70×7: How Much Further?

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MATTHEW 18:21-35 ESV

[21] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. [23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I want to show you a scene from the tv show ‘Seinfeld’. In the storyline, the soup at this guy’s shop is unbelievable and he’s getting quite famous. But he is very particular about the way he does things and he’s known for turning customers away. George has messed up in the line before and left without soup. Today, he brings Elaine with him and if anyone knows anything about Elaine, she’s a walking mess. Watch what happens here…

SEINFELD CLIP

In the show, the shop owner is known as ‘The Soup Nazi,’ because he’s unforgiving in how he wants things to go. He protects himself by cutting others off.

We set limits on others, too, cutting them off when we want. We keep boundaries, trying to protect ourselves. When faced with the grace and mercy of God, we ask questions like, “How much longer do I have to put up with this? How much further do I have to go?” Now its one thing when there is danger in a situation or there is toxicity. We do not want to introduce harm into a relationship by allowing violence and we do not want to poison a community through the venom someone is bent on spreading. But forgiveness is about change—it is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

Let’s look at our text. It is obvious that Peter is looking for limits as he asks Jesus’ how many times someone should be forgiven. He thinks he’s being gracious, offering up the number 7 for the times of forgiving someone. In Peter’s day, rabbis taught that 3 times of forgiveness is sufficient. But Peter goes beyond that and offers a larger number, one that in some situations represents the idea of ‘completion’ in Peter’s religious culture.

But Jesus goes way, way beyond that. Jesus gives a number that blitzes right past the rabbis; He blows right past Peter’s human attempt at being more compassionate than others. Jesus goes further and there’s no real end in sight to His forgiveness.

The number Jesus gives is a large number, meant to be really high to make a point. The number can be translated in the original language as either 70 times 7 or 77 because in Greek its written as an ‘idiom’—a linguistic device used to make a point, like saying ‘it’s raining cats and dogs.’ We get the magnitude of the point through the exaggeration.

But why? Why a seemingly limitless number for forgiveness? Because forgiveness has a purpose and practicing forgiveness brings about God’s desired result in the hearts of His people.

God is a God who has promised and declared to be with us, always. God is persistent and as He seeks to be in relationship with His people, He desires that persistent—presence be a mark of His people’s lives, too.

As the people of God, we are to walk with others. We reveal God and reveal Him best when we are living as He expects us to live. Therefore, because God forgives, we too forgive. And the point of forgiveness is to bring about change.

When someone is truly forgiven, they feel the grace and mercy that come from the person’s forgiveness. If accepted, that mercy can bring understanding that all as been made right again. The expectation of God is that we would truly forgive and bring about a lifestyle of forgiveness in others.

It is here that the truth of Jesus’ parable comes into play. A man is forgiven by his master of a debt he can never really pay off. But then, that same forgiven-man turns and refuses to forgive someone of a debt that can be paid off. When the master hears of this, he enacts the consequence deserving of the man’s original sin and debt. Mercy was taken away because the man never changed; he never truly accepted the gift of mercy if he was not willing to offer that same mercy to others.

The implications of the story are this, that the man who was shown mercy would show others mercy. And those shown mercy would then show mercy to others. To forgive and show mercy is what enables us to embrace others right where they’re at in life. Mercy makes reconciliation possible. Therefore, being able to forgive is the evidence of a changed heart and life.

But there’s still the question, “How much further? How much forgiveness?” I have found in my ministry that patient-persistence is what proves that God has changed my heart and enables others to receive not just my forgiveness but the forgiveness of God.

This was proven to me as a teenager in my youth ministry at my Methodist church. Through all my shenanigans—my sins, imperfections, and faults—I had youth counselors who forgave me with a genuine heart and moved me to maturity. I saw in them a persistent-presence, that they weren’t going anywhere, and that I could trust them. They walked with me, forgiving me and loving me, showing me mercy. I wanted to live that way and their lives melted my heart. Their forgiveness showed me God’s forgiveness and I was forever changed.

We can look to the prodigal son, how he squandered his father’s fortune and returned home to beg. But he didn’t have to beg. When he got home, his father was standing at the end of the driveway, waiting, and he embraced him. And did the father place conditions or limits on that forgiveness? No. He trusted that embracing his son in his returning would usher in the change that is needed.

How much further? All the way to the end. All the way to the breaking point of people’s selfish and stubborn wills. We will forgive them to repentance, hastening the turning of their hearts to God through our persistent-presence. Yes, a day will come, when the state of our hearts and the actions that sprang forth from our hearts will be judged. May we be found as those who showed forgiveness and lived mercifully because we were shown it from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Go, show mercy. Melt hearts. Walk with others. Be present. Be persistent. Show them God.

CHANGE THE WORLD: GO

RUTH 1:11—18 ESV

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?

12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons,

13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.

MATTHEW 25:31—46 ESV

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Listen to this quote from Rev. Mike Slaughter…

Will we boldly take the difficult road and challenge people to go beyond their comfort zones into the places of Christ’s calling? Or will we settle for what has always been, bowing to the wishes of the timid resisters? —Mike Slaughter

This is how we want to finish our series today. I’m sad that we’ve come to the end of series with so much good vocabulary and images. And today’s word and image (today’s charge) is GO. Being a Christian takes boldness, it takes a willingness to embrace the difficult and a willingness to accept the challenge.

