Our First Confession

Delivered July 13, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Sermon Text:
John 1:19-28
and Ephesians 4:7-13

I want to read a passage to you this morning from the Gospel of John, the first chapter beginning at the nineteenth verse.

“Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely. “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet. “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, not Elijah, not the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Let’s pray. Dear God, we thank you for your Word, and we pray now with our eyes and our hearts to respond to you in every way we need to, to teach Lord, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I think I know what some of you are thinking. It’s been three years that the PNC has been at work. During that three years they have looked at hundreds of resumes. They have listened to hundreds of sermons. They have taken a look at people all over the nation, and is this the best they can do? Three years without an installed pastor. Things are different at times like that. Three years where there has been some uncertainty. Uncertainty about whether you should make certain big decisions because maybe next month is the month that the PNC will bring the new pastor. Uncertainty when George wasn’t around, who is going to be preaching next month, next week? You are always wondering whether the important things will actually get done or whether some important things will just go begging.

And yet, it has been a terrific three years for you because God has blessed so much. Think about what has happened in three years. In three years you have changed as a congregation. When I come here this morning, I find a congregation that really does live up to the fact that its ministers are truly serving the whole congregation. God has done some wonderful things among you. You have grown. You have added this service during this period of time that you haven’t had an installed pastor. It has been an incredible time for you. And, now that period of time is ending. And you are getting ready to say goodbye to George, a person who has served you so well over these past few years. And, you are getting ready to welcome somebody new, somebody you don’t know yet and somebody who the PNC thinks is God’s choice for leading this congregation and serving it in the future. And so, naturally you have some questions. “Will I like him?” Well, I hope so. “Will I like his sermons?” I hope so. “Does he understand how unique we are? And what will have to change?” All of those sorts of questions are bound to come to your mind. And so, I feel like a time like this it is critical that we admit some things up front so that there will be no misunderstandings later.

And, we can get that from John the Baptist. In this passage, John the Baptist makes a confession. Not confession like we just did. That sort of confession is where we are admitting with God what the situation is in our lives about sin, and we are agreeing with God and saying a word to him about that. But confession can also be where the community of faith declares something it believes about itself or about God. So for example, we as Presbyterians have the Westminster confession of faith, where we declare for hundreds of years we have been using those words to declare what we believe.

In the New Testament, we also have passages like Phillipians 2, verses 5 to 11 that are confessions of faith, where we say Jesus had the glory of God, and yet he was willing to give this up to become a servant, and even face death for us. And so, that hymn or that confession is in the New Testament. And in today’s passage, John gives us perhaps the very earliest confession in the New Testament when he says, “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, I am not the Christ.” Now, he had to say that because people were wondering. These men had come up and said, “Are you the Christ? Are you the one that is going to deliver Israel? Are you the one that we have been looking for?” And he says, “No, I am not.” In fact, this was such an important thing that even after John the Baptist died, there were people who still didn’t know Jesus, who thought that John might be the Christ. And so, several times in the Book of John there is this declaration where John the Baptist is clearly saying that he is not the Christ, and so I want to make my first confession to you. I am not the Christ either. I have only walked on water once, and that was in January in ______, Massachusetts, Crystal Pond and I wove my way among the ice skaters, because I couldn’t ice skate. I am not the best person in the world at anything that I do. Nothing. There is a whole church of people in Baton Rouge that love me, and all of them will agree unanimously; yes he is not the Christ.

What that means is, that you get somebody who is not perfect to serve you. I am not the Christ. It seems silly to have to say something like that, but you know, we sometimes carry unrealistic expectations of each other. And particularly pastors. Ah, the new pastor has come. All the things that have been being ignored he will do. He will visit everybody. Shuts in’s, sick people, new members, old members, leaders, people we would like to be leaders, people we know will never be leaders, but we love them. He is the person who is to know all the needs and have all the answers. Well, I do not have all the answers. But, I do have years of experience in ministry that parallels the kind of ministry that is happening here at this time in the life of this congregation. I have gifts that God has given sovereignly to serve people like you as pastor and teacher. And, I do make a commitment to you that I will do my best to walk with God, to have integrity so that I won’t be an embarrassment to you, or to myself, or to God. To be thoughtful and gentle in my relationships with you, and when God calls us to move out to be bold and visionary as well, and to do my best to try to be excellent in all that God has called me to do. But I will never be perfect. I am not the Christ.

