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    Jun 25, 2017

    CSI: I.H.S.

    Passage: John 1:1-15

    Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

    Series: God

    Category: Faith

    Sermon Delivered at Central Christian Church June 25, 2017 Rev. Michael E. Karunas Text: John 1:1-5, 14 CSI: I.H.S.

    With the rise of texting and the ubiquity of cell phones, communication has become quite simplified.  But some are worried that this is coming at a cost.  Are we losing our ability to spell???  Not only do we not use complete sentences, sometimes we don’t even use complete words!  We don’t spell out “See you later.”  We type letter C, letter U later.  Which leads some to argue that abbreviations are ruining the English language.  What ya doing (WYD), Just kidding (JK), I don’t know (IDK), For whatever it’s worth (FWIW), In my humble opinion (IMHO), LOL(olololol)….  Abbreviations are everywhere.  But it’s not the fault of 21st century technology or the youngest generations growing up with it.  Because none of us, can live our lives without abbreviations.

    Any sports fan knows that WAR in baseball means “wins above replacement,” that YACs in football are “yards after catch,” and that LeBron James averaged 32 PPG in the finals this month (“points per game”).  To work for Baby Talk is to be familiar with ISBE (IL State Board of Ed.) and EHS (Early Head Start), unless you work for DPS (Decatur Public Schools) in which case EHS stands for Eisenhower High School.  Our preschool board worries about DCFS regulations (Dept of Children and Family Services), while the Webster Cantrell Hall board receives PQI reports each month (Performance and Quality Improvement).  Here at Central we have the CACS committee, which council members know as “Christian Action and Community Service.”  And in my family of origin BEK, MEK, and SEK would mean nothing to you, but we know it was my dad’s way of referring to Barbara Ellen Karunas, Michael Edwin Karunas and Susan Elizabeth Karunas.

    Abbreviations do make communication easier.  But more importantly, they presuppose that we’re on the “inside.”  You have to be part of the group to know that the abbreviation means.  Using abbreviations is like learning a new language.  And when you understand the abbreviation and begin using it, you show that you belong.  Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central.  He is of mixed race descent from South Africa and as such, he learned languages fairy easily - English and Afrikaans from his father’s side and black African dialects like Xhosa from his mother’s side.  He writes in his autobiography that he never fit in anywhere because of his skin color.  He was never “white” enough or “black” enough.  But that language was more an indicator that he was integrated.  For if he could speak the language of the group, he was far more likely to be welcomed into that group than what his heritage or ethnicity might be.

    Today is week three of our sermon series, CSI: “Christian Symbols Interpreted.”  Each week, we’re looking at a Christian symbol that we see on a regular basis in worship at Central Christian and talk about what it means in a way that helps us experience God’s grace and love more fully.  Oiur first symbol was light.  Last week’s symbol was ship (or boat).  And today our symbol is the abbreviation I.H.S. which could … stand for the International Headache Society (yes there really is such a thing).  But we see it on our paraments on the pulpit every Sunday (and we’re putting it here on our worship altar).  And our I.H.S. has a cross with it so it can’t represent headaches.

    I.H.S. is actually one of the oldest Christian abbreviations and is the first 3 letters of the name Jesus in Greek (the language of the NT).  Iota, Eta, Sigma.  A common method of abbreviating for us is taking the first letter of successive words, as in “BTW – by the way.”  For the ancient Christians an abbreviation was often made by taking the first few letters of the word and using that.  The name “Jesus” would be shortened to “J.E.S.” (or in Greek I.H.S.).  Another example of this is an even older Christian abbreviation – Chi Rho – or XP – which are the first two letter of the Greek word “Christ.”

    Why abbreviate Jesus to I.H.S. and Christ to XP?  A ancient legend says that persecuted Christians in the early years of Christianity used these abbreviations as a sort of code; to communicate with one another without giving away their identity to escape persecution by the Romans.  We also know that in the middle ages, these symbols and abbreviations were used as signs of authority by royalty and the nobility.  They were used to address letters.  They were stamped on coins and engraved as part of official seals as a way of showing people “this is a Christian territory.”

    I.H.S. can also stand for “In hoc Signes (Vinces)” – a Latin phrase that means “In this sign (you will conquer.”  It is a reference to Constantine the Great who in 312 fought a battle to unify the Roman empire.  He was not a Christian at the time, but had a dream the night before the decisive battle.  He heard a voice say “In this sign you will conquer” and the sign he saw was the Chi Rho symbol for Christ.  The next day he painted that symbol on a banner that led him into battle – which he won.  This led him eventually to become Christian himself and give birth to the Roman Catholic Church that we know today.

    For me, the symbol of I.H.S. is important because it shows that we belong to Christ; that our primary identity is that of Christian and that this identity is greater than all other things that could divide us – greater than skin color, gender, job, income level, where we live, what language we speak.  I.H.S. symbolizes our willingness to line up behind Jesus and let him go before us.  Not into literal battles.  I don’t believe God ever celebrates the demolition of one person for the sake of another.  But rather I.H.S. is a sign that we want to Christ to go before us as we face whatever struggles and trials that stand in our path.  And I.H.S. is a reminder that Jesus is our authority.  That we submit to him.  Because we believe that he is our savior.

    I furthermore believe this is described for us in our reading today from John (JN 1:1-5, 14).  John tells us that the Word of God became flesh in the person of Jesus, which shows us that God, in Jesus Christ, is one of us.  God became one of us in order to connect with us, so that we would have faith that God’s desire was to be with us – now and forever.  So in Jesus Christ God removed all distance between God and us.  God tried to do that first with the Law, but that didn’t work.  Then God tried with the prophets, but that wasn’t enough.  So finally Jesus came that was enough.  We could relate to Jesus because he could relate to us.  Which shows us that God never stopped trying to reach out to us in a way that we would grasp and accept.

    But it wasn’t enough that God was one of us.  God had to be greater than we are in order to save us.  In Jesus Christ God is a light that the darkness cannot overcome.  And that’s good news for us because our darkness can overcome us.  We know all too well that our bodies break down, our memories fail, our minds falter, our bones break, our cells become cancerous and turn against us.  Father time is undefeated and that means the darkness of death will one day creep upon us.  And in spite of our best attempts to prolong life we cannot ultimately save ourselves.  But Jesus Christ came to us because he knew there would come a day for all of us when we would need to be saved.  He was fully human so that we might trust him and believe in him.  But he was – at the same time – fully divine – so that we might save us and do for us what no one and nothing else on earth could do.

    This is what we confess when we see the symbol I.H.S.  We display it on our pulpit (altar) so that it’s always before our eyes.  And because here – in the church – is where the Word of God is spoken most clearly.  And we pray that all who see it have hope – that they belong to Christ; that Christ will be their authority; and that Christ will go before them, to face all of the challenges of life with confidence that they have a savior that their darkness will not overcome.