John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Rhetorical questions. Geico does a pretty good job of using them in their commercials. Here is a small sample

<<play video>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dtp_mq2fO24>>

Geico has made the rhetorical question a significant part of it’s advertising campaign because they have a tendency to make us think and get to a place where we can understand much better.

Today in our scripture, God asks Ezekiel a rhetorical question.

Ezekiel is a prophet whose visions and tasks have sometimes been a little, well, odd. He has eaten an actual scroll, laid on one side of his body for 300 days and the other side for 20 days, he has built a town in the middle of the group of people he is traveling with, and he has cut his hair in a weird way. He does all of these things to bring to life the information God has for his people -  they may be in exile but God has not forgotten them and he will redeem them.

God takes Ezekiel to a valley in a vision. He gets there and the valley is covered in bones, old, long dead, dry bones. I think the dry bones is mentioned multiple times for two reasons – to make sure we know that these bones aren’t just a little dead, they are all the way there, and maybe just a little so we can hear the rattle…<<rattle plate of shells>>

This isn’t exactly the same, but it certainly comes close. The rattling as Ezekiel walked back and forth while dry bones clicked and moved and were definitely not alive.

Can these bones live? God asks.

Think about that for a moment. The answer should 100% be no, because dead things do not come back to life – especially old bones that have been dead for a long time.

But it’s GOD asking.

So, maybe?

Ezekiel knows God well enough to know that the best answer is really no answer at all – he puts it right back in God’s court – Only you know, God.

And God says – you’re right. In fact – I am going to use you to bring them back to life – Tell them they can live.

I’m going to pause here and say what now?

These bones that Ezekiel is walking through, they are dead. Dead like these shells – there’s no life in them, there’s no way that Ezekiel can just speak to them and they will come to life – but that’s exactly what is happening.

At Ezekiel’s command, at God’s direction, the bones begin to grow tendons and blood vessels and muscles and then, finally skin. They become, no longer dry bones, but instead people. Of a sort.

Just as in Genesis 2:7, God sends breath and then the people are actually alive again.

This is a prophecy and message for Ezekiel to give the people of Israel who are now in exile: even as you cry out that your hope is gone, God has promised to put his Spirit in you and you will live.

This past week, in preparing this message, it seemed so relevant to where we are as a church family and to the community we serve. So many times people have said “we have no hope” or our town is hopeless.

But oh, they are wrong.

God says to us “Can these bones live?” and it’s a rhetorical question for us because we know that God has ALREADY made our bones live. We know that the crushing weight of hopelessness we felt before we began following Jesus is no longer the truth of who we are – instead we DO have hope. A hope for a living fruitful, abundant lives as followers of Jesus, a hope for our futures, a hope for LIFE.

Can these bones live? is answered over and over in the life of a Christian with a loud Yes and then it should be, it must be followed up with shouts to those around us – Come, Live! You do not have to be hopeless – the God who made you, loves you, and wants you to LIVE. He will pick you up and then he will fill you with his spirit and then you WILL LIVE. Can these bones live?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes – in Momence we are the ones crying out “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” We are the ones speaking the truth God wants known and believed and carried throughout the world – you can know Jesus, you can follow him, you can be filled with the spirit of the living God and when that happens – when that becomes true for you – everything else changes! You are no longer hopeless, you are full of hope. You are no longer living as though you were dried up, dead bones, rattling only when someone else moved you – instead you become alive in a way you never thought possible – you become alive enough to know peace and joy and love in ways you never thought possible. You have hope. You can live.

Can these bones live? Is the rhetorical question of a loving, living God who longs to see everyone live in relationship with him. It is because of the yes to this question that each of us can say together the statements that follow this message – God loved us enough to ask “Can these bones live?” and we know the answer is yes.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Lamentations 3:17-25

 

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

It was about 6:30am on April 18, 2013. The phone rang and the voicemail picked up and the message said “Lisle Schools are closed because of flooding”. Immediately aware that something very new was happening, I raced to the front porch and there, confirming all I was most terrified of, was 3 feet of water in the front yard.

We lived in a flood plain, it wasn’t unprecedented for us to flood, but it had never before looked like this: water continued to rise. Tom was recovering from a surgery that left him unable to walk and I knew it was going to get really bad for us pretty quickly.

I had my daughter move our van up as close to the garage as possible: that was the highest ground and least likely, from past experience, to flood. I called the fire department next. They arrived not too long after and had as little preparation as any of us for what was going to transpire that day.

There was no evacuation plan, they said. I told them that this was definitely the worst I had ever seen it and we were all leaving. But of course, that my husband would need some other method of leaving than walking. I gathered bits and pieces of things from around the house, threw them in a suitcase and a laundry basket and along with my dog, my daughter, and a firefighter, I left my house for the last time as a resident.

The water was now waist deep and it was extremely cold. We walked about ½ a block to dry ground, and neighbors whose home had not flooded at all took us in to dry off and warm up. But I was anxious about Tom, and so I did not stay in the house. I also had managed to leave my cell phone in my pants pocket when I left the house, so my phone was dead. As I watched my block of neighbors and friends become homeless, and as I realized that we had most certainly lost our home permanently, a strange peace fell over me.

I was comforting my neighbor Fran, who was waiting for her disabled son to be rescued as well. Our other neighbor had been pumping water out of their basement so well that the water pressure collapsed a wall in their basement. Once that happened the firefighters became concerned about a gas leak, and now they too were frantic to get us out.

And these words came to me:

His mercies are new every morning.

Great is thy faithfulness.

And I knew in that moment, that no matter what happened that day, God was still God and God was still faithful.

There were certainly, in the days and weeks to come, lots of moments when I lost sight of God’s faithfulness, especially as I dealt with insurance companies and FEMA and claims adjusters.

