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New Year Sermon

by Wolfgang Huber Monday, Jan. 14, 2008 at 1:17 PM
mbatko@lycos.com

God waits in the tomorrow. The orientation in Jesus Christ goes beyond all the technical achievements of our time. The navigation system is trust. Thomas only receives an answer because he questions. If Jesus is the way, no one is alone on this way.

NEW YEAR SERMON

By Wolfgang Huber

[This sermon by Bishop Wolfgang Huber, chairperson of the Evangelical church in Germany, January 1, 2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.ekd.de/presse/pm287_2007_neujahrspredigt_rv.html.]



Grace be with you and peace from the one who is, was and is to come. Amen.

I.

This morning, dear community, let us open our hearts in the church service in this wondrous church. Let us also open the gates of the New Year and behold the genuine morning of the fresh year 2008. The panorama extends before our eyes. The view is expansive. We already know particular places where the paths of this year will lead us. The current of this year will flow like the Elbe with timid or brave ideas for dates, obligations and commitments. A glance at the New Year reveals mountains of hope and valleys of fears.

Even seemingly familiar terrain has unexplored parts. Sometimes we wish we could send a reconnaissance squad into the land of tomorrow before we set out on the way ourselves. However life is lived forwards and understood backwards or in retrospect. Only what already was is familiar to me. Every day awaits us as God sends it to us.

Last night many spoke about their plans and resolutions for the New Year. This New Year’s Eve we want to give a title and accent to the New Year as early as possible. Our navigation system for the way through the New Year should be programmed according to our own conceptions so we will be led with a friendly voice even through virtually impassible terrain.

Still the crucial certainty for the New Year cannot be gained through such ideas. This certainty grows out of the confidence of faith. It holds to the word of Jesus that guides us through this year. Jesus says: “I live and you shall live also.”

Biblical texts also do not furnish any detailed map of what lies ahead of us. Something else is offered, the certainty that God waits in the tomorrow. The orientation in Jesus Christ goes beyond all technical achievements of our time. It sets our way under a special promise. Let us hear this promise.

According to the account of the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples: “You know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way? Jesus said to him “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”

This is only a short episode, a conversation fragment. But whoever follows these words and engages in them discovers a certainty that does not pass away. Questioning, confident and undaunted, we enter the New Year. The navigation system of this short episode is trust.

II.

Thomas, the disciple of Jesus, asks a question.

This is typically Thomas, the Bible expert knows. The doubting one is always Thomas. He is called “doubting Thomas” because he wants additional proof in the encounter with the resurrected Christ. In our episode, he cannot come to terms that Jesus’ way is clear. Jerusalem is the goal; the cross is the sign for this way. Thomas counters Jesus with a question. He denies that the disciples know Jesus’ way: “How can we know the way?”

Thomas does not simply accept things; he questions. He refuses to have the path of his life prescribed by another – even by Jesus. Jesus did not simply leave behind a teaching to his disciples that offered no room for their own decisions. Faith in him liberates and does not narrow. He invites us to see the expanse where God sets us with upright heads: the expanse of his world with which he intends the good.

Thomas only receives an answer because he questions. He only finds because he seeks. The door only opens because he knocks. The Thomas way is my description for this persistent seeking and questioning. To me, persons who seek this way are very important. They remind me of a biblical saying that became increasingly precious to me in the course of the years. It urges us to be merciful with doubters. In his mercy, God turns to doubters. Thomas is an example.

Whoever stops questioning is easily caught or entangled in a complacent Christianity or in a self-satisfied atheism. But whoever wrestles with God enters a way on which God meets him halfway. He enters on the Thomas way. Many young people are taking this way today. They do not want to run on beaten tracks or on well-worn paths of faith. They want to be informed about the confidence supporting them. They want to find their own language for the hope leading them. The yo9ung generation is a searching generation.

III.

I praise the discipleship of Thomas – because it caused Jesus’ marvelous answer. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” This core sentence and “three step” of our faith would not exist without Thomas’ persistent questioning.

“I am the way.” This is more than any map or description of the way. Community is promised. If Jesus is the way, then no one is alone on this way. When I feel abandoned by everyone else, he is at my side. When I think his traces in the sand can be recognized, it is because he supports me.

Community is promised. Reflect on the history of this church, particularly the wonder of its recovery, a tremendous community achievement in Jesus’ name. The “call from Dresden” brought many persons on this common way. Whoever meditates on the history of this church draws courage for other ideas and plans first rejected as reckless. Whether it is Jesus’ way, the way of faith, hope and life, is crucial. On this way, we are not alone.

“I am the truth.” In the person of Jesus, we have something different than the daily news with its quick expiry date. Such news sweeps past us without rousing any engagement. But Jesus is the truth in person. Whoever holds to him can distinguish wheat from chaff. He finds standards for worthwhile commitment.

When our way of life leads through deep valleys, the truth remains that God’s goodness preserves us. God’s truth surrounds our whole life. Clarity is promised. We are suffused in the light of his truth. We allow this light in our relations. We do not accept that people are humiliated, mocked as foreigners and excluded or unemployed. In the light of this truth, everyone has a place.

Finally, “I am the life.” Jesus Christ vouches for life that does not end at the boundaries of our own life. He strengthens and preserves us to eternal life. This life extends beyond every December 31. Jesus says clearly: “I live and you shall live also.” That is the vital headline for the year 2008.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus’ answer leads us into community where we can open the packages of our life together and bear the little packages imposed on us together. Jesus’ answer marks the way of the New Year in the promise of God’s eternity. Let us follow Thomas on the way of faith, questioning, confident and undaunted.

And may the peace of God which is higher than all reason keep your hearts in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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