1/10/99, E1A

“Beginning Again, Again”
Matthew 3: 13-17

 dear Christian lady put in her will that she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand. When word got around, as words always seem to do, one of the sisters was appointed to go ask her why. “Well,” she said, “At many of our church fellowship dinners someone would whisper to me, keep your fork, there’s something better coming, and I just want to be ready for the better.”

In my young life I tried awfully hard not to be a Christian. Lots of preacher’s kids play with rebellion. I was even expelled from Vacation Bible School at age ten, not for cutting up, but for casting doubt on the stories being told. My mother encouraged them to take me back the next day, “He’s the one that needs it the most,” she convinced them. My twenty-five year old teacher, who had spent his vacation from the furniture factory, welcomed me back with open arms. I sat and listened, but most of all felt the warmth of grace.

Yet, I was still resistant on through high school, where I lost myself in athletics and a busy social life. I attended Sunday School and worship, but with a smirk on my heart. Then along came college and I learned in Philosophy-101 that I could call myself an agnostic. I wrote on my notebook the famous Latin saying of Descartes, “Cogito Ergo Sum” (I think, therefore I am). I was surprised that my dad had heard all about that stuff forty years prior. In fact, the more I learned in college, the smarter Dad seemed to become. I soon found out that many of my professors, and the most winsome fellow students, were believers. It became harder to defend agnosticism. But, the thing that got to me the most was the commonality of heart felt experience witnessed to in the lives of those I admired the most. Most admitted a similar initial skepticism, but had finally come to faith on an emotional level. The pattern was set for me. I felt a tugging on my heart, which I now know was the Spirit drawing me toward grace. One of my professors said one day after class, “Allred, you just need to begin again!”

Don’t we all need to begin again? Is not some form of rebellion a part of every person’s personal story? Looking back on life, did we not each really follow something of a similar pattern of acting out our questions?

Many of you have read how our Governor-elect, Roy Barnes, walked down the aisle to the tune of “O Why Not Tonight” at age eight to claim Christian faith. The rest of us only wish we had made that commitment so young. Most of us are drawn to the biographies of famous persons. Our heroes of the faith have fascinating lives. John Wesley’s fascinating life is familiar to most of us. Billy Graham was also a rebel but came to faith at an evangelical crusade in a moment of decision. Likewise, each of us have walked our own pilgrimage of faith that has brought us to this moment in time. Each has covered different territory. No two people are just alike.

Today, the third Sunday after Christmas, we remember a significant event in the only sinless life ever lived. Jesus set a perfect pattern for us. Although none of us are perfect, we have this role model against whom we can evaluate ourselves. When we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” we are examining our own lives in the light of perfection.

Jesus’ baptism was a symbol of his beginning a new phase in his life. Up until that time he had led the simple life of a carpenter in Nazareth. He had studied in the synagogue and had walked a walk much like ours. But now he was embarking on a public ministry of a traveling preacher. He knew that he was on his way to a cross very soon, but that he had to fulfill the calling to which he was born.

Although none of us feels comfortable comparing ourselves to the Son of God, we have all begun new phases in our lives. And many times we have had the experience of beginning again, again. Roy Barnes will be sworn into office as Governor tomorrow. This is a new beginning for him. Each new phase of our lives changes our circumstances, yet each step we make is a movement toward what is hopefully a higher calling.

The saddest state of life that a person can find oneself in is to meander around in a comfortable mediocrity. Yet, many folks have nothing much to do and no hopes and dreams. This is the blight of what most folks think retirement should be. Many buy one of those cheap wooden plaques with the deadening words carved into it, “Gone Fishing.” Now fishing is a great past time, but human beings need a challenge in every phase of life.

I admire Jimmy Carter for not simply retiring to his family farm in Plains and just fishing everyday in his little pond. He has done that some, as well as pursuing his hobby of making furniture; but, the world has come to love him as the most energetic and accomplished ex-President.

Strom Thurmond amazes me. At age ninety-six he has just been sworn into a new six-year term as United States Senator from South Carolina; and, as President Pro-Tem of the Senate, has this week presided over one of the most historic events in American government. Rumor has it that he is looking to get married again. That might be a little much, “beginning again,” even for Strom. But, isn’t it challenging good news to know that we can?

Just before his death, Bishop Arthur J. Moore penned in his autobiography, Bishop to all People, these words. “God has always been faithful to set before me ever receding horizons.” That’s it, there is always more! When my mother was initially resistant to moving into an assisted living center my daughter Candi told her, “Grandmother, that would be like living in a college dormitory again!”

There is always something better coming our way as we walk with God. Retirement even can be an opportunity to have time to do the many thousands of things you intended to do all along. Each stage in life is a “Beginning Again, Again.”

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

1/10/99, E1A