12/23/2019 10:10:40 AM
Gifted for More...Proclamation
I don’t know if anyone reads comics anymore but there been a long-running comic strip called Hagar the Horrible, started by Richard Browne back in 1973. He died a few years ago so now his son Chris Browne has taken over illustrating this mild-mannered, red-bearded Viking who comments about things in everyday American life. One scene from a few years ago had Hagar kneeling in prayer saying, “It is not easy to believe in you, God. We never see you. How come you never show yourself?” Next, we see a flower springing into life next to Hagar, then a volcano erupting in the distance, then an eclipse of the sun turning the sky black, then a star shooting across the sky, then a tidal wave, then lightning flashing, then a bush beginning to burn, then a stone rolling away from the entrance to a tomb. Finally, Hagar pulls himself from the mud, dripping wet, and says “Okay, okay! I give up! Every time I bring up this subject, all we get is interruptions.”
I don’t think that’s what John the Baptist was thinking when he sent a couple of his followers to Jesus. But it appears that John struggled with putting together everything about God and the Savior he sent. Maybe you do too. And maybe a few days before Christmas is the epitome of this challenge. We hear about God’s love and Jesus being one of us and God & sinners reconciled and peace on earth but then you look your life and say, “Where is that? Where is God’s power? Where is God’s love? Why is my life not the way I thought it was going to be? Why isn’t God doing something more?”
John the Baptist must have had some of those thoughts. He was hand-picked by God to pave the way for the world’s Savior, but just two years into his work of pointing people to Jesus he was imprisoned by King Herod (the son of Herod the Great who ordered all the baby boys around Bethlehem to be killed). And from prison John tells his followers to hunt down Jesus and ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
And here we have a bit of a mystery: John knew Jesus his whole life (they were related and John was only six months older); he baptized Jesus and who pointed to Jesus and said, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Could John have had doubts about Jesus being the Messiah? Or, was he giving his followers a nudge in Jesus’ direction so they would hear from Jesus’ own lips that Jesus is the one they should be following? We just don’t know for sure, but here’s what we do know. Even though he was the greatest prophet ever (Jesus’ own assessment), he was – like we are – susceptible to doubt, discouragement and despair. If he had doubts, he still was a believer. His doubts did not make him an unbeliever. After all, he took his doubts to Jesus. You see, John had said that the coming Messiah would bring God’s judgment along with God’s mercy. And up to this point all John saw from Jesus was the mercy; the judgment would come at God’s perfect timing. Call it doubts, call it confusion, or call it just a question…John comes to Jesus for answers.
And how does Jesus respond? He neither scolds John nor does he call for a protest against Herod to release the innocent John who was unjustly locked up. Instead, Jesus points to two things that would point John’s disciples to Jesus as the Savior AND build up the struggling prophet who would soon be executed. In doing so, Jesus does not crush a bruised reed nor does he snuff out a smoldering wick. First, he points to miracles he did – a series of supernatural displays of God’s power and love in the lives of everyday people. And then he says, “the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” The good news is not about an end to poverty and disease, the good news is the God of heaven forgiving the sins of imperfect people. Notice it’s simply proclamation. For John this was proclamation of God’s mercy and patience and love….even if he was bowed and bent and bruised by the darkness of doubt.
Can you relate to that? Jesus’ proclamation to John that day is also proclamation for us today. Maybe at times you have been plagued with doubts. That’s ok. Again, if of all people in history John the Baptist had doubts about how God was working, well then we too can expect that we’ll probably have some doubts along the way and we don’t have to beat ourselves up. Jesus doesn’t beat us up. Instead, he points to good news of forgiveness, peace and God’s perfect promises.
In a few days, we’re going to call this proclamation that God has gifted to us “Christmas.” It’s proclaiming God’s solution to this world’s problem of sin and death. Yet, don’t we find ourselves treating this divine proclamation with a lot less value than we should? Do you ever find yourself saying “Well, I didn’t really learn anything new in church today…” as if the only value is in something new. God telling us about his grace, love, and forgiveness is good news even when we heard the same message for the 10,000th time. Or maybe the real issue is: not trusting the promise that God works through what the Apostle Paul called the “foolishness of preaching.” Faith comes from hearing the message and if you don’t fully hold to that, then coming to worship or reading your Bible provides merely entertainment value. Then we are misusing this gift we call “proclamation”
The only answer to our lack of trust or lack of appreciation is the mercy of a patient God……who didn’t consume John when he doubted, but instead he consumed his doubts. In this little talk about John the Baptist Jesus is showing what kind of a Savior he is – patient, forgiving, slow to judge but quick to be kind, willing to give exactly what someone needs.
