Let us pray: Holy and mysterious God, you hold all things and all people in your care. Through your mercy and grace, you have revealed your love for us through your Son Jesus. We confess that we have not always recognized nor accepted the love freely offered to us. We pray that we might more earnestly seek Christ who has come to dwell among us and that we may better reflect the light of your love offered for all. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you; for you, O LORD, are our strength and our redeemer.
In the Spanish language, if you want say word, you would say la palabra. For example, if you were the liturgist and you had completed the Scripture readings, you might extend your Bible and say, “La Palabra de Dios para el gente de Dios, Gracias a Dios.” (The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God). Now, that you have learned and heard the term la Palabra, listen as I read the first four verses of John chapter 1 in Spanish, and count how many times you hear the term la palabra.
En el principio ya existia el Verbo, y el Verbo estaba con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.
El [Verbo] estaba con Dios en el principio. Por medio de el [Verbo] todas las
cosas fueron creadas; sin el [Verbo], nada de lo creado llego a existir. En el
[Verbo] estaba la vida y la vida era la luz de la humanidad.
So, how many times did you hear la Palabra? The correct answer is zero. In the Spanish New International Bible, “the Word” is translated as el Verbo or more literally the Verb. From the first words of the gospel account of John, the gospel writer’s audience and we expect that “the Word” of whom the gospel writer speaks is not merely an object, but is a being actively engaged in the creation and narrative of humanity. In the beginning existed the Verb, and the Verb was with God, and the Verb was God. The Verb was with God at the beginning. Through the Verb everything was created. Without the Verb, nothing in creation would have come to exist. In the Verb was life and that life was the light of humanity.
From the outset, the gospel writer of this book alerts their initial audience and us that this account of the Gospel is not about some pie in the sky, hands off abstract being, but about someone who cares so deeply for all of humanity that he has been actively involved in our story since before the creation. These words likely brought much comfort to the first hearers of the gospel of John. Living some 10-20 years after the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, those who first heard these words had lost their identity. It was in and through the temple that people understood God and humanity’s relationship to God. Living under the rule of the Roman Empire, it is likely people lost their ancestry and their identity as Jewish people. No longer were they a community who passed down the stories of their faith from one to another, but they were now subjects of a new Empire and of a new religious practice. The people who first heard these words were in need of a God who was present, who was active, who had come to restore and to renew life because the relationships and life as these people knew no longer existed.
As the clock struck twelve on the beginning of a New Year and new decade, new practices voted in at the special session of General Conference took effect for The United Methodist Church. In addition to being a chargeable offense, pastors who solemnize wedding vows for same sex couples can now also lose their compensation and pension for up to one year. As we move towards General Conference 2020, tensions grow between those who support stricter doctrine and more visible accountability and those who seek to resist the harm that has been done to persons of the LGBTQIA+ community and the allies who support them. As a pastoral leader in this denomination, I, like John’s audience want, need, and seek God: God who has been active since before the time of creation, God who has been active since before the 1972 General Conference, (the time stamp that has been identified as the beginning of these tensions). It is in this God who creates and who brings new life that we will find our mission in The United Methodist Church or in whatever form of Church comes into existence as a result of General Conference 2020.
For several months, the ministry team of this church and I have been seeking time and ways to look at the mission statement of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church. Our mission statement is: To share Christ with the community and the world by being a center for Christian Worship, education, fellowship, and service. Hurlbut Memorial Community Church is a United Methodist Church with an ecumenical background. As we, Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, move into a New Year and a new decade, we must also take a look at the mission that drives us. We must earnestly seek out how God, through Christ, the Verb, is actively working in our midst today. We must earnestly ask God and ourselves if there are parts of our identity that need to be re-created, restored, or made new, and if so what are they and how do we do that?
Each year, people take time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to a New Year. Some people use the start of the New Year to resolve to do or to be something different from who they were in the past. Based on the number of advertisements, I would say a safe guess for two common resolutions are weight loss and to quit smoking. Recently, some people have begun adopting a focus word on which to meditate and to keep in front of them as life swirls around them throughout the year. These words can be anything: peace, joy, forgiveness, wellness, love, strength—whatever it is that you are striving to achieve as you experience life. Perhaps, this year, we should focus on the Word, on el Verbo. What would happen if each person took some time every day to think about how God is actively present in our lives? Who has God placed in our lives who brings us renewal, restoration, and refreshment for our souls and spirits? To whom is God calling us to embody Christ? For whom do we need to build and to create so that others experience the light and life given by God through Christ? How might each of us act in a way that brings healing, renewal, and restoration to another person?
My prayer is that in the midst of questions and uncertainties in our denomination, in our faith community, and in our own lives, that we would seek out and hold fast to the Word, el Verbo, through whom we the Church confess in one of our creeds:
We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created
and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word [the Verb] made flesh, to
reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church: to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve
others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our
judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be
to God. Amen.