Thursday, January 19, 2017

they say you are dangerous

but I don't care

A sermon from the hodgepodge of Luke 5:

This is one of those passages from the Bible that you hear and think, “I’ve heard this before.” 
This passage has that ring of familiarity to it, doesn’t it?

Well, it sounds so familiar, because it is
This is one of the few passages in the Bible that turns up in all four Gospels! 
It’s a surprisingly rare thing for a account of Jesus’ ministry to turn up in all four gospels. And this passage does!
Well, parts of it anyway…
With the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, this passage tells of the drafting of the first disciples. How Jesus called Peter and his partners, to follow him. How then and there, they dropped everything and did just that. 

With the Gospel of John, this passage tells about how, after a night of failure, Jesus tells Peter to cast out to some spot or another. How when Jesus’ orders are followed the result is a catch is so big, the nets can barely keep from breaking!

This passage is so familiar because you have heard it. Multiple times, and in multiple places!
But the very reason this passage is so familiar; is also the reason it gives scholars trouble

Mark, Matthew and Luke agree the first disciples are called at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But in the Gospel of John, this miraculous catch comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in John it’s the resurrected Jesus who tells Peter to cast out to the other side of the boat. Yet here in Luke, this account of the miraculous catch happens in the beginning…

Now, you could say Luke and John are talking about different moments, but the trouble is there are other details in this passage that are out of place. Like the reference to “Simon Peter.” Jesus hasn’t given Simon the name “Peter” yet! That doesn’t happen until later, in chapter 6!

What’s more, Peter’s response to Jesus’ miracle doesn’t seem to fit  here, either. Instead of being elated at this catch, Peter’s overcome with guilt. Peter’s response would make more sense where John puts this story, after Peter’s denial!

Familiar as this Gospel is at first reading; upon closer inspection, it doesn’t quite fit here. The timing is all wrong

What if, though, that’s Luke’s point?

After all, this isn't just a story about the wrong time
It’s also a story about the wrong people

It’s after a night of failure for these fishers, when Jesus shows up fighting off the crowd he’s attracted. It’s after the sermon Jesus had to give from Peter’s boat, when Jesus tells Peter to cast out in the deep waters. It’s after Peter has to call for help to haul in the catch, when both boats nearly sink

It’s after all that failure, empty nets and a sinking ship, when Jesus calls Peter. Jesus calls Peter who can’t even do his own job right, to help Jesus with his!
And, when Peter saw what Jesus could do, he asks Jesus to leave him. It’s after Peter tries to get Jesus to leave. that Jesus tells Peter to follow him!

This familiar passage is not only about the wrong time; it’s about the wrong people too! 

And what if, that’s Luke’s point?
What if it isn’t in spite of these oddities that this passage works, but because of them? What if this passage fits perfectly? What if the point the scholars miss is the most obvious one of all?

That it’s no accident the resurrected Jesus turns up as Peter’s night of failure comes to an end. Because the resurrected Jesus is always doing that; turning up at the wrong time, to the wrong people!

And, if it’s no accident. If indeed it is Luke’s point; it also means Peter’s reaction isn't out of place either. 
And here’s where it hits home, there’s another reason why this passage is so familiar…

…The truth is, we could handle this passage if it ended with nothing more than a night of failure. 
If after mending his nets Peter politely listened to Jesus’ sermon, went home and talked to his accountant about how to adjust his books for the last night. We could handle that. 

And, we could handle this passage if the resurrected Jesus didn’t turn up. If Jesus would only show up when and where we expected him.

But that’s not what happened. Is it?
And it isn’t what happens, either.
The resurrected Jesus always shows up at the wrong time, to the wrong people. And like Peter, we try to tell Jesus to get out of here, it isn't the time or the place…

Like today, to us

It’s Annual Meeting time, isn’t it??
Play it safe. Keep the budget flat. Down if possible. No new ministry. Maybe even cut a few of the old ones. 
Manage the failure. Excuse and rationalize them. 

