Dare To Believe

Luke 1.67-79; 3.1-6

Can you use a Word from the Lord? A word from beyond? A word that speaks to your situation, to your circumstances, to your life? Can you use a word that says something to us about the current state of affairs in the world?

I don’t know about you, but I can.

If you can use such a word too, Luke, the gospel writer, knows how we feel. Luke knows that what we need is not a nice story, not a theological treatise, not a feel good scene in an escapist movie. We need a Word, with a capital ‘W’ that comes to us where we are, that speaks to the particularity of our lives and world…and brings life.

Luke does his best, in these opening chapters of his gospel, to let us know that a Word, a living Word with a capital ‘W’, is coming.

Do we dare believe?

Luke was a historian. He was not a historian as we might define one today, seeking the objective analysis of cold hard facts (we all know that historians today are objective and have no axes to grind or agendas they want to follow ;). But Luke does want us, dear readers, to know that a Word indeed came. He wants us to know precisely where it came, when it came, and to whom it came.

It was, Luke tells us, the 15th year of Roman Emperor Tiberius’ reign during which “the word of God came.” But that Word did not come to him.

Under great Tiberius’s judgment seat sat the lesser rulers: Pilate up in Jerusalem, the Herod boys down in Galilee and beyond, running things with their usual unbrotherly squabbling, and Lysanias stuck in Abilene (better known to us as the Bekka Valley). Annas and Caiaphas from the religious realm, were in their appointed places providing religious cement for Rome’s social engineers. But the Word did not come to any of them. Certainly, Luke assures us, the Word arrived in the real world of politics, economics, and religion. It arrived in the real world of history, our world; but it did not come to those who were in power, or to those with status, or to those on top of things. Oddly, it came to John, a man hanging out it the wastelands of a backward province on the outer boundaries of the empire–far from the center of things.

Even more oddly, John proclaims the he is but a harbinger of a greater coming. A Greater Word is coming which will transform not just one life, or two or three, not just one town, or city, or province, or people. With this coming (using Eugene Peterson’s message) “Every ditch will be filled in, Every bump smoothed out, The detours straightened out, All the ruts paved over. Everyone will be there to see The parade of God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6 MESSAGE) The word is for everyone, everywhere.

Do we dare believe that the Word of the Lord arrives in such an odd place, to such an unexpected person, in such an unexpected way, and with such a grand scope? Do we, trained skeptics, instructed by the principles of the modern world, bound by the precepts of human reason, and schooled by the hardness of life and the persistence of evil, do we dare to believe that such a Word is even possible?

We might be more comfortable with incontrovertible proof. We might be more convinced with signs of great power, or with logical arguments and scientific proofs that remove all intellectual stumbling blocks. We might be more convinced with the eradication of evil and the end of tragic events in our lives and world. But God has chosen not to act or arrive in this way. Instead, God has chosen to tell a story, and to sing a song, and to walk with anyone who is willing, inviting all of us to discover our own freedom to chose whether or not we will listen for God’s odd and challenging, but life giving Word.

Do we dare believe?

This is the invitation of Advent: to believe, to consider, to reflect, to dream, that this kind of Word is not only possible, but that it comes to us & for us.

It is when we dare to dream, that we begin to see and experience its reality, and it’s truth. It is not something that can be proven, or imposed, or domesticated in doctrine.

The Word is a song to be sung, a story to be witnessed, and truth to be discovered when we dare to trust and believe.

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Do we dare to believe?

The invitation of Advent, to take a risk, to wander down the path of belief, is a very personal one. You are not deciding for everyone. The choice John is challenging us to make is not to be imposed upon others. You are not pronouncing a verdict on Buddhists or Muslims, or atheists, or agnostics (discussions of doctrinal truth of the more universal variety are for another time and place). John, and Advent, invites you to discover a Word of life, spoken to you and to your particular situation.

So, in the first year of the Presidency of Barack Obama, when Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations, Gary R. Herbert is governor of Utah, and Randy Watts is Mayor of Logan, and when Gradye Parsons is Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and Paul Heins is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Logan, the Word of God comes to …us?

It comes to us when we dare to believe.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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