First Monday in Advent
The following sermon was preached by Kristian Johnson, LSTC M.Div. Senior student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, November 28, 2005.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Peace and grace to you on this glorious advent morning. My name is Kristian Johnson, I'm a senior student at LSTC, and I'm hoping to have completed my M. Div with an emphasis in urban ministry by next week sometime. After growing up in a small town in Minnesota called Red Wing, I graduated from St. Olaf College, and came to Chicago through Lutheran Volunteer Corps. God turned a one-year experiment into an amazing 8 years in Chicago, that included amazing experiences such as five years of city youth ministry, meeting my Lutheran pastor-wife Anna-Kari and giving birth to our daughter, Hope, I did my internship at a Spanish- and English-speaking congregation called San Francisco de Asis in Aurora, IL. I've been assigned to the Southwest California Synod, which is basically Los Angeles County, and am currently in a period of courtship with First Lutheran Church in Inglewood, California. God has used the city of Chicago and the seminary of LSTC to completely transform my life and call. It is an honor, joy, and privilege to be with you in such a special way this morning.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts stir us from sleep, and awaken us to be living testimonies of the coming one. Amen.
18 times. In the first 9 verses of Paul's letters to the notorious church in Corinth, Paul invokes the name of God the Father and Jesus 18 times. We know that as Paul sat down to pen this letter, he had multiple emotions and concerns about the unruly, conflict ridden, sexually promiscuous congregation of Corinth. But Paul does not start with complaining or condemning, but rather with series of strong reminders, in a spirit of thanksgiving, of the "marturion" of Christ. "Marturion" is a Greek word that can mean testimony, witness, evidence needed for conviction, and is the same word from which we derive the terms martyr and martyrdom. The church in Corinth is in dire need of pastoral intervention, and Paul seeks to convict them by first raising up the testimony of how Christ is still at work among them.
It is the testimony of Christ that rallies, defines, and unites the congregation of Corinth and the community of LSTC. Even in the face of conflict and adversity, God gives us each a testimony, and gives us the privilege to listen to the testimonies of others. As we assemble the advent wreath piece by piece in such a participatory way, we affirm that each one of us are given a testimony to the coming one that we can't help but share. Praise God that the testimony of Christ is being strengthened in each one of us, so that we will not be lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Testimonies are powerful. Just as a criminal cannot be convicted without a testimony against them, a skeptical world will never be convinced that Jesus is more real than Santa Claus without real life testimonies on Christ's behalf. And, may I add, God does not only use personal testimonies to bring people to faith, God uses testimonies to awaken and renew those of us believers who have grown tired or discouraged.
As I reflect on my seminary experience and my time in the Chicago area, I rejoice at all the ways the living Word has jumped out at me through the words of others. There are few things more inspiring to me than to listen to someone begin to find words to express who God is and what God is doing for them in their life. I remember when 16 year old Travina read a poem to the congregation expressing her faith in a God who had been there for her when no one else was. I remember another teenager, Miguel, who after years of trouble getting along with his parents, gave a testimony of thanksgiving for his parents at a church thanksgiving dinner. I give thanks for Joyce, who, in announcing that she would no longer coordinate the church rummage sale after 10 years of doing that job, refused to complain about a lack of volunteers, but instead gave a testimony of what the God and the congregation had meant to her during the 60 + years of her life, and in a temple talk shared that God was calling her to do something new. These are powerful moments in the life of any congregation, of any community.
That's why I hope that anytime someone asks us as seminarians or professors to share our call story, whether it be a professor, a candidacy committee, the admissions office or a homeless guy on the street, I hope that we would jump at the chance. Personally, when I reflect on how God has blessed my time at LSTC and Chicago, I feel like I've got to tell somebody about it, and I'm glad I got a chance to say a few words today.
It is my prayer that all of us at LSTC would continue to let the testimonies of people living and working in this great city of Chicago shape our theological work. Let us all make the time to be inspired by the testimonies of pastors, activists, community leaders, immigrants, business people, from all ethnic and economic groups, so that God can continue to use this city as a teacher of how God is moving in and around us. Just as God used both Union Seminary and the Black church of Harlem to prepare Bonhoeffer for the ministry that was to come, God is using both LSTC and the ethos of Chicago to prepare leaders who embrace what God is doing in a diverse and ever changing world.
What testimony has God given you this advent morning? As we long for the Word made flesh to come among us, let us allow God to raise up testimonies in us and around us that prepare the way for Jesus. Amen.