Sermon – 1.19.20 – Risking Faithfully


Rev. John Callaway

Our third lesson this morning comes from the Gospel of John chapter 1, verses 29 through 37:

1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’

1:31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

1:32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.

1:33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

1:34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,

1:36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

1:37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

Will you pray with me?

Loving God,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Amen.

It is good to be home. It is good to be home. As many of you know, I spent the last two weeks at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary working on the second round of courses as part of a Doctorate of Ministry program. Being in the land and in the seminary of Mister Rogers was a wonderful experience for me. And this time staying on the weekend in between, I was able to really get a feel for the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and to experience the life of this city. It was incredible. 

Now, I’ve been a little careful in talking about my program because it is called the doctorate of ministry “Parish Risk Cohort.” Risk. My coursework in this intensive were two classes that I think are applicable. The first being, Risky Preaching: Is it a Sermon? And the second one called “Death and Resurrection: Risk as a Faithful Practice of the Church.” They were both fascinating and I really learned a lot. Being a cohort program, I also became much closer with my study group and fellow ministers. We are an ecumenical group that has been life-giving to each other’s ministries. I was also able to stay with Katie’s brother and his wife and spend time with them in the city they love.

It was wonderful.

So I ask you, which is more risky: Leaving for two weeks to go work really hard day and night, sharing and learning in a study cohort, preaching for critique in front of a group of well-seasoned preachers with an amazing homiletics professor from Yale, in an incredible city, eating really wonderful food, spending time with Katie’s family, and meeting the author of a captivating biography of Mr. Rogers, OR coming home after Katie has preached great sermons back-to-back, while carrying the full load of the pastorate for two weeks, helping Karen to train our new staff member (Pat) that started the Thursday before I left, beginning our midweek activities, all while caring for a child with the flu, dealing with septic tank problems and listening to husband talk about the life-giving experiences he was having?

Well, I took both of those risks and I’m happy to be home. Thank you, Katie. I’ve only got 3 more 2-week course intensives like that one.

So, I am standing here today, a recipient of all kinds of support AND a testament to the value in taking some risks. 

I need your help. I need you to turn to a neighbor or two and say, “Neighbor, take a risk.”

Take a risk.

I’ve tried to be careful and provide a lot of qualifiers when I’ve talked about this Parish Risk program because I don’t think risk is necessarily viewed as a positive thing for most people. And I think that makes sense because risk has gotten a bad rap. 

As you listen to Merriam Webster’s definition of the noun, I want you to say aloud whether this definition of risk is positive or negative

1: possibility of loss or injury : PERIL

2: someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard

3a: the chance of loss or the perils to the subject matter of an insurance contract

b: a person or thing that is a specified hazard to an insurer

c: an insurance hazard from a specified cause or source

4: the chance that an investment (such as a stock or commodity) will lose value

With all of those definitions, why would anybody take a risk?

And yet, we are all here today in a house of worship because of the risk of Mary, the risk of Joseph, and ultimately, the risk of Jesus.

What if Jesus has listened to old St. Webster when he was deciding whether to speak up in the Temple, to stand up to King Herod, or to the religious leaders of the day?

“Jesus, according to St. Webster, going back into Jerusalem brings about the possibility of loss or injury.”

Webster is correct, after all. There is the possibility of loss or injury, but there is also the possibility for a stone be rolled away and for new life to start walking in the garden. 

Picking up on where Katie took us last week, we find the gospel writer giving us another reminder of Jesus’ beginning in ministry. Last week in the lectionary, you heard the dramatic text when Jesus was baptized by John and they heard a voice speaking clearly. “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

This week we find John the Baptizer, the famous prophet and risk-taker who was so popular that people came from all around, including the big city, to hear his message of transformation and to be baptized.  With his massive group of followers, with his disciples, with a crowd looking on, here is John the Baptist pointing to Jesus saying, “This person is the One. This is the person we have been waiting for.”

That is not a small risk for John or for Jesus.

He says, the same Spirit that compelled me to keep moving and compelled me to perform these baptisms and to preach this message is the One. I’ve been preparing the way for him. And now the Spirit has blessed him and remained with him. 

And our text ends with John pointing out the importance of Jesus and then Jesus gets 2 of first disciples. All because John recognized that the Spirit remained with Jesus.   

What would it look like if we lived as if the Spirit remained with us?

What would it look like if we were compelled to keep moving being led by the Spirit?

Where would we go?

Who would we approach?

Here’s a different thought….

How would we talk about ourselves?

How would we talk about our church, if we lived as if the Spirit remained with us?

In the span of roughly 2000 years of church history we are young. Today we are worshipping with the saints now and the ones who have gone before us in one of the oldest congregations in our state—roughly 220 years old.