Jesus’ own life proves this ideal when He tells His disciples that if anyone is to follow Him, they must take up their cross and get moving. From our readings today, we have bold challenges. Ruth could have gone home and tried to start over, going back to what is familiar. But she doesn’t. She turns away from what is easy and makes a bold move to change her life completely.

Ruth follows her mother-in-law into a new life. You may have heard the famous line from the text, when Ruth tells Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Ruth’s husband has died and her world is upside down. She makes a bold move to follow Naomi, her mother-in-law, and stay by her side. The verses I just read sound like a spiritual statement but they’re not. A closer look tells us that her commitment was to Naomi, not God. Ruth doesn’t really know God that well yet. But God uses Ruth’s commitment to Naomi to reveal Himself to Ruth. And so Ruth joins God’s people, has her life and circumstances redeemed, and her new family will eventually be responsible for the birth of Jesus.

So many of us sit on the edge of experiencing God but we never commit. We often lack the courage to ‘go’. To ‘go’ is frightening. We’re worried about what will happen. God uses all manner of situations, events, and moments in order to work in our lives. We rarely stop to recognize that grace is present in any number of ways, no matter the situation. It’s a matter of opening up our hearts to receive God’s grace in any given moment. Will we trust God enough to say, “Even here, even now, God can use what’s happening to help, heal, or reveal.”

God uses our circumstances, and even expects us to see Him and His grace in each situation. Jesus builds into our faith sure-fire ways to see God at work and gives us ways to bless others. Its what we read in our Matthew text. The people Jesus says are blessed are those in v34, those who live as Jesus lives. These are people of compassion, of mercy, of service; people who live selflessly. People who put the needs of others at the top of the list and are in ministry to them are those who inherit eternal life.

A life that responds to God’s command to ‘go’ is a life that is looking for Jesus in those they serve. And the chance to serve is rarely attractive or glamorous. A ‘go-life’ wants to see Jesus in the eyes of those they feed, clothe, house, and visit. They know that everything they do to the one who is in need, they are doing it to Jesus.

There’s a lot of places to ‘go’ if we look around. The Matthew text alone translates today as food pantries, health checkups, clothes closets, refugee work, hospitals, and prison ministry. Mike Slaughter’s quote really highlights the Matthew text, forcing us to face it or miss it.

Will we boldly take the difficult road and challenge people to go beyond their comfort zones into the places of Christ’s calling? Or will we settle for what has always been, bowing to the wishes of the timid resisters?

There, that line about ‘bowing to the wishes of the timid resisters’. Its those who resist ministry who cause hurt in our churches and communities; who leave the hurting IN their hurt. It’s the resisters who fail to see Jesus when they see someone in need. Resisters don’t love the people in front of them. These are the ones that Jesus says in the end will be separated and sent away from God, to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Resisters will feel the pain of the hurting for themselves, and there will be no one to help them. That is their punishment.

But we don’t end on that note, because Christ has made a way for you, for me, and for those who are hurting today. He’s entered this world, redeemed our souls, and given us His own example in the mission we have to CHANGE THE WORLD. He’s changing the world, through every act, great and small.

I want to end with a word from Saint Teresa of Calcutta, known by most as Mother Teresa. She said:

“We can do no great things—only small things with great love. The Sisters are doing small things: helping the children, visiting the lonely, the sick, the unwanted. In one of the houses the Sisters visited a woman living alone who was dead many days before she was found—and she was found because her body had begun to decompose. The people around her did not even know her name. When someone told me that the Sisters had not started any big work, that they were quietly doing small things, I said even if they helped one person, that was enough. Jesus would have died for one person, for one sinner.”

A go-life is a selfless life. What we do to others, we do to Jesus. He would have died for one, says Mother Teresa. So, go. Do small things with great love. Go.

CHANGE THE WORLD: RESCUE

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LUKE 13:1—9 ESV

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?

3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?

5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.

7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’

8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.

9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

Last week, in all three services, this church heard that we are committed to loving the person in front of us. That if you want to know where Jesus is, He is on the front lines of making a way for people to experience God and have a relationship with Him.

Something that Pastor Derek and I realized in that same moment was that there would be some people in the congregation saying, “Yeah, that’s right! I sure am glad so-and-so heard that. They needed to hear it.” Today, there’s something we all need to hear.

Loving the person in front of us has been a great line for us here at Smyrna as we work on becoming like Christ. But what happens when someone who is reaching out to you isn’t someone you want to love you? What if the person reaching across the aisle is someone who doesn’t have much in common with you, or worse, what if they disagree with you? What then?

Well, Godly love is void of preference. Godly love means married people loving divorced people and divorced people loving married people. It means people of one orientation still loving people of a different orientation, and the reverse.

It means Democrats and Republicans loving each other. And, here’s the hard one, it means Braves fans have to love Giants fans, and vice versa. What this ultimately means is that each of us needs to be rescued from the sin of thinking that we’re ok so we need to love someone who is not. Folks, none of us are ok.

