This Sunday we begin our series, Jesus 101: An Introduction to the Savior. This series will include learning for all ages following worship, and during worship a preaching series focusing on renewing our relationship with Jesus by exploring who Jesus is, what Jesus does, and what Jesus means for us.

I am writing to you from Mississippi, where my family is in the final days of an amazing 10 day road trip through several of our nation’s most important civil rights historic sites. We’ve visited museums and memorials, a bridge and a road, a house and more than a few churches.

People of faith – from Biblical times to ours – have walked, led by God, into freedom and life

I begin reflecting on Sunday’s text – John 1:29-51 – in the context of this trip, and of our nation’s struggle to form a “more perfect union” committed to “liberty and justice for all.” In Sunday’s Scripture we will read two distinct but related episodes: John the Baptist testifying that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and Jesus drawing disciples to himself. “Come and see,” Jesus says to would-be disciples … who later use the same phrase and invite others to “come and see” the Savior of the world.

“Come and see.” It’s an invitation go beyond what we already know. It’s an invitation to meet the Savior.

I’m so glad that I came to Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee to see some of the history of our nation’s civil rights struggles. This is a chapter of our nation’s history saturated in Christian faith and nurtured by the life of the church. Truly our Savior has been, and continues to be, at work to bring about abundant life for all people.

As a Christian, an American, and as a pastor, I am inspired by and in awe of the faith and perseverance of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, yes, but also of so many everyday Christians whose names are lost to history who bore the brunt of water canons and dog bites, billy clubs and hateful words, unemployment and eviction, threats of violence and death itself. For many of these people faith was central to their lives. Faith in Christ gave them – and continues to give them – the will to “get in the way” of racism and hatred, as John Lewis famously put it. The Christian faith of so many leaders, and the Spirit of God moving through the body of Christ meeting in homes and churches across the South, truly empowered this movement of freedom and brought about the rebirth of our nation.

I offered prayer at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church on Sunday. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor of this church, and preached numerous times from this pulpit.

Naturally, this experience is leading me to consider Christ’s call to me – as a Christian and as a pastor – and to us, as a congregation. In Sunday’s reading from the first chapter of John, we will see that Jesus calls followers. He calls people to follow him into lives of service, sacrifice, and life – abundant and eternal life.

Jesus calls.

The Lutheran Church teaches that we are called by God in baptism, and that God’s Holy Spirit – promised to us in baptism – enlightens, sanctifies, and sustains us in Christ. Many of us were baptized as infants, and we had little to do with this whole process of being called. Yet how appropriate! Just as we do not determine who calls us on the phone, or when or how we were born, neither do we determine when and how God calls us and makes us his own! God’s call, promise of salvation and everlasting life, is a promise that we can rely on.

Yet even for we who were baptized in infancy, receiving the call of God is not a one-and-done kind of thing. Like the friend who calls us again and again, we need to hear and answer this call again and again. For we who were baptized before our memories begin, and for those who were baptized as youth or adults, the call of God is renewed throughout our lives. Within and beyond the church walls, we seek the comfort, promise, purpose, and leading of God in our lives. How can we not?

Within and beyond the church walls.

As much as we receive the promise of God and the fellowship of faith in sure and certain ways within the church walls, the future of New Joy lies beyond our walls. Just as the greatest faith movement in the history of our nation reached beyond church walls into homes, but also

Part of a mural from the basement of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, depicting the work of the church – and the challenges it faces – in the world.

lunch counters and bus seats, government halls and jail cells, so too does the faith and life of New Joy reach beyond. We are called by a God who stands beyond us and beacons, “Come and see.” This God promises abundant life to us and to the world that God so loves. We receive this life and love through the fellowship of the church and through the leading of God’s Spirit in the world.

As we renew our relationship with Jesus through this Jesus 101 series, we’re also considering a bold new future for New Joy that will more intentionally focus our efforts beyond the church walls. It is beyond the church walls where we will meet God in the lives of our neighbors, expand our congregation’s impact on our community in the name of Jesus, and be formed in faith through service in the world and among the people that God so loves.

I invite you to “come and see” this season.

Resolve to renew your relationship with our Savior through weekly worship and learning, daily Bible readings (on our website, social media channels, and our mobile app), and service within and beyond the church. These disciplines don’t save us or draw us closer to God, but they will help us see the God who has already drawn close to us in love.

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