But, you know that’s okay because you are not the Christ either. It’s important for me to not have unrealistic expectations for you. I have got a little piece of paper here. It’s the church information sheet for this church that the PNC sent out and there is a date on the bottom, the day I downloaded it. July 19, 2002. One year ago, I first took a look at your church. And, when I did that I had a little red pen in my hand, and just like I did with all the other churches, I put a little plus mark on all the spots where you all excelled or fit, and so there is a little plus here, plus there and on the second page, I started giving double pluses. You know little exclamation point pluses. And, finally by the third page I gave up because I had never seen a church like this before. And so, I expect you to be good.

I have heard sermons that you have heard, and that put the fear in God in me, as I heard all of these sermons that George was giving you and realizing that I might be the person that follows him. I have also seen News and View articles written by your leadership, and seen the passion that these leaders have for their ministry. I have learned so much from them, as I have been reading and taking a look at what you are like as a congregation. I know that you are a prayerful group of people, and I know you have a heart for mission and that could hardly excite me more. So, I expect you to be good. I expect you to be committed to God without reservation. I expect you to be committed to the mission of this church. Moving people towards Christ by being a community of faith, which loves, encourages and then equips them in Christ sending them out to serve. That sort of vision excites me and I hope it excites you and I expect it to excite you. I expect you to do your best when God calls you and taps you on the shoulder to do ministry, but I don’t expect you to be perfect.

Central Presbyterian Church is a great place, but it’s not heaven. I know that, even in advance. Ten minutes with a session member will confirm that. By their testimony, by their testimony. There will be some hard times. There will be some difficult decisions where we don’t really know what we are to do next. And there will be some times when we disagree. But just as in any good marriage, I believe that God will provide a way of solving all of that and working it out. So, that’s the bad news this morning. And imperfect pastor is being united with an imperfect congregation.

Where is the good news? I am not the Christ. You are not the Christ. But there is a living, reigning Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. And we are his followers.

As we go forth from here, our confidence is not that God has brought you the perfect pastor. My confidence is not that he has brought me to the perfect church. Our confidence is that the God who loves us is at work making this arrangement, making this chemistry to build up his body. The same God that loved you enough to send his Son to die for you. The same God that quickened in you the desire to follow Jesus Christ and has been blessing you ever since. That God will send you someone who will serve you well. The same God who has been with me through my ups and my downs, I believe will bless me. Bless me in a relationship with you. And what excites me most is that God will be blessing both of us and blessing us together in order for us to be a blessing for the people out there. Because God has a passion for our families. God has a passion for our campuses where there are so many people who don’t know Jesus. God loves Baltimore. He loves the Wa people. He loves Brazil and he wants to use this congregation as one of his many tools to reach out to a lost and dying world. That’s an exciting thing to be a part of. God is at work and this passage in Ephesians, I would like to read to you. Just a little bit about how God sovereignly works at a time like this. I am going to begin on the 11th verse. Talking about Jesus.

“It was he who gave some to be Apostles, some to be prophets, some to evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

God is sovereignly at work. It is he who sets apart some to be apostles and prophets and teachers and pastors, and then it is He that makes this chemistry and pulls these people together so that then they, in their service, can prepare you for your works of service, so that you can use the gifts that God has uniquely given you, so that there is not one minister, but hundreds. God is at work and He is passionately looking forward with great, great desire at seeing us mature in this and thus be a blessing to everyone around us. I believe that God has given me the gifts of being a pastor and a teacher. That He has gifted me for a specific role, to help you step out in service. To support you, to teach you. To do whatever it takes to make it happen together as we reach out. I believe there is an incredible adventure ahead. God hasn’t been doing all these things for all these years for it to stop now. I am excited about the future. But, my confidence as I face the future is not that I got it all together, and it’s not that you are the perfect congregation. Our confidence, our assurance, our power lies in God. So it is important for us to remember at a big day like today, today is not ultimately about you and it’s not ultimately about me, because all of this that is happening, is about God.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you. We thank you that you are at work, that we have felt your work individually in our lives, that we sent your work together as we gather as a body and now Lord we are on the edge of stepping forward into your future. Lord, help us to put our fears aside, and help us to trust you because we believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit great things are coming. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.