And after yet another night of failure, Jesus shows up. Here, of all places; and to us, of all people.

We too are tempted to tell Jesus to go away. 
We’ve got business to attend to. There’s the budget. The statistical report. Let us fiddle with these fraying nets a little more. It’s been a night of failure anyway. And by now we’re too tired to put out into the deep waters…

As always, though, the resurrected Jesus shows up. At the wrong time, to the wrong people

This is what it means to be a “forgiven sinner, free riding on Jesus,” folks.

It’s not trying to manage our fate or failure. It’s hearing Jesus call out to the deep, uncharted waters at the wrong time. To cast for all the wrong sorts of people too.
After all, isn’t that when and where Jesus caught you?
It’s Paul’s rhetorical question in First Corinthians all over again, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Gathering for a meeting to try and chart our own course is no different than Peter and his partners casting their nets all night. In the dark. 
When we come back empty, it’s all frustration and fear; isn’t it?

For all our worldly wisdom, we don’t know where the fish are. We dream of these young families. Active young adults. People with means, wanting to establish an endowment.
And of course, not a sinner among them.

But it’s Jesus who knows where the real fish are. 
And here’s the rub, they’re not where we want them to be. 

Jesus calls us to cast out into the deep waters. Turning from the trout and walleye, to the bottom feeders. Sinners who can do nothing more than cop a free ride from Jesus. 
In other words, folks who need Jesus. 

Today’s Gospel is familiar. And it’s not just because we’ve heard it. 
It’s because the resurrected Jesus is always turning up at the wrong time, to the wrong people

Today, even. To us, no less…
While we’re busy with business as usual, the resurrected Jesus shows up. Calling us out into the deep, uncharted waters where he found us in the first place.  
Jesus doesn’t let us sit on the sidelines fiddling with our nets. He calls us to take them and follow him out to the deep, uncharted waters.

It’s a frightening prospect, isn’t it? It’s not the right time. And we’re not the right people, either…

It may end with you telling Jesus to go away.

Or, it could very well end by you dropping everything to follow Jesus. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

dawn is coming

upon our eyes

Sermon on Jesus' Baptism; Luke 3:1-22:

There’s a book I haven’t read. A movie was made of it, though; and I have seen that. “Big Fish.” It’s basically a Father/Son story. The son, a consummate practicalist; and the father… The father who is, well, always telling these tall tales
The son can’t stand it, and wishes for nothing more than his father to face up to reality. 

It all comes to a head in the father’s last days. As his death comes, the son expects his father to finally give up the charade. The father, though, doesn’t. The father doesn’t, predictably, because of another one of his far-fetched stories…
…When he was a boy, says the father, he and some buddies dared one another to run to the door of a dilapidated building on the edge of town. Rumor was, a witch lived there. And if you looked her in the eye, you’d see you own death…

As the father tells it, he went to the door. And when the witch jumped out, he calmly asked her to let him and his friends look into her eye. Which she obliged. And indeed, when they looked, they all saw their fate. 

Well, seeing his end, the father wasn’t afraid. And he remained implacable even as his health declined…

Of course his father’s clinging to these stories, only serve to make the son more and more angry. As the movie progresses, you find the son, in refusing to accept his father’s stories, only confirms them. The son’s very resistance to the father’s tall tales, only brings them to fruition
Finally, in the end, the son too accepts his father’s tales and fate.
It’s a fine story.

Of course, that’s not how it works for the rest of us. The rest of us, we have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to carve out the future we don’t have to fear. There are times too, when we can convince ourselves we’ve managed it.
And there are other times, when that illusion is shattered…

Like last summer at confirmation camp. I figured as the youngest pastor, I had the “cool” pastor credentials, well in-hand. 
One afternoon, I went to the pool. Planing to sit on the edge and joke with the campers. Walking across the hot pavement, one of the campers noticed I wasn’t in a bathing suit. 
“Pastor Ryan,” they called. “Aren’t you going to go swimming?”
Nonchalantly I sat down, put my legs in the shallow end, and said offhandedly, “No, I doubt anyone wants to see their pastor in a swimsuit.”

