Sunday, October 30, 2016

Resolution: I Know This Much Is True

Resolution: I Know This Much Is True

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

October 30, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Job 19: 20-29

Matthew 16: 13-20

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


So this morning we continue our journey through these 7 aspects of life. 2 weeks ago we looked at the beginning, which is humility. . . it is the only place to start a path of following, admitting to yourself that you do not know everything, doubting yourself enough to ask, to seek, to knock, which led us to last week when we talked about discernment, asking those questions, Who am I, and what am I called to be and do. . . listening to your experiences, all of those external lessons, and the internal piece, for those answers, for as Calvin said, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves is indelibly linked. And if the beginning was about the moment where you doubt, where you ask, today is that moment when you have come to know enough to take a step, to decide to take a step, a step completely led by God. The Old Testament lesson, I chose because in it Job, who has been through such trial, such calamity, what many people would call tragedy, makes a statement that resounds in our ears, a statement of knowledge, he says, I know my redeemer lives. . . and this morning for the New Testament Lesson, I could think of no better event than when Peter comes forward, he has seen enough to make his famous declaration. . . here is Matthew 16: 13-20.

 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

So we started with not knowing, with humility, with questions, and today we talk about the third aspect, Resolution. . . to have enough knowledge to take a step, make a decision, begin a commitment. It all takes place in a moment. . . the discernment is a long process, a many sided process, a process that lasts a lifetime. . . there is a reason that the original Greek tense of Ask, Seek, and Knock. . . is Ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, Knock and keep knocking. . . but so too is the result. . . find and keep finding. . . So again, I chose not to call these steps because they are constantly happening, constantly parallel to each other. Resolution doesn’t mean that you necessarily have it all figured out, but that you have enough to take the first step, and enough to be led in that decision, that the steps that you will take from this point on will all be led as well. That is why I think and am saying that it isn’t just about what am I going to do, but also about who I am. . . it’s about identity. . . and who you are going to follow. . . like Peter, knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, and Job knowing that despite it all that his redeemer truly lives. . . we resolve, we make a decision because we want to be able to persevere. We want to be unshakeable, we want to be the Rock, which becomes Peter’s name, when he resolves here.

I subtitled this sermon with the words of a famous 80’s song. . . “I know this much is true.” You can almost hear it. . . huh huh huh uh uh. . . I know this much is true. . . because that is what this resolution is about. You have discerned enough to say that. . . I know that this much is true. . . I’m taking some of the things I have discerned and putting them into another category. . . I’m taking from the maybe category and putting them in the definitely category. Truth, Belief, Knowledge, on these things I will build. . . this is the foundation. What are some of those foundational pieces for you? Is it that there is a God? Is it that he had a Son Jesus Christ? Christ has made the sure foundation? Is it the Apostles Creed? Is it that you are a child of God? Is it that all people are children of God? That your neighbor is? Is it all of those basics that I talked about last week? Sure yes. . . some of those things, possibly even all of those things. . . and I’m sure a ton more. You may not even remember when you came to know all of those things. . . perhaps it was always there, you were born in the church, your parents taught you, it just always was. . . or maybe not. . . maybe you can look back on the day when all of this came to be. . . maybe it was a process. . . I think if we are honest. . . it is a process that is still continuing to this day. . . refining, filling in the pieces. . . we experience new things, we hear new things from other people, and we get to know our inside better, and all the time piece by piece we take something out of the question box, and put it in that resolution box. Are there any times when you have taken something out of the resolution box and said you know, I’m not really sure about that right there? If you have, if you do, it’s no big deal you just go back to the humility, you just start over. . . now certainly when you take a big piece out of the resolution bin, there can be a sense of loss, and sometimes that is called disillusionment. . . and it can be quite troubling. . . quite disconcerting. . . and I think that is part of the beauty of seeing these aspects in this way. . . that when you fall, when you quit, when something challenges you, there is grace, there is new path back, there is always a path. I love that. We aren’t perfect, nor do we have perfect knowledge, we are saved, and children of God, we can simply discern and slowly find our place in this world. . . slowly. . . steadily. . . with perseverance running the race. . . but you see how it comes back full circle again. I know my redeemer liveth, you are the messiah. . . let’s take that next step, but what is it?

We can look to the Bible for some character models about Resolution. . . heck, let’s start at the beginning, seems a very good place to start. . . Adam, Eve, in the garden. . . Eve, did God tell you that you could eat of any fruit of the garden. . . no he said we cannot eat of the fruit in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nor shall we touch it lest we die. . . see there it is. . . there is a resolution moment. . . I know who I am. . . I am a child of God, I’m here with my neighbor, I am not supposed to eat of the fruit. . . You will not surely die, says the snake. . . God just wants to keep you down, he doesn’t want you to know, he doesn’t want you to become like him. . . so at that moment a new resolution is made. . . perhaps there is more to this world that I didn’t know. . . look at the text. . .

