Jazz Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. sung by the Youth and Adult Choirs, sermon by the Rev’d William Eakins.
Worship at Home:
Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.
Full Service Audio:
Voluntary Hymns by the Hot Cat Jazz Band
Just a Closer Walk with Thee
What a Wonderful World
This Little Light of Mine
By now you have noticed that things are a little different this morning! Our music today is led by the Hot Cat Jazz Band, a local Dixieland-style band that specializes in Jazz Worship – they do many of these services throughout Connecticut every year. The service music responses continue to be our traditional music with organ to provide an anchor in our traditional worship style; but everything else, including and especially the hymns, are a time for you to tap your toes, move about, and sing praise with freedom and joy. Don’t be afraid – join in and sing loudly!
Processional Hymn How great thou art O Store Gud
Gloria S280 Robert Powell (b.1932)
Sequence Hymn Take my hand, precious Lord Precious Lord
Offertory Amazing grace arr. Jack Shrader, 1998
Words: John Newton (1725-1807), found at Hymn 671.
Sanctus S130 Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Fraction anthem S164 Jesus, lamb of God Franz Schubert
Communion Anthem Agnus Dei (from A Little Jazz Mass) Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)
Latin words from the Eucharist liturgy, at the Breaking of the Bread.
Hymn in Procession I have decided to follow Jesus Assam
Voluntary When the saints go marching in
Full Sermon Text:
Now is a time of looking ahead. It is the time of New year’s resolutions when we make lists of what we are going to do differently in the future – things like losing weight, exercising regularly, spending less and saving more. The days are getting longer. Seed and plant catalogues have started to arrive, and gardeners are beginning to think about what they are going to grow when spring comes. Travel brochures get us dreaming about where we might go on vacation. Year-end financial statements signal the beginning of the tax season and the run-up to April 15. As a nation, we will enter this week upon a new era with the inauguration of Donald Trump as our 45th President. Who knows what lies ahead for America in the next four years? Now is also the season of annual meetings like the one we will have at St. John’s in two weeks. What lies ahead for this parish in the coming year? What are the challenges and opportunities for us as people of God? And what do we need to do about them?
Now is a time when we might well ask ourselves the question that Jesus asks in today’s Gospel: “What are you looking for?” It is the most fundamental question in life. All of our busyness, all of our plans – where are they taking us? To what purpose and to what good? Unless we know where we are headed and why, we might end up losing our way. We might even end up crying like Isaiah, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
Jesus knew how vital it is for us to get the right priorities and put them in the right order. In this morning’s Gospel two men are following Jesus. There was something about him that had caught their imagination and awakened hope. Could he indeed be the Messiah, God’s Promised One? And so they follow Jesus at a distance, perhaps out of shyness, perhaps just waiting to see what would happen next. It is then that Jesus turns and looks them in the eye and asks them, “What are you looking for?” Are you following me because, like the scribes and Pharisees, you want to get me to debate fine points of the Law? Are you following me because, like the Zealots, you are looking for a political demagogue and military commander to overthrow Roman rule? Are you perhaps looking for a position of power and privilege in the new order that Messiah will usher in? Or are you simply men of prayer looking for God? If that’s what you are, if God’s light and love is what you seek, then come follow me. The two men answer Jesus’ question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” We want to be where you are and learn whatever you have to teach us. And Jesus invites them to “Come and see.”
“What are you looking for?” Jesus’ question is the essential question for us as well. What’s your aim and goal in life? What are you really trying to get out of your years on this earth?
Some people are searching for security. They want to have enough money to take care of any need they might have. They want to feel safe from danger, and they try to stay as healthy and fit as possible. In our hearts, however, we know that there is no complete safeguard against the changes and chances of life.
Some people are searching for love, for someone who will understand and cherish them as they really are. Others are looking for someone to love, someone to dedicate their life to. However, like wealth, safety, and health, all human relationships are imperfect and transitory. In the end, even the best of loves is interrupted by death.
Some people are searching for a career – somewhere and someplace to use their abilities and talents in a way that gives personal satisfaction. Some people are looking to achieve recognition, prestige, power, and wealth. Others work to make the world a better place.
I wonder, though, if any career, any relationship, or any other aspect of our life can be as deeply meaningful and satisfying as it might be if we are not also searching for God. This is the quest in which we wonder about the whys and wherefores of our existence and look for that which is of enduring value.
This is the path that Christian people – and all seekers – have travelled throughout the ages, the path that Martin Luther King took when he left being a pastor of his church to become a civil rights activist, a vocation that led both to the Nobel Peace Prize … and to his assassination. It is the path that a man I’ll call John took when he left his law career to fight for justice another way – to work as a priest. It is the path a couple took when they sold their house to share their wealth with a land trust that preserves our environment. It is the path a young woman took when she decided to dedicate all her energy and her talents to be an artist.
Matthew Arnold describes this quest movingly in his poem The Buried Life:
But often in the world’s most crowded streets
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life. …
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us, to know
Whence our lives come and whence they go.
Isn’t that why we are here this morning? We want to “know where our lives come from and where they go.” And like those two disciples of long ago, we want to be where Jesus is because we believe that Jesus has answers to our questions. There is something we can learn from being in his presence. And did not Jesus promise, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my Name, there I am in the midst of them”? So we gather here with other Christian seekers after God to meet the One we call Lord. We come to read together from God’s Word and consider together what God is saying to us now. What is God calling us to do with our lives? How is God calling us to use the resources that God has placed into our care both as individual Christians and as a congregation of Christian disciples? We come to ask, as Martin Luther King did, what is God is saying to us as a nation? So we come to offer our prayers for the needs of the world around us and for our political leaders whether we voted for them or not. We come to share with Christian brothers and sisters the joys and sorrows, the perplexities and wonders of our lives. We come to tell each other stories of where we have found God. And we come to do what Jesus told us to do for the remembering of him. In thanksgiving for all that God has given us, we eat the broken bread and drink the cup of wine that are sacraments of God’s love for us. And then we go out as the people of God to be Christ’s continuing presence in the world.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asked the question of his disciples long ago. And Jesus asks the same question of us today: “What are you looking for?” Let the question resonate in our hearts and minds in the days ahead and let us take careful stock of our priorities and consider where our lives are headed. Jesus invites us, like those disciples of old, to “Come and see.” If we do that and follow him, who knows what he has in store for us? Who knows where we will be led as a parish? But of two things we can be certain: Christ will be with us always as he promised, and following him will be well worth the journey.