THEN, without any hesitation, they nodded! Even sizing me up and then affirming, “yeah, that’s true.”

Well, I hadn’t expected them to agree so readily!

No matter how hard I tried, I was still the same old egghead. Sitting on the edge of the pool…

Truth is, no matter how hard we try to shape up our lives, when we go to bed, we’re still the same person we’ve always been…
For my own part, all my attempts to carve out my own future have always been doomed from the start. And I know why, too…

Well, enough about me.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus of all people, is baptized. As he’s baptized, we’re told heaven itself opens. The Holy Spirit alights upon Jesus. And none other than God, gives a sermon. “This Jesus is my son, the beloved.” God preaches that Jesus is the revelation of God’s very, own heart…

There, in only the third chapter. Before Jesus has done much of anything. Before the plot gets underway, God interrupts. And, spoiler alert, reveals who this Jesus is. Right at the beginning!
What’s more, God gives this Jesus everything he will need to bear his identity out; the Holy Spirit and all of heaven opened and poured out upon him.

All this happens before Jesus squares off against evil. Before he proves himself. Or even earns the title! 

From the very start, God gives Jesus all the goods. God doesn't hold back or keep any secrets. God tells Jesus exactly who he is; “Son,” “Beloved.”

It’s a fine story.
Of course, that’s not how it works for the rest of us. The rest of us, we have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to carve out a future we don’t have to fear. There are times too, when we can convince ourselves we’ve managed it.
And there are other times, when that illusion is shattered…

Like when my baby brother was born. Once there were two of us, Grandma had, had enough. Mom and Dad weren’t going to keep dragging their feet. It was high time, said grandma, that the boys got baptized

Dad rolled over, and mom couldn’t raise any reasonable objections, so grandma had her way. 
Well, my folks didn’t belong to any church then. So, I suspect grandma was equally persuasive with her pastor as she was with her boy. So one day, after church. At a church I had never been to; before or since; I was baptized.

And it’s no small irony that the deed was done in a lutheran church… 
Eventually, when I was in fourth grade, mom got religion. From the fourth the twelfth grade, I went to the Pentecostal church. But, when I moved out for college, I put all that nonsense behind me. Religion, Christianity; was for the birds.

My only trouble was, regardless of what I thought or did; what had been done to me in baptism was more powerful. That day, in a small town, with a pastor who didn’t know me from Adam, sealed my fate. 
And that, that’s why I’ve never managed to carve out my own future… 

Because in baptism God interrupts, and spoiler alert, reveals exactly who we are. God doesn’t hold back on you or keep any secrets. All of heaven is poured out, and the Holy Spirit is given too. God gives everything we need to bear the identity of a child of God out.

This, it’s not what any of us would have chosen. It’s what we’ve been given

And thanks be to God, God doesn’t hold back. God gives all this, regardless of what we try to make of our own future… 

In baptism, what happened to Jesus, happens to the rest of us. Jesus’ baptism is a revelation; of what baptism does. What it gives
In baptism heaven itself is opened and poured out. The very Holy Spirit is handed over. And none other than God, gives the sermon. 
In baptism, nothing is held back, God keeps no secrets. ALL of heaven is poured out.

In baptism a promise big enough to wrench our lives out of our own hands is made

You who are baptized; and if you aren’t, talk to me. We can fix that
You who are baptized, nothing can be done to undue your future. Or, even do it up any better, either!
All the goods have been given. Nothing has been held back. God interrupts, says exactly who you are; “Child of God…”

You’re future, there’s nothing left of it to put in order, or improve. God hasn’t held back on you. Kept any secrets from you. 
Heaven’s been opened and poured out on you. The Holy Spirit’s been granted. God gave the sermon that’s stronger that what you think or do. Stronger even than Death. 

