01/29/2017 – I Corinthians 10:6-13 – Promises of Grace: “Cue the Dueling Banjos”

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Mark Wheeler

I Corinthians 10:6-13

Promises of Grace: “Cue the Dueling Banjos”

01/29/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord Jesus, we come to You today hungering for Your Holy Spirit to fill us with Your power and love, with Your grace and mercy, with Your truth and wisdom. Fill that need today, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

This week has been a really, super, busy week – a few difficult disappointments, some hard challenges, some hard-fought victories, busy-paper-work (like Annual Reports to get ready for this afternoon’s meeting), and some really fun moments with friends. But busy enough that yesterday’s all-day meeting, which was great, by the way – full of inspired and inspiring moments, but yesterday’s all-day meeting almost involved a telephone call to Jeanette, my car-partner, with me telling her that I just wasn’t “up to it” (not truly a lie, but certainly an “alternative fact”). I was tempted to just say, “the heck with it”.

Am I alone here? Anyone else out there relate to that temptation? (Maybe that was your inner-conversation about coming to church this morning???)

 

The truth is – everyone faces temptation – probably every day! That’s why our Lord taught us to pray something like “Lead us away from temptation!” Now, I think we all know that temptation is not a sin, temptation is merely the world in which we live. Even Jesus was tempted. Being tempted is not a sin. The sin is in falling to that temptationdoing the thing which is wrong.

Everyone gets tempted – and everyone sins (Paul reminds us in his letter to the Christians in Rome that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”). But, while facing temptation is unavoidable, falling into sin is not unavoidable.

 

In this short series looking at some of the Bible’s teaching about God’s Promises of Grace, today we look at His promise of delivering us from temptationthe promise of deliverance (therefore the Sermon Title, “Cue the Dueling Banjos”). But note that God’s banjo always wins!

 

Listen with me as Paul writes these words to the struggling Christian people in Corinth. Listen for the temptations Paul brings forward, and then hear him describe the way out from under them. Hear the Word of God: I Corinthians 10:6-13 ….—-

           6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

 

So, can you name one person who has never been tempted? [Trick question. You cannot! Even Jesus was tempted (remember the story about his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness immediately following His baptism?). Yup. Even Jesus faced temptation!]

 

In verses 7-10, Paul mentions four different Old Testament incidences of temptation and sin (probably because these Christians in Corinth were facing similar temptations, and maybe you and I are also dealing with very similar temptations). Look at them:

  • [Exodus 32:6 – (I just read this on Friday in my personal devotional reading🙂 Aaron and the Israelites in the wilderness at the foot of Mt. Sinai made and worshiped IDOLS – a golden calf. Why? Because Moses had been away from them for a few weeks, and they became scared of what may happen without their trusted leader – they couldn’t see God without Moses telling them He was there – so they made their own god, out of gold.]
    • Of course the question for us is – what idols do we make and worship? Retirement plans, bank accounts, our fancy stuff, our position of authority and power? Do we feel absent from God with our health, our finances, our relationships? Do we lack the trust in Him that we used to have?
  • [Numbers 25:9 – This is a story of Israelite men and Moabite women who fell into SEXUAL sin – which then led to more idolatry (because to keep your woman happy, you follow her religion, right?).]
    • The obvious correlation for us has to do with the culture in which we live, and participate. Do we just sit back and condone whatever sexual license is demanded by the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the actions of our political leaders, our own hearts and desires toward falling? Do we just ignore what we read in Scripture? Maybe we think it no longer applies? Temptations we all face.
  • [Exodus 17:2 (and also Psalms 78:16 and 106:4) – In this story the Israelites TESTED God – they were hungry, and then they were thirsty, and they did not ever trust that God would see them through. – He didmanna and quail and fresh water.]
    • Do we ever put God to the test when we wonder why we’re dealing with some set of circumstances we don’t like? I’m not talking about things like Gideon’s fleece (the story in Judges where Gideon needs to hear God’s answer and puts out a fleece on the ground overnight to see if it gets wet from the dew or not); this kind of testing is when we tell God what He must do for us before we’ll believe Him. He just wants us to trust Him, and our life circumstances are not the canvas which displays His trustworthiness – our hearts
  • [Numbers 16:41 – Here the Israelites GRUMBLED against God’s chosen leaders – grumbling, complaining, and being obstinate are seldom character traits of godly people. When things are wrong, godly people are called to address those wrongs with actions, involving speaking directly with the people with whom we have a problem – that is, admittedly, easier when we’re talking about a subordinate or a child or even a peer than when we’re dealing with a boss, a supervisor, or a political figurehead. And when we do take action, again, it should be guided by Scripture’s teachings of speaking the truth in love.]
    • We might march with others who disagree with a politician’s agenda or a people’s ideology; we might write letters to leaders and support with our monies movements which align better with our own perspectives. Grumbling is seldom the right tactic.