God’s holy love does something profound to the heart that is open to God’s grace and open to receiving whoever is in front of them, regardless of where they stand on something. God’s grace is transformative, which means grace WILL NOT leave ANY OF US the same as we are. Grace will change all of us.

In the text this morning, the people talking to Jesus believe that the violent death of the pilgrims that Pontius Pilate slaughtered were deserving of their violent death. The more violent the death, the more sinful they must have been, as if that death was somehow an indictment on their way of life. This was a normal way of thinking back then. Jesus then pops their bubbles, saying that the people who died were no more sinful than the ones judging them. He then mentions a tower that fell and killed 18 people, saying that the deceased were no worse sinners than anyone else.

Twice, Jesus tells the judgmental people in front of Him that everyone must repent or perish; that everyone must turn from their fruitless ways. A life lived in judgment of others makes no effort to win people to the kingdom. Condemnation bears no fruit and fails to glorify God. Only a God-centered life offers love in both directions. Jesus loved those who died at the temple, those who died at the tower, and those who were condemning both. Jesus came to rescue people in both directions.

The story that Jesus tells afterwards is meant to illustrate a life of fruitfulness. If Christ has come to preach the coming of the kingdom of God, and He is drawing all people unto Himself, then His ministry is founded upon revealing the love of God. The fruit of Jesus’ life is love.

The story of the fig tree is very clear. The owner of the vineyard wants figs, so he plants a fig tree. He gives the tree its average, expected time to bear fruit and it doesn’t. The vinedresser says to give the tree one more year. He will fertilize it and dig around it to make more room for water and nourishment (which isn’t necessary for fig trees, but just goes to show that he’s giving it every possible chance to succeed). If its fruitful, then that’s good news. If it’s not fruitful, down the tree will come.

Jesus’ word to turn from our ways is a word of love, care, and concern. He has come that we might have an abundant, fruitful life. To have that, we must repent. I know for many of you when you hear the word ‘repent’ you hear a particular voice, a specific accent from a real life person, or you even think back to a moment that might not have been very pleasant for you.

But what each of us pastors want to challenge you with today is to hear the Holy Spirit saying to you, “Hey, listen to me, just me. I really and truly do have things that I want you to turn away from.”

We want for you to look down deep, identify the unfruitful parts of your life, and to hand them over to God. Let Christ fertilize you and dig around your roots. Listen to the voice of the Savior, who seeks to fill you with grace and save you by helping you turn away from unfruitful things.

In order to love the person in from you, you first need to be rescued from the things that keep you from loving. Every person in this room needs to be freed from something. The cross is a stake in the ground of sinfulness that affects all of us.

There are classic scriptures that speak to this, but will you hear them with a different tone, with a different accent? Hear the Holy Spirit:

Romans 3:23-25

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:1-2

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Do you hear it? Do you hear the concern that God has for you? I hope that after today you can say, “Man, I’m so glad so-and-so was here today. And I’m so glad I was here too. We all needed to hear that.” Let us turn away from fruitless living and let God bear fruit in our life. Amen.

CHANGE THE WORLD: FEED

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JOHN 6:1—15 ESV

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.

2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.

3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.

4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.

11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.

12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

There’s so much going on in this scene. The disciples are learning from Jesus’ every move. The crowds are following Him everywhere He goes. Some want to see miracles, some want to be healed, and others are just hungry.

But what is so comforting, so important, is that Jesus never stops being ‘Jesus’. No matter what demands the people put on Him, no matter what things they believe are important in their own eyes, the will of God is what will be done, in and through Jesus.

Just before this scene, in chapter 5, Jesus goes to great lengths to tell the people that He only does what He hears the Father saying. Therefore, when Jesus asks the crowd to sit down and challenges the disciples with feeding the multitude, it can only mean that what Jesus heard God saying that day was for Him to feed and care for these people.

We often forget that Jesus doesn’t have an agenda. It so easy for us to say that God feels this way or that way about any given topic. At the end of the day, the things we see on the news, read in the paper, or hear from our friends at the local breakfast place, are simply the overflow of chaos. In a broken and fallen world, the headline is always going to be skewed in favor of one thing or the other.

So, if Jesus doesn’t have an agenda, then what does He have? He has the will of God. God has seen it fit to reconcile this world, bridging the gap that sin has created between God and His beloved creation. For Jesus, there is only one thing that matters: turning the eyes, ears, hearts, and lives of people toward the God who is redeeming them. That is His focus.

This past December I learned a hard lesson on focus and perspective, and it was one of the toughest times I’d had in a while. My grandmother passed away. I’d never known life without her. She died on Friday, we buried her on Saturday, and we preached our Christmas services here on Sunday.

As she was passing, we were doing everything in the world to comfort her. We said all we could say but we were scattered. The heaviness of the room was overwhelming. This is the woman who taught all 14 people in the room about Jesus and His love. Suddenly, I did what she would do. I filled the moment with music. I told her I was going to sing to her. The only thing I could muster up was the chorus to ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’. I started singing:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

It is the glory and grace of God that melts away sin and sadness. The things of earth fade in the presence of God. The world and its agendas, its issues, its politics—they all grow strangely dim when we focus on God’s will to meet the world right where it is.

