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
Obadiah
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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 felt like she had been pregnant forever. The constant movement of the babies in her womb felt like her own body was at war within her. God had even told her that they were two nations!
But the pains finally had come and her water broke and now the midwife was on her way. The children were coming. Perhaps the war was nearly at an end…
It was not. The boys, Esau and Jacob were born to Rebekah that day, but only with more fighting – Esau was born first, but Jacob was holding his brother’s heel. The brothers were very different – Esau was hairy and a hunter. He was an outdoorsman. Jacob was a homebody. Esau was Isaac’s favorite and Jacob was Rebekah’s.
Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew.
Jacob tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing.
Esau became Edom.
Jacob became Israel.
These nations (as they eventually grew to be) were not generally at war, they were neighboring countries, but neither was large enough to protect or attack the other – so they were mostly indifferent. The Edomites were well But when the Babylonians came and defeated the Israelites, and sacked Jerusalem – the Edomites gloated and boasted and rejoiced over their demise. We don’t know the exact date and time that Obadiah wrote this oracle, but it is essentially God’s denouncement of Edom’s actions, God’s pronouncement of judgement on the nation, and the promise from God (as always) of redemption and salvation for all nations.
That is the whole story of Obadiah’s oracle – Esau’s descendants not only don’t help Jacob’s descendants – they essentially dance on the grave of Israel. Eventually running in and looting whatever bits and pieces the Babylonians had left behind and God holds them accountable for this and tells them that they will pay.
Obadiah is not usually a book that preachers spend a bunch of time on. As we talk about minor prophets (which is a classification that is based on the length of the book, not what the prophets have to say) Obadiah would be the minorest. It’s a little tough to take an application from a book that is so specifically directed at a specific nation for a specific set of circumstances and that doesn’t really have a lot of other ideas in it.
But there are two things that we can look at in Obadiah: God is not a fan of those who are prideful and actions have consequences.
God’s love still extends to those who mess up – if you were to look back through the story of Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom you would think that the wrong guy was the recipient of the blessing – he was a cheater and a trickster. And he did experience the consequences of his actions.
But God’s plan always includes the idea of redemption: when we repent, we are offered a way out. We’ll talk about this more next week as we move on to Jonah, but one of the key takeaways for us from this Obadiah text is that even though our actions have consequences – and by the way, salvation doesn’t necessarily remove them – God is always waiting for us to return to him and move away from what we used to be to what God has called us to be.
This week, we will begin a season of fasting and reflection called Lent. It covers the 45 days prior to Easter and throughout, it is an opportunity for us to explore the places where we need to repent. Many people fast during lent – finding ways to realign their hearts and spirits with the work that God is doing in their lives. Remember that God has called us away from a life of rebellion to a life of renewal and transformation: Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, Paul writes in Romans. We need this season every year to help us identify new places God is at work in ourselves.
The kick off for this season of reflection is Ash Wednesday. We will celebrate it this year, as I announced earlier. I encourage you to come. As we prepare our hearts for Lent, we have a devotional on the back table that each family is encouraged to take and use for this period. I would also ask everyone to get a post-it note and a pen from the back.
In one of our songs today, Come Thou Fount, there is a line that says “Here I raise my Ebenezer” it is a symbol that Samuel used to remind the people of the work of God in their lives. In our lives sometimes we need symbolism to remind us of the work of God in our lives, too – and today we will do that by writing on our post-it note the one area we need to pray about and ask God to be at work in our lives – this could be a sin that you need to repent of, a life issue that is a burden, or anything at all. I’m going to ask everyone to pray about it for a moment and then write it down.
Once you have it written, we have this red jar here on the altar. Please come forward and put your note in it. Once everyone has put their notes in (don’t worry we won’t be reading them!) I am going to take them outside and burn them. The ashes will be used with some olive oil and spices on Ash Wednesday here for further symbolism – to remind us of our need for repentance and redemption and our hope that has created in us the beauty of lifelong transformation as Christ works in us and through us.
As we work through this, we will also speak together our weekly confirmation of God’s love for us…
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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

Amos 5:7-15, 21-24

There are those who turn justice into bitterness
    and cast righteousness to the ground.

