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Vision and Pathway

comeandseeJohn 1: 35-42
Introduction to the reading
Last week we read the passage from Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew relating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by his relative (his cousin?) John.  This baptism, I noted, serves to identify Jesus as the Son of God, to bless him and to commission him to proclaim God’s message of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.  

John, the Baptizer, is a major character in today’s reading as well, from the Gospel of John.  Just prior, he has declared of Jesus:  “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  John also testifies to having seen the Holy Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and resting upon Jesus.  “And I myself have seen,” he says, “and testified that this Jesus is the Son of God.”

And now our scene for today, continuing from John’s Gospel, which serves in its own way to identify, to bless and to commission the first disciples.

Sermon
On Wednesday, your Consistory met to discuss and set the 2017 church budget, which you all will have a chance to review and comment on at the annual meeting on January 28th.  Personnel costs - for the people who give their full time and attention to making things work – take up the biggest portion.  Then Building and Grounds, both regular maintenance and special projects (which here are funded by a dedicated endowment).  

The third biggest expenditure is for Missions, that long list of concerns that reflect what we as the church are to be doing in the world – to be the hands and feet and mind and heart of Jesus Christ; in his name, to be the inclusive, welcoming love of God toward all humanity.

Consistories almost always have a bit of discussion about whether the missions we give to are overtly Christian.  That is, do they come out of the church, like, for example, the Reformed Church Home or New Brunswick Theological Seminary or Words of Hope.  Others are interfaith or even secular, like SHIP or the Somerset County Food Bank, which do the work of Jesus – feeding and clothing the needy, hungry and homeless – without saying so directly.  They rely on churches for most of their support.

One of this latter kind is Visions and Pathways.  Let me read a portion of a recent letter describing a particular aspect of their work:

Each year, approximately 800 youth in New Jersey “age-out” of foster care.  At the age of eighteen, too many are given their belongings in a black garbage bag and sent on their way to survive without long term access to safe, affordable housing.  They do not have a family they can rely on for help and they are not prepared to live independently.

Visions and Pathways’ Village House program provides rental assistance for hard working aged-out and other high-risk youth.  Village House rents apartments and each youth pays 30 percent of their income to offset the costs.  Through case management and mentoring, youth gain knowledge and experience to live on their own.  The goal is for Village House youth to become independent within two years.

Visions and Pathways was formerly known as Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children.  Since its founding in 1970, it has been dedicated to meeting the needs of abused and neglected youth with a broad array of services including housing, life skills training, street outreach, counseling and more.
The old name suggested a kindly and nurturing place for children who had to be removed from an abusive or distressed household.  Very narrow.  The new name is open, hopeful, promising.  

When I re-read the Scripture passage for today, that is just what I hear being offered to those first disciples - one who is not named, then Andrew and then Andrew’s brother Simon – a vision and a pathway.

The vision is what John the Baptist proclaimed about Jesus:  “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  Would they have known immediately and intuitively, out of their religious tradition, that John was likening Jesus to that slaughtered lamb whose blood marked the doorways of the Jews and saved their firstborn children just before the Exodus?  I think so.  

Andrew and the unnamed disciple hear John directly and then Andrew fetches his brother Simon and conveys the vision to him:  “We have found the Messiah.”

Jesus himself then provides the pathway toward the vision of the salvation of humanity:  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”  They said to him, “…where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.”   They want to be with him now; they want to go wherever he leads them.

Jesus provides the pathway.  In fact, Jesus is the pathway.  We hear this clearly later in the Gospel of John.  Jesus has been telling the disciples about his impending death, although they do not truly understand it.  In chapter 14, he says to them:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  in my Father’s house are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Jesus said to him, “ I am the way, and the truth and the life.”  

The earliest Christians were known as people of the Way.  And we are people of the Way as well.  We hold onto this vision of the world as God sees it: plagued by evils, yes; broken, yes; people lost and gone astray, yes.  But forgiven and full – full of love, hope, promise, peace, beauty and joy.  And our call to follow the Way of Christ is a call to keep looking for and striving for and working for the goodness even in the face of obstacles and evils, of which there are so many and so many kinds.

Jesus Christ is our vision and our pathway.  Let us never lose sight of him.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
January 15, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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