If you want to find Jesus, whether in Scripture or in the world around you, look where there is hurt, where there is brokenness, and you’ll find Him reaching out to forsaken places. You’ll find Him at the kitchen table of swindling tax collectors, in the market square forgiving prostitutes, and even serving communion to the one who will betray Him unto death.

One of my favorite movies is probably one of the silliest films ever made. Its called The Three Amigos, a comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short. They play three movie stars who haphazardly become real life heroes. Their heroic tag line is a cheesy knock-off of famous cowboys and heroes from comics and films. It goes like this:

Wherever there is injustice, you will find us.

Wherever there is suffering, we’ll be there.

Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find…The Three Amigos!

Its silly, but it’s also not too far off from the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus. Psalm 34:18 says, The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Jesus is turning the heart and focus of the people unto to God, the One from which salvation and wholeness and healing come. You heard Psalm 121 read earlier, one that has saved me from many a down-day, as it says:

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

Jesus—tired as He may have been as the crowds followed Him and demanded so much from Him—did not slumber or fail in feeding the 5,000 that day. No matter the reason they were there, varied as those reasons may have been, He sat them down, with what little they had to offer, and He made it much.

Jesus did what He heard the Father saying. We can ask ourselves today, What do we hear the Father saying? With a master building plan at work, with The Tillman House becoming a mission site for ministry in the community, I would say that our church has its pulse on what God is saying. We are meeting people where they are in Smyrna—creating a place for them to belong, where they can be fed and nurtured in every possible way. May our prayer be that we are always listening to God’s voice of compassion and redemption, loving the people in front of us, and showing them grace that leads to salvation. Amen.

TWO WORDS

MATTHEW 28:1—10 ESV

1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

We talk a lot here about the brokenness and the scars of this world. Its at the core of our theology as Christians, that our world is fallen and in need of redemption by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. And so with that, we can safely say that this world teaches that we live and we die. All of our worldly experience is a moving from life to death. And so we live it up, trying so hard to immortalize ourselves and our experiences.

But God…God, our gracious Maker, our redeeming Savior, our stalwart Guide…tells us, shows us, and leads us from life, to death, to life. We are Christians, people who believe in abundant life.

Because the world stops at death in its experience, it can’t offer abundant life. It can only offer abundance. And then it all goes away. But Jesus shows us that God opens the door to more. One of my favorite phrases is ‘made for more’. And I want you to walk away with that today, at the very least.

There’s two words that are important to us today. The words are LIFE and FREEDOM. But first, I want to set it up, so let me illustrate.

I believe that the famous, classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the greatest cinematic stories of all time. Have you ever broken down the story and considered what it reveals on a deeper level? A Midwest girl, living in a boring black-and-white world, is longing for something more. The brilliant rainbows of the Kansas skyline tell her that there is something on the other side of her unfulfilling life. Is Dorothy lacking? No, as she has all the necessary things for general happiness and opportunity. But there’s a hole in her heart and she knows it.

SLIDE 1—She sings a song many of you know, called “Over the Rainbow.” The song is lovely, but almost haunting, as she’s reaching out. The song reflects her desire for a something more.

SLIDE 2—Then, in a swirl of events, Dorothy is cast into a far away land that is filled with color, wonder, and possibility. Through her journey, she learns more and more about herself and how to view the world. She is given joy and its that joy that she brings back home when she finally returns.

SLIDE 3—For me, the last seen is the best because its the moment she realizes, because of her new found joy, that there’s no place like home. She couldn’t say that before, when she was distracted and empty. But now that she’s been filled, there’s a new life that has been resurrected in her. She has a new life about her and everything is richer.

Our first word this morning is LIFE. The women who went to the grave to finish burying Jesus went with no expectation of anything out of the normal. Why would they? Jesus has died; He was alive and now He isn’t. What is shocking for them is to find that death didn’t have the final say. Until this point, everyone knew that life led to death. But not today.

The resurrection of Jesus redefines life. There is no more life and then death. There is a new progression. There is life and death and then life again. Jesus revealed this when He said in the Gospel of John (10:10), “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The women who came to the tomb that day were shown a new reality, ushered in by the power and graciousness of God. Jesus was alive and so would they be from this point onward.

Welcoming Jesus into our lives means that we no longer live for this world or for the shortcomings it offers. God entered into the world in order to bring it something it didn’t have—abundant life. And through that abundance there is something to be experienced—a kingdom-of-Heaven quality that each of us, like the women at the tomb and even Dorothy, longs for. It’s FREEDOM. And that’s our second word.

The two Marys are now free to live, no longer bound by the finality of this life. The are free to embrace life with a joy that comes from God. Knowing that Jesus has been raised from the dead changes the way we understand life, the way we interact with it. The ministry that the two Marys and the disciples will have is no longer limited by a world that suffers from insufficiency. They can now connect to life through the Author of life. That’s freedom.