 

What are the kinds of things that tempt you the most? [Are they physical activities, involving material things – wanting the newest, the latest, the better-than-the-Joneses stuff? Are they more philosophical in nature – dealing with ideas and ideologies? Are they more along the lines of strictly financial – whatever it takes to get ahead, to make it more securely than yesterday? Or maybe your temptations fall under a category of character traits – simply being a pain in someone’s backside, rude, vulgar, self-centered, egotistical, holier-than-Thou kind of attitudes?]

The truth is we all get tempted. I do, God knows; and so do you. But being tempted, I’m saying this again, is not a sin! Do not feel guilty for being tempted to be mean, for being tempted to want more, for the temptation to think a certain way. All of those things might, indeed, be wrong. But the temptation is nothing more than the effects of this fallen, broken world we live in.

The sin doesn’t come until we acquiesce to those temptations!

 

Look at verse 12 with me for a minute. 12 If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! The photo on the front of your bulletins is supposed to represent this warning. I should have looked for a photo of someone getting out of their car in our church parking lot! What is this warning actually about? [I think it is all about trusting in ourselves without any regard for God’s role in our lives. That’s the sin if falling to temptation. “Yes, I know God said not to eat of the fruit of that one tree, but I think I know better than God!Last Sunday’s reading came from Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God will take care of all your needs.”). That lesson was about trusting God above and beyond ourselves.]

 

In verse 13, Paul names two things we can depend on God to do for us when we are tempted:

  1. God will Not let us be TEMPTED beyond what we can BEAR. – the word used for “tempted” there can sometimes be used for “tested” (“God will not test us beyond what we can bear”) – has anyone heard it that way before? I do believe that that is also true – but not what this verse actually means. The context of everything in this pericope suggests that Paul was talking about temptations, not hardships. But either way, if this statement is true (and since it is in the Bible as a descriptor of God’s character, we believe it is true), then when we are tempted much (or burdened with more than seems bearable), take it as a compliment from God. He says we can handle it!

But how can I handle this much pressure. You don’t understand what I’m going through, Wheeler. That takes us to the second promise of grace we can depend ondeliverance!

  1. God will always PROVIDE a way OUT so we can endure the temptation (or trouble). Did you hear that? We do not have to succumb to the temptation! Whatever is your most constant, consistent, persistent, temptationGod provides a way out. What is that way? Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.I believe we can count on His strength to get us away, to calm our anxieties, to resist the strong lure. That is His Promise of Grace!

 

Your take-home assignment is to write that verse in your own words. What would it sound like if Paul, or God, were saying it directly to you, in your situation, on January 29, 2017, in Spokane, WA[I think I would hear God telling me something like: “You’re not alone, Wheeler. You’re not that kind of special. And remember how much God loves you (Remind me who I am) – God loves you so much that He sent His one and only Son; therefore, you can know God’s power is with you – and that He will always provide a way to deliverance!]