Big Fish is a clever story. Your baptism, though, that’s the real deal
It’s your end, given to you now. It’s the Spirit that’s Holy. And all of heaven, too.

Your future, it’s not something you have to carve out or make happen. God gives it to you, as a gift. There’s nothing you have to do to achieve it. There’s no further you must look to find it.

That is what it means to be ‘forgiven sinner, free-riding on Jesus.’
It’s to have your future given to you. To give up trying to make it yourself. To hear the sermon God gives to you, “beloved child. Well pleased.” To hear that, and cry out, “Amen. Let it be so.” And trust God to do that, to make it so. 

Because God will. God doesn’t hold back, or keep any secrets when it comes to the future of his baptized children…

The only real question now is, not what do you have to do to carve out your future. But, what will you do now that you don’t have to do anything for it? Now that its been given to you?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

& we'll take a cup o' kindness yet

for auld lang syne

"Another New Year, and the one who makes all things new"

Happy New Year’s!
And for us, it is a happy occasion. It exemplifies all we hold most dear; Cherishing our past and hopefully looking ahead to what’s next. New Year’s; the celebration of last year and the promise of all the next one. It’s a holiday that embodies are highest aspirations…

And sure, there may be room for improvement, but that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. A new year, a new you. Time to turn over a new leaf…
Although by now I’ve turned over enough new leaves to fill a forrest

And if we had to admit it, that’d be the rub of New Year’s. Wouldn’t it?
Our past is just a little more sordid than the glitter that falls as the ball drops. Our future is not as full of the promise as innocent “baby new year.”

…In 1985, after years of declining sales, Coke-Cola decided to catch up and catch on. Pepsi, loaded with sugar and artificial sweeteners, had been outpacing Coke for years. All the blind taste tests confirmed it. 

To compete, the old company worked up a new recipe. Complete with the, now ubiquitous, high fructose corn syrup…

…The results, as we now know, were a disaster
Pepsi crowed, Coke’s new recipe was just regular, old Pepsi. And after less than three months, plain, old, regular Coke was back on the shelves…

New Year’s may embody our highest ideals. But the next morning's hangover, reveals another side of our ideals and aspirations…

For every new leaf turned over, there’s a scorched stump just behind. For every old acquaintance now forgotten, there’s another we can’t -no matter how hard we try…

It’s all just New Coke. The next iPhone. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Another New Year, and a resolution that will be different this time, all over again. It’s not the redundant, “new and improved.” It’s just improved; if even that.

Despite our best efforts, we can never seem to break free of our past. We drag it behind us, like an old corpse…

Tonight we stare down the barrel of another new year. It hold promise, yes. But we all know last year won’t let us off scot-free, either. 
We come into 2017 with all our ideals, and our shortcomings too. 

Every New Year and each “new and improved” ware; they promise a future that’s finally freed of the past. 
And although we know better, we place our hopes in their promises. We make our resolutions and fork over our money. Hoping this time will be different…

Well, tonight as another new year dawns, you’ve come to a decidedly old fashioned place; The Church.
The Church, always so resistant to what latest. The Church, stubbornly promoting, not the new and improved, but something old and rugged; the cross…

The irony of it, is this out of date place is right where you ought to be to begin a new year. This place which looks with equal suspicion upon your resolution and the new and improved, is the only place that can actually deliver something that’s actually, truly new
A future not bound by Death. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with our resolutions, in and of themselves. The trouble, though, comes when they make promises they can’t keep. Which they always seem to…

Deciding to be healthier this year is praiseworthy. A fine goal. The trouble comes when we think it will make us live forever. When we imagine hitting the gym can make us into the kind of people who use our health for anything more than bolstering our own ego. 
Getting the new iPhone is fine, I suppose. But the trouble comes when we think it will finally make us trendy. When we expect it to remake us into the kind of people who can use its technology to do more than post a selfie…

But that’s the temptation every New Year’s, isn’t it?

It’s what Martin Luther noted way back in 1518 when he defended his theology with his Heidelberg Disputation. In thesis 24 he asserted, ‘without the theology of the cross we always misuse the best in the worst manner. 

