Sunday, December 25, 2016

How Blessed are Messengers

A man sat in a marriage counselor’s office in despair.  His wife was threatening to leave him.  He desperately loved his wife.  He wanted to stay with her; to be with her.  No one else had ever caught his attention, and he had devoted himself to caring for her.  He was flabbergasted when she told him that she felt unloved.  He couldn’t understand it at all.  So, he sought help and advice.

The counselor asked the man what was going on.

The man began, “I don’t know.  She says that she feels unloved.  She says that she feels like I don’t care about her.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  I love her dearly, desperately.  I only want what is best for her.  I work as hard as I can each and every day to show my love to her.  I make sure and get all my work done so I can get home.  I cook dinner for her almost every day.  I know what kind of food she likes and doesn’t like, and I take great pains to make sure it’s cooked to her taste.  I know what kind of clothes she likes to wear, so I make sure her wardrobe is full of those clothes.  I have purchased several things personally, and she never tells me that they are bad.  She has always marveled at how well I can buy stuff for her.  I also take her on vacations to whatever destination she wants.  Never have I refused her a single request to a place she wants to go.  I have constantly done things for her and given her gifts, so I don’t understand why she feels unloved.  I haven’t a clue why she believes I don’t love her.  Can you help me?”

The counselor scratched his head for a moment and then replied, “When is the last time you told her?”

The man sat in silence and struggled to remember.

It is certainly true that love without action is merely words.  You can tell someone you love them over and over and over again, but if your actions contradict your words, you are a liar.  If there are no actions following the words, they remain empty.

However, words matter.  Messages matter.  Not only do we need to see things in action, we need to hear those words.  We need to hear messages.  We need people to verbalize what is going on deep within their own hearts and souls.  News carries weight.

We all know that news carries weight.  We all know that words that are spoken or read sometimes hit us where we live–even if we are far removed from the events that are taking place, news still impacts our lives.  For instance, on September 11, 2001, four passenger airplanes were hijacked.  Two were flown into the World Trade Center towers.  One was flown into the Pentagon.  One was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  As far as I know, none of us here this morning had any direct contact with those events–if someone here did, please correct me later.  As far as I know none of us here were really, truly impacted by what happened.  We weren’t there.  We were over a thousand miles away.

But the news about those events hit many of us hard.  We grieved for the people who were killed.  We grieved for the families who lost loved ones.  We grieved for our nation as we came under attack.  We were angered by those who attacked us. We wanted vengeance.  We also were inspired by the acts of heroism that we heard about. We took pride in police officers and other first responders who risked and gave their lives to help others.  Reflecting on such stories, we hugged our families a little tighter.  We turned to God in bewilderment, in frustration, in questioning.  We rallied together as a nation.  The event itself may have had little impact on us, but the news of what happened certainly did.

News always elicits a response.  Whether it is emotional or physical, news always causes us to react–sometimes with joy; sometimes with sadness; sometimes with elation; sometimes with anger.  When the news really hits home, we talk about it; we discuss it; we share it.  Those of us with Facebook know this all too well.

Christianity, at its core is about news.  To be precise, Christianity is about THE good news.  We use the technical, theological term: Gospel.  Gospel literally means good news.  The question that often arises is: what is the good news?  What is the gospel?

Well, in order to know the good news, we first have to hear the bad news.  The bad news is that we are separated from God.  The bad news is that we live in a world where that separation shows itself on an all too regular basis.  The technical term for this is that we live in sin.  Now, this term has fallen out of favor with many.  Most folks today prefer to talk about the mistakes we make.  Everyone readily admits that they are not perfect, but no one wants to admit that they are sinful.  No one wants to admit that deep down they are inherently selfish or that they seek their own wishes and desires over everything else.  Truly evil people are rare and to be held in contempt.  Most folks aren’t bad but perhaps misunderstood.  And if we simply manufactured the right conditions or put the right sorts of laws in place or produced the right environment, then everyone would turn out perfectly fine.  Everyone would get along swimmingly and be completely happy and satisfied.

