me unto to the finishing of God’s work of creation.
Because Christ alone brings about the great work of salvation … though it’s a mystery, it’s a mystery made clear in the love of God … God is trustworthy unto salvation … not only my salvation, but the salvation of the whole world, and our children, and our children’s children … we must never fear for their souls … because God is faithful to us, to them … faithful to creation, every bit of it.
Our hands are not strong enough, good enough, clean enough, to craft the wonder and the glory of our salvation. None of us could ever hang on a cross for the sake of the world … we could only hang on a cross, as did the thieves, as those deserving death; Christ alone hangs on a cross as the redeemer of the world, not deserving death, but giving life.
To God be the glory.
That’s why we practice infant baptism … when we bring a baby or a child to the water of baptism, we offer to the world the clearest picture of grace, a priori grace … the prior grace, the grace that comes before … before anything of our own being or doing … before we know anything about God, before we can do anything for God, before we believe in Jesus, God is already at work … faithfully at work, believing in us with a sovereign mercy … throughout the ages … forever and ever …
And it’s true for a believer’s baptism … they didn’t decide to become a follower of Christ … that work was done in them already, a priori grace, the prior grace, before they even gave a thought. They didn’t decide to go forward; it was the Spirit that brought to Christ, and it’s Christ who’s brings us to the Father … and in the name the Father, the Son and the Holy, we baptize of any age, but particularly, infants and children, as a perpetual reminder that it is by grace, and grace alone, that we are saved, lest anyone should boast.
The Heidelberg Catechism says it best of all
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Dear friends in Christ.
Dear Presbyterian sisters and brothers.
With you this day, I give thanks to God for the Presbyterian Story …
The sovereignty of God … the power of Infant Baptism.
To God be the glory. Amen and Amen!