March 25, 2019- Nothing is Impossible With God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 7:10-14

annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “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.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (ESV)

Nothing will be impossible with God. Mary had no way of knowing that she would be the virgin Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before the angel came to her with his “impossible” message.  Even as Isaiah prophesied bad times for the bad king Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah, God had a sign for Ahaz, whether Ahaz wanted it or not:

 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:10-14 (ESV)

Ahaz didn’t live to see the sign. By the time Jesus was born there had not been a descendent of David ruling the Israelite people for hundreds of years.  Yet God’s promise was good.  His sign is real, whether we expected it, asked for it, or even knew we needed it.

How many people in the world today know they need Jesus? Ahaz didn’t think he had any need of a Savior. Ahaz didn’t want to ask God for a sign even when God told him to ask.  Ahaz thought that he was a power unto himself rather than subject to the rule and authority of God.

Mary believed the promise. She trusted God even though she didn’t understand. She trusted God even though what she was hearing from the angel wasn’t technically possible. Like Abraham, whose faith was counted to him as righteousness, Mary believed.

It is difficult to imagine what would have been going through Mary’s mind- to be visited by an angel of God and to be told that against all possibility that she would be the earthly mother of the Son of God.

There is a saying that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Those of us who find their comfort and satisfaction in this life and in the acquisition of material things often don’t see their need for Jesus. We see our need for Him when we are hurting. We see our need for Him when we are helpless.  We hope in Him when all else seems hopeless.

Emmanuel-  God with us, comes to us clothed in humanity, given to save us from the penalty of our sins.  This is a wondrous sign and great news.

A Scion of David, God of the Impossible-Ezekiel 17:22-24, Romans 8:20-21

Cross

Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (ESV)

Old Testament prophets usually had the unenviable job of being the bearers of bad news. Often they found their ways into various tortures and martyrdoms because of the messages God charged them to bear. Ezekiel had plenty of bad news for the people of Israel, but he also had good news.

There is a theme throughout Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the Lord of All, the Suffering Servant, yet always the King of Kings- the theme that God always preserves His people. (Isaiah 11) God makes a way when the way seems impossible, and he usually uses humble and unlikely people and things to make His will come to pass.

God isn’t impressed by the strength of men. Money, power, weapons, etc. can’t buy anyone entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The strongest empires eventually fall.  The most powerful and wealthy men eventually grow old and die and their lineages die out.  Entropy – the eventual decay and return of created things to their base elements- has been written into the order of the natural world since the Fall.  This world is in the process of passing away. God must re-make the world free of corruption, and that new re-made earth is still to come.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:20-21 (ESV)

God raised up Jesus, who in His earthly bloodline, is a scion of a long dead king (David), even though Jesus is the one who is and was the King of Kings for all eternity. The noble cedar that Ezekiel speaks of is a reference to both the line of David and to the original Temple.

The idea that Jesus was the father of David (who was Jesus’ forefather) may seem a little strange from a metaphysical perspective- how can it be that a son is his father’s father? How can it be, as Mary asked, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, much less the very Son of God?  As we learn in Luke 1:26-38, “nothing (is, was, or) will be impossible with God.”

The noble cedar, this scion of David, from this branch is Jesus. Jesus who came to be salvation and shelter for “every bird of a feather” came to us through from a most unlikely source. Jesus’ people come from every nation and people group and from all demographic backgrounds.  Jesus’ people come with every sort of history and baggage attached to them. God especially calls the unlikely, the humble, the downtrodden, and the weak.  He is known for making something out of nothing- for raising the dead, to breathing life into dry bones.

Do we trust in God, even in the face of the physically and logically impossible? We aren’t called to check our brains at the door, but we are challenged to trust the Author of the universe. We aren’t promised that we will get the answers we want or that our lives will be made easy. In our baptism and at the table of the Lord’s Supper we are named and claimed as God’s own.  We are brought into His body and made new creations even as we sometimes slog through life in this broken world and we are currently living the difficult paradox of now and not yet.

We are fragile, flawed and captive to sin, but at the same time we are made God’s beloved because Jesus humbled Himself, allowing Himself to be tortured and killed (the punishment we deserve see- Isaiah 53:5) and became the sacrifice to cover our sins. Even when it seems impossible, God speaks and it happens.  He has spoken, and it will be.  In Jesus, God comes to us in a most unlikely way.  God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us.

August 18, 2017 Blessings and Peace on All Nations Psalm 67, Numbers 6:24-26

JesusRest

May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.  May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. – Psalm 67 (NRSV)

Bad news seems to travel a lot further and wider than good news does. Human beings seem to be drawn to news of humiliation and scandal, betrayal and death much more so than to news of peace, reconciliation and God’s provision.  Some of that hankering for bad news may be self-preservation, as in wanting to steer clear of calamity ourselves. It is good to know where the weather is bad so we don’t travel there, and it is good to know where there are construction or traffic delays so we can plan alternate routes. We want to know where things are going wrong, presumably so we can avoid them.

