Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
The seeds for today’s sermon were sown from a book Ingrid Rasmussen [our second intern] recommended we read together. The book is “This Odd and Wondrous Calling”. It was written by two pastors, an older male pastor and a younger female pastor, and is their reflections on what being a parish pastor is like. It is a very good book and I ask all our interns to read it.
The older of the two pastors, Martin Copenhaver, tells the story of preaching his last sermon at a congregation he had served for about 9 years.
The sermon was titled, “What it’s All About” and the theme for his final sermon came from a question that had haunted Martin for years. The question had been asked by a church historian who was speaking at a conference of which Martin had been part of and this was the question; “when was the last time you told your congregation what Jesus meant to you?”
So this is exactly what Martin did on the last Sunday he preached at his church. He shared with the congregation what Jesus meant to him. The sermon was more devotional in content than what he normally preached about. As he was shaking hands after the sermon, a woman, a beloved saint of the congregation, with tears in her eyes, asked Martin another question, “why didn’t you tell us this before”?
I don’t want to make the same mistake. Hence the sermon title and theme for today, what Jesus means to me.
As you listen this morning, and I hope you are listening, I would like very much for you to be thinking about the same thing. What does Jesus mean to you? How would you answer this question?
I think you would all agree with me in that this is a difficult question to answer. I don’t believe the answer to the question can be boiled down to religious platitudes and clichés which fail to capture the truth that our lives are difficult, complicated and way more messy than we sometimes want to admit. I have a much better understanding of this now than I did when I was 20.
Part of how I answer the question for today is expressed in the short text from Mark’s Gospel that we just heard.
People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
This story is a reminder to me of a couple of things; one that there were and continue to be people in my life that bring me to Jesus. I both owe and continue to have a deep debt of gratitude for this gift.
Secondly, Jesus wants me to come to him. I’m so dense and want to go it alone so often that I forget this simple truth. Plus He is indigent at those things or people that prevent me from coming to him.
And he wants me to come to him as a child so he can take me up in his arms and bless me and hold me. This is what he wants to do and deep down this is what I know I need for him to do in my complicated and crazy adult life.
I have to try and remember what it is like to be a child and come to Him this way. Unencumbered by all of my adult worries, my questions, my doubt, my despair and my sin.
I don’t know what it is like for you but the older I get the more aware I am of my brokenness and the sin in my life. And because I am willing to look into that mirror and see myself for what I am, it makes this invitation to come all the more meaningful and important to me.
I can go to Jesus just as I am as the old hymn puts it.
This is what children do right? They don’t put on makeup, they just come as they are. Knowing that Jesus wants me to come in the same way means the world to me.
It means Jesus wants to be in a relationship with me and because He relentlessly seeks me out in love and grace every day I too want to be in a relationship with Him.
We sometime forget, that as Christians, we follow a person, not a doctrine, or a set of beliefs or even a certain way of living, but a person.
Remember, the Word became flesh and lived among us. Remember, God so loved the world that He sent his only son. Remember Jesus’ invitation; “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
This is what Jesus means to me. And as I grow older, I am reflecting more and more on what he means to me. I keep learning – repeatedly it seems – that I can rely more on Him and less on me even as I continue to struggle with that tension in my life.
I find that the more I can focus on this relationship I have with Jesus the less troubled I am by all the very difficult and challenging things that are going on around me in the world. The social issues, political issues, racial issues and the simple day to day issues don’t seem as big or as troubling to me if I keep my focus on Jesus and the relationship He gives to me.
And because I am in a relationship with Jesus and I am seeking to understand what that means to me, I am compelled to listen to Him even when His words are hard, challenging and point out to me where I fall short.
When he tells me I cannot serve God and money, I have to listen to His words and I have to choose whom I will serve.
When he tells me to love my neighbor as myself and my neighbor is a Samaritan, or a Muslim, or a person of color or someone I don’t like or agree with, I have to choose what Jesus means to me in this context and what He compels me to do in that situation or circumstance..
When He tells me that I need to lose my life in Him in order to gain it, I have to ask myself if I am willing to let Mark Aune die so that the life of Jesus might be revealed in Mark Aune’s life.
This is what Jesus means to me and I am still learning as I rely on what the Apostle Paul says so beautifully in Romans 1. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. As it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Jesus is the gospel. He is the good news. That is what He means to me.
What I want you to know is that you can rely on him. I want you to listen to him; to his words of invitation and comfort and to His challenging and convicting words as well.
I want you to know that He has the power to raise you from death to life, every single day.
I want you to know that He is the Lord of the church and He is the main reason we gather together and are then sent out into the world.
I want you to know that He forgives you and He loves you with a love that is so radical, deep and wide that you or I will never find ourselves beyond the boundaries of His love.
I want you to know that this love cost Jesus his life. His triumph over sin, death and the devil, accomplished on the cross of Calvary, is the focal point of human history and the rock upon which we stand.
I want you to know that He is Emmanuel, God with us.
I want you to know that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is what Jesus means to me. What does he mean to you?
 This Odd and Wondrous Calling; Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver p.15
 Ibid p.17