Think back to when Dorothy comes home from Oz, she is now free to live in this world in peace. She can experience abundant life and joy in a world that was once lacking in both. She’s freed from the bonds of insufficiency and the worry of going no where. She’s found new life and she’s free to experience it.

Two words: life and freedom. Jesus Christ achieves abundant life, and then gives it to us for the freedom of living abundantly. For us this morning, it’s about so much more than what’s on the other side of a rainbow. This morning, its about life defeating death and heaven coming to live freely in our hearts.

There’s a new reality: life, death, and life again. Abundant life. And its yours today. Will you receive it? Will you let the Lord give you joy for this world? Will you let Him send you back into the boring, black-and-white world with an almost unspeakable joy? He desires to awaken you today. Call out to Him and He will call you forth. Amen.

RESTORED: THE MESSAGE IN THE MESS

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MATTHEW 22:34—40 ESV

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

38 This is the great and first commandment

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

We come to end today of our discussion about the mess of sin our lives. We’re thankful for Tom Berlin’s book RESTORED which gave us the language and perspective that we’ve used here with you. Some of our classes are still going through the book and I know they’ll benefit from all that it has taught. Today, we close with THE MESSAGE IN THE MESS.

It’s Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The people cheered and shouted with joy because their hope was that God would finally put an end to their earthly troubles, their oppression by the Roman authorities. But God had other plans. It was through Jesus that God would show the world how to live. He would teach them how to survive in the midst of God’s great renewal and restoration of a broken and scarred world. God didn’t come in Jesus Christ to forsake the world or trash it. God came to clean up the mess the world was in and He would do so by saving us and sending us to help Him work.

Like the people of Jesus’ day, we can’t stand the mess and for good reasons. It destroys lives, tears apart families, and ruins plans we have for ourselves and others. And in our hatred for the mess, we long for things to change and for them to change right now. We struggle with words like wait, not yet, patience, and process.

Imagine never seeing or knowing about the great and violent trouble a caterpillar goes through in order to become a beautiful butterfly. A massive process of transformation occurs, but you miss it. You wake up one day and instead of a long, hairy caterpillar you see the butterfly. You’re awestruck and moved, but you think, “Wait! Where’d the caterpillar go? I missed it! What happened? How? Why? What was it like?” The impact isn’t near what it could have been.

There’s little to experience or deeply appreciate in the instantaneous. We take for granted the miracle and the majesty of process. Any successful business will tell you not to focus solely on the outcome but on the process. Its what gets you there that counts. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to initiate a process and its through that process that we are saved.

In our spiritual lives, we find ourselves struggling with not reaching the end result. We want the change that God wants, Jesus lived, and the Scriptures talk about, but we want them now!Do any of us feel like this…

Poor Veruca. She can’t appreciate what the geese are doing; what the Oompa Loompas are doing; what Willy Wonka is doing through this arduous process of making Chocolate for the world. She has to have it now. And in the midst of her impulse—her rush to have what she wants now—she loses it all. Even her poor father is living under the same pressure. He put her impulse above his own journey, and falls just the same.

The message in the mess is that what God is doing in our lives is a journey, a process; it is meant to take time. The Holy Spirit doesn’t microwave our spiritual formation. The fallen side of us says, “But God, I want it now!” We are impulsive, even with God.

The text you heard Kathy read has HUGE implications. The Pharisees want Jesus to answer their question so they can trap Him, so they can be justified in their desire to see Him fall, and they want that justification now. Jesus’ answer is not only clever, but has deep implications for their lives:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is not what the Pharisees want to hear. For many of us, its not what we want to hear. Jesus is saying that we have to choose, everyday, to love God, to stay in relationship with Him; that we must chose, everyday, to love our neighbor, to value you them as much as we value ourselves. This is a long process, daily showing the nature and characteristics of Jesus, and for the rest of our lives.

My most influential seminary professor at Asbury Seminary was Dr. Steve Harper, who told us with tears in his eyes in class one day, “Spiritual formation is a labor of obedience—from first day to last.” As Christians, we believe that God is 100% sovereign, reigning over this world with a guiding hand. And we also believe that we are 100% accountable, responsible for our actions and for walking in grace.

And so, in covenant with God, the One who will give us grace and empower us with His Holy Spirit, we choose (knowing it is possible with His help) to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and we choose to love and value our neighbor as we do ourselves.

To love God is to choose Him above all else. To love our neighbors is to value them as we value ourselves. The message in the mess? I’ll quote Tom Berlin to close:

“If there is any message from God in the mess of life, it is this: You are deeply loved, and with God’s help you can have and become so much more than you are right now.”

RESTORATION: ADDRESS THE MESS

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LUKE 10:38–42 ESV

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,

42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

The emphasis last week was on the seriousness behind our discipleship. Because God has gone to great lengths to snatch us from the clutches of sin and death, we too are to engage in a faith walk that takes seriously the ministry in front of us. The work that God has done is a reconciling work. Therefore, as Paul says, we have a ministry of reconciliation, too.

God draws us to Himself, then He employs us by virtue of our salvation to draw others to Him. But how do we do that? Well, we do as Jesus does and we ADDRESS THE MESS around us and show the world the presence of God within it.

