Thursday, January 03, 2008

Location, Location, Location

Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham preached this from Matthew 2:13-23
on Christmas 1A, Dec 30, 2007, at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston

    "Where ya' from?" That's the first question you are likely to be asked in the small town where I grew up. Or, depending on the ethnic origin of the person asking the question, you may be asked: "Where's your crib?" Such questions were common in Jesus' time as well. Although we don't know much about Jesus' adolescence or early adulthood, the gospel writers go to great lengths to identify where Jesus was born, where he grew up, where he traveled during his ministry, where he died, and where he went after his resurrection. Real Estate agents tell us there three important things to consider when purchasing property: Location, location location. This is what our new church development strategists consider when planting a new congregation. St. John's is no longer a new church development but our location still holds a key to our mission.
    Location is very important to the New Testament writers and especially the location of Jesus. They tell us his crib was in Bethlehem and his childhood home was in Nazareth. Although he was from Nazareth, he did not remain there his entire life. While still an infant, Jesus moved from Bethlehem to Egypt. I've spoken to Christians from the Coptic Church in Egypt who claim to be direct descendants of those Egyptian families who took in the holy family of Jesus when they moved from Bethlehem to Egypt. Later, when still a child, Jesus moved from Egypt back to Israel and lived in the district of Galilee in a town called Nazareth. Recent excavations of the area reveal that although Nazareth was a small town, it was located a few miles South of Sepphoris which was a booming city in the time when Jesus lived in the area. Having been burned to the ground by the Romans 4 years before he was born, Sepphoris is likely the place where Jesus worked as a carpentar with his father Joseph as they worked to rebuild the city. In that city he would have been exposed to different languages such as Greek and Latin and various cultures and cultural influences.
    Sepphoris, like Houston, was a city of tremendous diversity, and a city in which many of the people who lived there had moved there from somewhere else. Many of us moved here from somewhere else. Some of us can relate to the person who said, "I'm not from Texas but I got here just as fast as I could." We did not grow up here.  We are from elsewhere. We are from Cameroon or Chicago, Kenya or Kansas, Scotland or Dallas. Some of us are even from Mississippi. Our diversity is our strength. Let's not blame where we are from for our failures but rather celebrate the fact that God has called us to this place at this time to work together in ministry for Christ. Let's not fall into the negative frame of mind that we could fulfill our calling from God if only we had not been born in a small town, or a large city, or in a certain part of town, or to certain parents, and so forth. God's plan for us may be fulfilled even if we are from Nazareth.
    No matter where we are from, our focus as Christians is not on the past -- where we are from. Our focus is not on the future -- where we are going. Our focus is on the present -- where we are now.
The power of now is a principle worth remembering as we begin a new year this week. Let's not get burdened down by where we've been or get whisked away in dreams of where we are going. Let's live in the present moment. Let's live at this place in this time. Jesus knew where he was from and where he was going but he lived in the present moment because the present moment is the only time and place where we can access the realm of God within us.
    Some of us live our lives in future tense or past tense, propelled forward by anger because of what we experienced in the past or what we fear may happen to us in the future. Anger is like a drug. Those who get their energy from anger need a fix of an anger fit several times a day in order to satisfy their craving. This means suffering not only for the person who lives it but also and for those who must live and work with this person. Complaining and craving for anger like a drug — this is our false self  in operation and this is what Jesus calls us to move beyond if we would enter what he calls "the kingdom of heaven" which is the realm of God that lies within us. Location. Location. Location. God's realm is located within us. If we would find God we must search within. When we open ourselves to the presence and action of the Spirit within, then God is there.
    Jesus calls us to walk the path of humility. Humility is the key to power in the realm of God within us. In one of his parables, Jesus says, "When you are invited,
go and sit at the lowest place ... for everyone who humbles himself will be exalted." Instead of trying to be a mountain, teaches the ancient Tao Te Ching, "Be the valley of the universe." In this way, you are restored to wholeness and so "all things will come to you." (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, 216)
    When Roman guards and their servants came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane, with their lanterns and torches and weapons, Jesus asked them whom they were looking for and they replied, "Jesus, the Nazorean." To refer to him as a Nazorean is to acknowledge that Jesus came from humble beginnings.  We also come from humble beginnings. If we think of starting anew today, on this cusp of a new year, we would have to admit that we are starting from humble beginnings. Yet, although he was known as a Nazarean, Jesus went on to change the world. And he promised us that those who followed him would do greater things than he had done. We must wonder then what kind of great things God has in store for this congregation in the future. I believe God has great things in store for us here at Saint John's. As the proverb says, "Despise not the day of small beginnings." We have made a small beginning and we look forward with great anticipation to the wonderful things to come. Jesus was a Nazorean. Can anything good come from Nazareth? You better believe something good can come from Nazareth. Can anything good from 5020 West Bellfort Avenue? You better believe something good can come from 5020 West Bellfort Avenue!
    Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, "Come, follow me." Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
    "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.  But Philip said, "Come, see for yourself." (John 1:43-46, MSG)
    If we want to make new disciples, we will tell our friends, family and colleagues what Philip said to Nathaniel: "Come, see for yourself." Invite folks to come and see what God is doing in our congregation. If they say, "St. John's? Can anything good come out of St. John's?" then tell them to come and see. Let them know we are open for business and our business is making disciples and meeting human needs.
    Our challenge is now to come to terms with our location here at 5020 West Bellfort Avenue. It is time to look around and rediscover the context of our ministry. When we look at our location with the eyes of Christ we may discover what we need to be doing to meet human needs and make disciples in this place. God's realm lies within the hallowed walls of this sanctuary and God's realm lies within Meyerland, Westbury and all of Southwest Houston. God is already at work in this community and has been for some time. Our task it to discern how we may continue to cooperate with the Spirit in bringing God's realm alive in this place we call home. If we bring this to God with an open mind, God will show this congregation how to proceed in this new year. Whatever God may have in mind for us, I think it will have something to do with our location. So let's focus in like a laser beam on this one thing: Location. Location. Location.