Beginnings—Both Old & New

Beginnings—Both Old & New
Lance Haverkamp – January 3rd, 2016

When we think Beginnings, we naturally think creation. But depending on whom you ask, you will get different pictures of what that beginning looked like. Ask most people from an even remotely Judeo-Christian background, and they’ll quote you Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” …and they’ll have additional Scriptural support for their position that:

God alone created everything (Isaiah 44:24)
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who by myself spread out the earth;”

But then along comes some wahoo, with a penchant for studying, who will say that:

All things were created by/through Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17)
“for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ”

This apparent conflict, isn’t really a conflict at all if you’re trinitarian; and is only a problem for a sub-set of unitarians (who hold to a hyper-literal understanding of the birth of the son of God).

Our Gospel Reading this morning came from the beginning of John, who was writing to those who followed the teachings of the Stoic philosophers. We read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The word “Word” there, is “Logos” in the Greek. It’s translated as “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” The Stoics also referred to Logos as a universal, divine reason, or the mind of God.

So, where we read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;” it should be clear that the “Word” or Logos was a divine reference to Jesus Christ.

John argued that Jesus, the Word, or Logos is eternal, and is God. Furthermore, all creation came about by and through Jesus, who is presented as the source of life. Amazingly, this Logos came and lived among us, born to a Jewish girl, in the desert, 2,000 years ago. That’s why we’re studying about this shortly following Christmas; we’re supposed to know that connection. So, our text for this morning, which our doctrinal predecessors wanted us to discuss today, tells us that Christ was involved in creation centuries, or millennia, before he came to us, on earth.

We find the beginning of many things in Scripture, and we’ll talk more about the beginning of Christ’s ministry later this month; but the next huge beginning was that of the New Covenant, which we transitioned into, as we transitioned out of the Old Covenant:

You remember Abraham, you probably remember the children’s song: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord…” Well, Abraham was married to Sarah, they were promised a great nation of descendants; but grew quite old, and were still without children. You remember that, right? Sarah sent her handmaiden, Hagar, to sleep with Abraham, so that a child could finally be born. As it turned-out both Hagar and Sarah became pregnant, and had sons; Ishmael and Issac.

In the forth chapter of Galatians, Paul wrote a metaphor: We are told about Abraham’s two women, Hagar and Sarah; they correspond to two cities, physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem. We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant, and those under the new covenant. Let’s read it:

“You who want to be under the authority of the law, tell me something. Don’t you know what the law says? It is written that Abraham had two sons. The slave woman gave birth to one of them. The free woman gave birth to the other one. Abraham’s son by the slave woman was born in the usual way. But his son by the free woman was born because of God’s promise.

    These things are examples. The two women stand for two covenants. One covenant comes from Mount Sinai. It gives birth to children who are going to be slaves. It is Hagar. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia. She stands for the present city of Jerusalem. That’s because she and her children are slaves. But the Jerusalem that is above is free. She is our mother. It is written,

    “Be glad, woman,
    you who have never had children.
    Shout for joy and cry out loud,
    you who have never had labor pains.
    The woman who is all alone has more children
    than the woman who has a husband.” (Isaiah 54:1)

    Brothers and sisters, you are children because of God’s promise just as Isaac was. At that time, the son born in the usual way tried to hurt the other son. The other son was born by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman. Get rid of her son. The slave woman’s son will never have a share of the family’s property. He’ll never share it with the free woman’s son.” (Genesis 21:10) Brothers and sisters, we are not the slave woman’s children. We are the free woman’s children.”
–Galatians 4:21-31 (NIRV)

Why is this important? What is the point of this, seemingly unusual, analogy? Well, the most important point is that, as of the beginning of the New Covenant, we no longer live under the law. You see, under the law, my clothes are an abomination unto God. The law says you can’t mix your fabrics, and I’m wearing a permanent press shirt. To make matters worse, I matched it with a wool suit, and a silk tie! Clearly I am the abomination that my second-grade teacher knew I would grow-up to be.

There are hundreds of these old laws—613 to be exact. They fall into three broad categories: Health-related, Religious/Ethical teachings, and Ceremonial/Ritual.
So which category of the law do my abominable clothing fall under?
Is it ritual? No, things prescribed hand-washing & priestly garments are ritual.
Is it Health-related? No, mixing rayon with wool isn’t a health risk.
Is it religious, is there something unholy about cotton—besides having to iron it?
Of course not, it’s religious metaphor; it’s not about fabric, it’s about mixing the sacred with the profane, it’s telling God’s people not to mix their worship of Him, with those pagan rituals going-on around them.

We were never expected to follow all of the law. In fact, the primary reason for the law is to teach everyone that there is no way to be perfect in the sight of God. God designed a law that we couldn’t live-up-to. That’s why the Israelites made animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, for the forgiveness of sin. Our new beginning, in Christ, meant those Temple sacrifices were no longer needed. God let the Romans destroy the Temple, and the priestly records in 70AD; to make sure the Jews could no longer obey the Old Covenant rituals. Christ became the final sacrifice so we could be accepted by God, as we are. This is the New Beginning made possible by Christ.

Now we, as a congregation, can begin anew; or not…

You see, there’s a ton of areas where we all agree, and that’s great! There’s also a lot of areas where, maybe, 90% of us agree; and really, that’s fine. We don’t have to agree on everything. There are, I believe, only three areas where we must decide how to proceed before we know what to look for, as we begin a new relationship, with a new minister:

The first is easy: How large do we want to the congregation to grow?
This is important because most young ministers are conditioned & trained for numerical growth. I’m just guessing, but I suspect most of our congregation wants to stay small-enough that you can know everyone, if you put forth a little effort. That’s called a “Family-sized” congregation; by the way, “Family-sized” is the smallest of four possible congregation sizes.

The second question is also moderately easy: What is the role of the minister?
We have no consensus on the role of the Pastor; neither in ministry, nor in management. Some want the minister to be the sea captain—setting the course, managing the crew, and piloting the ship. Others want the minister to do nothing more than preach, marry, bury, and visit the sick; leaving all matters of polity, personnel, and administration to the board. We must be able to tell them what we expect.

The third area requires the most work, that question is: What do we really hold as doctrinal beliefs within the congregation?
For decades we have had members, and leaders, with beliefs that range from Unity, or Unitarian Universalist on the far left; to squarely conservative/evangelical on the right. We have members who come from a very high-church background who think communion and baptism are sacraments that need to be preformed by clergy; and we have members who, like the modern UCC, accept any baptism, and consider communion a remembrance.

Every Pastor, and interim, we’ve had in the last decade, has had to field complaints, from members, about our congregation being doctrinally both too far left, and too far right—at the same time, depending on who’s complaining. To be honest, we may never be able to agree on these doctrinal questions. If not, this third question then becomes: How do we protect any new clergy from having to field complaints about our wide range of doctrinal beliefs?

We’ve had too many ministers in this congregation who felt that they had to please everyone, all the time; only to be frustrated by the impossibility of doing so. If we can not agree on doctrine, we must agree on a response that will defend our staff, when those challenges to our, wide range of, doctrinal beliefs arise.

Let’s be thankful for the beginning of creation, the beginning of Christ’s ministry, the beginning of the New Covenant; and let’s be thankful that we really have relatively little to do, before we can begin to search for a new minister.