Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon for June 24

June 24, 2018
John the Baptist

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 141
Acts 13:13-26
Luke 1:57-80

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.  

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.

This is the refrain to sung as part of morning prayer in our hymnals.  The rest of the canticle or hymn, is known as the song of Zechariah.  It is the second half of our gospel lesson today.  

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.

On Friday mornings at seminary, a small group of us would gather for Morning Prayer and we would sing this refrain a part of our morning prayer.  The rest of the final verse incorporates the refrain with some additional text:

In the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  

I have to be truthful here.  I spent lots of time this week wrestling with this text as I listened to the news and as I packed and prepped for Houston.  

In the tender mercy of our God…as we listen to this canticle, we know that part of it is Zechariah rejoicing over the birth of his son and rejoicing because he is now able to speak.  Earlier in the gospel of Luke, when the angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son, he questions Gabriel, saying, “How can this be?”  And because of his disbelief in the proclamation, Gabriel renders him mute.  

His ability to speak returns (as we heard today) after he writes that the child shall be named John.  

Needless to say, there is much reason for Zechariah to rejoice, but it is more than the birth of his son and the return of his voice.  The reason to rejoice is because of God’s great mercy. 

The word mercy, in our passage today is defined as showing kindness or concern for someone in serious need.   

Last month at the Poconos, I led a session that talked about God’s infinite mercy. Part of our time together allowed the youth time to come up with a definition for the word mercy.  

One group said it was that game where you bend your partner's hands back until they say caused the adults in the room to shudder.  

But most of them came up with a working definition that had to do with acting kind or gentle or with compassion when in a position to do the opposite.  

The key that we discussed in the definition was that mercy is shown when a person in power or a person who has power or privilege choses to show compassion when they have the opportunity to use his or her power to their own advantage.  

Does that make sense?  The key to mercy is that when a person is in power or in a position of power, she or he decides to respond to a situation with compassion, instead of hurt or harm.

Mercy is tough stuff.  

Thank God that God's mercy is endless.  

When we mess up (yes, there are consequences) but God gives us second, third and millionth chances.  God, whose power is infinite, shows compassion and mercy.  

Yet it’s hard for us to live out of God's grace and mercy modeling that for others.  As soon as we get a glimpse of that power or authority or control, we hesitate to give it up.  It's easier to use that power to maintain power or the control that we think we have rather than show mercy and compassion to others.  

This isn't a new problem...humankind has always struggled when it comes to power, who has it and how you act with it.  
We, the people of God, the family of God, are called to live out humble lives of service and love, extending mercy and compassion when we could hurt or harm others.

So, if mercy is to show kindness or concern for someone in serious need., then who is in "serious need"? 

In our text, it might be that the barrenness of Elizabeth had put her and Zechariah in need.  (Stoffregen) The "needy" are defined in verses 78 & 79.  Spoiler alert…it’s us.  
People sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. 
People who are not at peace.  

It’s us, the imperfect ones.  

The ones who struggle daily with the divisiveness coming from our political parties.  
The ones who struggle with wondering how in a world that produces enough food for 7 million people, that people in our own community go to bed hungry.  
The ones who struggle to make ends meet.  
The ones who live in or are trying to mend broken relationships.  
The ones who worry about how they will be seen or heard.
The ones who struggle with self-esteem and body image. 
The ones who post the perfect images on social media as they covet the perfection of their neighbors and friends.  
The ones who are imperfect…
It’s you, it’s me…

Look, it’s us.  
We still walk in the darkness in this world.  
Yet God, who loves us unconditionally, reaches out from a place of extreme power and offers us compassion and mercy and a place of love and a place to be loved.  

But I have to tell you, in receiving that love and mercy and grace and compassion…we are transformed.  We are placed in a path in the light to walk the way of peace.  

And when we walk that path…we illumine the path for others.  
I’d like you to watch part of Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech for the Generation Award at the MTV movie and TV Awards from last week.  

He begins with words of thanks to his family and a nod to his son and then enters in with the 9 Rules from Chris Pratt.  

When I shared this video in worship, I left out #7.  While it was on MTV, it didn't really fit in with the sermon as part of worship.  

It sounds some what reminiscent of a Lutheran sermon, no?  I  mean, he used the word grace!!   Chris talks about each of us having a soul, about how we are called to act around others and to know God loves us, to pray and that grace is a gift!  

That grace, my friends, is Jesus.  There is nothing that we can do to earn this gift. 

Through God’s love and mercy, Jesus came into the world to break us free from the power of sin and death and transform us into humble, grace-filled servants in the world around us.  

When we live out of that grace, I can’t say this enough, we are empowered to show mercy and compassion to others…to walk along the path that Jesus set before us as the Prince of Peace and to make a difference in the world because we are loved and forgiven and sent to serve.  

A wise woman (my mother) said to me this week, “We need to be that grace in action.” 

So whatever it is you find to do…you should do it with all your heart.  
Lead with love.  
Respond with mercy.
Continue to walk humbly with God.  

Let us pray, 
Good and gracious God, thank you for loving us.  Thank you for creating us in your image and for continually calling us to live lives that model your compassion and mercy.  We give you thanks for offering us forgiveness when we mess up or miss opportunities to serve and care for others.  Help us to see all humanity as our neighbor.  Help us to build relationships, model humility and show mercy.  And all God’s people say, amen.  

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