Our text today tells us of a pair of sisters, Mary and Martha, who welcome Jesus into their home. One sister, Martha, busies herself with serving Jesus and we can assume anyone else who was with him, most likely the disciples. But the other sister, Mary, goes and sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to His teaching.

Martha can’t handle that Mary is sitting down with Jesus instead of helping her. She asks Jesus to tell Mary to join her but Jesus says Mary made a better choice than Martha. Why?

You may have heard the passage interpreted that Martha was the type of person who enjoyed the active life and Mary was the type that enjoyed the contemplative life. But this just isn’t the case. Scholars and historians paint a much different picture. Martha was upset with Mary because Mary crossed a line. The original audience of the gospels would have picked up on the same issue. The issue: Mary had broken the social, societal norms of how men and women behave in the household. Anglican Bishop and theologian, N. T. Wright, says this:

For a woman to settle down comfortably among the men was bordering on the scandalous. Who did she think she was? Only a shameless woman would behave in such a way. She should go back into the women’s quarters where she belonged. This wasn’t principally a matter of superiority and inferiority, though no doubt it was often perceived and articulated like that. It was a matter of what was thought of as the appropriate division between the two halves of humanity.

In the same way, to sit at the feet of the teacher was a decidedly male role. ‘Sitting at someone’s feet’ doesn’t mean (as it might sound to us) a devoted, dog-like adoring posture, as though the teacher were a rock star or sports idol… To sit at someone’s feet meant, quite simply, to be their student. And to sit at the feet of the rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. There is no thought here of learning for learning’s sake. Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God. Jesus affirms her right to do so.”

Why is all this important? Because most likely what Mary is listening to is how Jesus is addressing the mess. You see, the larger context of this passage is Jesus has turned His ministry toward Jerusalem. All the teaching, all the preaching, all the signs and wonders, have led to this moment when He will now work His way to the very place where He will give His life in order to win back ours.

This story of Mary and Martha falls right after Jesus has sent out the 72 disciples who preached, worked miracles, and cast out demons. Can you imagine what Jesus is teaching those who are listening, and Mary gets to be one of them! She’s hearing about how the kingdom of God is moving across the face of the earth, addressing the mess and cleaning up the brokenness they all witness everyday. This is the hope of things to come and Mary wants to be a part of it. The best part is, Jesus wants Mary to be a part of it, too.

God is calling us to so much more. He is asking us to let His grace in so that it can make us bold. God gives us the courage to speak into the lives of others, calling out their hurts and fears and inviting them to let Jesus in. Like Mary, Jesus wants those around you to cross the borders of what is acceptable and unacceptable in order to find the life-changing gospel. Who is it that you need to speak to today? Is it a friend? A family member? A co-worker? A neighbor of some sort?

What word do you need to speak into the life of another to show them the gospel? What mess do you need to address? Is it your mess? Is it another’s mess? The courage is there. The healing is there. Like the 72 that Jesus sent out—the ones that Mary may have heard about when she listened to Jesus teach—there is healing and accountability that we can offer this world. This mess is not meant to get out of hand. God has come to speak to it, to give it attention. God is addressing the mess.

There are things holding some of you back today. Messes that have gone unconfessed, unaddressed. There are fights, addictions, habits, laziness, negligence, distrust, mistrust, lies and secrets—and they all are obstacles to God’s grace. Some of us have gone far too long without giving the issues in our lives attention. We have let the mess determine our joy and happiness. We’ve let the mess order us around, keep us down, make us miserable, and we’ve become disenchanted and unengaged.

And so the question remains: When will you address the mess? Will you wait? Will you let it eat you up, knock you down, or turn you away from God? Or will it be today? Will today be the day that you let God in, let the Spirit move in, or give the gift of Jesus to someone who has been desperately reaching out in the most imperfect ways? Help them! Answer them!

There is a mess to address. Now is the time to go to God. Now is the time to pray for victory, for release, for His hand to enter in. Now is the time to address the mess. Let us pray.

RESTORATION: NO MESSING AROUND

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1 CORINTHIANS 5:17–19 ESV

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

The emphasis last week was on asking the Lord to bless the mess that is our lives, but also understanding that when He blesses the mess, the grace He gives in the blessing transforms our lives. Grace is a motivating force of God, that moves our hearts for Him and for ministry. Today, we turn and look at that motivating force and see that with God’s grace there’s really NO MESSING AROUND.

The text for today is 2 Corinthians 5:17–19. The passage begins with one of Paul’s favorite words, ‘therefore’. Paul is drawing a conclusion, saying in the text that if we are in Jesus Christ—believing and trusting in Him—then we are something new. The old way of living is gone. There’s a new reality, free of fear and shame, and full of trust and righteousness.

If we really stop and look at it, its not hard to see that what God has done in our lives is extremely serious. He has looked upon the face of the earth, plumbed the depths of its brokenness and offered a solution that covers all manner of sin and evil. God is reorienting the world and He’s doing it in an extremely intimate and personal way. He is changing the human heart. But each and every human heart must trust in Him in order to initiate that transforming grace. God will not live our lives for us. He will, instead, live out His perfect will through us.