But I watched my church and pastor be Jesus to me and my family by providing some of our immediate needs, including housing for a week.

I watched as my daughter’s softball coach got her cleats and a bat and the things she would need to participate in the coming softball tournament.

I watched as God showed up, over and over. Not just with the things we needed, not just in that space of several weeks of homelessness, but in every single day since.

And I realized – God is always faithful. It doesn’t matter what my circumstances look like, it doesn’t matter what I’m going through – God. Is. Always. Faithful.

Eventually, as all of you know, Tom was rescued from our house in a little paddleboat. And we did lose everything, pretty much, in that house. But some of that loss made it possible for us to be here. I’m not saying that we had to lose everything to gain anything, but I am saying that even through that – the God who works all things for good to those who are called according to his purpose – that God, worked the evil of a flood to the good of those who are hearing this message today.

Jeremiah, the probable author of Lamentations had a lot of reasons to doubt and mistrust God. Listen to the way he describes himself in this chapter:

I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.

Jeremiah is despondent. He is living out what God told him would happen at his call – he is despised by the people he has been called to preach to. He has been mocked and tortured and at some point (as you will recall I mentioned last week) he has been thrown in a pit and left to die…

BUT he doesn’t stay in his pity party – oh yes, he is having one and well he might, things are not easy and sunshiny and joyful where Jeremiah lives. His city is under siege, people are starving and dying all around him. His words are thrown back in his face and everyone pretty much despises him – but his next words are beautiful reminders of WHO God is:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;

He has hope. He has nothing else. But he has hope.

Why?

Because he knows that God loves him.

He knows it. The same way he knows that the sun rises in the east, Jeremiah tells us that he knows that every single morning his God will pour out new mercy because God’s love never fails.

Great is thy faithfulness.

It is a beautiful expression of what God will do and what God can do and who God is.

Jeremiah knows it isn’t happening immediately, he knows it isn’t necessarily going to happen as soon as he would like, but he says to himself – God is enough. I will wait on God and God is good to those who hope in him.

You see, Jeremiah knew that if he waited on God, God would take the evil and use it in a positive way. That doesn’t mean everything will turn to sunshine and roses for Jeremiah – it does mean that Jeremiah’s work is not in vain…even though Jeremiah himself may not see the results of his efforts in preaching and writing down his prophetic words and even sitting in the lovely muck of a cistern – Jeremiah can trust that God’s work will be accomplished and God’s love will be visible to him and to others because that is who God is.

Every time.

I know one thing – Jeremiah’s words in lamentations have meant much to many people because of a hymn written by Thomas Chisholm. It is one we sang this morning – and I would ask us to remember the chorus together now:

Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.

Thomas didn’t write the hymn because his life was in turmoil either – he had had some health issues, but truthfully, nothing was terrible – he would later tell people that the hymn was not written with any kind of dramatic story, it was just written and then he sent it to a friend who wrote the music for it.

But that’s the even better part – we don’t have to have flood stories to know that God is faithful. We can have every day my tire is flat, my kids are not behaving, my boss is a jerk, my washing machine went out, my spouse is great, the weather is beautiful, today is payday – whatever kind of days and still KNOW that God is faithful and that tomorrow, God’s mercy and love will pour out on us anew.

We serve and love a faithful God who loves us and who is working all things for our good – no matter what those things look like. It is a wonderful thing to be loved by God and I for one am ever grateful that God works faithfully whether our lives are good or bad or boring or exciting – God is faithful. Always. Forever.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Jeremiah

Called

Loves the people

None listen

None follow

Still proclaims

Still obeys

 

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

Good morning. It is my privilege to be with you this morning on the fourth Sunday of Advent.  I’m excited to preach because it is what I love to do – what God has called me to – and especially so during my favorite season – Christmastime. I love decorating the tree, I love giving gifts, I love everything about the season, but I especially get a huge kick out of Christmas music. I get excited in September and October when Christian artists begin dropping their Christmas albums – but I have to be sneaky to listen to it then, because there are other people in my home who believe that Christmas music belongs at Christmas – not in the fall. However, today, we have the historical precedent for Christmas music – and it happens 9 months before the big day! Please stand with me as I read Mary’s Song from Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Let us pray

Shepherd of Israel, 
you gently support the one who is with child 
and call forth the Lamb who dances in the womb, 
Stir our hearts to recognize Christ's coming, 
as Elizabeth recognized his presence 
in Mary's radiant obedience to your desire, 
and open our souls to receive the one 
who came to love your flock. Amen.

You may be seated.

How many times, do you think, have you heard the Christmas story or parts of it in your lifetime? I actually thought this through a bit and I would hazard a soft estimate of 3-4 times per Christmas season lived if you are a church going person, and at least once if you are not. For me, that means by the time I turned 18 and pretty much skipped the church scene as best as possible for the next 20 years, I had already heard the Christmas story 72 times. Add the 20 for the years I didn’t attend and you have 92. Now go back to the 3-4 for the last 6 Christmases and that puts me right at 100. 100 times of hearing the story of the incarnation. 100 times in my lifetime of being privy to the most wondrous mystery – God becoming man and intimately researching and ultimately knowing well the depths of the human experience.

That’s a lot of re-runs.

If you came to church this morning expecting to hear something new about Christmas, some crazy new idea about what happened back in Bethlehem, I have bad news – this is just another re-run. Don’t get me wrong – the Christmas story is always a compelling re-run, and it’s one worth paying attention to, but it is not a new story. I do believe it is certainly one that is worth re-telling.

This part of the story, Mary’s trip to Elizabeth’s house and her exclamation of praise may get less attention year after year, but it is definitely worth a look. Mary, who would ultimately birth a baby far from home, who would entertain shepherds in the hours after her labor, who would hear stories of a ‘heavenly host’ of angels singing praise, who would hear prophesy and praise and ponder the moments, this Mary was so taken aback by what God was doing before all the really amazing things started happening that she worshiped God using words and phrases and ideas she had heard all her life.

