Sunday, December 1, 2013

Today's sermon at Highlands

“God finds favor with you!”
Highlands Presbyterian church
December 1, 2013

The theologian Walter Bruegemann told a group of pastors, "Few of our people imagine God to be an active character in the story of their lives." How about you? Do you think of God as playing an active role in the events of your life or do you see God as standing in the corner watching what might happen as you go through life?
Bette Midler once sang a song titled “From a Distance.”
“From a distance We all have enough And no one is in need And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease No hungry mouths to feed From a Distance We are instruments Marching in a common band Playing songs of hope Playing songs of peace They are the songs of every man

“God is watching us God is watching us God is watching us From a distance.”

So…when you think of God, is God an active participant in your life or just watching from a distance?

A God off in the corner simply watching and keeping score is not, of course, the biblical picture of God. Yeah, God watches. But God also gets involved - God does things, all kinds of things -- great and small, mighty, mundane, or miraculous, God is constantly at work. More than that, God partners with people to tell others about what God is doing and to do the doing as well.

Take today's Gospel reading for instance. The angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah. God doesn’t just answer Zechariah’s prayer. God sends an angel to tell Zechariah that his prayer has been heard; that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and is specific. The baby’s name will be name John.  Zechariah and Elizabeth will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, John will be great in the sight of the Lord. The angel instructs that John must never drink wine or strong drink; and that even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. John, the angel says, 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.”

How’s that for being an active God.

Next, the angel Gabriel explodes into the life of an unsuspecting, unwed teenager named Mary. Through this angel, God tells her that she has found favor of God and will conceive, carry, and bear the Son of God. Whew – God can’t get anymore active than that!

Can you imagine God being so involved in your life that God finds favor in you and promises to do important work through you? My guess is that God already has.

As I look around at the people in our congregation I see people who are favored by God and through whom God plans to do marvelous things. Perhaps not conceive and bear the Son of God, but so what -- that one's been done already anyway!
But think how many other wonderful things there are that God wants to accomplish through us, so many that you and I couldn't begin to count them all. And each of you are in all kinds of places and positions with gifts and talents to do those wonderful things.
Just as God found favor with Mary and Elizabeth, God finds favor with you. Finding favor with Elizabeth meant she would be remembered forever as the mother of John the Baptist. Finding favor with Mary meant she would be remembered forever as the mother of Jesus.
And so the Advent question is not whether God has found favor with you; God has. So the question is rather what marvelous work will God do through you?
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” Luke says Mary pondered what it all meant. That’s what I hope you will do during Advent. Ponder.
Advent is our time of anticipation…a time to anticipate that God will find favor with you. A time to ponder what that means, what great power is bestowed on us by the favor God finds in each of us.
It's an incredible thing to be noticed, to be recognized, to have those around us believe that we have the ability, the talent to do something that matters in our neighborhood, our community, the world. How much more awesome is it to have the God of the universe notice and to invite us to join in the important work on God’s agenda?
During Advent we wait for God…and learn that God is waiting for us

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