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    who turns midnight into dawn
    and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out over the face of the land—
    the Lord is his name.
With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
    and brings the fortified city to ruin.

10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. 11 You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. 14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. 21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

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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

A nation established, firmly and completely, by God. A nation with actual divine rights whose words and wisdoms were gifts from God specifically for them…a nation that watched dishonest people gain, that watched the oppressed become more oppressed. A nation that waited in their self-righteous white washed castles and denounced the devastation while doing nothing about it – a nation that knew God was going to come and punish the bad ones and give the good ones blessing and they couldn’t WAIT because they were sure it would be them blessed and everyone they didn’t like, didn’t accept – they would see.

God has nothing but harsh words for this attitude. These are people who refused to see that God did not love them exclusively and did not love them to the point of desiring evil to their neighbors or others. Instead, these are people who are in for a rude awakening as to just how much they have missed the point about who God is and what God expects. Amos writes it out pretty clearly – God is not interested in your religious festivals and whatnot. GOD is interested in your sincere efforts to bring justice now, to promote righteousness now, to hate evil, love good, and maintain justice.

Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream – these are the beautiful sounds in God’s kingdom.

God has asked us to stop being self-righteous, sure of our positions and our rightness. God tells the Israelites here and all of us today – are you sure you are in a Godly nation? Are you SURE? Because what I see is the continued evil of those who hate justice. Because what I see is the oppression of the poor who can’t eat because you tax them. You say you are righteous but you take every opportunity to get yours from those who have less.

God does not approve of this behavior.

God does not like it when babies are separated from their mamas at the border.

God does not like it when families are ripped apart because we’re afraid.

God does not like it when people are treated poorly because of the color of their skin, the country they come from, or the language they speak. God expects and demands that our love for God become love for those around us who look different, who didn’t come here the way we insist they come here, who don’t have the privilege we do.

You might say “Pastor, I don’t have any privilege. I’m poor myself” and you are right you don’t have the same privilege as someone who is wealthy, but you do have privilege – even if you can’t see it. If you were born with a different color skin, sometimes you get mistaken for a thief even if you aren’t one, just because you walk into a store. If you don’t worry about being arrested or accused of some crime every time you leave your house – you do have privilege – the privilege of not having to worry about something you can’t control changing how other people react to you.  I understand this isn’t always a popular opinion, and I get that we may not agree, but the reality is that when one group of people is treated differently for the color of their skin or their language or where they come from or even their religion, it doesn’t matter what we think about it – it matters how we behave. It matters how we speak and act on someone else’s behalf simply because we see them being mistreated or treated differently.

The bottom line is this: if we don’t stand up for those who are being oppressed, we are no different than these children of Israel all those years ago, who let justice slide because they were convinced that they had the right of it with God’s blessing.

Because at the end of the day, God had called the children of Israel to live differently so they could show others God’s love. And they missed the mark over and over. In this case, they were so certain they were righteous, they were actually making it seem that God’s love was not a positive to be sought after, but a detriment to kindness and grace.

And when Jesus came and showed us all how to live lives of kindness and grace and generosity and mercy, we still divided the world into categories of us vs. them and spent a lot of time congratulating ourselves on being the usses who were on the good side and not the thems who were on the bad side. And meanwhile Jesus keeps saying “hey, love them. Love them. Love everyone.” Because God loves. Because Jesus loves.