 

Gracious God, Grace-filled God, Grace-giving God, we recognize our own idolatry – self-sufficiency, simple lack of trust – and today we bow before You as the King of all kings, the Creator of the universe, the only One with the authority and the ability to actually conquer sin; and today, we choose to prioritize above all else Your Word and Your will for our lives, we want to experience Your power and love in brand new ways, and so we seek after Your Kingdom purposes and today we start to place our confidence in Your promise of grace. We anticipate Your deliverance when temptation comes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Resources:

McLaren, Ross, editor; Advanced Bible Study: Winter 2002-2003; Lifeway Christian Resources; Pp. 58-65.

01/22/2017 – Matthew 6:25-34 – Promises of Grace: “Peace, Rest, Satisfaction

Click  HERE for the audio of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 6:25-34

Promises of Grace: “Peace, Rest, Satisfaction”

01/22/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord Jesus, we come to You today hungering for Your Holy Spirit to fill us with Your power and love, with Your grace and mercy, with Your truth and wisdom. Fill that need today, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

This past week I read about a newspaper article that told the story of a widow who had raised six children of her own, and another 12 whom she had adopted. The journalist asked her, “How have you been able to raise all these children, and do it so well?” Her answer? “It’s really very simple. I’m in a partnership. Many years ago I said to the Lord, ‘Dear Lord, I will do the work of rearing these children if You will do the worrying.’ Ever since we formed that partnership I have left all the worrying to Him.”

 

Listen with me to these words from Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount. For many years this passage contained my personal faith-verse. See if you can guess which verse that was – and how it challenges you to live into its call. Hear the Word of God: Matthew 6:25-34 ….—-

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble….”

 

Is it really possible to be free of all worries and every anxiety? [I remember my Mom, whom we all thought of as a pretty big worry-wart, telling us that she wasn’t worried, just concerned. I don’t know if I believe her, but I have learned that there is a real difference! When Jennifer is an hour later than I expected her to be, I try not to worry, but my weak-faith and dim-mind goes to that dark place of wondering if the roads are so icy she’s off in a ditch…. It doesn’t usually last, but it certainly happens!]

Is it really possible to be worry/anxiety free?

 

Name the last time you “worried” about something: What was it? [Health issues is a regular source of worry – Finances can cause us to worry (jobs, employment, bills, cost-of-living, Social Security income, taxes) – Finances and health issues combined (do we pay for prescriptions or for Avista?) – Weather, flooding, driving, power bills, roof safety, trees falling, etc. – Family feuds, sibling rivalry, intergenerational differences, etc – these can all get under our skin and cause us to worry and be afraid of the future.

That list was all under my personal umbrella of anxieties. What are yours?]

 

Your Sermon Notes page asks about the last time you were worried. The next question asks, Did that thing happen? Did our worry change its occurrence? [That is really just a rhetorical question. It’s meant to help make us aware of the fact that that’s not how it works. Worry does not fix our problems. Worry does not solve our concerns. Worry about my Diabetes does not lower my A1c. Worry about my income does not pay my WiFi bill. Worry does not keep my roof from caving in under the weight of too much snow. Worry has never caused my family to decide to just get along.

But, and this is where my Mom’s defense that “she’s not worried, she’s just concerned” comes into play. Jesus tells us to not worrytherefore worry is a sin! And worry does nothing to resolve the issues that plague our lives and souls and families. But, being concerned (and sometimes we use the word “worry” when we really mean “concern”), being concerned might cause us to actually do something helpful if it causes us to do two things:

  1. PREPARE – that means that we do something about that which we have a concern. – Eat better, and exercise; budget my income and stop wasting money on things that do not provide life; rake the snow off the edges of the roof, or pay someone else to do it; get our families together to see each others’ sides in their disagreement and pain and hurt. – PREPAREdo something!
  2. PRAYget on our knees, lift to the Lord, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things God will take care of. My health is somewhat under my control, but sickness can/will attack without warning or any degree of fairness; more bills can arrive in the mail than there is money in the bank; trees will fall on my roof even after the snow is raked off; my sister may never forgive my brother regardless of how much work I put into their relationship! So we PRAY – because what is impossible for us is not at all impossible for God!

 

There are things we can do – PREPARE and PRAY.