Think of Mary further back, in the moment of the announcement. Think of her as a peasant girl, poor, a Jewish girl living under Roman occupation. Perhaps mostly a normal life, but one lived with a sense of both the desperation of current circumstances and the hope of a promise yet fulfilled. Jews today still live in that sense of anticipated hope – waiting for the promised Messiah. Jewish girls then and now wondered if their child would be the One.

So, despite the awful weight of the angel’s message – an unwed mother was not a proud circumstance! There was also a sense of awesome responsibility. Mary on hearing the news of her unexpected pregnancy, goes to visit a relative who has also had unexpected news of pending motherhood. Think about this for one moment – God chose two pretty unremarkable people to advance his plan of redemption. Mary and Elizabeth were both poor. Mary was from Nazareth (remember Nathanael’s snide remark in John 1:46 – Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?) and Elizabeth lived in a remote enough place that it isn’t even named. They were both women, and Mary was worse – an unmarried woman. Elizabeth was old and barren. Mary was young and a virgin. They had little to offer their society as a whole and were the unlikeliest of choices for any kind of work of God.

And yet. Here they were. Obedient. Willing servants waiting on God.

Elizabeth’s recognition of Mary is prompted by the Holy Spirit. She shouts a greeting to Mary that echoes the angel’s earlier pronouncement: Mary you are so blessed! You have trusted God and he will accomplish much through you.   

And Mary breathes out and speaks of the wonder and majesty of a God whose holiness and power and justice and goodness and faithfulness are known and expected.  Hear her words again:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

It is a Christmas hymn before there were Christmas hymns.

Mary tells us why she said yes when the angel told her the impossible was going to happen: she already knew and loved and trusted the God he represented.

Mary’s song isn’t about Jesus in the sense that it could not have occurred to her that it was about the babe she would carry – he has not yet been born and she cannot possibly understand all that he will be. Mary’s song is about God. The God she already knows and has heard about and trusts.

That’s what the song is about, what the song brings to us -  a New Testament psalm of praise, carrying forward the themes and ideas of God into this period that is the advent of Christ. For 400 years in the life of the Jewish people, God has held off new revelation. He has still been their God. He has still been present. He has just been silent.

And so it is as he prepares to finalize his revelation, as he prepares to offer the salvation he promised from the fall on – the words of praise his people offer – Mary, then Zechariah after John’s birth, and finally Simeon as he blesses the newborn Jesus – all echo the praises of the past. The story of God’s salvation in times past for Israel is the story of his hand in the present: knowing who God is and how he has moved prepares us for who he will be and how he will move.

God uses the praises of his people to shine a spotlight on who he is and what he has done and to prompt us to trust him.

Mary’s song is a revelation. It is a revelation of Mary’s understanding. It is a revelation of Mary’s expectation. And it is a revelation of Mary’s delight and wonder at being the one chosen to birth the promise that will save the world.

I think that the wonder Mary felt and that she conveyed here in these words, was part of what brought the whole story to us. I imagine Mary whispering these words under her breath as she and Joseph make their way first to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. I imagine her singing these words to her other children as a lullaby when they were little. I imagine her telling her children and grandchildren all about how Jesus was born all through her lifetime. I imagine Luke sitting with Mary and asking her to tell the familiar tale; perhaps he had previously overheard her telling children or others the story. I imagine Mary taking in a breath and with her eyes full of all that had happened telling once again of the angel’s visit, of her trip to Elizabeth, and then these words of praise, echoing a hundred psalms and prophesies.

Of course her story continued from there – John’s birth, her trip to Bethlehem, the stable, the shepherds – all of it. But it starts with a song. It starts with remembering God’s faithfulness and so knowing that since he has kept those promises, he will keep this one.

What better way to kick off Christmas week than with that same remembrance? Our modern lives can be so hurried and full of busy. It is easy to miss or at least skim over the incredible depth of all that Christmas commemorates. Of course we enjoy the parts and pieces – the decorations, the gifts, the programs, the celebrations, the family time, and of course, the music. But for today at least, let’s take a moment and think about what it is Mary was so full of joy and wonder about and how her song is beautiful picture of who God is. Mary’s song starts with a general praise to God from her deepest self, moves to wonder at his remembrance of her, recounts his holiness and mercy, generally, and then gives details of his work in the world, finally delighting in the fulfillment of his promises to Israel.

Mary’s song forms a template for worship that we would do well to remember not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.

First, we begin with general praise that emanates from the depths of us to the heights of God. He is our redeemer, our savior. It starts with God wrapped in flesh in Mary’s arms and continues as Jesus transforms lives over and over today. It is his remembrance of us – as low and unremarkable as we are – that precipitates his willingness to not only be born but to offer us a second birth. It is God’s love for us that spans time immemorial and travels from a garden, to a desert, to a manger, to a cross, to an empty grave, to the willing heart today. This praise transcends the reality of our circumstances to the understanding of God’s very real willingness to offer us rescue from the sin that keeps us bound.

Second, we understand that he is holy and he is merciful. His holiness is thorough enough to be expressed in the mere mention of his name. This is an expression of praise, too, an affirmation from Mary that she understands that God is God. Yet he remains merciful to those who recognize this – his grace moves from age to age, expressed in his kindness to those who worship him. John says that Jesus is another grace given: John 1:16-17 says Out of his fullness we have all received one grace after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” In other words, the babe that Mary will birth is yet another demonstration of God’s ageless mercy.