Without the one who was crucified, we search in vain for something or someone else who can free us from the past we drag behind us. 
And there’s never been a shortage of those who are happy to do just that, are there? 

When their promises inevitably come us short though, they always turn in on themselves. Turn in on us
Which is how Martin Luther, following the tradition of St. Augustine, described “Sin.” Being turned in on oneself. 

Tonight what we hear is, only the one who was crucified and after three days raised, is the one who is capable of actually making and keeping a promise not bound by Death. Only the one who now sits on the throne, can actually make all things new.

Martin Luther in one of his New Year’s Eve sermons put it this way: No New Year’s horoscopes, no fortune-telling, no lucky wishes made at midnight can even come close to achieving what God promises to give us in his son, Jesus Christ: an untroubled conscience, a joyful heart, and the certainty of salvation. This will provide us with the strength and courage we need to face every New Year and every new day.”

…Jesus didn’t just come to save us from our worst, but our best too. Our highest ideals and most cherished values. 

The life Jesus promises, is one we would never expect, or conjure up either. 

It is a complete break from all that’s behind us. Not the life you already had, just more of it. But one that’s truly, new! Life not bound by your past or even death. 
Newest of all, this life that isn’t earned. It’s given, given freely
We Lutherans like to call that, “Grace.”
Grace, the promise of truly, new life. Life that is so new, it doesn’t come by efforts or resolutions. But as a gift

It comes from the one who suffered all our failed hopes and dreams. The one who died by our unkept promises and broken resolutions. The one God raised from the Dead and then seated on the throne. The one who makes all things new

Your future, your new life comes from Jesus’ wounded hands. The one who takes your past to the grave, and dies with it. Jesus gives the future we’ve always hoped for, but have never been able to cobble together. And he does it all, freely

He gives you this life regardless of your resolution or how well you kept them. And not just on January 1st, but the middle February too. 

On this new year, what matters is not our resolutions. But the one who is so resolute upon being your savior, that he takes upon himself the failure and even death of all highest and best; and gives us his own life in return. 
Martin Luther called that the “Happy Exchange.”

That’s the resolution you’re given to begin your new year. The freedom to be a “forgiven sinners, free-riding on Jesus.” 
To come before Jesus with nothing more than a pile of broken resolutions. To come before Jesus asking him to take them upon himself, and in return to give you his very life as your new one.

It’s an entirely different way to live, that’s for sure. Take that life, begin your year truly new. A sinner not bound by your past or Death; but forgiven of it, freed from it.

With a promise like that, how can this year not be different. With a savior like that, how can we not shout, “Happy New Year”? 

Well, Happy New Year’s, you bunch of sinners!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

the angel came & said its name

but she could not keep from trembling 

In the Church we have an odd way of doing things. Of speaking. And of keeping time, too…

For instance, it is now the fourth week, in-a-row we’ve begun worship with the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
…Are you sick of it yet? …Has Emmanuel come? …Has anything changed, for that matter???

…Social scientists call it “cognitive dissonance.” 
“Cognitive dissonance,” that terrible gap between what we say and reality. The gap between what we say and reality… 

Nowhere is that gap more dramatically on display today than in our Gospel, the so-called, “Magnificat.” The hymn Mary sings as she visits her auntie, Elizabeth. Mary’s song, celebrating God’s mighty act of deliverance. Mary’s song celebrating God’s mighty act as if it has already happened! 
While all the while, Mary is still pregnant and unwed. Still a refugee. Still a peasant, in an occupied country.
She’s not exactly the picture of someone whose already been delivered…

Social scientists call it “cognitive dissonance.” That terrible gap between what we say and reality
Elizabeth, though, has another word for it…