 

This section of JesusSermon on the Mount names three reasons for why we should not worry:

  1. Jesus says that Life is more than FOOD and CLOTHES. We worry about where our food and clothes come from, but Jesus says, Seek first His Kingdom – let Him take care of these needs.
  2. Jesus says that GOD takes care of the BIRDS; surely He also takes care of us (who are worth far more than the birds).
  3. Jesus says that Worrying adds NOTHING to our lives – not a year, not a month, not even an hour. In fact, if anything, worrying robs us of peace – it robs us of rest – and it completely robs us of satisfaction. All worrying does is rob us from that trusting relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

Why is it a sin to worry? [Because Jesus says, “Don’t worry!Disobedience to Christ is a sin, right? Therefore worry is a sin. Because worry separates us from God. To worry is to not trust. Do you worry that your doctor is prescribing the wrong meds? You don’t trust her? Do you worry that your mechanic is ripping you off with his auto repair? You don’t trust him? Do you worry about your spouse being out late again? You don’t trust him? We worry about our health, our finances, our home, our family? We don’t trust that God is able? That God loves you? That God is even there?]

 

Friends, know that God does indeed, truly, love you! John’s Gospel tells us that God loves you so much that He gave His one and only Son, that if you believe in Him you will not perish but have everlasting life!  – Matthew 6:33 tells us that if we put God as our top priority, if we trust Him, if we treat Him as our Lord, He will provide for us our needsAllow me to invite you to believe Him.

 

One way to repent of our sin of worry is to put Matthew 6:33 in action.

Let’s decide, today, to form a partnership with God, and let Him do the work of worrying….

 

Gracious God, Grace-filled God, Grace-giving God, we recognize our own idolatry – self-sufficiency, simple lack of trust – and today we bow before You as the King of all kings, the Creator of the universe, the only One with the authority and the ability to actually conquer sin; and today, we choose to prioritize above all else Your Word and Your will for our lives, we want to experience Your power and love in brand new ways, and so we seek after Your Kingdom purposes and today we start to place our confidence in Your promise of grace. We expect to experience Your peace, to be refreshed in Your rest, and to discover Your perfect satisfaction for our hopes and fears. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Resources:

McLaren, Ross, editor; Advanced Bible Study: Winter 2002-2003; Lifeway Christian Resources; Pp. 50-56.

01/15/2017 – Hebrews 2:10-18 – “From Grief to Grace to Gratitude”

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Mark Wheeler

Hebrews 2:10-18

“From Grief to Grace to Gratitude”

01/15/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.

 

Last Sunday I mentioned how I had felt a little short-changed in regards to pre-Christmas sermons, because of the calendar and how Christmas landed on a Sunday and our choir so magnificently had presented their Christmas Cantata the Sunday before that… So, during this season between Christmas and Lent, I am segueing into that new Sermon Series on Promises of Grace with one last Christmas sermon today.

 

Last week we read from John’s Gospel’s one-verse Christmas narrative (1:14, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”)

Today we turn to the New Testament book of Hebrews, which includes another theme of the incarnation – and this one comes with a message of both grace and hope, with what we receive and how we respond.  Listen with me from Hebrews 2:10-18 for this teaching that brings us from gloom to grace, from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from Grief to Grace to Gratitude: Hebrews 2:10-18 ….—-

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.  12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
           in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Psalm 22:2)

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.” (Isaiah 8:17)

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Isaiah 8:18)

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 

Remembering back to last week, or from your own knowledge of Scripture, what does John 1 and Hebrews 2 have in common with Genesis 1? [John says that “the Word, was with God and was God… Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made … The light shines in the darkness….” – Hebrews says that “God, through whom and for whom everything exists.” – Genesis tells us that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said [spoke a Word], ‘Let there be light….’”)!

 

A missed opportunity, buyer’s remorse, a word you wish you could take back, a favorite shirt that was accidentally given to a thrift store, a deceased pet, a parent who has passed, a spouse or a child losing their life to cancer or a car accident, or a bet placed on Seattle yesterday after the first 8 minutes of the game – these are all levels of grief we each have to deal with at one time or another. And while some of them seem trivial compared to others, they all cause pain due to a sense of loss.