Next, we know of all that God has done in the world. In some respects, we have a better picture than Mary ever could – we not only have a longer historical record of God’s work, but we have seen and known his work in our own present lives. Just today, I was reading a friend’s testimony of God’s hand in her life, and surely each of us could tell of his work in ours. Mary recounts God’s work of deliverance in the history of mankind – his mighty deeds. Not only does God work in the lives of the faithful, but he knows those who would work against him. He challenges the status quo and upsets the power structures of the world by giving the humble a victory the self-sufficient can’t understand. If you have ever been able to sing in the face of daunting circumstances – because you know your redeemer lives – then you understand what I mean. It is not that you do not deal with those things in reality, but it is that you are confident in the one who walks alongside you as you deal with them. Do not misunderstand – many times the things you encounter, endure, and walk through in life are downright awful. Mary herself was about to face some of these things – Joseph wasn’t sure what to do with her news until an angel changed his mind. I’m sure she didn’t anticipate that God’s provision for the Messiah would include a stable, a flight to Egypt, or a trip to the cross. The song of promise must have seemed a long way off in many of those circumstances. But Mary knew that God was working.

Fourth, we know of God’s promises. Mary knew of those to Israel, but we have the promises of Jesus: he will never leave us or forsake us, he has sent the Holy Spirit, he has overcome the world, the grave, and death – and he lives! I mean, friends, what better promise than this – that the one who has overcome the world lives in us and works through us! Our hope is bigger and better than Mary’s because her hope was a little smaller and less glorious than what God actually had in mind. Mary hoped for deliverance from the Roman empire – God was planning deliverance from the very clutches of sin! Mary hoped for freedom to worship at the temple – God was planning to accept worship in spirit and in truth. Mary hoped for longevity of the kingdom of Israel – God was planning a forever Kingdom of his own that Mary had no context for understanding.

Sometimes our expectation of God’s work in a particular situation limits our trust in him. We know how God will best work things out. Mary’s trust was bigger than that. How do we know? Because she was in the stable, on the trip to Egypt, and at the foot of the cross. She may not have understood – but she trusted. We too can learn that lesson. We may not understand what God is doing, but we can certainly trust him anyway.

The song of praise that Mary sings may have been the first Christmas carol. But it was certainly not the last. One researcher estimates there are nearly a million Christmas songs. The most commonly recorded, according to the research is “Silent Night.” But really, any song that extols the merits of our God and King is a Christmas song. Worship songs are Christmas songs – because we worship the one who made Christmas possible. We worship God because that Christmas gave us Jesus. And Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our redeemer. Jesus saves.  

 Mary may not have understood the method, but she understood the purpose. She knew salvation was at hand. She anticipated and celebrated it. We have an obligation to do the same. Every year, whether you start in October or with the first Sunday of advent – anticipate what God did, recognize the wonder of it, the miracle of it, the grace of it, and then celebrate the fulfillment of it. God promised and then he did it. Because of his filled promises, we can trust him with what’s next.

I would ask each of you to think about the ways in which you perhaps do not always trust him. Perhaps you are sure you know exactly how something is going to turn out. Perhaps you have an understanding about what will happen next. Take a moment and offer that circumstance, that challenge, that area to him. Praise him for who he is, remember his holiness and grace, remember his past work, and trust him to be true to his promises. In that act of trust, may you find renewed peace in the midst of trouble, and greater joy in the moment of trial, as you lean in to the faithfulness of a God whose word never fails.

That is the hope Christmas gives us and the truth that Mary’s song reminds us.

  • Let us pray
  • O God of Elizabeth and Mary, 
    you visited your servants with news of the world's redemption
    in the coming of the Savior. 
    Make our hearts leap with joy, 
    and fill our mouths with songs of praise, 
    that we may announce glad tidings of peace, 
    and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Third Sunday of Advent DECEMBER 16, 2018

The Generosity of HOPE

Sunday Scripture Reading: Luke 3:7–18

Introduction

People sometimes introduce themselves to me as a third- or fourth-generation Nazarene. This happens because there is pride in such a heritage of faith. That pride transcends denomination, though, because I have heard the same said about deep Catholic roots, or the heritage of being Dutch Reformed, or Methodist. The faith we inherit from our families runs deep. There is beauty in it, but it is not this heritage that saves us.
It seems that the Jews during the days of John the Baptist did the same. They were proud of their Jewish heritage, but they also treated it as salvific. They boasted about being “children of Abraham” and assumed that being part of this family tree gave them a pathway straight to the heart of God.
John makes clear, in not so subtle terms, that their assumption is inaccurate. Heritage and family trees do not qualify the Jews (or anyone, for that matter) for automatic entrance into the kingdom of God. The children of Israel must live lives of repentance and not rely on their ancestry to save them if they mess up. Being “children of Abraham” isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card because, even though God promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous, God can make descendants for Abraham out of stones if God needs to.
Heritage is not our salvation either, and something new is about to happen. Just like a fruit tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down, our family trees are also meaningless without fruit. Faith is not merely an identity; it is a way of living, and this way of living must bear fruit.
They then ask a question of John the Baptist that we might ask as well: “What should we do then?”
If the things we have depended on for so long are not what will bring us into the kingdom of God, what will?
The answer is a simple one: John tells them to share. It is a lesson that is taught to three- and fouryear-olds in preschools and Sunday school classes all over the world. Don’t be selfish; don’t take advantage of people; share. These are not complicated issues, but it seems that this easy lesson in generosity is not as easy to live as it is to say.

Body
1. Economic inequality existed at the time.

a. Wealthy Romans lived comfortably, whereas those who weren’t wealthy, or weren’t citizens of the Roman Empire, struggled.

There are stories of people abandoning their infants on the sides of city roads in the hope that someone would take them in to serve as a slave (later on there are stories of the early church rescuing these children); these types of choices show that, while some lived in seeming luxury, others lived in difficult poverty. Slaves and servants were part of what it meant to build the empire at the time. Ultimately, in order to have the wealth that existed, others had to go without.

b. John the Baptist is redefining “kingdom” for them.