Listen to Jesus again, as we read in Luke today, as he tells us how to love:

Luke 6:27-38 New International Version (NIV)

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I heard an old Brad Paisley song yesterday called bigger fish to fry. In it he talks about us vs. them, too (there is other bad theology in the lyrics, but today I read them just to point out this ONE theological error):

I said a bad word when I was a kid
Mama said that I'd be sorry for the sin that I did
My daddy whooped me and the preacher said shame
And I tried like hell to change

I cuss, I smoke
I laugh at dirty jokes
Minor vices man I know 'em well
I've closed down bars
And I've lusted in my heart
My exes think I oughta burn in hell
But the devil, he won't notice when I die
Don't you figure
He's got bigger fish to fry
Oh yeah

Politicians taking corporate bribes
Crooked CEOs are getting off with no time
Christmas eve burglars stealin' good children's toys
(Can't say Christmas)
Holiday burglars stealin' good children's toys

I cuss, I smoke
I laugh at dirty jokes
The minor vices, man I know I'm well
I've closed down bars
I've lusted in my heart
My exes…

I’m not as bad as the REALLY bad people, so obviously they are the ones who need to be worried.

But the reality is that God has said we are all sinners. We all need the grace and mercy of Jesus. We all need the redemption and freedom offered. And we all need to stop thinking the other guy is worse and recognize that our own mistakes and errors and sins are compounded by the fact that we know better and ought to be more easily convinced to love first, because we have been loved. It is our repeated mantra – God loved us enough, so we can love others. It is the simplest way to frame the gospel and it is GOOD news – we don’t have to wallow in an us vs them mindset and keep trying to build bigger walls to keep everyone else out. Instead we can welcome everyone to the table, loving them no matter what they’ve done or how much we’re different, because the very same God who loved us enough loves THEM enough too.

 

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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

Joel 2:12-2:32

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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

These next 11 weeks, we will be walking through the last of the Old Testament on our way to the arrival of Jesus. As we do, we are exploring what are called the “minor prophets”. These are minor, not because what they have to say is not as important, or because they are somehow less than other prophets, but because they do not have as many prophecies to share. Their books give us insight still into who God is, and how much he loves.

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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

Hosea 1:2-2:1

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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

She only knew how to do one thing to earn money. It is the world’s oldest profession. The one that involves the desire for another that can parade as love, but is really lust. She knew nothing else and was able to tell herself that it was empowering.

He came and took her from that. He loved her, despite what she had once done.

She went back to it.

He came and got her.

She went back to it.

He came and got her.

And in the end, she realized that his love was not about what she did, but about who she was to him.

And she stopped running.

It sounds like a nice Hollywood story. But it is more aligned with this story of prophetic action, moments in Scripture when God asks a prophet to speak truth to power in the midst of doing something unexpected.

Hosea is asked to marry a woman who is, in the words of the Bible, ‘promiscuous’.

It is meant to be a picture of who we are before we accept the love God has for us and turn our backs on the sin that chains us to our own desires.

We live for ourselves.

And then God says, “I love you. You are my beloved. Come away from those chains. Leave that hurt. Surrender that pain. Give it to me.”

We think we leave it.

And then we go back to it, because we cannot believe that the God who made us can love us enough to actually forgive our past. We cling to our shame and our guilt as though they were badges of honor, ready to clip our arms back in the shackles that hold us captive to distress and despair.

We live for ourselves, staying in the mud that God would have us leave.

And then God says, “I love you. You are my beloved.”

This is what the Israelites did over and over

This is what every person in the world does, over and over.

Many times we convince ourselves that we are better off in the mud, that what we do when we live for ourselves makes us free. Keeps us uninhibited. Turns us loose from some wrath being who would strike us dead with the slightest misstep.

And God says “I AM. I love. I love you. You are my beloved. I came for you. I run after you. I will not stop.”

And we think we don’t we deserve the kind of abundant life God wants to offer. We think that following Jesus ties us to rules and don’ts that hold us captive. We think we are missing something others have when we surrender to God.

And then God says “You don’t deserve it, but I offer it anyway. It’s called grace. It’s called love. It is what I have for you – boundless love. You are my beloved.”