Have you ever wondered why God had to send His one-and-only Son to the cross? Have you ever considered the grief that God may have experienced when His Son cried from the cross, “Why have You forsaken me?

This chapter in Hebrews tells us that “it was fitting that God should make the pioneer of [our] salvation perfect through what He suffered.”

Who is the “pioneer of our salvation”? [Jesus!]

He was made perfect through SUFFERING?

How did that happen? How did Christ’s suffering – His incarnation (from spirit to infant human body that required sleep and food and bathroom breaks, etc); His constant attacks from the religious and political leaders of His day; ultimately, His unwarranted arrest, illegal trial, trumped up charges, whipping, and crucifixion and death! – how did all of that “make perfect” His purpose for appearing on earth?

[Because that’s why He came! From the very beginning we have sinned our way out of God’s presenceAdam and Eve, Cain, the days of Noah, Mark Wheeler, and it just increases with every generation. And from the very beginning God has promised us a Savior – we find that in Genesis 3, Genesis 12, Genesis 19 – all the way through the Old Testament – and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.]

Why did suffering “perfect” our Savior? [It is by His suffering and death, and then His resurrection and ascension, that Jesus saves us. He suffered and died so that you and I might have a saving relationship with God our heavenly Father. Only a human person could take the judgement deserved by all humans, and only the Lord our God could take the judgement due ALL humans. Hebrews 2:14-18 says, “14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Listen to the first two tenants of the 4th Century Nicene Creed (#15 in our hymnbooks): We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
]

 

Our natural response to His suffering, our loss of the One who loves us the most, His unjust and horrific death is GRIEF! We grieve that loss. How can we not mourn? Jesus died for me!!

 

What makes this grief better? The recognition of perfect, amazing grace! What makes this grief turn into GRACE? [It is by this act that we are given the right to be called children of Godsaved by grace through faith.]

God showed us how much a soul is worth by the purchase price He paid. It cost Him dearly, and that which is so hard won will not be easily given up. He spent His Son’s blood to purchase you, and He will spend His own power to keep you.
“As an earthly parent you rejoice to see your own good qualities reproduced in your children. God, the perfect parent, longs to see His attributes reflected in His saints. It is this image of God reflected in you that so enrages hell; it is this at which the demons hurl their mightiest weapons. When God defends you, He also defends Himself. Now knowing that the quarrel is God’s, surely He will not have you go forth to war at your own expense!

A friend of mine posted this 17th Century British author and pastor William Gurnall quote. And I almost cried!

 

And all our grief turns, almost miraculously, into GRATITUDE! You mean I get to know Jesus my Savior personally, not because I have done anything to deserve it, but simply because God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that if I, or you, or whoever, all over the world, might believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life? Seriously? THANK YOU, JESUS!

 

Gracious God, Grace-filled God, Grace-giving God, as we live into another new year – after experiencing losses, after being hurt, after knowing pain, after feeling fears – boy do we need Your Grace upon Grace, Your Grace after Grace. Fill our lives again with Your Holy Spirit. We, today, receive You; we, today, believe in You. We, today, want to know Your power and Your love as our heavenly Father. We want to become children of God. Fill us with Your amazing Grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Resources:

Gurnall, William; Christian in Complete Armour; 1662.

 

The Nicene Creed.

01/08/2017 – John 1:1-18 – “God’s Gift of Grace upon Grace”

Click HERE for an audio of this file.

Mark Wheeler

John 1:1-18

“God’s Gift of Grace upon Grace”

01/08/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.

 

With the kids I used my Remote Control to rewind and fast-forward life a little. With all y’all I want to rewind a bit. Since Christmas landed on a Sunday this year, and we usually do our Christmas Cantata on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (one week earlier), that meant my last pre-Christmas sermon was two weeks before Christmas! I feel a little short-changed.

So, as we enter into this season between Christmas and Lent, I am using today (and maybe next week) to segue into that new Sermon Series on Promises of Grace. That means a little more Christmas. But … very little….