If you place our congregation’s history in the span of 2000 years of church history, we are 1-year-old. We are young! We are just beginning to toddle. Now, I have heard of a few stubborn, headstrong 1-year-olds—I’ve just heard about these—never experiencing them in my own household. 

Yes, 1-year-olds can be stubborn, but I also know that 1-year-olds are explorers, they are riskers, they are learning, they are growing, and they are curious.

And we encourage all of those things. We told Sophie over and over again: You are strong. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are loved.

Those are life-giving words for a 1-year-old.

We would never say:

If only you were younger.

If only you could just sit still and not move.

If only you would try harder.

You were more beautiful a few months ago.

But those are some of the exact words we tell our 1-year-old congregation. 

If only we were younger.

We just are not what we used to be.

If only the pews were full.

If only someone in the church or on staff tried a little harder

If only our church looked a little better

If only we had more money.

How would we talk about ourselves if we believed that the Spirit remained with us?

Would we take a risk and move where the Spirit is leading?

Friends, the old way, the “we’ve never done that before” mentality, the way of complacency is risky too. And I’m going to call that same old pattern of complacency an unfaithful risk. An unfaithful risk is continuing to go along with things as they always have been because they were good enough back then. This is risky behavior because sitting still, being secure in our competency, and remaining stuck in our pew doesn’t afford us the opportunity to see Jesus walk by. That is an unfaithful risk.

On the contrary, our cohort last week had to come up with a definition of a faithful risk. Here is what we came up with: “A movement your faith compels you to take requiring continued spiritual discernment.”

A faithful risk requires some movement. That sounds positive to me. That sounds like living as if the Spirit remained with us. 

And I firmly belief that the Spirit has remained with each of us, and the Spirit calls us to keep moving. After all, Jesus didn’t stay at the Jordan River. His transformative experience in the water moved him toward calling his first followers and beginning his ministry. 

To move it along in history for this weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just preach from the Ebenezer Baptist Church pulpit. He didn’t just stay in Selma, Alabama. He was a Baptist who repeated the quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and he kept moving—living like he believed the Spirit remained with him.

What if our church lived like the Spirit remained with us and called us forward?

My risky preaching course challenged me to take some chances and shake things up a little bit. So, I’m going to lay all my cards on the table.

There have been so many well-meaning, loving, saintly members of this congregation who have told us at one time or another that Katie and I have been a breath of fresh air in this congregation. And we truly appreciate that. But would happen if we only took two breaths of fresh air?

Our job is to remind you to breathe. 

Our job is to help you remember who you are and whose you are and to tell you that we are in this together.

We are in this together and we need each other. That is a stance of vulnerability. That is a risk.

Brene Brown says that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” 

You took a major risk on calling the two of us. Believe me, I know. 

The imposter syndrome is so incredibly real for me almost every Sunday. Am I really about to co-lead the worship of First Baptist Church Savannah? Who am I?

See, I forget all the time the Spirit has remained—that the Spirit is still calling me forward.

And that is why we each need other to remind us of that truth.

We need a reminder as individuals.

We need a reminder as a congregation. 

And it might require some shared vulnerability—a shared risk.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” 

Isn’t it interesting that is not education,

Not competence

Not confidence

Not strength

Not wealth

Not status

It is vulnerability. 

And it doesn’t get much more vulnerable than the Incarnation taking shape in the form of a little baby. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than asking to be plunged below the water. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than walking up to strangers and asking them to follow.

For every bit of vulnerability shown, every risk taken, we must remember and we must remind each other that the Spirit remains. 

So why preach a risky sermon this morning? 

Why change the bulletins?

Why pull out the acoustic guitar and preach a homily together on Christmas Eve?

Because we want you to know exactly what we are doing. As a co-pastoring team and as a staff, we are trying our best to help promote a culture of faithful risk-taking. And we are doing this by taking small micro-risks ourselves. We hope that you might be willing to take some micro-risks as well and that you might be transformed or renewed by the Spirit who has remained the whole time—the Spirit who is calling you forward. 

The Spirit remained with Jesus and the Spirit remains with each of us today.

And if the Spirit remains with this congregation, it is time we start living like it. It is time we start believing it. It is time to start letting it transform us. It is time to take some risks. It is time to let go of clinched fists and to move forward with open arms. 

First Baptist Church Savannah, you are God’s beloved. 

The spirit remains with you. 

Friends, you are Gods beloved.

The spirit remains with you. 

What would it look like for each of us if we lived like we believed those words?

There is a world out there that is absolutely craving that message. What type of risk might you need to take to remind them?