Jesus, Woody the Cowboy, and John Wesley- teaching time for January 7, 2018

Have you seen the old Pixar movie, “Toy Story 2”?

woody the cowboyWoody, the Cowboy, is toy-napped by a collector, who plans to sell him to a museum. The collector locked Woody into a room which contained other valuable toys. As soon as the collector left, Woody sprang into action, looking for a way to escape. Woody met some new friends: Bullseye the horse, Jesse the cowgirl, and the old prospector, Stinky Pete.

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 Stinky Pete is my favourite. He showed Woody great compassion when he states, “He doesn’t know who he is!”stinky pete

Most stories are built around a lead character, a hero or heroine. We watch as they face challenges, have adventures, and grow into an understanding of who they are, and what they are about.

Woody’s journey to learn who he is, and what he is about, is helped along by his new friends, who reveal things he did not know about himself.

Woody the Cowboy was a famous television star. He finds himself in a room filled with Woody memorabilia- that give him clues to just how big a star he was, and give the movie audience the background we need to understand why Woody would have been toy-napped in the first place.

Toy Story 2 is a sequel. Successful sequels remind the viewers of what they liked about the first movie, but also go beyond the familiar. Sometimes the writers do this by offering the next episode in the hero’s life. Another way is to provide back-story- to show things that happened to the characters before we met them in the first place. This seems to work best if we actually like the characters, or are at least curious about them.

For a story to be compelling, the hero has to do more than simply have an adventure. They also need to solve a problem, to learn something, and to be in some way transformed, changed by the experience.

The learning and transforming happens as the hero interacts with other characters. They offer clues to the mystery.  Jesse and Stinky Pete are there to let Woody know that his story is much bigger than he ever imagined.

This morning we heard part of the story from Luke of the day that Jesus went to the Jordan River, to the place where people were being baptized by John the Baptizer.

People were lined up to hear John as he preached about the Kingdom of God. He invited his listeners to see that beyond their individual lives, they are each part of a much bigger story- the story of God’s plan for the people of Israel, and God’s plan for the whole world. John also called people to repent- to turn away from their selfishness, to live faithfully, according to the teachings of the Jewish religion.

Jesus was interested in the story John told about God’s Kingdom. He watched John invite people to begin a new chapter in their lives. When it was Jesus’ turn to stand in the river water, and be baptised, John did for Jesus what Jesse and Stinky Pete did for Woody. John showed Jesus that he is part of a much bigger story.

When we gather as a community of faith, we become reminders to each other that we are part of a bigger story- the ongoing story of God at work in the world, loving us, and calling us to turn our lives around. Each of us has a part to play in this big story about God’s love.

john wesleyThis morning we will use parts of a re-covenanting service that originates with John Wesley. Wesley was a priest in the Church of England who saw that people needed help to be able to bring faith out of the sanctuary, and into the everyday. He did not limit his preaching to the pulpit, but took it to the streets, and spoke to thousands of people who would never set foot in a church. He organized new believers into societies, small groups that met regularly so that the members could encourage each other, and challenge each other, and help each other live out their faith. They helped each other stay on track, and make changes in direction as needed.

The leader of the group would ask each member in turn, “How is it with your soul?” and the whole group would listen to each member. They studied scripture together, prayed together, and worked together on projects to help others. They talked about how their faith changed and shaped their lives.

The movement Wesley started was called Methodism. At first the name was a put down, by those who made fun of the strict, methodical program Wesley and his followers taught. Over time, the movement grew into a new branch of the Christian Church. The Methodist Church was one of the three denominations that joined together to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.

Wesley taught that our baptism, and later our confirmation as members of a church are outward signs of the covenant between each of us and God. God has promised to be our God, and love us, and strengthen and guide us, and help us. In return, our covenant calls us to learn and grow in our faith, and to live it in all parts of our lives.

Wesley thought it was helpful to offer people the opportunity to re-new their covenant relationship with God, and with their fellow believers. Wesley tended to have these covenant services around New Year’s- it seemed like a good time to make a fresh start.

This morning we will all have the opportunity to renew our faith commitments.  After we make the prayers, you will all be invited to come forward to receive communion. Once you have done that, you are also invited to go to the baptismal font, dip your fingers into the water, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead. This is not a baptism- but a symbol of your faith, or at least your desire to believe. This is a chance to say to ourselves, to God, and to each other, that we are continuing on our journey of faith. Amen


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