Let’s start with a short, one-question Pop Quiz. Of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), which one has no Christmas story in it? [Quick review:

  • Luke tells the story about the angel coming to Mary and then to Joseph, and the shepherds in the fields and the no room in the inn.
  • Matthew tells the story about the magi from the east, and about how King Herod tried to Grinch the first Christmas away from all the Whos in Bethlehem-ville.
  • John has what we’re about to read in a minute.
  • Mark’s Gospel starts off with the 30-year old Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.]

Listen with me as the Apostle John tells his version of the Christmas story – note the lack of shepherds, wisemen, mangers, and angels. But listen for God’s gift of Grace upon Grace: John 1:1-18 ….—-

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. [Notice what other Bible story that sounds like? Genesis 1? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” – What is John saying about Jesus?]

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. [Interrupt the Creation story and jump way ahead to John the Baptist, Jesus’ relative through Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.] He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. [Did you see that the “light of life”, the “Word which was with God and was God” is now called “Him”? It’s personal.] 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. [Are you ready? Here it is!] 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [What happened in Bethlehem? Whom did the angels tell the shepherds they would find lying in a manger? Whom did the magi expect to discover when they arrived with their frankincense, gold and myrrh? Who was Isaiah and Micah and Abraham and Moses talking about for all those thousands of years?The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!”]

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [Here it comes again! Listen:] 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel we find him emphasizing Jesus as the King of kingsJesus v King Herod, magi come for the King of the Jews, the genealogy leads through King David to Moses to Abraham….

Mark’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant, therefore no birth narrative or genealogy included….

Luke emphasizes something about Jesus being Savior of all mankindshepherds, genealogy goes all the way to Adam (the father of all mankind) and ultimately to God.

What are some of the distinctive themes found in John’s telling of Christmas, and of Jesus? [Jesus’ divinitySon of GodCreatorincarnation (in the flesh) – salvation, hope, peace, joy, grace comes only through faith, through believing in Him, through receiving Jesus, through the personal relationship with God Almighty by means of His Son (“no one comes to the Father except through me”, “to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”)!

We’re going to close this message together. I have prompted no one in advance – so whatever we get (utter silence or people jumping in their seats) is what we get – How have you experienced God’s gift of Grace upon Grace?

(And a little bonus grace is that we finished a little early today.) Let’s “skip” ahead to present day … and let’s live like we believe what we say we believe.

Gracious God, Grace-filled God, Grace-giving God, as we begin another new year – after experiencing losses, after being hurt, after knowing pain, after feeling fears – boy do we need Your Grace upon Grace, Your Grace after Grace. Fill our lives again with Your Holy Spirit. We, today, receive You; we, today, believe in You. We, today, want to know Your power and Your love as our heavenly Father. We want to become children of God. Fill us with Your amazing Grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resources:

12/24/2016 – Luke 2:1-20 – “Hope Always Wins Out Over Fear”

Mark Wheeler

Luke 2:1-20

“Hope Always Wins Out Over Fear”

12/24/2016, Christmas Eve

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

(Most of this message comes from Jill Duffield’s Advent Devotions in the 12/16/2016 Presbyterian Outlook.)

 

 

Luke 2:1-20, In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

Events beyond Mary and Joseph’s control have pushed them to travel at a most inopportune time. Will labor start on the road? Will the trip harm mother or child? Is there no exception to government orders for a woman in the last weeks of pregnancy? Is the Divine subject to secular authorities? Who is in charge here, God or Emperor Augustus? Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s fear factor?

 

Ultimately, we know the answer. God, of course, is in charge. But in the immediacy of needing to be registered, finding no lodging, and setting down amongst barn animals, it sure feels as if Augustus and Quirinius have the upper hand.

Taxes must get paid. God doesn’t set up the auto pay for the power bill. We have a sense, as we read these verses, of how our next administration’s policies on everything from climate change to minimum wage will be felt more keenly than the grand sweep of salvation history quietly working its way to completion in stables and far away fields for low-wage workers and refugees.