And when the day comes, when we finally relinquish our chains and follow Jesus, we find that the freedom we thought we had was simply slavery to desires we had no control over. And the wrath-filled being who would end us doesn’t exist, is in fact an imaginary being made from the expectations of who God is, but it is NOT in fact, who God is. We find freedom in the ability to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbors, to pray for those who persecute us. To be kind and gentle and peaceable and patient. There is freedom in knowing that nothing is bigger than the God who loves.

Over and over God says “I am love. I love you. You are my beloved” And when we finally believe it, when we finally embrace it, we find that the truth of what that love looks like, not only from God’s side but from our experiences and opportunities to give it away is even bigger and more magnificent that we could have expected.

We can read Hosea and the stories of the children of Israel and all the wanderings and unfaithfulness and shake our heads and cluck our tongues, but the truth is we are all just as prone to wander, just as likely to be unfaithful – it is only in our obedience, in our following that we can see our own foolish similarity to those who wandered so far. When we do, when we recognize our own limitations, when we let go of our need to be in control and our need to do our own thing, to rule ourselves then we stop running. We stop going back to the faithlessness. Instead, we cling to the One who gave himself for us, and finally we can hear God speak, can hear God say “welcome home, you are my beloved”

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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

Daniel 3:17-18

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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

Babylon.

It is not what they wanted. It was not where they thought they were going to be. But they knew God had promised to be faithful.

Daniel 1

Refusing to eat the food.

Daniel 3

Believing God hates idols.

Daniel 6

Praying anyway.

How does this apply to us:

We might feel like we live in a place that is against us. Looking at things like laws that increase abortion or that hurts children by keeping them from their parents or any number of things that are anti-God, anti-compassion, anti-Christian. They don’t have to be laws, sometimes it is just the attitudes of people around us, or the sense that there is a lot of animosity generally toward us as believers in the One who rescues. After all, this world is NOT our final destination. We do live here now, and we do have the opportunity to help see it become more like the Kingdom we belong to, because following Jesus makes the Kingdom come to life where ever we are.

But we can look at Daniel and his friends and notice some things about how they respond in the face of adversity:

  1. They are respectful. They don’t storm off or stomp their feet. They listen to what the Babylonians want and they simply say no. They say no to eating defiled foods, they say no to bowing to an idol, they say no to ending prayer and ultimately, they are respected for it.

 

  1. They are not offended – they are simply true to what they believe. They don’t denounce the other, they don’t create an us vs. them scenario, they don’t condemn anyone else – they simply stand firm for what they believe and do otherwise. They don’t call for an end to all food offered to idols for everyone, they don’t embarrass any other Israelites in exile who did bow to the Nebuchadnezzar statue, they don’t call out the ones who told them couldn’t pray – they just stick to what they believe and firmly refuse to do anything else. I was reminded just last night how important this is. Sometimes when we get outraged, it looks like we hate those who are against us. That may not be what we intend, but if we look closely at what these exiles living in a strange land did, we can remember the less angry way to stand firm and know that our outrage, our anger, our insistence that everyone believes the way we do only hurts our witness.

We don’t have to prove we’re right to be right.

  1. They trust God for the outcome. They know that things could go wrong in each of these instances: but they trust that God has got their backs and will be faithful no matter what they face

We can learn a lot from how they handle themselves. We can stop being disrespectful to those who oppose us. We can stop being offended or outraged about other people’s behavior – just stay in your lane and do what you are accountable for: Stand firm, but don’t whup and holler about, just do it.

And we can trust God for the outcome. Sometimes we might have to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

It’s not likely we will face a literal furnace. But we might have to walk through job loss, financial devastation, family derision, all kinds of things. And even if God doesn’t rescue us from those things specifically, we can absolutely trust that EVEN IF he does not, you can trust him to be faithful, to be who God is, and to walk through it with you, no matter what your battle looks like.

In Babylon, our best witness is us being true to God and letting God be faithful, no matter the opposition. We may live here, but we don’t have to serve the god of this place; we 100% know better.

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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

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.

---

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.

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