12/14/14 Sermon (December 14, 2014)

posted Dec 17, 2014, 11:23 AM by David Hawkins

12/14/14 Sermon (December 14, 2014)

“According to the Promise”

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46B-55

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Sermon: "According to the Promise"             Rev. David Hawkins

We’ve all heard the expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

It’s kind of a depressing statement, isn’t it? It’s a way of acknowledging that a positive move in one direction doesn’t necessarily mean that anything else is going to improve. Quite the opposite. In fact, it appears that the fundamental reality of our lives stubbornly remains the same.  It’s especially true when we apply it to politics. New campaigns, new slogans, new promises, new faces, same petty, selfish, small minded governance. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It’s not a hopeful, or joyful expression. It’s the worldview of the resigned, the cynical, the beaten down. We’ve seen this movie before. We know how this book ends. It’s not our first rodeo. There’s nothing that can surprise us, because nothing really changes. And it’s easy to think that nothing ever will.

But in today’s scripture, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, pushes back against this world-weary truism. Mary -- the unmarried young woman, ostracized by her own people for the sin of being pregnant, poor, soon to be homeless, soon to be pursued by the king of Judea, soon to be a foreign immigrant seeking asylum with her child to escape political persecution -- Mary, who has every reason to think that this world holds no hope for her, refuses to accept our sophisticated disillusionment. Mary just doesn’t accept the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mary thinks that things are going to change. Truly change. In fact, she thinks that they already have changed. Her song is in the past tense. God has already moved in a big way. God has already shown his strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted the lowly; filled the hungry, sent the rich away empty. Mary doesn’t say that God will do these things. Mary says that God has done these things. Because this is who God is. And this is what God does.

This is not the first time we’ve heard this song. The melody of Mary’s song of hope in the goodness of God is one that is sung over and over again throughout the Bible.

We hear this song when the Hebrews cross the Red Sea to escape slavery in Egypt. Miriam, the sister of Aaron, sings of God’s victory, the mighty of arm of God delivering his people. Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. God showed his strength, and remembered Israel.

Some Bible Scholars believe that the song of Miriam praising God’s victory is the oldest fragment of text in the Old Testament. From the very beginning, Israel sang praise to God for what he has already done. And everything is about to change for the former slaves of Egypt. They will become a people, and will build a home for themselves in a foreign land.

We hear the song again when Hannah dedicates her son Samuel to become the prophet of Israel. God heard her pleas, and lifted up the lowly. And everything is about change: the tribes will become a monarchy, and David will be their king.

And then, today, Mary, mother of Jesus, as she contemplates the meaning of the child within her, sings the old song again, echoing the joyous refrain of God’s salvation history. God has again done the impossible. God again has brought his children out of slavery. God again has vanquished the powerful. God again has strengthened the weak, and punished the proud. And everything is about to change: God has come to live among us, and we will call his name Emmanuel.

The song is always the same. God has triumphed. God has raised the oppressed and brought down the oppressor. God remembers his people,, and God will never abandon them.

Three women, throughout the Bible, each of them singing the same song. Each of them standing on the cusp of a new life, a new era, a time when everything is going to change. When God steps into the picture, everything changes, because this is who God is. This what God does.

God’s unchanging promise to deliver his people has flipped the script. When God keeps his eternal promises to be with his people, when God shows himself to be the rock of our salvation, the world cannot possibly stay the same.

The question is: are we ready for this? Are we ready for everything to change?

I wonder if sometimes if we’re more comfortable with the idea that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” than we would like to admit. Maybe we like it when things don’t change. Because change is hard. Change is upsetting. Maybe it would be better if everything stayed the same.

There was an interesting book published several years ago, called, “Who Moved My Cheese?” It is a parable about the ways different people are able (or not able) to deal with change. The interesting thing is, even though this book was written for business people, it is a really good book about thinking about change in the church. In fact, it’s a good book about change in any situation.

It turns out that change is pretty much universally disliked. Not just in church. Everywhere. But in church, it seems to really get people anxious. Changes in the pulpit, changes in worship, changes in the staff, changes in the programs, these are upsetting, and that’s understandable. These areas of our church life are important to our faith and the way we express it.

But sometimes, even small, seemingly insignificant changes can start forest fires. Changes in the color of decorations, changes in the style of the bulletin, changes in the kitchen or fellowship court, these can also be very challenging, and can result in hard words and hurt feelings.

Change is hard. Small change, big change, it doesn’t matter.

But as Mary, and Hannah, and Miriam, and countless others who have seen God at work in their lives can testify, when God gets involved, things are going to change. When God steps into a situation, things cannot possibly stay the same. This is what he promised. This is what he does.

Today, we have experienced a change, and the change is a pretty big one. New hymnals. It’s a huge deal. Singing is such an intimate part of our faith, and to change that, to change the words, the melodies we use to praise God, well, I don’t have to tell you how important this is.

And it really doesn’t matter what I say about these hymnals. It doesn’t matter if I say they bring back some of our old favorites, like, “It is Well with My Soul,” or  “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” along with many, many other old gospel hymns that haven’t been in our hymnal for more than fifty years.

It also doesn’t matter if I say that the hymnal has some wonderful new music, like the one that Emily helped us with earlier, “My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout,” or a choir favorite like, ‘For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table.”

It doesn’t matter that this hymnal has almost a third more hymns than the old hymnal, and yet is both thinner and lighter than the old hymnal.

It doesn’t matter what I say about the new hymnal, because for the first several months that we use it, the biggest problem will be that it is not the old hymnal. And that’s a big deal.

Change is hard.  Change is always hard.

It was hard for the Hebrew slaves after they left Egypt. Almost immediately they had to adapt to life on the move, without any idea of where the next meal was coming from, wandering in the desert for forty years.

It was hard for Hannah. She had believed that she was barren, incapable of having children, and when she finally gave birth to a son, he was taken from her, given to the temple to be raised in the service of the Lord.

Change was hard for Mary, you have to believe it. The reality of her pregnancy, and what it means for her and for the world cannot be overstated. And yet, she gives herself to the changes, trusting God even when doing so means a lifetime of difficulty and heartache.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to put the new hymnal and the journey of Mary on a level. That would be stupid. They are not the same thing at all.

But change is change. And change is hard. Change is hard when it happens to our families, when it happens to our workplaces, when it happens to our community, and when it happens to our church. And we have every reason to grieve the things that have changed.

But the thing about change is that God is always the same. The enduring nature of God promises change, but it also promises us hope. The character of God is the very essence of doing a new thing, but we are reminded that God is with us when he does it.

During this season of change, as we begin a new year, as we look for ways that we can reach out to the community, as we look for ways that we can invigorate our congregation, I encourage all of us to be looking for God in the changes that are all around us. Look for God doing a new thing in our communities, in our schools, in our church. It may be hard to find. Look for it anyway. It may be uncomfortable. Look for it anyway. It may look like a complete train wreck. But look for it anyway.  

No longer can we say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. While it might be the sophisticated thing to say, it might be the world-weary thing to say, it may even be the comforting to say, it ‘s not the song that describes the mystery of God working in our world. According to the promise, that old song just won’t cut it anymore.  

The song on our lips today, and yesterday, and tomorrow, the song in our hearts and in our souls, echoes Mary’s triumphant Song to God. And that song reminds us that the more God stays the same, the more things are going to change.

Thanks be to God. Amen.