 

It is almost impossible not to stop at the mention of Syria in Luke’s birth narrative. Syria, where people have been tweeting desperate messages for help. Syria, where there is no relief for civilians, men, women, children, those about to give birth or those well advanced in years. A photo in last week’s New York Times is arresting. Three people are on the move, burdened with bags, fear evident on their faces. A kitten balances perilously on the youngest man’s shoulder. The elderly woman carries a black purse, reminiscent of the many handbags I have seen in the pew beside senior women every Sunday. The old man lags behind a little. Syria. Where families are being forced by events outside of their control to journey to places where there is little or no room for them. It seems the political, worldly powers still impact the vulnerable in ways far more tangible than the angels, stars and the Holy Spirit.

Secular authority seems oblivious to the newborn Prince of Peace, then and now. How do we reconcile that reality this Christmas Eve 2016? How can we step into the pulpit and proclaim good news of great joy for all people in the wake of a dis-unifying election and brutal killings of unarmed black men and huge numbers of displaced people and a myriad of fears both personal and corporate about what lies ahead? How can we say with sincerity and confidence that despite all the evidence to the contrary, God is in our midst and God is in control?

 

We must look again at Luke. Look closely at the snapshots the Gospel writer gives us, glimpses of God’s goodness that flash into our earthly reality with undeniable clarity even while Augustus and Quirinius are in proximate, life impacting, power.

 

First, there is the holy family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth in the manger. Augustus’ decree may have forced their journey, the mass migration of people may have precluded space for them in the inn, but Jesus would be born in Bethlehem regardless of those factors. The circumstances are far from ideal. No Noah’s Ark decorated nursery. No family close by to help. No advanced medical care or gift basket from the formula makers. But nonetheless, Jesus Christ is born. The policies, power, laws or lawlessness of earthly powers cannot stop the Divine from entering the world. Not in Bethlehem. Not in Syria. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

We need that reminder this Christmas Eve. We need to hear loud and clear that, yes, the rulers and principalities of this world may have the ability to control where we go and when, impacting our lives for better or for worse, but they can never thwart God’s coming to meet us wherever we are. Jesus will be born this Christmas to those for whom the world has no room, to those who have been forced to journey far from home, to those who are afraid of what is coming next.

 

There are also the shepherds in this story. The heavenly host announces the inbreaking of heaven on the face of the earth – not in a palace or parliament building, but in a field full of sheep and those who tend them. God’s glory shines brightest where the world often isn’t looking. Stars are best seen far away from the light pollution of city center. The announcement of Emmanuel can’t always be heard over the din of our busyness or the distraction of our many devices. If we want to learn where to go to see this thing that has taken place, we may have to hang out with the people working the night shift, the ones doing the work that bears fruit we enjoy but that is done by those in the shadows. The good news of great joy for all people is being shared first with those who need it most. The question that raises is this: Are we in close enough proximity to them to overhear it?

 

Finally, Luke shows us Holy Family and shepherds together. The big workings of those in power are not in view here. Only this one poor family. Only the usually invisible shepherds. Only the animals, perhaps a kitten precariously balanced somewhere, peering over the scene. The shepherds share their story. Those normally unheard speak the word of God that has been given to them. Everyone is amazed. Mary treasures all they have to say and ponders, no doubt, how these words will shape her story.

 

The shepherds then go back to work. Their lives, their day-to-day lives, are both exactly the same and completely transformed. They will tend sheep, subject to so much that is completely out of their control. And yet, no matter what comes next, no matter what Augustus or Quirinius do or don’t do, the Prince of Peace rules. Having seen and heard, gone and told, returned and praised, they know what we now know: The Messiah has come, salvation is here, God is in control and the vulnerable, invisible, refugees, migrants and least of these are the first to receive the good news of great joy for all people. Perhaps if we draw close to them this Christmas Eve (even if just in prayer), we will hear the angels, see the Christ child, rejoice and praise God, too.

 

Hope always wins out over fear!  Find your Hope in Jesus Christ tonight!

 

Resources:

Duffield, Jill; Advent Devotions; Presbyterian Outlook; December 16, 2016.