I am horrible at keeping secrets – well, secrets about gifts anyway.
As soon as I have my Christmas shopping done
and the presents wrapped,
I am asking Bri if she wants to open one.
She usually responds with something like,
“Are you kidding me? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”
Its not that I can’t keep the secret so much
as I am anxious to see the surprise on her face.
My parents were the best at keeping secrets,
when they wanted to be.
I remember when I was 12 years old
my parents got my brother and me all excited about our family
vacation to the Wisconsin Dells.
For those who have no idea what the Dells are
all you need to know is it is a very nice and scenic
vacation destination in Wisconsin that,
for the purposes of this story, had some of the biggest
and most epic water parks of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Back then there was no internet,
and so when commercials came on the TV
they would say things like,
“Can you imagine a vacation like that boys?”
And “That looks like so much fun!”
Then we started getting Wisconsin Dells catalogs
and my brother and I would argue about which days
we should go to which park
and how awesome this trip was going to be.
Our mom took us to the store to by new swim trunks
and activity books to keep us occupied in the car;
after all it was going to be a four hour drive.
Then finally the day came.
I hardly slept at all the night before
and when my mom came in to wake me up
I threw off my covers and was already dressed
with shoes on ready to go.
I was already writing my “What I did last Summer” essay in my head.
We piled into the family car and set off down the road.
It didn’t take long however for things to get
a little off of my schedule.
About 45 minutes in, my Dad says,
“Oh shoot! I forgot. Boys we have to stop at the airport
and pick up a package for my Aunt Mary.
It will only take a minute.”
I didn’t care.
A couple of minutes was no big deal.
My Dad walked into the airport and came back out
and informed us that the package was due
in on a plane in about an hour,
but it was ok ’cause while we waited we could
go and play in the arcade.
My little brother and I were in heaven.
My mom kept pumping quarters into the games
while my dad was strangely not around,
but we kept playing anyway.
When my dad finally came back he told us there was “bad news”.
The package was in Chicago, it missed the flight,
and so to make up for the delay the airline was going to fly us to
Chicago to pick it up personally.
That was not such bad news to me.
I had never flown on a plane before.
This vacation just went from epic to legendary!
At this point I am going to ask you to remember, I was 12,
I hadn’t slept the whole night before,
yes, I was gullible,
but I still can’t be completely sure
that my parents aren’t some type of Jedi Masters.
When we reached Chicago my Dad started acting very strange.
He started asking us every couple of minutes,
“Boys, what do you think will happen if we get on the wrong plane?” I, in my pre-teen awesomeness, told him not to worry
because our tickets wouldn’t allow us to get on the wrong plane.
It didn’t take long before we were on another plane heading back to
Green Bay where our airplane adventure had begun.
But something was wrong. This was a huge plane.
And I was pretty sure that the captains announcement
said that this flight was non-stop to Orange County –
but we had flown out of the airport in Brown County.
When I told my Dad this, he said,
“Oh relax Mikey, he just got his colors mixed up. It will be fine.”
Four hours later we landed at
John Wayne Airport in Orange County California.
My brother and I were freaking out.
My dad was playing along.
I thought for sure we were going to be
spending our summer vacation in jail.
At least it would make for a compelling essay?
As we disembarked we were met by a man I had never seen before.
He was wearing a nice, new Brooks Brothers suit
and dark sunglasses. I was sure he was FBI.
He approached my Dad,
a study in contrast with his tie-dyed shirt, stone wash blue jeans,
and blaze orange suspenders.
The man in the suit approached my Dad and said, “Mr. Desotell?”
“Yes,” my Dad replied.
“Hello, I’m cousin Bob; nice to meet you!” said the man in the suit.
I was stunned.
I looked around at my parents
who were wearing the biggest grins I had ever seen.
I still didn’t get it. So my mom spelled it out for me.
“Oh, you really thought we were going to the Dells?
Well, how about Disney Land instead?!?!”
That was an awesome secret.
It was a secret worth keeping until the last possible moment
so that the surprise had maximum effect.
In our scripture this morning we are told that the mystery –
or in some translations “the secret” –
that has been hidden throughout the ages
has been revealed to us, to the saints.
For the first few hundred years of the church’s existence,
much of our beliefs were shrouded in secrecy.
You may remember that the first Christians were Jews;
Jesus himself was a Jew.
Judaism was an established ancient religion that,
at the very least, it was respected by most cultures of the day,
to the degree that when Rome conquered Israel,
the Israelites were not forced to worship the state gods
like everyone else.
They were exempt from paying tribute to the Roman gods
because their religion was ancient,
and the more ancient a religion was
the more it was not messed with.
Early Christians fought hard to be recognized
as the natural progression of the ancient Hebrew faith
or at least as a sect of it,
but the religious leaders in the temple and synagogues
would not allow it.