The kingdom of Rome said do what it takes to live a wealthy life—even if that means owning slaves, disregarding your neighbor, etc. The kingdom of God is saying, “Look out for your neighbor. If you have more than you need, share with those who are going without.”

c. It isn’t a stretch to see how difficult these thoughts of generosity can be because we also live in a world of economic disparity.

There are numerous examples of places and of people who go without while others live luxuriously.

One example is the sweatshop industry. It is uncomfortable to talk about, but it is easy to disregard the poverty and mistreatment of someone else in order to get a good price on a product that makes your life easier.

Another example is looking at places with high levels of tourism. Many of these places have become havens for luxury vacations, but the natives who live and work in these resorts often struggle to get by. The hotels and resorts raise the cost of living while depending on cheap labor, creating the need for families to move in together and live far below the poverty line.

2. Sharing might not be as easy as we thought. a. In the Roman Empire, it would have been easy to covet luxury—which might be why the examples John uses are so specific to those asking the questions.

He says to share a coat if you have two. He’s not asking anyone to go without but to give out of their excess to those in need. This principle might seem obvious to us today, but it wouldn’t have been either obvious or easy in a culture that proclaimed that excess was good and right. He tells the tax collectors not to cheat people.

1. It was no secret that tax collectors often overcharged citizens so that they could skim a bit off the top.

2. When there is a desire to get ahead, it is tempting to do whatever it takes to get more—especially if everyone else is doing it too.

He tells the soldiers to do their job.

1. Extorting people for money is easy for those in positions of power and authority, especially when there’s no accountability.

2. There is a power dynamic at play here, and it can be difficult not to give in to the pressure to use that power for profit—especially for those who might have been on the wrong side of that power dynamic for most of their lives.

For us today, it is easy to want more, to hoard, to find shortcuts to wealth, and to use power to get ahead.

We’ve all heard of people who lie on their tax forms in order to get a little more money.

While we personally might not cheat or use power to get ahead, we probably have many coats in our closets (or other items we have more of than we need), and we often think of our personal wealth as what we “deserve” for the work we’ve done.

We also live in a culture of social media envy, which has gotten even worse than keeping up with the Joneses. We often neglect the needs of our other neighbors in order to keep up with looking like we have it all together on social media.

3. Advent can expose our need for a kingdom that pushes us into the hope of generosity.

a. The people around John the Baptist need to hope in something besides material comforts.

They need to be free from the external desire to hoard, in order to love their neighbors well.

Justice is not about getting ahead but about making things right. Making things right never comes at the expense of others, though it might come at the expense of excess for ourselves.

The kingdom of God rewrites the rules and gives hope of a future where we can be united in love for God and neighbor.

b. We are reminded during Advent that we also need more than material comforts.

We often talk about the joy of giving during this season, but we often lose that joy in our need to be better. Maybe we need to rethink how Christmas is celebrated in order to share with others. Instead of having two toys, maybe one needs to be given away.

It doesn’t take long to discover that people feel overwhelmed and less happy with more stuff. The push for minimalism is a direct response to realizing that having more things can drain people of joy. On the other end, people who are generous tend to have more joy and compassion.

When we learn to live with open-handed generosity toward others, we learn to be more dependent on God. We also learn that everything we have is God’s and that living in God’s kingdom redefines what generosity looks like.

Conclusion The obsession to get ahead, to have more, to keep up with the Joneses, is not a new one. While sharing might be a lesson we learn as children, it is much more difficult to live out as we grow. The kingdom of God is one of level ground, where we love and care for one another. It isn’t enough to say we belong to a family of faith; we must be people of faith, which means living lives of generosity toward those around us, illustrating our love for God and others and demonstrating our faith that

God loves and cares for all of us. Out of our generosity, the world might see and know a generous God who left the riches of heaven so that we might be free of sin.