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate

And their eyes were open, and they hid themselves. . . sure now of a completely new world. . . sure that God would not forgive them. . . sure that they were naked. . . sure that they needed to hide from God. . . and they began to blame each other. . . no longer seeking the truth. . . sure of the truth, but a skewed incorrect version of the truth. . . what did I say last week, it wasn’t that they didn’t know things, but that they knew so many things that just weren’t so. Quite a metaphor huh. . .

So much for them. . . Abraham in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. . . the place of his family. The security of life in a prosperous city-state. . . all that he had ever known was inside those walls, but God tells him. . . I will make of you a new nation, but you must leave from this place, and go to the place I will show you. . . what made Abraham take that step? And what made him take each step after that. . . with each twist, each turn, each misstep, and doubting moments. . . Moses. . . there in front of the burning bush. . . I am that I am. . . I want you to go to Pharaoh and say, let my people go. . . but I am not a good speaker. . . who told you that. . . do you ever think about that. . . who told Moses he was unequipped for the job? Experience, External? Had he never had that skill before? What made him leave all of that former knowledge and resolve in this new direction back to Egypt? What brought David from the fields, tending the sheep to volunteer to go against Goliath? What made his grandmother Ruth say. . . Where ever you go, there I will go, your God will be My God, your people, my people? Resolution. What makes Isaiah say, Here I am send me? What makes the wisemen follow the star? What makes the shepherds leave their fields? What makes the disciples decide to leave their nets behind? What would make us? And where would we go?

I came across this poem from Helen Keller, and love it. . . thought it fit right here. . . listen:

The word of God came unto me,
Sitting alone among the multitudes;
And my blind eyes were touched with light.
And there was laid upon my lips a flame of fire.

I laugh and shout for life is good,
Though my feet are set in silent ways.
In merry mood I leave the crowd
To walk in my garden. Ever as I walk
I gather fruits and flowers in my hands.
And with joyful heart I bless the sun
That kindles all the place with radiant life.

I run with playful winds that blow the scent

Of rose and jessamine in eddying whirls.
At last I come where tall lilies grow,
Lifting their faces like white saints to God.
While the lilies pray, I kneel upon the ground;
I have strayed into the holy temple of the Lord.

To me that is a poem of resolution. . . a poem that says I am going to build my life on the path that God leads. . . look she says, kneeling on the ground, she strays into the holy temple. . . humility, discernment, and her life is a testament to her resolve.

I have come to believe that all people are meant, and therefore called. That if we are humble and discerning, we will hear, or come to know who we are and what we are to do, where our paths will lead, and all the steps that we can take. I believe that. . . It is one of my foundational truths, discerned from scriptural passages like Jeremiah “I knew you before you were born, in the womb, I set you apart” and many others. I have been taught it by many teachers in my life, from my parents. . . and I have countless experiences in my life that have reinforced it for me. . . I’ve even read about it in other literary works, things that I have taught like, the Hindu writing, Bhagavad Gita, which inspired the spiritual discipline of Martin Luther King.. . they call it dharma, or sacred duty. . . but it is very similar. . . it is another way of saying, what did God mean when God made you. . . I have put this in my resolved compartment of things I can say, I know this much is true. . . so me knowing this is true. . . I testify in my witness to you today that those answers to the questions do exist. . . and if you seek and keep seeking them you will find and keep finding them.

So when do you know enough to move forward with something? When can you resolve to take that first step? I also believe that no one can tell you the answer to that question for sure but you. We are external voices for each other, and perhaps part of our calling is to be teachers like that, or to lead lives like that, that are examples to and for others. . . we’ll talk about that in a few weeks. I call it Legacy. . . but no one can make a resolution decision for you, though often we’d like them to. . .when we have a decision looming, and we don’t want to make it. . . when we wish someone would just make it for us. . . but don’t you see that is making a decision, too. . . make those decisions wisely based on solid discernment. . . there is a real danger in following the herd. . . the crowd. . . the mob. . . the world. . .  they all tend to be fickle, and forget about the real individual nature and call of each of us. . . . but it is a danger because there are always tons of people who’d be willing to make decisions for us., who are just dying to make those decisions for us. . . . I find this to be the real danger of our culture and society. . . it is interesting, we are growing less humble, but at the same time less able or willing to make committed decisions, thinking we can simply change and create a new identity for ourselves daily, from moment to moment, that our actions aren’t binding. . . this is all much different from, though often confused for grace. . . and for freedom for that matter. I think, and this is something else I’ve discerned and resolved as true, that the true need for freedom we have is that we can be free to become what we were made to be. . . not that we can just make ourselves in our own image. . . and that grace is a return to humility through forgiveness, not a systematic lowering of standards, in a fickle binding too used to control and wield power over people. . . but if we are honest about all this, we’d like to even make decisions for others, too. . . I see it so much. . . it is truly the way of the world. There is power in that kind of control. . . and the way of the world is that kind of power. . . there is safety in that kind of control. . . but such is the stuff of idols and is not built upon the foundation of humble discernment.

So if we can return to humility, discern faithfully, we can begin to resolve and follow our path. . . and we will then get to persevere through anything. . . which is where our attention turns next week.