 But honestly, this ‘cognitive dissonance’ is pretty common, though…
What I mean is, you don’t have to look to the Bible to see it. 
It happens here, you know:
  • The widowed man, coming to church mere days after the funeral. When it’s time for it, he rises and joins the congregation singing of God’s mercy.
  • The confirmation student completing her “sermon-note.” Daring to ask if it’s all true, why do so many bad things happen.
  • The grieving mother who can’t understand, much less get through the worship service. But comes anyway. Sitting in the back, and hanging on every word.
  • The busy man, taking a break from a hectic day, to drop in the church. As if there’s nothing more important he has to do.
  • The women spending an afternoon stitching up a garment that’s seen one too many days. Making repairs no one else is likely to notice.
  • The council member putting down the battle axe and daring to hold up the other side of the argument to their compatriots.
  • The member who has trouble getting around, who can’t make it to worship. Yet, says a prayer for the church every day and mails a check each month…
Social scientists call it “cognitive dissonance.” That terrible gap between what we say and reality
The Church, though, has another word for it…

…In the the Church, we sure have an odd way of doing things, though. Of speaking. Keeping time.

But there come times, when it’s too hard to ignore the nagging feeling; maybe we do it all in vain…

Like on the fourth week, in-a-row you’ve sung “O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

If we were a little less pious and a little more brave, we might dare to raise a few of our reservations. But we’re Lutherans. That isn’t our style…
…And it’s too bad, too. 
After all, Mary did. And from then on, Elizabeth and every generation of the Church too, has called her -not a heretic, but blessed.

When Mary hears the angel Gabriel’s words, she trusts them too much to ignore the gap between them and reality. She asks the question our dear confirmation student dared to ask, “how can this be?”
“How can this be?”

Well, she certainly wasn’t the first to wonder; and we can all attest she wasn’t the last either. Can’t we?

Social scientists call it “cognitive dissonance.” That terrible gap between what we say and reality
Mary, though, has another word for it. And that word is, “blessed.”

Well, the Church certainly has an odd way of doing things. Of speaking. Keeping time. Doesn’t it?

The Church is such an odd place, because the church is gathered by an odd God. The God who doesn’t disdain the gap between what we say and reality, but rather looks upon it with favor. With favor…
The Church is gathered by the God who takes notice of the gap between the Word of God and reality; and speaks into it. A God who, as the angel Gabriel puts it, for which nothing will be impossible.
Or literally, “no word will be impossible for.” A God who takes a hard look at the gap between what we say and reality, and speaks a promise capable of filling it. Filling those of us who sit in that gap…

It is now the fourth week, in-a-row we’ve begun worship with the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” isn’t it? 
Maybe you’re sick of it by now. Perhaps you can’t help but wonder what’s taken Emmanuel so long, why nothing has changed. You find yourself, like our confirmation student, like Mary, wondering ‘how can this be.”

Well and good. 
Well and good, because you have a God who speaks to that gap. Well and good, because the time has come to put that song away, anyway. It’s time to sing another song. Mary’s. 
Mary’s hymn, celebrating God’s mighty act of speaking to the gap between what we say and reality. Mary’s hymn celebrating God’s mighty Word as if it has already filled the gap! 
And the gap between your words and reality today, will be no less dramatic than Mary’s that day. 

Social scientists may call it “cognitive dissonance.” Elizabeth, Mary and the Church, though, we have another word for it; “blessed.” 

Blessed because you have an odd God. A God who doesn’t despise the gap between your words and reality, but rather looks upon it with favor. A God who speaks to the gap, and fills it with that Word.

So you who have been singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” for four weeks now. You who have come to church just days after the funeral. You who have left the church wondering if anyone cares. You who have found yourself on the wrong side of the church’s bickering. You who have truly worried you could mail out the offering check that week. 
You who have been laid low by life, God has not abandoned you. In fact, God has looked upon you with favor. As Mary sings, God’s mercy is for those who can’t live without it. 

You who know what it’s like to sit in that gap between what you say and reality, you are blessed. You who know what it’s like to be laid low, you are blessed
Blessed because God uplifts the likes of you, of us. The lowly

Today God’s does it with this Word; God looks with favor upon the gap between what we say and reality. God does for you, what God did for Mary. Sends a Word into the gap between what we say and reality. A word that fills it. 

