and this is the message that I preached. Oh, and the worship I led was not at "my" church, but at a neighboring church. Pastor let his pastoral friends/colleagues know that I was willing to do supply preaching, and I have had several biters. Today was my first time preaching away from my home church. It was exciting. So, I preached last Sunday at my church and Pastor's "other" church, this week at a neighboring church, and I'm doing next week at yet another church. Woohoo! Anyway, in an effort to become less of a wuss, I'm putting this out here. I'm also trying to remember grace. Just because there is drama and stress in my life, doesn't mean that I should lose sight of grace, both for myself and for other people. So, here's the message:
Church Message 23
June 24, 2007
God is good-all the time. This phrase is very true. Unfortunately, in the midst of all the things in our lives that can go wrong: untimely death, tragedies, divorce, illness, pain, etc, sometimes, we can forget that God is indeed good. This morning’s Gospel lesson features two people who many would see as people who had been slighted by God. After all, they were getting on in years and they had not had any children. Elizabeth was thought of to be unable to have children, and so she and her husband had pretty much given up on the idea of hearing the pitter-patter of little feet running around the house. As we heard at the beginning of today’s Gospel lesson, though, it became time for Elizabeth to give birth. This couple who had thought they would go to their graves without having children, was blessed in a special way. I wonder, if after finding that Elizabeth was pregnant, the neighbors had a good talk amongst themselves about what was going on. This child could have been considered to be long overdue, considering Zechariah and Elizabeth’s ages. What did the neighbors think about the whole situation? Did they think that God pitied the couple? Did they think some sin in their lives had finally been resolved, thus “allowing” God to bless them? Or did they just think, “Good for them!”? I wonder. But, instead of blaming God for their misfortune up until then, and instead of saying, “What’s changed?” Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoiced in the new baby. This couple didn’t seem to really care if the neighbors had been talking about them, but instead, they rejoiced. Thankfully, instead of seeing Zechariah and Elizabeth as weird, the neighbors joined with them in the celebration of the new life that was brought forth. How easy is it sometimes to forget the goodness that we have been given and instead focus on how we’re perceived by others? I imagine that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for their brand new baby boy was contagious. They showed great gratitude, and the neighbors joined in. Perhaps it was contagious? Perhaps it was leading by example? The point is that the blessing of God in their lives was not overlooked because the couple didn’t downplay their excitement because of how they might be perceived. They saw their blessing, and they gave thanks.
And we come back to the neighbors. I can imagine that many of you are parents. A couple of my siblings have small children, and so I speak only from the experience of being a part of the lives of my nephews. When my brother had his son, and when my sister had her son, I remember how each of them got a lot of advice. Parents who had been there before were offering tips on what worked for them. A great deal of that advice was very helpful to them. However, it became somewhat of a balancing act as they tried to sort through the advice, and all the while try to figure out their own parenting styles in the midst of it. Sometimes that was a hard task because we don’t like to alienate those we trust and love. So, can you imagine how Elizabeth and Zechariah must have felt when the neighbors came to be a part of the circumcision and naming ritual? The neighbors, we are told, pushed for Zechariah to name his child after him. But, in an earlier part of Luke’s Gospel, an angel told Zechariah about his future son, and what that son should be named. But here, all these people came, EXPECTING Zechariah to name the baby after him. They came to give their advice and to offer their opinions. Elizabeth said no when they pushed for the name Zechariah, and then Zechariah said no by fulfilling the angel’s command when he went against the cultural norm and named his son John. This behavior might also have been seen as odd, but these two faithful people realized that they had God with them. They did what God said, and not what the neighbors said.
Thankfully, as these “bizarre” events unfolded, the example put forth by Elizabeth and Zechariah was enough to show the friends and neighbors that God indeed was among them. But, this “God among them” bit struck a bit of fear into their hearts. What would that mean for them? Would they have to look into their own lives to see what was happening if God was among them? If God was among them, did that mean that things would have to change? And the million dollar question that was widely talked about in the region was, “What will this child become?” That question was one that was not easily answered. Even into John’s adult life, people questioned who he was. Some thought he was Elijah, while others thought he was the Messiah. Some thought he was just a weird guy, and some didn’t think of him at all. But, the neighbors at John’s birth wondered, “What will he be?” A common question, I think, when a child is born. I imagine parents often wonder what their children will become. The same could have been true for these parents, considering the unusual circumstances under which John was conceived. An angel told of John’s birth, so what would that mean for the rest of his life? God was with this child, so what would that mean for him? What does it mean for the children of today? God is with the children born today, and especially at their baptism. It means that love will always be a part of their lives. Love is a part of all of our lives as baptized children of God. An angel may have told Zechariah that he would become a father, and that God was with them, but we can know that God is with us, too. This may seem weird to people who do not have faith in their hearts and lives, but we can go forth in our lives knowing the love of God in Christ.
In response to the knowledge of God’s presence in the life of his new baby, Zechariah’s mouth was opened as he spilled forth adoration and praise to the God who made it all possible. This praise was Zechariah’s way of saying thank you to God who came through on God’s promise. God is always faithful, and God is always merciful. God had shown mercy to Elizabeth when she became pregnant, and by making John a messenger and preparer of the way of Jesus. God showed mercy to THE WORLD by coming in Christ in order to grant us forgiveness. Things may start small, but when God is at work, they don’t have to stay small. This is true for our entire lives today. God changes the world with the seeds we sow. By doing even the “little” things for those we meet, such as a smile or a kind word, we can show the love and the mercy we have been so freely given. Perhaps these actions can be our own way of saying “Thank you” to God. When John was named in this morning’s lesson, Zechariah was claiming him as his own. Zechariah claimed this gift from God, and by doing so, I believe he was saying, “Thank you God. I receive and acknowledge that this gift is from You.” In a society where we “get what we earn,” how easy is it to remember that God gives abundantly what we can never earn: unconditional love and mercy? Do we risk being seen by the neighbors as naive people for our love? Do we risk being seen as Christians with all of the stereotypes that surround us? Do we RISK going forth as people who are called, gathered and sent, knowing that Christ calls us to lives of thanksgiving, prayer, and love? I can think of worse things to be known by.
So, the question is, do we go forth as people who have received grace; as people touched by God in our baptism to make Christ known to a broken and hurting world? Do we go forth with the knowledge that Christ is our king and deserves all praise and honor, and yet with the understanding that He seeks relationship with us, as people who are unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals through our own merit? The very same John from today’s Gospel lesson would grow up to become one who preached for people to repent from their sins. He knew he was not the one to forgive these sins, but he knew he had a place in God’s plan that required him to herald the coming Messiah. Christ came as that messiah. He came to offer forgiveness for those who turned from their sin and turned to Him. Jesus came to save us, not only FROM sin, but FOR lives of praise. May we take our words and deeds of love to our neighbors so that they too, may experience this grace. Amen.