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Morning Worship: Theological resume is not needed to follow Jesus, Lewis says

 

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked the Rev. Karoline M. Lewis at the 10:45 a.m. ecumenical Sunday morning worship service. Lewis is the chaplain for Week One at Chautauqua Institution.

Her sermon title was “Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?” and the text was John 1:35-51.

“We are accomplished in asking Nathaniel’s question because it equates importance with status, power with prestige and it judges a book by its cover,” Lewis said. “We think that we have God all figured out and that others will be enlightened by our theological insights.”

She said that today, the question justifies separating children from their parents, makes policy more important than human lives. The question allows the incarceration and chaining of those desperate for freedom, who free from violence in desperation. She asked if anything good could come out of Guatemala, Nicaragua or Honduras.

“We have to realize the truth, that if Nathaniel did not ask the question, we would have,” she said. “Too many people today ask ‘Can anything good come out of the church, Christianity or any religion?’ ”

That question, Lewis said, justifies keeping half the population out of the pulpit. It is a validation of hypocrisy and complacency in the face of injustice for those who come from Jesus’ hometown. What good can come from religion? It is a question for our time, Lewis said, because mercy has been turned to fear, justice into judgment and humanity into hate.

“It is a question for our times because it keeps us accountable, honest, humble, vigilant and persistent. We are called to a different path, a different way of being,” she said. “We are in the business of faith news, not fake news; of gospel living, not grudge keeping. We are called to liberating love, not keeping the law.”

The truth is that God made us, and God has always been incarnational and not propositional; an actual presence, not an abstract principle; grace based, not evidence based, proved in love.

Quoting a theologian who quoted a theologian, she said, “We must discover the redemptive power of love that will make this old world a new world, and the way is love.”

Lewis said we are all made in the image of God, that God in Jesus is invested in all lives, “in black lives, LGBTQ lives, refugee lives. There is no going back to flesh and bone.”

Can anything good come out of Nazareth is not just a question about others by us or about us by others, Lewis said, but a question we ask about ourselves.

“Can anything good come out of me? We don’t ask this just as a general question but as a personal question,” she said.

When we ask this question about ourselves, it reflects second guessing, doubts and unworthiness, she said.

It is said with certainty, not as a question, “there is no way God has me in mind to bring about the kingdom.”

She said Jesus never asked for the disciples’ qualifications or their resumes of faith. Jesus never asked them to prove their worthiness. She said, “All Jesus said was ‘follow me.’”

Where did he want the disciples to follow him? To Samaria and Lewis said the disciples responded, “Jesus, you know who lives in Samaria? Samaritans. Can anything good come out of Samaria?”

The woman at the well, Lewis said, knew that question all too well.

“She asked ‘how can you, a Jew, ask me, a woman of Samaria, for water?’ That question holds us back, it keeps us from believing or speaking out,” Lewis said. “It is a question of empire and rules, not relationships.”

Lewis then asked the congregation to repeat the question twice. “We need to rethink Jesus,” she said. “Like Philip, the woman at the well or Mary in the garden, we need to say, ‘I have seen the Lord, come and see.’ ”

“If we wait until we have everything figured out, we forget that God is calling us,” she said. “If we wait until we deserve life, if we wait until we have all our theological ducks in the same pond, we have forgotten that God is calling us as is.”

Jesus did not wait for the disciples to be ready. “‘Come and see’ is an open invitation,” she said. “It is an invitation without absolute certainty. When we are more certain, we leave less room for faith.”

Can anything good come from Nazareth? “It seems someone good did: the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Lamb of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life,” she said. “Amen.”

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua Institution’s senior pastor and vice president of religion, presided. Sister Margaret Carney, president emeritus of St. Bonaventure University, read the scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Chautauqua Choir. The organ prelude was “Water Music (Suite No.2, in D) by George Frederick Handel. The first hymn-an- them was “Beautiful River,” by Robert Lowry with a festal arrangement by John Rutter. The second hymn-anthem was “Upon This Rock” by John Ness Beck. The anthem after the playing of “Taps” to commemorate the Chautauqua family milestones (those who have died since June 25, 2017) was “Bright Morning Stars,” arranged by Shawn Kirchner. The offertory anthem was “I Was Glad,” by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. The organ postlude was “Final Symphonie I,vi)” by Louis Vierne. The Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.

Tags : 2018 Week OneAmphitheatermorning worshipReverend Karoline M. Lewis
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the Morning Worship column. A Presbyterian minister, she preaches at the Seneca Reservation in Irving. She is the deputy managing director of People Helping People International. Her latest book is Chautauqua’s Heart, the first full history of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. She lives in Chautauqua with her dog, Max, and is beginning her second term as a member of the Board of Education of Chautauqua Lake Central School District.