But certain kinds of bad news- especially when only part of the story is reported, or the story is told from a biased viewpoint- serve only to increase tensions and make relationships with others more difficult. What are our motives for following that kind of reporting?  Does bad news travel faster because bad news sells?  Who profits by fanning the flames of conflict?

We have all heard the expression, “One bad apple ruins the whole barrel.” When we simply listen to the doom and gloom that the media feeds on, we start to paint others with a broad brush. We profile others, and we stereotype. We can be tempted to implement a logical fallacy that states, “If so and so, who was of ______demographic, commits crimes or is otherwise of questionable character, then everyone else of his or her demographic does the same.” In other words, it is neat and tidy and easy to think that people who aren’t like us are somehow evil or inferior, just because some people who are not like us have made tragic choices.  It’s not that simple, and it’s also not true.   Sin and unwise choices are inherent to all of humanity. Sin is no more or less prevalent in any particular ethnicity or nationality or culture.  The difference for Jesus followers is in how God calls us to treat others.

The Good News in Scripture that comes from God- and the Good News is not confined to just the Gospels- is just the opposite of doom and gloom of the media and its obsession with Bad News. In God’s economy one good apple cleans up the rest of the barrel- God’s blessings, poured out over humanity, bring salvation and unity instead of division and rancor.

As Jesus followers we are called to be the good apples, the bringers of blessings. The first verse of Psalm 67 closely echoes Numbers 6:24-26: (the Aaronic blessing)

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

May we be those bringers of blessings and peace.

August 9, 2017- When the Truth is Difficult (or Hazardous)- 1 Kings 18:1-16

counting

A long time passed. Then God’s word came to Elijah. The drought was now in its third year. The message: “Go and present yourself to Ahab; I’m about to make it rain on the country.” Elijah set out to present himself to Ahab. The drought in Samaria at the time was most severe.

Ahab called for Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. Obadiah feared God—he was very devout. Earlier, when Jezebel had tried to kill off all the prophets of God, Obadiah had hidden away a hundred of them in two caves, fifty in a cave, and then supplied them with food and water.

Ahab ordered Obadiah, “Go through the country; locate every spring and every stream. Let’s see if we can find enough grass to keep our horses and mules from dying.” So they divided the country between them for the search—Ahab went one way, Obadiah the other.

Obadiah went his way and suddenly there he was—Elijah! Obadiah fell on his knees, bowing in reverence, and exclaimed, “Is it really you—my master Elijah?”

 “Yes,” said Elijah, “the real me. Now go and tell your boss, ‘I’ve seen Elijah.’”

Obadiah said, “But what have I done to deserve this? Ahab will kill me. As surely as your God lives, there isn’t a country or kingdom where my master hasn’t sent out search parties looking for you. And if they said, ‘We can’t find him; we’ve looked high and low,’ he would make that country or kingdom swear that you were not to be found. And now you’re telling me, ‘Go and tell your master Elijah’s found!’ The minute I leave you the Spirit of God will whisk you away to who knows where. Then when I report to Ahab, you’ll have disappeared and Ahab will kill me. And I’ve served God devoutly since I was a boy! Hasn’t anyone told you what I did when Jezebel was out to kill the prophets of God, how I risked my life by hiding a hundred of them, fifty to a cave, and made sure they got food and water? And now you’re telling me to draw attention to myself by announcing to my master, ‘Elijah’s been found.’ Why, he’ll kill me for sure.”

 Elijah said, “As surely as God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I take my stand, I’ll meet with your master face-to-face this very day.”

So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 1 Kings 18:1-16 (MSG)

Obadiah was a guy in a hard place. King Ahab, his boss, had been looking for Elijah for some time.  Obadiah didn’t want to be put in the position of announcing Elijah’s presence to Ahab, because it could very well mean his hide if Elijah didn’t show up.

difficult before easy

Elijah does call upon God (before whom I take my stand) to give Obadiah the confidence to go ahead and tell Ahab. It might not have made Obadiah’s job a whole lot more comfortable, but at least he could trust that God would be with him and that when Ahab came looking for Elijah he would be there.

How many times do we have to tell people truths or reveal things to people that we know are not going to be well received?

When we are in the position where know we have to tell the truth and bring something out into the open that won’t be received well- or that may end up to be proven wrong- it can be frightening. Nobody wants to be the messenger when the news is bad news.  Nobody wants to be proved a liar when we claim to have seen someone or something and then someone or something disappears.

Even when we are the bringers of bad news or we have to reveal a truth that won’t be well received, God is with us. The Holy Spirit is there for us to call upon to give us discretion and the right words for even the most difficult of situations.

God is always there for us, interceding on our behalf. We can stand because He gives us what we need to stand.  He might not let us get out of being the bad news messenger, or get us out of delivering difficult messages, but He will get us through doing what we need to do.