Hear that Word, let it fill you: 
When the final blow comes. When you’re laid all the way low. Laid in gap you cannot pick yourself out of, the grave. 
That day you will know the fullness of this Word. God coming to that gaping hole and filling it. Filling it with the body of one whose coming you’ve been waiting for; Emmanuel, God with us. The Word of God made flesh.

So, here’s what you’re to do. And not just now, but every day of your life; sing Mary’s hymn as your’s. Mary’s hymn praising God for uplifting the lowly. Filling the gap between what you say and reality.
Sing this hymn as if God has already filled it; because God has. This Word you hear, it is not

Social scientist may call it “cognitive dissonance.” The Church, though, with Elizabeth and Mary, we call it blessed. Blessed

Before you do what you’ll do in a moment and for the rest of your life; sing Mary’s hymn. 

I’m going to do what the church has commissioned me to, pronounce Elizabeth’s upon you; “Blessed are you. You who can’t help but believe there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you today by the Lord. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.”

Monday, December 12, 2016

now all them things that seemed so important

well mister they vanish right into the air

Before we hear our reading, I would like to set it up:
It begins, of course, with old Sarah and Abraham. The two of them, trying to make a go of it in the wilderness. Without a child.
When out of nowhere, God sends a messenger to those two with a promise. A promises that sounds too good to be true. God will send them offspring. 
But not just a child. God promises to multiply their descendants. Even providing their descendants land to inhabit. God, the messenger says, is going to make these two ancestors of a great people!

Old and childless though they may have been, God stayed faithful. In time sending them a child. And then, two grandchildren! And then, a gaggle of great-grandchildren!

…Right when it began to look as if the promise made to Sarah and Abraham was about to be fulfilled, the grandchildren were at each other’s throats. Jacob’s brother sell him in to slavery, to try and cover up their wrongdoing they tell their Dad Josep died. 
To make matters worse, a famine hits.

To survive the famine, Jacob’s brothers go to Egypt to buy grain. Egypt has been stockpiling produce to prepare for the harvest…
It was their very brother, Joseph, who was running the program. The brothers meet with their long-lost brother again. In Egypt the descendants of Sarah and Abraham are finally reunited.

They try to make a go of it in Egypt, too. God stays faithful, the descendants of Sarah and Abraham continue multiplying. Now, though, the promise creates a problem
The king of Egypt, the Pharaoh worries these descendants of Sarah and Abraham are getting too numerous. If they rose up they could overthrow him. The Pharaoh makes it his policy to enslave all the descendants of Sarah and Abraham. 

For years that’s exactly what happened, too. 
When the promise was nearly forgotten, out of nowhere God sends another messenger. This time, Moses. And Moses’ message too, sounds too good to be true. God’s going to set the descendants of Sarah and Abraham free. 

Everyone gets the memo, but Pharaoh. God stays faithful, though, delivering the descendants of Sarah and Abraham from Pharaoh’s armies through the Red Sea; to freedom.

But a habit begins to form…
Right when the promise made to Sarah and Abraham was about to be fulfilled, the people make a golden calf to worship. God may have shown Pharaoh, but it turns out its descendants of Sarah and Abraham who don’t believe. 

Idolatrous though the descendants of Sarah and Abraham may be, God stays faithful. And that’s another pattern in this history, isn’t it?

Over 40 long years, God and the people wander in the wilderness. When the promise was nearly forgotten, God takes the descents of Sarah and Abraham into the land promised long ago! 

God kept the promise! Finally, everything promised to Sarah and Abraham is delivered; decedents and land! 

…Only, the descendants of Sarah and Abraham still don’t believe. God sends them leader after leader. Finally, sending them King David. A king after God’s own heart. God blesses David’s reign. It’s prosperous one, a palace is built and there’s even plans for a temple. 