Second Sunday of Advent
DECEMBER 9, 2018
The Way of HOPE
Sunday Scripture Reading: Luke 3:1–6
Introduction
If you have ever driven a rocky, one-lane mountain road, you can understand the desire for straight
paths. On your right is a sharp dropoff and on your left sheer rock. If another car comes around
the bend at the last second, one of you must creatively and meticulously pull halfway over onto the
tiny shoulder. If you don’t see each other in time, disaster could strike. This kind of road is especially
fear-inducing for people who are only familiar with straight paths. If you grew up in an area of the
country that is flat, or in a well-lit city, imagine the fear that a dark, winding path could inspire.
In the context of Scripture, there weren’t any cars driving up winding mountain roads, but not being
able to see could still put you in harm’s way. Thieves or wildlife could be around a bend, with the
potential to cause you physical harm or leave you without resources. Mountains make walking more
difficult. Have you ever climbed up a mountain or gone hiking in the hills? The change in elevation
can make make anyone’s journey tough, not to mention the difficulty of keeping your footing on a
rough, rocky trail.
The danger and difficulty of craggy, curvy mountain paths are something the listeners to the words
in Isaiah would have related to, but this text isn’t talking about literal mountains and valleys; it’s talking
about preparing the way for the Lord so that people might see, hear, and know the way of hope
that the Lord offers to all who believe.
Body
1. Prophets speak truth to power, and John is a prophet.
a. Luke starts out this chapter with a listing of the rulers of the day. He lists both the political leaders
of Rome, the ruling empire, and the religious leaders of the Jewish people.
i. This list alludes first to the original context of the Isaiah passage being quoted, which
was spoken to a people in exile. And it was spoken that they might have hope that the
Messiah would one day come to free them; that they would know that, though they were
in a different land, God still heard their cries.
ii. Though the New Testament Jews are not in exile, they are an oppressed people. They are
still in a wilderness place, crying out for God to save them from their oppressors. They
are in need of saving.
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iii. These political and religious rulers are listed seemingly as a contrast to the coming of
the true King, the Messiah who will reorder things. Jesus does not come in through the
vein of politics or religious celebrity; rather, he comes to the world as a humble servant,
declaring life and salvation for all.
b. John is speaking a truth that counters the systems of the day.
i. He is not declaring Caesar as Lord. This is significant during Roman rule, when people are
commanded to declare Caesar not only as the ruler of Rome but also as a god.
ii. John is not speaking of following religious law, making sacrifices and following rules the
way they have done in the past.
iii. John is declaring baptism and repentance; a reordering of what they have known. This is
completely different from the current systems. It is a radical and countercultural call that
urges people to think differently.
c. This baptizing and call for repentance is preparing the way of the Lord, preparing hearts to hear
the good news of Jesus, the Christ.
2. During Advent, we also need to make straight paths for the way of the Lord.
a. We can list the rulers of our day—both political and religious—who often take up too much space
in our hearts.
i. The systems of the world are often in direct opposition to the kingdom of God.
ii. The Messiah wants to reorder these systems in our hearts and lives.
b. The call to live counterculturally hasn’t changed.
i. The political leaders in our world are not Lord either. We must be careful about declaring
them such, whether by our words or our actions.
1. While we don’t have a caesar who will throw us to the lions, our traps can be even more
insidious because they seem good.
2. It’s easy to place our hope in political systems or politicians, and while they can do good,
and we can hope and work for good, it is important to recognize that our hope is not in
them.
3. The kingdom we serve is not of this world. It is the kingdom of God. A kingdom where all is
made right. It is our hope and desire to long for this already/not-yet kingdom.
ii. We aren’t called to religious legalism. Legalism can often become easier and more attractive
than repentance and grace, but we are called to the messy work of love and grace.
1. Setting up more rules for ourselves and others to follow in order to please God misses the
intent of Scripture. Instead of drawing us closer into relationship with Jesus, this practice
can induce shame at our inability to achieve impossible standards.
2. While the Jews were looking for the rebuilding of the temple to be their hope, we often
look for the best church with the perfect pastor or just the right music, missing that
maybe there is more to being in relationship with God and others than that.
3. The work of Christ is the pouring out of oneself and the loving of others. Turning away
from the way things have always been done and looking at the world with a new lens of
love, grace, and hope.
iii. We too are called to repent and to think differently.
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First Sunday of Advent
DECEMBER 2, 2018
The Anticipation of HOPE
Sunday Scripture Reading: Luke 21:25–36
Introduction
I have heard it said that February is the longest month, despite having the fewest days. By the end
of February, winter has lost its charm. The holidays have come and gone. The hills have been sledded.
The plants have been barren for months. The snow has become dingy and dirty. The skies are
still gray, and it feels like the world might never be warm or green again.
Then the first signs of spring break forth. A robin lands in your yard, or a crocus breaks through the
snow-covered ground. A tree starts to bud, or the sun comes out after days of cloudy skies. Suddenly,
your perspective changes from bleak to hopeful anticipation. You know that spring is coming
and that summer will arrive soon after. Plans shift from shoveling snow and heating bills to thoughts
of warm breezes and gardens.
The fig tree is used as such an illustration in this text. Summer is coming when the fig tree begins to
sprout leaves. Summer is near, and the barrenness of winter, the concerns that the stores laid up for
the winter, will be depleted before the next crop grows and begins to fade. This is good news to a
people dependent on growing their own food. This is good news in a place of poverty and in a land
of oppression. This is good news at a time when furnaces do not exist and in a place where desert
nights get very cold. Summer is coming.
But the text is not about a fig tree or the hopeful anticipation of summer’s warm rays; it is about
something even greater: the coming of the Lord. There will be signs of the coming of the Lord too.
When it feels like your stores are depleted, when it feels like you can’t make it anymore, there is
good news: the Messiah is coming. And as we sit in this season of Advent, we are reminded again
that the trees are beginning to bud and that the Messiah is indeed coming.
A Thrill of
HOPE
Sermon Outlines
Copyright © 2018 The Foundry Publishing
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Body
1. The signs of the times herald justice and redemption.
a. The signs of the times are often discussed with fear. This text also alludes a bit to that. Jesus is
pointing to common language from the Old Testament about the day of the Lord.
i. The scriptures Joel 2:1–2, Amos 5:18–20, Zechariah 1:14–15 all reference impending doom,
natural disasters, and war—all as signs of the coming of the day of the Lord.
ii. The day of the Lord is alluded to as being a day when the enemies of God will be punished,
a day of judgment for those who stand in opposition to the ways of God.
b. However, the day of the Lord is also referenced with the language of mercy and blessing toward
the people of God.
i. Isaiah 4:2–6, Joel 3:9–21, Amos 9:11–15, Zechariah 14:6–9 are just a few of the texts that
reference the blessings that will be bestowed upon the children of God when the day of
the Lord comes.
ii. The day of the Lord, then, is not a day that those who are just and righteous should fear;
rather, it is a day that should be embraced.
c. Justice is only scary for those who have acted in unjust ways, and the themes of these Old Testament
texts seem to be about justice.
d. We often approach these texts—with their language of seeming natural disasters—an an attitude
of fear, but fear is not meant to be the way of existence for the people of God.
2. Redemption is about hope, not fear.
a. Jesus’s words are about redemption, not condemnation.
i. There are myriad stories about people fearing the return of Christ. This idea that the
world will be ruled by terror and destruction, while having some connection with texts
like these, misses the heart of this text being about redemption. The signs are not those
of destruction but of restoration and renewal.
ii. Verse 28 focuses on this in particular: “When these things begin to take place, stand up
and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This verse is not about
cowering, hiding, or dreading the coming of the Messiah. Rather, it is about standing tall
and lifting up your head—because this is good news! Redemption is coming!
b. Advent and the coming of Christ are about the hope of redemption of the past and for our future.
i. The Jews longed for a Messiah to bring the day of the Lord, both for the justice that
would be brought on their oppressors and also for the freedom it would bring to them.
ii. The coming of the Messiah in Jesus brought redemption in a way they didn’t expect. The
day of the Lord didn’t come destroying empires in political ways; instead, it sought to
build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven—through love and mercy.
iii. When we long for the return of Christ, we often look and hope for the destruction of
those who perpetrate injustice, but maybe we should be looking for the ways God wants
to bring justice and redemption—in the sense of making things right—to the world.
1. Justice doesn’t mean annihilation or revenge.
2. Justice means making things right.
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3. We hope not for revenge or destruction but for even the worst things to be made right.
3. It’s easy to miss the Messiah in our midst.
a. Earlier in Luke 21 the disciples point out the grandeur of the temple while seemingly missing that
the presence of God—Jesus—is in their midst. All this talk of the day of the Lord being at hand,
and he is present among them!
b. While we wait in hopeful expectation of Christ’s return, we cannot overlook the places where
Christ is at work already. The kingdom is now; it came with Jesus to earth, but it has yet to be fulfilled.
We cannot miss the signs of the nowness of God’s presence for the sake of the signs of the
future.
i. There is something to the signs Jesus mentions.
1. The sun and stars doing interesting things has been happening for all of recorded history.
2. Storms have also been happening for all of recorded history.
3. Fear and terror for what is to come have also been happening for all of recorded history.
ii. These signs can be found both now and in the past. There is a commonness to these
signs that seems intentional. We do not know when the Lord’s return will be; it could be
any second.
iii. Redemption is also happening now. It’s in our presence. We just have to have the eyes to
see.
iv. Justice and redemption in their fullness will come too. We just have to look forward with
hopeful anticipation.
Conclusion
Summer is coming. It might seem like a long ways off on a dreary December Sunday. It might feel
even more far off on a dreary February day, but when you look for glimpses, you see them. There
is promise in the calendar and in the ways the trees change in late summer. There is promise in the
sound of birds and in warmer breezes. But if we aren’t looking, we can miss them already happening
in our midst.
Jesus is coming too. We remember his first coming with joy, but we also look again to his second
coming hopeful anticipation. A day that will be filled with justice and redemption. And we wait with
heads held high, confident in Christ’s mercy and grace. We look ahead for the signs of that coming
too, in the ways redemption is happening now. We look in hope at how lives are being restored, how
lives are being made new, and the work that Christ is doing in our own hearts, and we know that the
trees are budding around us and the day of the Lord has come and is still to come in beautiful and
life-giving ways. We move forward in hope for all to be made new, even as things are already being
made new.

