A Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Christmas 2, January 4, 2004, dedicated to all those seeking Christ in this new year of life and faith and always dedicated to the glory of God!

"Stop By"

Jeremiah 31:7-14; John 1:10-11

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our salvation. Amen.

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I am often befuddled by John 1. This glorious language of faith proclaims, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the Word was God." With power and dignity this passage closed our Service of Lessons and Carols just three weeks ago as the ninth lesson. On Maundy Thursday in our service of Tenebrae, it is presented as the final lesson before the lights are extinguished. It is a text that boldly trumpets God's visiting us with favor. It is one of the centrally important texts of Christian history, Christian doctrine, Christian theology and our understanding of the life of Christian faith. And yet, midway through this provocative statement of faith, John says, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not" (John 1: 10-11).

What does it mean when the text cries out, "The world knew him not . . . his own people received Him not." Not knowing Him. Not receiving Him. These are two concepts which have spun the head of Christianity around since day one. Down through the ages, the typical (and mostly conservative) paradigm of faith responds to not knowing him and not receiving him in a rather clear-cut and straightforward way. They say, "Although Christ created the world, the people he created didn't recognize him. The people chosen by God to prepare the rest of the world for the coming Messiah, (insert Jewish people), rejected him, although all the evidence they needed was already in their prophetic scriptures. And they didn't receive Him into their lives as their Lord and Savior. They were not spiritually reborn - from the inside out - in the name of Jesus Christ."

This answer leaves me cold. It places the blame on others and leaves only one way out to a path of reckoning with God. I believe not knowing and not receiving Christ is more complex than not seeing him and not being reborn in him. I believe you and I (and not somebody else, somewhere else) miss knowing Him and miss receiving Him, not because of intended neglect or unintended ignorance, but rather because we pass him by. He is often right in front of us and we miss him. We simply pass him by.

He is knocking on our doors and walking on our streets, and we simply don't welcome him into our homes and into our hearts. Jesus comes among us today in the powerless, the poor, the neglected, and the misbegotten. He appears before us asking for medical care, but we don't hear his cry for help. He needs shelter from seasonal storms and the storms of life, and we don't hear his appeal amidst the ringing of the phones and tolling of the bells. He comes to us in the children who need attention and time, and we don't hear because we are running past them on our way to important meetings or teleconferences.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta says it so much better:

"Today, once more, when Jesus Comes amongst His own, His own don't know him! He comes in the rotten bodies of our poor; He comes even in the rich choked by their own riches. He comes in the loneliness of their hearts, and when there is no one to love them. Jesus comes to you and me, and often, very, very often, we pass him by." (Life in the Spirit, edited by Katherine Spink, San Francisco, Harper and Row, p. 10).

Mother Teresa goes on to say that in her work among the dying, the sick, the disabled, the mentally deficient men, women, and children she served, she came to the conclusion that the suffering people feel when they are passed by is the same suffering Jesus felt when he came among his own and they didn't want him.

In a society where - more and more - the unwanted, the unemployed, the uninsured, the un-cared for, the gunned down, the lonely, the spiritually vulnerable, the hungry, the homeless, the left alone of all ages and disabled veterans (not only of older wars but this one) need us to stop by and not pass by any longer. It is you and I, as Christians, worthy of the love of God in Christ, who must find them and help them. They are there for the finding. As we see Christ in them, we will pass him by no longer.

Henry Nouwen tells the story of a cloistered monk who one day headed into town to do some shopping. As he walking, he met a beggar at a crossroad who had no legs. As the monk approached, he cried out, "please take me to town. I need to go to the cathedral to beg. Please carry me!" Being benevolent, the monk hoisted the man upon his shoulders and carried him to town. The whole way the man complained about the way in which he was carried. He whined about the bumpy ride. He told the monk all his woeful stories. He even hit the monk on the head a few times when he thought he wasn't listening. The monk had lost all his serenity when he finally unloaded the man by the cathedral. The man screamed in response, "thanks a lot for nothing!"

Shaken by the experience, the monk shopped and rather than stopping by the cathedral for prayer, he headed out of town by another road, hoping to avoid the legless beggar. His hopes were dashed when just outside the gate, his newfound friend was waiting once again. Shaming the monk into a return trip, with such phrases as - "a man holy man such as yourself, certainly would help a poor beggar like me," - the monk lifted the man for one more trip. This time, both men were loaded with packages and food. The load was heavier. The road was longer. And the man had not changed his attitude about the bumpiness of the ride. As they moved to the crossroads, he continued to deride the monk all the way. When the monk took him from his shoulders the second time, he confronted the man about the misery he created around him. The monk said, "who are you and why do carry on this way?" The man looked directly into the eyes of his fellow traveler and spoke his name, "Brother Hugo, do you not know me? I am Jesus and you have carried me through my suffering." With that, the beggar disappeared.

As you hear this story - ask yourself - which one am I? Am I the monk who carries the Christ? Am I the Christ, the beggar who calls to the humanity and love of others from the depths of my suffering and need? Am I stopping by? Or am I the one who are others are passing by?

In the beginning, was the Word. The Word was made flesh. The Word was God and the Word dwelt among us full of grace and truth. From the beginning of time, the world has struggled to know and receive the word. We have struggled to stop by and be with the Word. In the turning of this year, may we know him and receive him. In the turning of this moment, the table awaits us. May we stop by and not pass by. The Lord of Life needs our attention. He sits at the crossroads waiting for us to carry Him through his suffering. As we carry Him, he will, in turn, carry us. Amen.

Copyright 2003, The First Congregational Church

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