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15-43 149th Street
Whitestone, NY 11357

718.746.7858

The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has been at work in northeast Queens since 1871, seeking to proclaim God’s Word and live out God’s justice and peace in our lives and our community. We welcome all to join us for worship, fellowship, learning, and service in our small but vibrant community of faith.

Sermons

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Andy James

a sermon on 1 John 3:1-3

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate several different kinds of storytelling. As a child, I tended to enjoy those stories that had a clear beginning, middle, and end, stories that began “once upon a time” and ended “happily ever after.” As satisfying as those sorts of stories can be, as I’ve grown older I’ve started to also enjoy stories that are a little less “finished,” stories that leave a bit more of the beginning and end to the imagination.

These latter kinds of stories can be a bit frustrating. Sometimes you just want to know what really happens to a character that you have come to know and love, but there’s no obvious ending in sight! However, I’ve come to realize that these stories are often the most realistic, as sometimes things aren’t quite that clear in the stories of our world and especially of our lives. As hard as we may try, we may not be able to understand how everything fits together. We may look back and look forward and still not have the whole picture of things. And we may wonder how things will end in a story—or for us, too.

Our scripture reading from 1 John this morning centers around our story with God, and it fits very well into those stories that have a clear beginning, middle, or end, those stories that leave us scratching our heads and wondering how everything will come together in the end. For the writer here, the past, present, and future of our stories will all connect, but not in ways that we will immediately understand.

The past where this story begins is almost unimportant for John. Our individual histories and stories are all wrapped up in “the love the Father has given us,” in the love that makes us children of God, but that’s about all he says about them. The present of our stories is fully wrapped up in just that, too, in our status as children of God that is very much ours here and now. And yet amidst all that confidence from the past and present, the future of our stories is a bit unclear, as “what we will be has not yet been revealed.” As much as we might have images like our bulletin cover this morning, with heavenly mansions, streets paved with gold, and reunions with loved ones, these visions are incomplete revelations of what is ahead for us. Not only do they miss the parts of our lives on earth that still lie before us, they ignore John’s reminder here that we simply don’t know what heaven will look like, what exactly will happen when we die, or when or even how our stories will end. Our human minds cannot understand these things that are beyond our knowledge and comprehension. All that is certain, John tells us, is that “when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” In that day, our vision will be clear. Through God’s power, our lives and our world will be made new. And as God guides us to this new life, our story will be complete.

John’s look at the stories of our lives is a wonderful way to start thinking about the multitude of stories that are on our minds today. Today on All Saints’ Sunday we remember the many stories of our sisters and brothers in the faith who have journeyed with us along the way. We especially remember the faithful witness of George Lenz and Jackie Danas, two of our own number who died over the last year after sharing a portion of their stories with us as we journeyed together in the faith, giving us wisdom and hope to walk a little further along the way together. Their two stories are only the beginning of the great cloud of witnesses who have walked before us and beside us—those who have shown us even a little something of what it means to be children of God. I suspect that each of us can point to any number of people who have been a part of the stories of our lives and have guided us to new and deeper understanding of God’s love for us.

But these stories do not stand alone. All these stories—and our own, too—are a part of God’s one big story, part of God’s divine plan not so much for each of our lives but for the life of the world, part of God’s new revelation and new creation that is coming into being through Christ. So today we also begin a time of thinking about our own stories, about the ways in which God has been at work in our lives to show us how we are God’s children now and to give us a glimpse of the things yet to come, about how our individual stories link to the larger ones around us, to the story of this congregation, our broader church, and all creation.

It’s easy to dismiss our stories as unimportant or uninteresting, but we are all God’s children now. We all bear a portion of this story in our lives. We all are a part of what God is up to in our world. Each of us has a part to play in the ongoing revelation of God’s story, and when we listen to one another’s stories, we get a little better glimpse of how we are connected to one another and to God. Over the coming weeks, starting next Sunday, we’ll be hearing the stories of some of our sisters and brothers who walk this journey of faith with us. They will tell us how God has been at work in their lives, both in this congregation and beyond. They will help us understand a bit of how they see God claiming them as God’s children here and now. And they might just give us a little glimpse of the things that are ahead for us in our common stories as we move into the days that God is preparing for us.  If you’re interested in telling your story to us as part of this process, come and talk to me, or if you’re not, at least prepare yourself to hear from some others who walk with us a bit of the way as we get a better picture of how God’s story gets lived out in our midst.

As we live out God’s story here, as we embody our status as God’s children now, as we keep our eyes and hearts open to what is ahead, God’s story flows through us on the journey of faith. It is, then, our privilege and our responsibility to respond. So the last part of God’s story among us today comes as we consider our stewardship commitment for 2015. For some people, giving money to the church is like writing a check to any other charity, but I believe that what we give here is an important part of our story with God. Our gifts are our grateful response to the wonderful story that God has placed in each of our lives, and by God’s grace, our gifts too become part of God’s story in our midst. As we begin making our stewardship commitments for 2015 today, I hope and pray that you will think of how these gifts are a part of your story with God. Ultimately, our response to God’s presence in our lives is measured less by the size of our financial gifts and more by the depth and breadth of all the things that we bring to God along the way.

So may our story with this church and our story with God be broadened into this new day. May we look back to all the things that have made our story what it is before today, to all the saints who have shared a bit of it with us along the way. May we look around us now with gratitude for all the ways that we are God’s children here and now. And may we look forward to a day that has not yet been revealed and yet will be a most wonderful revelation when we will see the fullness of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Lord, come quickly! Amen.