What is truly intriguing about such commentary is that it is not new.  Folks have thought this for thousands of years.  The idea of utopia–or the perfect society with perfect living conditions has been around for a long, long time.  And each and every time it has been attempted, it has failed.  Just like every end time prediction.  They’ve all failed.  Folks have tried to come up with the answer, but one answer has stood the test of time–even though it isn’t popular, and that answer is: there is something deeply wrong and deeply flawed with us.  No matter what kind of society.  No matter what kind of government is established.  No matter what kind of laws are on the books, humans do not do what we know is right.  We do not follow the laws like we should.  We end up seeking our own interests above the interests of others.  Scripture calls this the original sin–seeking our self interest over what God has instructed us to do.  This selfish orientation has left us estranged from God–separated from Him and His goodness.

Now, God is a God of love, and He has given us free will.  He will allow us to go our own way and walk away from Him should we choose.  He will allow us to engage in our destructive behavior and seek our own desires for eternity.  And, left to our own devices, we would.  You may ask: what’s wrong with that?  Here’s what: we will never be satisfied.  We will always be searching.  We will always be hungry.  And imagine your hunger growing and growing in an eternal search for satisfaction and fulfillment.  Imagine never finding what you seek and desperately longing for what you desire with no end.  You would be miserable.  You would be desperate; in pain; in longing.  My friends, you would be in hell.  And that is exactly what the Bible says will happen to us left to our own devices and our own desires.

But God does not desire this for us.  God does not want us to end up in this condition.  God wants us to thrive.  God want’s us to find satisfaction; to find fulfillment; to find joy, peace, and hope.  But He knows we will not find that in any thing but Him. He knows He alone can fulfill our deepest desires and hungers.  And He knows that we must turn to Him; we must trust Him; we must seek Him and make Him our greatest heart’s desire.

But how would God do this?   He could warn us.  He could try and tell us of all the things that we should and shouldn’t do.  He could tell us to love Him above all and love our neighbor as ourselves.  And God did just this thing.  But, our selfishness wouldn’t allow us to accomplish these things.  Our selfishness would not let us see beyond ourselves in loving God and loving our neighbor.
And so God sought to change our hearts–to turn us away from our selfishness.  There is one powerful force that can indeed change a heart.  There is one powerful force that can cause us to step outside of ourselves and seek to please others instead of ourselves.  That force is love.  When we fall in love with someone, we will to anything we can to please that other person; we will live for that other person; we will strive to do what they ask us because we know it brings them joy.  And God had to wonder how to make us fall in love with Him.  How could He demonstrate His love and share His love with us?

Last night, we heard about the birth of the Christ child in the manger.  We heard of angels singing, shepherds running, and Mary pondering these things in her heart.  Today we heard about the light shining in the darkness, the Word becoming flesh and living among us.  We heard of God becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus who came to speak of God’s love; who told us that God is the good shepherd who seeks out the one lost sheep out of the 99; God is the woman who tears up her house to find one lost coin; God runs out to meet the son who squandered His wealth and throws a party for that son; God also leaves that party to welcome in the son who has done everything right and is bitter at God’s graciousness.  Jesus told of an extravagant God who loves those who are far away from Him.

And Jesus didn’t simply tell of this love.  The God become man showed that love as He took our sin upon Himself.  He took the just punishment for the wrongs we have done.  He poured out Himself on the cross and died for us when we least deserved it speaking those haunting words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  Dying for a family member is common place.  Dying for a friend is something we might do.  People have even died for strangers.  But dying for an enemy?  Dying for someone who does not believe or follow you?  That is a special kind of love.  That is the love that Jesus shows.  That is the love of God for you and for me.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.

God poured out His love for you on the cross, and then three days later, He showed what happens to those who trust in Him; who trust in Jesus’ work on their behalf.  They will be raised to eternal life and glory.  All of their hungers and wants will be satisfied.  Their future is safe and secure in the hands of the one who created and redeemed them.

This my friends, is the Gospel.  This my friends is the good news.  When we were separated from God, He bridged that gap.  He reconciled us unto Him.  He provided for us; saved us; and ensured our future.

This is the news that we are now commissioned to tell.  We are now messengers on God’s behalf to tell the world about what God has done for them.  Not only with our deeds.  Not only with our acts of kindness and generosity, but with our voices.  We are called to share what God has done for the world.  For you.  For me.

And then, so shall come to pass what is written in the book of Isaiah.  It will be spoken about the Church and all who believe, “7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’  8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.  9 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.  10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  Merry Christmas!!  Amen.

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