Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alongside the Preacher

At the 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning men's Bible study I said something about what I was had prepared for preaching the next day.  My basic preparations to that point can be seen at Trusting Good.

But things changed.  It wasn't until sometime later on Saturday that the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary moved to the center of my thinking.  I'd like to think that the Holy Spirit was at work as I prayed and prepared.

You can find my final notes for preaching below, including introductions to the scriptures and gospel.  There were at least five rewrites.  The assigned scriptures (Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45) can be read by clicking here.

Then there was the actual sermon.
  • The 8:30 version mostly followed the notes below.  You can listen the sermon by clicking here--it does not include the "Scripture Introductions."  
  • The 11:00 sermon is faster paced and does not follow the notes.  The audio of the 11:00 a.m. "contemporary" worship hour preaching can be found by clicking here.

    (One quick comment will help you understand something that happens... During the message I point to the "meek and mild" angel in our church's manger scene.  Earlier, as I talked with the children, I said the Bible describes angels as mighty spiritual warriors--the heavenly army.  Angels are not cute!  That's why they always are saying "Don't be afraid!")
The process of preparation and preaching changes every week.  One of the men who had been there for the Saturday morning men's Bible study said how different the 11:00 a.m. message was than what I had originally prepared at Trusting Good.  It certainly was.  I pray that the result was guided by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  But, as I say in this message, I do need people to come alongside me to encourage, and correct.

Please do not hesitate to share your comments, your critiques, and your corrections.  Like Mary was open to Elizabeth's counsel, I hope I will be open to yours.

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Notes for Dec. 20, 2009

SCRIPTURE INTRODUCTION: Can we trust God to do good in every situation? In our first reading we hear Micah giving good news to Bethlehem—but soon afterward the whole country is destroyed and its capital city becomes a heap of rubble. After the Micah reading, we’ll join in verses 46b through 55 of Luke 1—Mary’s song… And after that we’ll hear from Hebrews—we’ll hear how Christ came in a body that was going to be sacrificed! How can we trust and believe God for good? That will be the subject of our preaching today.

GOSPEL INTRODUCTION: The family story of Jesus is mysterious and fascinating. Jesus’ Father is God himself. Jesus’ mother is Mary, an unmarried girl who knows God’s promises and is willing to let God do what he has planned. After God works his miracle, becoming a human being in Mary—Mary carries Jesus as he develops like any human child—After God works his miracle in Mary’s body Mary goes away from her home to her aunt Elizabeth’s. God had told Mary that her aunt would understand… important for an unmarried girl to know… Elizabeth would understand because something similar was happening to her… she was unexpectedly pregnant too… so, Mary, perhaps because it wasn’t safe for her to be at home… Mary goes to stay with this aunt … The gospel according to Luke, the first chapter…

SERMON:

Yesterday I mislaid my wedding ring. I hate it when I lose something valuable… I tried to remember where I might have left it… went upstairs and downstairs, looked on by our bed, on my dresser, in a couple of drawers… retraced my steps over and over again… then, when I gave up, came back here to work… and found it on my desk.

What does THAT have to do with our scriptures today?… well, for one thing it’s a confession. So often, almost every day, I get SO anxious. I get worried and overreact and it’s like my whole world comes crashing down… well… not really about the ring… but… I do get worried… Yesterday I was talking with men about how we get worried… like about our kids, or when we lose a job or our bodies have something wrong with them… so often when we have personal pain or personal loss or personal worry we lose our NATURAL ability to trust that things will turn out okay…

So often I need to ask someone to pray for me because I’m anxious and worried… someone needs to help me put my focus back on the promises of God. Those promises, they bring me the truth: goodness and rightness and peace will win in the end.

Which is stronger right now in your life—anxiety—or trust? If it’s anxiety, are there small signs of God’s purpose and God’s good in your life that can give you reason to praise God every day? Or do the worries win?

For Mary, the main character in our gospel, I’m not sure which feeling came out on top until she saw Elizabeth… after all, it wasn’t for no reason that she left her parents home for her aunt’s. Matthew’s gospel tells us her fianc√© didn’t understand… his first reaction was to want out of the relationship… and what must her close family and friends have thought? A virgin pregnant?

No, she had to get away… so she went to the home of someone who would understand. And when she got there, Elizabeth greeted her with love, with joy, and with complete understanding. And God blessed that encounter with a little signal of joy… the baby inside Elizabeth—her miracle baby—the gift of the Holy Spirit in HER—that little one gave a little leap—a little leap of joy that Elizabeth could use to reassure frightened Mary… The Holy Spirit does the same thing in us, by the way… the Holy Spirit inside us will give little moments of joy that will allow us to remain strong in faith… those little kicks of joy may seem so small… but they are from God, and when tie them with God’s promises, they can push back the darkness… That’s what happened in a physical way to Elizabeth… the baby leapt and Elizabeth saw that as a sign from the Lord… she reassured Mary, and the result was that Mary could join Elizabeth in praising God.

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, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

God needed to get a message of reassurance to that girl—and he used Elizabeth to deliver the message, to remind her of what the angel had first said to her…

Back in Luke 1 verse 30… the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” say those words with me… “Do not be afraid, Mary… for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus…

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

All Mary had to hang onto was simply the very first part of the promise having come true… The rest was still to come… but with Elizabeth’s reassurance, a reassurance born of the how God had blessed her, and with the little leap of the Holy Spirit baby in her womb, Mary could believe what God was doing… even when she could not see it yet…

And then she breaks out in song about promises that had not yet come true! —My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior… verse 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts; he has brought the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly… verse 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…

The fact is that, at the time Mary sang, nothing had really changed. She was still far from home, the Romans were still in control, and, in fact, after Elizabeth’s child, the one who was given to her as a miracle—and Mary’s child—Jesus—after they had grown, they would both be KILLED by the powerful people of their world. No, the big promises of God, the world changing promises, they had NOT come true.

But still, somehow, Mary believed. And she sang as if the promises had all come true already! … 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.

How can we trust God for good like that? How can we trust that God is going to work everything out for good?

When something happens to make me anxious, or when I am worried about how things are going in my family or in my church or in my world, can I trust that God is going to make things work for good so I can praise him?

Sometimes, even when I’m anxious, I can. Part of that is a generational blessing. I’ve been raised since childhood on God’s promises. Since the time I was a kid I’ve been getting to know God and God’s Word. But still, so often, I need someone to come alongside me and pray with me and even believe for me. To come alongside me like Elizabeth came alongside Mary, and help me trust for good.

When I am reminded of God’s promises… here, in church, and by friends who understand, when I am reminded of those promises I can accept any little miracle—even one as trivial as finding my wedding ring… or seeing someone be found by God, or seeing a little healing or a bit of joy… I can see little signs of God’s presence and praise and thank God that he has not forgotten, and that, eventually, he will work it all out for good.

As we get ready for Christmas, and as we get ready for the new year, let’s grow deep into God’s Word. And let’s reassure one another and pray for one another. God will provide all we need. God will work things out for good. And, because of what Jesus has done for us, God will not condemn us or reject us. God will give his wonderful promises, and his wonderful future, to you—and, someday, to the whole world.

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