Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sermon: Saying Yes to God

Matthew 1:18-25

There are a lot of little moments in our lives,

when we know that God is calling us to do something. It might be God telling us to do our errands today in a certain way because it is honest and fair, or it might be God telling us to speak a word of encouragement to a friend. I think our days are filled with those little moments.

But there are also big moments when God is calling us to do something. Perhaps God is calling you into a new profession maybe even pastoral ministry, or God is calling you to take a bigger role in a ministry with the homeless, or you hear God leading you to work with youth or children in the community. Saying yes to these types of callings involves significant life changes, and so it isn’t easy to decide what to do.

On one side you could probably summarize

most of the biblical stories with the simple question, “did they say yes or no to God?” Think about it. Noah says yes to God, saved from flood. Abraham and Sarah say yes to God and have a child they really wanted. Pharaoh says no to God, and plagues strike all over the place. Moses says yes to God, leads people out of slavery in Egypt. Jonah says no to God, gets swallowed by a whale. David says yes to God, kills Goliath. David then says no to God and ends up in a civil war with his own son.

But each of the yeses also comes at a cost. Noah spends a lot of time and money building that ark, collecting animals, and wondering if it really is going to rain. Abraham and Sarah say yes to having a child, but it causes conflict with Abraham’s older son and the family ends up breaking apart. Moses says yes to God, but for 40 years leads this group of whining and complaining people around in the desert. Saying yes to God doesn’t mean life will be easy.

The Christmas story is no different really.

Mary says yes to God and a great miracle begins to take place, the messiah begins to grow and develop in her womb. But she faces the scorn of others, in particular her betrothed, Joseph. It took courage for her to say yes to God. So we often praise Mary for her willingness to go along with God’s plan as well we should.

But Joseph also is confronted with choosing to participate or not. And sometimes we ignore his side of the story. You see, when Mary announced her pregnancy, Joseph probably felt a lot of emotions and had a lot of questions. Who did she do this with? Why? Could he ever trust her? He had to be angry, maybe be ashamed. With all of that going on in his head and heart, it would not have been unusual at that time for him to make a public spectacle of her – perhaps even have her stoned to death.

“As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” The angel then explains God’s plan, and invites Joseph to take his part in it. And now Joseph has to decide. Is he going to say yes to God, or not? [pause] if this were a movie, there would be a huge dramatic moment with flashbacks and tearstained faces as Joseph contemplated the decision, and I would try to keep you in tension for several minutes without telling you his decision. But you already know the story, so that won’t work.

We know that Joseph then does say yes, and in our bible passage for the day he even does the fatherly job of naming Jesus. So we know he not only accepted Mary, and decided to stay married to her, but he also took on the role and duties of being Jesus’ father.

However, you know people still looked at him and judged him for it. There were those who said, “He’s got to be the father. Who on earth would believe this story these two came up with. Nudge, nudge.” Then there were others who wondered, “If he’s not the father, he’s an idiot for believing her story. He should have walked away.” He faced scorn from others for being either a liar or a fool simply by saying yes to God.

For Joseph, although the end result is incredible and wonderful, the Messiah coming on earth; the process is difficult along the way.

This is true for us in our lives too.

God often calls us to wonderful and incredible things, but to get there we have to go through places filled with questions and painful emotions. The call may come at awkward times, when we are unprepared and life has hurt us. We may find ourselves angry, ashamed, not able to trust others, and untrusted by others. And God says, follow me. When we do, people may judge us harshly, all because God asks us to go to a place that is unpopular, or where people get the wrong impression.

“There was a true story of a new pastor who went to visit a prospective church member who lived next door to a bar. The apartment that the man lived in shared a hallway and entrance to a bar. One day the new pastor went into the apartment through the bar entrance and visited the man in the upstairs apartment. A couple of ladies who were home were watching outside their apartment window and saw the pastor go inside.’

“An hour or so later, they saw him come out of the bar and apartment door entrance, but he was having a hard time walking. The women thought that the new pastor had just gone into the bar and was drunk when he came out and told others about this. When the story got back to the pastor, who was asked to explain himself, he said that he had just visited a prospective new church member in his apartment, but when he came downstairs, he turned his ankle and couldn’t walk very well. No one had given the new pastor the benefit of the doubt and thought the worst when that was not the case at all. In fact, he was doing what he was called to do.”[1]

Jesus tells us that in following him, we will be taking up our cross – what he means by that is that in following God there are costs, ways that we will suffer, we may even end up putting our lives on the line. But that is what it means to be a follower of God. Saying yes to God involves difficulties. We have to understand that.

But here is the thing.

When we choose to say yes to God – although we face those difficulties, we also get to participate in the very life of Christ in the world – just as Joseph did. Joseph may have had people say all sorts of things about him, but he got to hold the son of God. He got to name him. He got to enjoy those childhood moments like wrestling, and playing chase. He got to watch with pride as Jesus grew in wisdom and began to teach others.

When we say yes to God we also get to witness Christ coming to life in the world. You see in those moments, Christ lives in us, God works through us, we become agents of the sacred and saving work of God. We may be unpopular, we may be misunderstood or judged.

I can’t say what the challenges for you may be, or where God is calling you, and what difficulties that may lead to. But I can tell you that when you say yes to God, the treasures you gain far surpass the troubles you face. You become part of the story of God, where God’s salvation becomes reality. Even if you sacrifice your very life, you become a part of the eternal yes, the heavenly host who continually cheer as those on earth strive to build the kingdom of God on earth. And you get to see Christ.

That’s what Joseph knew, and it is how he stands to encourage us today to say yes. Face peril or prison, insult or assault, and courageously serve the God of hope. It is worth it.

[1] story from Jack Wellman, Pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church

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