Paul calls that perfect will, that business-of-God, a ministry of reconciliation. It means that God is resolving two kinds of conflict. 1) the conflict between us and God. Without Christ in us, we stand far off from God, unable to stand with Him for eternity, a problem He desires to fix through the cross. And the other conflict is 2) between us and the life we are to live here and now through grace. It’s no surprise, when you think about it, that our minds and hearts are bent toward our own selfish desires, our own darkened understanding of things. God seeks to undo that way of living and thinking. He wants to resolve the issue, remove the conflict, and empower us to live free of fear and shame.

Jesus actually deals with this situation in a meeting with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. READ JOHN 3:1-5. Nic comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. He’s seen Jesus work and heard His message. But there’s something more that’s needed. He needs to see Him face to face. He needs to look Jesus in the eye and have words of hope spoken over him. He’s hoping Jesus isn’t messing around.

And Jesus gives him the answer, one that is seemingly hard to understand at first. The answer is wrapped up in something that is required in order to truly experience the kingdom of God. One must be born in a new way. The Greek translation in John 3:3 means simultaneously ‘born again’ and ‘born from above’. The point here is that we are made right and new through the power that comes only from above. God makes us a new creation, a redeemed person that lives differently in a world that is now different to us.

When we accept the difference God gives and live differently in the world, we enter the ministry of reconciliation. We take on the work of God in our lives. We stop messing around. To be born again, having new eyes to see and new ears to hear, means that we cannot see the world the same anymore. We understand that people are hurting and that messing around and not taking life seriously is to put peoples’ hope at stake. Eternity hangs in the balance.

Let me ask the hard question this morning: are you messing around? Have you been born again, born from above? Do you see what God sees? Do you care about what God cares about?

This church has decided not to mess around in addressing the deeper needs around us. We want to take seriously the pain that surrounds us and offer hope in new ways. We’ll be doing that through the Tillman campus in just a few short months. This week, in fact, a team from this Church is headed to Campbell High School to stand with its principal and leadership. We are seeking to be in solidarity with the students and faculty who believe that schools are targets for evil (and we ask that you will pray for us).

So…hear the good news: God has received you in Jesus Christ. That is good news because we do not deserve to have our trespasses and debts wiped away. And yet, God loves us. He has desired to bring us in, and if we will accept that grace, we can in response to it, turn and give it to others through a ministry of reconciliation.

God is not messing around. You do not send your only Begotten Son to cover the sin of the world as a lighthearted gesture. God has made a decisive and serious decision to accept the pain of loss by sending Jesus Christ to live, die, and resurrect so that we might have life and abundant life, all to be to shared with a dying world.

Souls are at stake. There’s no messing around when the prize is eternity. Will you meet us on the battlefield for souls? Will you take the love, and mercy, and grace of God seriously? Will you receive it for yourself, and then give it to those who were once where you were? Will you have a ministry of reconciliation? Let’s make that decision today.

The First Christmas Carols: Magnificat

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Luke 1:46-55 ESV

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And 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 mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.””

Today’s carol title, “Magnificat,” is the same title as the song-like prayer that Mary offers God when Elizabeth prophesies over her. The Latin word means ‘magnify’. Most of us are thinking of a big magnifying glass right now. And really, thats not far off.

To set it up, Mary has her faith deepened by Elizabeth, as the words spoken over her by her elder cousin enlighten Mary’s situation. Mary’s response could have been anything, as she wrestled with this awesome responsibility of having a child that would be divine. But Mary’s response was one of worship. So I want to confess something: I’m so jealous.

A situation that should have caused worry and panic caused Mary to reach out to God in astounding ways. She turns to God and magnifies Him in prayer and praise. She enlarges God in the midst of her circumstances, calling forward His mighty deeds from the past and makes those past deeds her current reality. For Mary, God is a number of things, rather than was something in the past.

It is in recalling the glory and deeds of God that Mary is able to function well in her faith. She knows who she is serving and who it is that is calling her to this new, mysterious, and awesome thing. She enlarges God, brings Him into focus, and exposes her fear to God’s overwhelming faithfulness.

So this morning is about ‘response’. How do we respond to crisis? How do we respond to worry? How do we respond to the bland, everyday, and mediocre? How do we respond to the good, exciting, and pleasant things?

Make it even more personal. Do I magnify God in order to bring things into perspective, or do I shrink God down to someone unrecognizable, or even place Him outside the picture or circumstance I’m in?

All valid questions. It boils down to response. About 17 years ago, I got in a van with 8 other people and we all headed down from Young Harris College to Northpoint Church for 722. Louie Giglio was preaching the Tuesday night college-age gatherings, and we were in the mood for a good Christ-centered road trip.

I’ll never forget something he said that night. As he talked about the will of God, he said to us, “There is nothing in this world that you have control over except one thing—your response.” It was timely, because time was running out for me to choose where I would spend my next two years in college. I was worried sick about what I would do, mostly because I had been accepted at a number of schools, but none of them were close enough for me to do youth ministry in the area I felt called to serve, and none of them gave me the proximity to home so I could care for aging family.