November 20, 2018

Three Simple Things

Rejoice, pray, be thankful 

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Song of Songs 8:6-7

 

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

I remember well the first time I realized just how much I loved my then friend, soon to be husband: we were standing outside his house, and as he played with his young sisters, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I loved him. It was not long after that that we were married and our love for each other has grown. I’ll never forget though, the way my mom responded when I told her I was marrying Tom. I had expected her to be surprised, since I had been dating another boy. She wasn’t. I expected her to be dismissive. She wasn’t. In fact, she said that it was about time I recognized what the rest of the family had figured out some time earlier: Tom mattered more to me than the other boy. How? Because Tom was all I talked about.

The Song of Songs – this book in our Bible that gives us a love poem from ancient history – is a picture of the love God has for us and it tells us a few different things about how we can understand God’s love for us. It reminds us first that God’s love for us is best seen in the picture of a couple in love. As people fall in love and wrap their stories around each other, this love – when perfectly expressed – is the love that God has for us. God’s love is unconditional, it takes us as we are, and it enjoys the beauty of who each of us is.

One of the unique things about scripture over all is how often intimate relationships are used to explain our relationship with God – when we walk away it is shown as infidelity or adultery. When we stay close and walk in harmony with God, it is shown as a picture of beautiful marriage.

Nothing rips through a family so starkly and harshly as infidelity can. When one person has been unfaithful in a marriage, it hurts and ruins and rips apart what was intended. This isn’t always infidelity of a sexual nature either – it can be disinterest, dismissiveness, argumentativeness – there any number of ways someone can be unfaithful to the person they have married – and usually sexual infidelity is the last symptom of a long-time disease of hurt and betrayal that has been infecting a marriage in subtle and less obvious ways.

But when marriage partners are faithful to one another – it looks like a couple in Iowa who were married for some 80 years and died within hours of each other, holding hands as they did.

It looks like a couple who parents together, cleans house together, loves each other even as appearances change as responsibilities evolve as priorities and jobs and challenges appear and disappear and reorder themselves – these are two who committed to tackling these things as one and who continue to do so day in and day out. The message of Song of Songs is one that says that God’s love for us is like a beautiful marriage – one that lasts and one that partners and one that none of us probably actually know except in love poems and romantic comedy movies. But it is the picture of love that wraps itself in the wonder of the other and longs to hold them, draw them close.

This Song of Songs talks about bodies and loves the body of the one they sing about. We often have a broken view of bodies – we tend to objectify bodies, to turn women’s bodies into something to be ogled at and men’s bodies into something to be drooled over, all the while disconnecting the woman and the man from the physical attributes: cute butt, nice pecs, gorgeous face, lovely muscles – and all of those may be true but it removes the humanity of the person from the skin and bone of their flesh.