Right when the promise made to Sarah and Abraham finally is about to come to pass; David has an affair
To make matters worse, he murders the woman’s husband to try and cover up his sin. 
Before long, David’s wrongdoing has spread to his children. They begin fighting like Sarah and Abraham’s great-grandchildren. Eventually, the feud spreads throughout the entire kingdom. The nation itself divides into two factions. 

Although the descendants of Sarah and Abraham turn on each other, God stays faithful. God sends another messenger to the people. Prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah, with a word from God, calling the people back. 
But the prophets get no better than any other of God’s messengers did. The word they bring sounds too good to be true…

It’s not long before another nation takes advantage of the internal-chaos. The Babylonian empire comes, and conquers the descendants of Sarah and Abraham. 
It’s the policy of the Babylonians to deport prisoners of war. And that’s what the do. 
Leading the land promised to Sarah and Abraham laying vacant…

God stays faithful, though. Sending another messenger. The prophet Joel with a message that God will deliver the descendants of Sarah and Abraham from their captivity. 

Some people, like Daniel, cling to that. Living as if God will deliver them. Most, though, don’t heed the prophet’s message. It sounds too good to be true. 

When the promise was nearly forgotten, another kingdom comes on the scene. A kingdom that defeats the Babylonians. A kingdom that tells the descendants of Sarah and Abraham they are free to return the their land! The land promised to Sarah and Abraham long ago. 

The decedents of Sarah and Abraham find themselves journey back to the land promised to their ancestors long ago! 
Finally, as the promise to Sarah and Abraham was about to be fulfilled, there’s a drought. To make matters worse it’s followed be an invasion of locusts that consume the harvest. 

The people may have returned to the land promised to Sarah and Abraham, but the temple sits in ruins. And now, to top it all off, the land’s ravaged too. 

If God’s promise sounded too good to be true to Sarah and Abraham, to Moses, to King David, to the exiles; imagine how it sounded to the descendants of Sarah and Abraham then.

When God’s promise was nearly forgotten, God shows again, with another message. This time for Isaiah…. 
It is at that point in the history of the descendants of Sarah and Abraham, that God sends another messenger, Isaiah. It is at that bleak moment, Isaiah comes…

In our scripture for today, Isaiah’s long career draws to a close. He gives his farewell address, as it were. Like this season itself, it’s a mixture of joy and sorrow. 
After everything, what do the decedents of Sarah and Abraham have to show for it all?
A land no one would bother to invade? A nation no country would trouble itself to conquer?
Instead of lamenting, Isaiah rejoices! Instead of lamenting, Isaiah rejoices!

‘God’s not done,’ declares Isaiah. ‘There’s still more to come,’ insists the prophet. 

…Well, I wish I could tell you Isaiah got a better hearing than any of the others who came speaking God’s Word.
That’s not what happened, though. 
It never seems to be.

Isaiah’s words sounded too good to be true. 
It wasn’t long before another kingdom rose to power. The Romans. 

While the Romans might have let Sarah and Abraham’s descendants stay in their measly land, they ruled with an iron-fist. Stationing soldiers in the land promised to Sarah and Abraham. Soldiers to make sure none of their decedents ever got the idea to have a king like David again

For the pleasure of that occupying army, the Roman’s exacted high taxes. 
In fact, one king, Augustus, had a worldwide tax. Without a second thought he made everyone travel to their hometowns to be registered for this tax. 

The king could have cared less about what kind of hardships that put on the people. 
People like a young couple going back to the hole-in-the-wall town, Bethlehem. She was expecting, and he didn’t know where they’d stay for the night.

Folks like that couldn’t have mattered less to the king.

What the king didn’t know though, was God had sent another message to that couple. 
The young woman, said the angel, would bear a child. A to embody the promise made to Sarah and Abraham. Embody the promise all of God’s messengers ever came speaking

What, you don’t believe me? It sounds too good to be true?
Well, it wouldn't be the first time.
And maybe it won't be the last time God proves faithful, either...