Those who identified as followers of Christ
were not allowed in Hebrew places of worship;
Christians found themselves “on the outs”
with their Jewish neighbors and the Roman authorities alike.
So Christians began to be a bit more secretive about their beliefs
in an attempt to avoid some of the persecution that would come.
As a result, little was known during that time about the beliefs
and practices of these Christians.
Neither the gospels nor the epistles were widespread
or for public view.
Speculation arose about these monotheists and their practices.
It was even rumored, amongst outsiders
who had heard whispers about
a celebration of Holy Communion,
that Christians were cannibals
because they eat the body and drink the blood of their Messiah.
At the same time,
those who did get a glimpse of Christians
when they were being themselves –
some of the Secular historians of that day,
tell of other strange behaviors amongst those
who identified as Christians.
While persecuted and hunted,
they showed genuine love and care for each other,
working together in community to meet each other’s needs.
That’s the secret: it’s not some secret knowledge,
secret handshake, secret prayer or secret magic words –
but the secret at the heart of Christianity
is the ability to demonstrate joy and love
even in the midst of persecution, suffering and fear –
because CHRIST IS IN YOU!
Christ is in you!
Four words that on the surface
may not seem like much of a secret to you.
Because you have heard this before.
You may be thinking “Duh Pastor Mike, I know this;
I “asked Jesus into my heart” when I was eight”…
but “knowing” something in an abstract way
isn’t the same as experiencing it as a reality,
as a fundamental part of your daily life.
We know the words, we go through the motions –
but do we really believe, do we really live like we believe,
that Christ is in us?
What does that really mean? To have Christ in us?
The viewable image of the invisible God.
The firstborn of all creation.
All of heaven and earth, everything visible and invisible,
was created by and for him. And is sustained by him.
Christ, the firstborn from the dead,
the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to well.
Christ, the infant deity lying in a manger,
the missing adolescent found teaching in the temple.
Christ the obedient son
who at the request of his mother turns water into wine.
Christ who walked on water,
and healed the blind and the lame.
Christ who hugged the lepers,
and dined with sinners, and forgave adulterers.
Christ who called the fisherman,
and carpenters, and tax collectors to be disciples
and apostles and priests.
Christ who suffered on a cross and died.
Christ who is too mighty for the grave to hold.
Christ who ascends to sit at the right hand of God.
That CHRIST! The one and only Jesus Christ. That Christ… is in you.
But what does that mean?
“Christ in us” is not simply the idea that Jesus is close to us
and we are never alone or that we have attained salvation.
Don’t get me wrong Jesus is close and we are never alone
and we have salvaton.
But it is so much more and we forget it far too easily.
So often we run around trying to do ministry
out of our own reserves of energy. I am as guilty of this as anyone. We try to do everything we think we are supposed to be doing,
drawing from our own strength,
and we end up burnt out and disappointed.
The power, the energy, the inspiration of Christ, of God, is in us.
The chapter ends by declaring it plainly
“…I toil and struggle with all the energy that he
[Christ] powerfully inspires within me.”
This is the secret I am sharing with you.
This is the secret we must all share.
The secret is: it’s not about us at all.
The secret is: Christ is in us, giving us strength,
giving us hope, empowering us to bear up in suffering
and in all things to make Christ’s love – God’s love –
visible in the world.
It doesn’t matter how old or young we are.
It doesn’t matter if we dropped out of high school
or have doctorates on our wall.
It doesn’t matter if we’re tired from chasing after toddlers
or tired with the weariness of many, many years of life…
Wherever we are in life, wherever you are in life, Christ is in you,
and God is not finished with you yet.
If we have breath, we have purpose,
and Christ is in us ready to inspire and energize
and make his love known to the world through us, through you.
For instance, in less than a month we are putting on another
You may not feel like you have the energy
or even the ability to contribute to the picnic,
but I promise you, we need your help and you can help.
Even if all you are able to do is show up on the day of the event
and visit with those who show up.
Perhaps you can provide financially for the event
or bring some baked goods or prizes.
Even if you can’t give, and you can’t come
– can you commit to praying for us,
in the weeks to come and on the day itself –
praying for us, and for our neighbors,
that God’s love might be made visible right here, where we are?
We all have different gifts, different strengths, different abilities
-and that’s a good thing.
When we work together,
when we come back to Christ for our strength,
when we ground our work in prayer and grace and hope
then the secret is going to get out:
God is love, and God is with us, and Christ is in us
and for others who are searching for strength,
searching for hope, the good news is: Christ can be in them, too.
God has given us everything that we need:
the message, the power source, and the inspiration.
We just have to be willing to act, to move,
to share the good news at the heart of our lives
the secret of the ages. Christ is in us! Amen? Amen.