God said from the beginning that what was created was good – including the bodies of dust made for us to wear. We are definitely body and spirit, but neither is better or worse than the other – they are created together as components to our whole selves. God has promised that after death, although our physical body is no longer, at the resurrection, we will receive new ones – perfect ones. So then, it is not acceptable for us to wrap our bodies in shame or distress either – we cover ourselves to keep our bodies safe and warm and we don’t necessarily have to expose all of us to everyone we meet – but our bodies shouldn’t be viewed as shameful or sinful either – they are part of God’s good creation. It was the fall that made us think they were sinful, and as those who have been redeemed and who know that God delights in wholeness for us as new creations in Christ – our bodies are GOOD again, good for us and good to us. Not many years after Christ died and was resurrected, some tried to re-shame and re-sin the body, to turn it into the nasty part we have to inhabit by saying Jesus wasn’t really fleshly, that instead he was spirit that we couldn’t understand.

But that isn’t what Jesus said. In fact, our weekly reminder of God’s love is a weekly taking in of what Jesus said about himself – that his BODY was broken for us and his BLOOD was shed for us. Not his special spirit self, but his actual body. Bodies are not bad things, bodies are our physical mark in the world and they are beautiful no matter what they look like, what color they are, what imperfections they have – God declared our bodies good from the start and God redeemed us through the body of Jesus. God loves our bodies, and it is time we loved our bodies for the wonderful creation they are.

We are crafted by God to be beautiful and to love each other. Sometimes that love looks like romantic love and sometimes that love looks like kindness and warmth and sometimes that love looks like discipline. In scripture, we see love defined for us in many ways in various texts. Song of Songs reminds us that God loves us for who we are, for what we look like, and that our love together is like a marriage of faithfulness and intimacy. Human marriages are known to be fraught with imperfection so they are just a snippet of what it looks like to be loved by God. And the pictures in Song of Songs are given us so we can see the love picture more completely, whether we are married or not. Love yearns for the other. Love stands strong. Love protects. Love invites and encourages close touches and weathers the storms together. Love is present. Love is here.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

 

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Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Ecclesiastes is a book of contrasts, almost like quick thoughts jotted down throughout one person’s lifetime. They are doubts and hopes and observations that come to one conclusion. The same one Proverbs says is the only way: the fear of the Lord is the meaning of life.

These verses in chapter 3 were compelling enough to form a song, one probably most people have heard in their lifetimes – one that reflects on the ebb and flow of life. The Byrds added a ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ lyric to reflect the cyclical nature of time and life – everything happens as though a wheel of time spins in the heavens and as it go along, things happen in their seasons.

It’s a sweet perspective, with a large appeal – based on the popularity of the song. However, the reality is that while things have some measure of cyclical nature, the only way to actually make sense of all the things under heaven, the only way to understand all that happens – is to have a God’s eye view of the universe – the one thing we long to have (God sets eternity in the hearts of men) and yet which we cannot. It is only reserved for God to know and see and understand all that is and was and is to come. God has a handle on the nature of activity in our world and if it isn’t all mapped out to the nth degree, God at least sees the myriad directions it can ebb and flow. We have these verses to remind us that our own understanding will always wind up having to fall back to the main idea of Proverbs: Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, and it is the only way to make sense of all that happens in our world  - good, bad, and neutral.

This past week, there are wildfires burning out of control in California, another shooting at a bar in California, and incidental, smaller things have happened to each of us – maybe one has lost their job, one has failed a test, one has started a new job, one has gotten a bad report from the doctor.

The only way to understand – or at least make room for – any of these things bad or good is to reflect on the nature of God and rest in the knowledge that God is watching, God is preparing us, God is preparing the world for the return of Jesus – and while we wait, when we fear God we can know that no matter what our circumstance, God is there.

God didn’t resolve every fear and tear and sorrow and breaking thing. God didn’t suspend time and the reciprocal nature of our world. Instead, God’s resolution for the brokenness of sin and the challenging circumstances that have been part of our lives since the Fall in the garden – God’s resolution was to put on our vulnerable flesh and walk among us.

We don’t fear a distant God, we don’t fear a God who has no investment in us and our lives – rather, we fear a God whose entire mission has been to provide rescue for us, and that has been done not by a God who throws thunderbolts and lightning strikes, but by a God who reveals himself to us as a babe in a manger, who becomes one of us to save all of us.

Recently, Eugene Peterson, the one who paraphrased scripture in the Message version, passed away, and one of his sons eulogized him this way:

"My dad's message was that good news always plays out best in relationships. The writer of Genesis tells us that at the end of each day of creation, God looked around the world that He had done, and saw that it was good," Leif Peterson said.

"I think my dad did that a lot. He was always looking around at the mountains, at the flowers, at the birds, at the relationships forming and playing all around him, and you could tell from that signature twinkle in his eyes, what he was thinking 'oh man that's good, that's really good.'"

Leif Peterson revealed that he used to joke with his father and tell him that he "only had one sermon, one message" despite decades of creativity in sharing the Bible with people in new ways, something which he believes to be fairly accurate.

"It's almost laughable how you fooled them, how for 30 years every week you made them think you were saying something new," he said as part of a poem addressed to his father.

"They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them," he continued.

"They didn't know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret."

Leif Peterson said that he knew his father's secret, however, as he had been telling him for 50 years.

"For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It's the same message over and over:

'God loves you. He's on your side. He's coming after you. He's relentless.'"

In Ecclesiastes, we see a revelation that our doubts do not confound God, nor do they surprise him. Rather, our doubts are normal and the longer we explore and investigate and learn, the more we recognize that our doubt is the beginning of understanding the Truth – that the God who created us, loves us enough to let us doubt everything about who he is and what he does, but still draws us near. Draws us close. And whispers love in our hearts.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like him.

God loved us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loved us enough to still let us choose our destiny.

God loved us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

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