Worry was my response. Anxiety was my response. I was bothered. God seemed distant, small, and uninvolved. Then, I broke down. The weight of it all crushed my spirit. In the background that morning was music from my playlist. A song came on that turned it around for me. It was the song “Calmer of the Storm” by the band Downhere. Here’s the lyric that magnified God for me:

There on the storm, teach me God to understand

Of your Will that I just cannot control

There may I see all your love protecting me

I thank you Lord, you are the calmer of the storm.

There on the storm—in the midst of the chaos, of the turmoil, of the uncertainty, the writer asks God to teach him. He magnified God. He chose to reach out to God. His response was worship. As the song finished, I prayed. I calmed, received a strange peace, and the phone rang. It was the school that was only two and a half hours away. I had been accepted. Yes, I went there, and was able to line up the youth ministry job I wanted so bad and was able to care for my great-grandmother in her dying days.

If you read Mary’s prayer, you see that she better understood her calling and mission because she magnified the Lord. When she brought Him close, she was able to witness to His great deeds and His mighty power. Those same deeds and that mighty power was alive in her because she chose to worship.

Like Mary, we can magnify the Lord. We can chose to respond in worship and in praise. Like the song I mentioned, we can call out from the chaos, from the storm, and we can worship the Lord.

Can I confess something? I need to do that right now. My grandmother fell last night, breaking her hip and both legs. She has a number of existing health issues to go along with all of that. I’m worried. I’m scared. And so I need to magnify the Lord, I need to bring Him close, I need to call out from the storm. I need to the Lord to teach me about His will, about His compassion, about His peace, about His strength, about His patience, about His endurance. All of things things can be mine, but I have to put myself in a posture of receiving.

How will you do that today? Will you respond in worship? Will you learn from the Scriptures, from prayer, from fellowship, from song, from service? Will you magnify Him today? Will you respond in worship, no matter your circumstances? Your situation can be good or it can be frightening, but the response is the same—worship. Amen.

The First Christmas Carols: Ave Maria

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Luke 1:26-28, 39-42 ESV

[26] In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, [27] to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. [28] And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

[39] In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

Today’s carol is a familiar one globally. Anyone in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, or Lutheran traditions have heard this song at some point. If you’ve been to a Catholic wedding or funeral, it pops up from time to time. But the basis of the song extends beyond its musical beauty or even its deep meaning as a prayer.

The first two sections of the lyrics are found in our text today. We’ll look at the Luke sections for our purposes, as the third component of the text is from the gospel of John.

The first section represents the awe-inspiring moment, when, Mary is approached by the angel, Gabriel. He says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” This moment is so much bigger than it sounds. To really picture it, think of it like this: God has looked down on the earth. What He sees is a world in turmoil, a creation in chaos, and a solution for it all. And so He sends a messenger, an angel, who leaves the throne room of Heaven and travels to find a young girl, engaged to be married, living in a small town.

In the angel’s message is the hope of all humankind—past, present, and future. When the angel Gabriel stands before Mary, the entire fabric of all that has ever been, is, or ever will be, will change the moment he appears. And so he appears, he approaches, he speaks, and his first words, after having just left the company of Heaven is, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”

Do you hear what she heard, the magnitude of the message? You are favored, you are loved, you are blessed. She heard that the Lord is with her, that in the midst of her life, whatever has been, whatever is going on now, and whatever is to come after this glorious moment, the Lord is with her. He is setting her up for comfort and for relationship. God will be her God and be so in a way she has yet to know. The only way she will be able to understand it is in the prayer she prays afterwards, but that is next week’s message.

Now, lets skip ahead, and we now find Mary going to spend time with her cousin, Elizabeth. We learn that Elizabeth is with child, the child being John the baptizer. She has prayed for a child and had yet to be able to get pregnant. But an angel appears to her husband, a priest, and says that the Lord has heard Elizabeth’s prayer. This child would be a true prophet, turning many people’s hearts to God.

My favorite moment in all this is when Mary speaks, and at the sound of her voice, John (in the womb) jumps! Elizabeth knew that Mary was favored. She says to her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Can you imagine the fear that Elizabeth might have just eliminated in Mary (if she had any), when she affirms the presence of God within her, and confirms the message of the angel? And sweet Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, as the text tells us, says all this with a shout.

These moments, they are real, they are precious, and they are all for us. We have in this scripture, in this song that you heard a bit ago, in the prayer that our Catholic family shares, the witness of both Heaven and Earth declaring the Lordship of Jesus. Both the natural and the supernatural recognizing God’s favor on Mary and God’s presence in the baby that will be born.

God has chosen to use the image of the everyday in order to remind us every day of His presence and power. The Holy has chosen to dwell among the unholy, and call it up to glory. And Christmas is about exactly that. An ordinary girl, a nervous fiancé, and a child with a future that is yet to be seen. It is so normal, it is so familiar, and it is the way God has chosen to be on display.

May we look to this holy family this Christmas, to something we can all see and touch and understand and see that God’s salvation is being worked out in the ordinary. May we let God touch our souls in deeper ways that before. May we see our salvation in Mary’s womb and experience redemption through the child she offers to the world. Amen.