And that’s exactly what we see in Bethlehem’s manger. What we will proclaim this week – and the Christmas account that you will hear for the 20th time or 50th time or 80th time – is precisely what we need, the reminder of good news. Yes, the Christmas angel brought good news of joy for all people: forgiveness even for our doubts, for the times we have been less than excited to be in God’s house and hear his word, for the times we haven’t trusted in his powerful word while we were looking for something different. Jesus said “Blessed is anyone who doesn’t stumble on account of me.” Don’t get tripped up on Jesus just because you’re expecting him to do something different in your life.
For four weeks now we’ve put before your eyes and ears “Gifted for More.” And we spent time on praise (our whole response to God’s love is a life of praise), priority (God wants, even commands a set of priorities with him being at the top of the list…for his glory and for our benefit), promise (God’s promises leads us to make thank-you promises). And today it’s simply proclamation. I said “simply” because it really is simple. Christianity, you could say, is not really a religion, it’s a message. What we do in every single worship service and in every single Christmas concert, and every Bible lesson or written devotion is the same every time: proclamation – telling a message that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is for you.
What does it do for you? Two things. This good news message is the “power of salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). In other words, it changes the eternal destiny of people. If you would die without that proclamation you would spend forever apart from the kindness and warmth and security of the Creator. The good news message has changed where you are going when you die. And I think you’re with me on that…that is what we’re most thankful for. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11).
The proclamation that God has gifted to us does something else. Immediately after those words, Paul wrote this to Titus, “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). God’s gift of proclaiming Jesus changes you and me, it makes us different, it fills us with love that actually came from God, it leads us to be better people, and it makes this world a better place to live in. It’s exactly what Jesus was referring to when he said, “You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Mathew 5:13,14).
So do you want to make this world a better place? There’s probably mixed reactions to that question but what if I ask if you want to be a part of helping more people like you get to heaven? How could anyone say “no” to that? Actually when we pray “your kingdom come” we are asking God our Father to bring more people to heaven and to use us to do that…in any way we can. That’s exactly why we have a congregation here. It’s why in 1860, twelve years after Wisconsin became the 30th state, a group of immigrants from Germany who found some nice land in this 6-mile by 6-mile square called the town of Greenville, formed a Christian congregation. The pastor traveled around serving groups in the Fox River Valley. But they knew the proclamation of Jesus – from his birth to his life to his crucifixion to his resurrection victory – would bring eternal life to people and make an impact in this community. Fast forward 159 years and we find ourselves blessed – yes, gifted – with a worship facility less than ten years old, with a school building less than 40 years old although each room looks brand new, and fellowship hall/work area less than six months old, all built to serve both the 2500 souls in our church family and the next generations yet to be born. Wow! The proclamation of Jesus resulted in souls ushered to heaven and in lives changed and family trees straightened and strengthened. God’s blessings just keep coming.
And that’s why we trust that our humble efforts to plan for more ministry – more proclamation – is a good thing. That’s why your Leadership Team meets twice a month, including a 2.5-hour meeting early on a Saturday morning. That’s why every part of our Immanuel team – from our school faculty to the specialized staff ministers to the pastors to the wide range of support staff to the army of volunteers work together in God’s kingdom work…to keep the proclamation going.
And that’s why your offerings are important. God gives you freedom in how you spend your money and what you invest in. He wants a thank-offering but he doesn’t tell us how much – he lets us decide. Teenagers, realize that your offerings are important! Kids, realize your offerings are important! College students, realize your offerings are important (and we were all broke too when we were in college)! Young families with growing kids and mounting life expenses, realize that your offerings are important! Retired folks, realize that your offerings from your fixed income are important! And all the rest – somewhere in between – our offerings are important. Our offerings are part of God’s gifts to us – “Gifted for More” – and now our offerings are gifts back to him.
And if you have never filled out an offering commitment card, that’s fine. We think there’s benefit to you and to us collectively if you do. If you want to give more, but just don’t see how you could and so you put down a smaller number, that’s fine. Let your head determine the number that started in your heart. And if you are bold and put down a bigger number than you think is realistic, that’s fine. Let your heart determine the number that started in your head.
For us disciples/followers of Jesus every single thing we do – from our job to our hobbies to worship to giving a joyful thank offering – is driven by the proclamation of the patient and kind Savior who didn’t squash John for his doubts. Jesus made it clear from his words and his death on the cross that if John continued to trust Jesus, he would never regret it and would never be ashamed. And Jesus proclaims that same thing to you and me. Gifted with proclamation, we gratefully respond with more. Amen.