Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Sermon-December 16, 2007

You know, for a pastor that is looking for a call, sure am busy with supply preaching. Here is the sermon I gave today:

“Religious Interruptus”
Luke 1:5-20; Isaiah 35:8-10
December 16, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I hate surprises.

Okay, now that I've got that out the way, we can continue. No, I really am not crazy about surprises, especially surprise parties. I remember a few years ago, my dear friend Erik tried to put together a little event when we both worked at the same place. I wasn't having any of it. Looking back, I was kind of mean towards Erik who trying to be a good friend and was showing care for his best friend.

But the fact remains, I don't really like surprises. If I could gather why, I guess it's a sense of not being in control, of letting something slip past me. I tend to like to have my life planned out, and when something doesn't happen according to plan, well I get a bit testy. My illusion of being in control falls down and I am left with the reality that I am not in control of this situtation, or anything else for that matter. Life is not logical and sequencial, but very random.

It's funny how my not liking surprises, my desire to be in control can have an impact on my faith life. Faith is not an easy thing for me, since there is no rational way to quantify it. I mean, having faith in God is hard, because what about all the times that people's prayers were not answered? I think God is working on me (I can be a stubborn fool) to learn what faith is about and not think I have to rely on myself all the time. It's a slow lesson, but I think God is getting into this thick skull of mine.

In the gospel lesson for today, we meet Zechariah. Now, Zeke is a priest and it was his turn go into the most sacred part of the Temple to offer incense to God. The Bible describes Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as living blamelessly before God. They also say they are getting along in years and were childless.

Anyway, Zechariah is in the Temple doing his priestly duties, when an angel of the Lord appears. The angel says God has answered his prayers and that Elizabeth will give birth to a son that will be named John. This kid will do great things. The angel said, “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah hears all this and is probably a bit stunned. After all, here he is doing his the thing that religious leaders do and an angel comes down and interrupts him. What's even more odd is this angel tells him that he and his wife, who are probably members of what passes for AARP in those days were going to have a child. Being a logical guy, he expresses his doubts. How in the world could his elderly wife give birth to a child? The angel responds by saying he is Gabriel, and has been in the presence of God. He adds that because Zechariah didn't believe Gabriel, he would not be able to speak until John is born.

Now, I sympathize with Zechariah. I mean, if an angel visited me and told me what he told old Zeke, I would have the same problem trusting what I heard. I doubt I'm alone. In fact, I will go farther and say that we have a lot of Zechariahs sitting in pews acrross the land. Many of us are at best functional atheists; we say we believe in God, but we live a life as if God didn't exist.

Advent is a time of expectation and hope. Advent can be like the day before you go on vacation, especially when that vacation is to an amusement park with the big bad rollercoasters. Advent should be a time when we hope for things to be different, when God will break through the mundane and do something unimaginable.

But more often than not, we are like Zechariah. He wasn't a bad man, as the writer said, he was blameless before God. But he couldn't believe that God could defy reality, that God could shatter how we think life is, and create something miraculous.

I sometimes think many of us in the church are very much like Zechariah. We are busy with the work of the church, but we have stopped believing in an unpredicatble God that can do great things. We worry about our dwindling budgets the leaky roof and other things that tend to bog us down. We stop praying and hopeing for God to work the impossible and start to believe that it is all up to us. We stop doing mission, because we have bigger things to worry about.

Every so often though, God does break into our lives and tells us that God is about to do something big. However, like Zechariah, we tend to doubt these words because they don't make sense

What would have happened had Zechariah had a different response? What if instead of doubt, he responded in faith? What if started telling others of God's wonderful gift? Of course, we don't know since Zechariah chose to answer in the way the Bible said he did. But I have to wonder if sharing this miracle with others would have caused others to believe in God's mighty deeds. Instead, Zechariah was made mute, unable to tell the good news, but then the muteness was only mirroring what was already in his heart.

In our world today, God is telling his followers that God is about to do a new thing. Some will listen and tell others. Many will believe because of the faith of those who heard the message. But others will not believe and they will become mute. God doesn't necessarily strike them mute, but because they refuse to follow God in faith, others won't hear the gospel.

There are a lot of churches out there that have closed because they became mute, unable to express what God was doing in the world. Of course churches close for many reasons, but sometimes I do wonder if on some occasions it's because the churches became inward focused and unable to speak to the world around them.

Trusting God is hard, because it means having someone else steer the ship. And no, the doubts don't go away just because you have faith in God. But it can also be exciting, because we are trying to see how God is working in the world, we are looking for the ways that God is already busy at work and we find ways to join in.

I don't think trusting in God means everything will be okay and smooth sailing, but I do think they will interesting and not in a Minnesota way. Faith becomes less duty and more of an adventure.

What would happen if we trusted God? What if we stopped looking at our small budgets and small memberships and trusted that God can do a great thing despite the evidence?

As most of you know, I was involved with a new church start. What I learned from that experience is that when I was trusting in God, things happened. When I didn't church planting went from excitement to drudgery.

Advent is a time of expectation. Do you expect God? Do you wish to see what new things God is up to? I pray that you and I take that step of faith and be able to shout out loud the wonderous things God is doing. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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