Back to the Basics
Girdwood UMC Sermon - July 31 2016
“Back to the Basics”
Isaiah 40: 1-5
Luke 3: 3-6
Luke 2: 28-32
Last week was the first time we had the opportunity to spend time together. We shared laughs and smiles, we blessed a reindeer, and ate ice cream, but most importantly, we gathered in worship of our wonderful and awesome God. It occurred to me following the service, and in the days that followed, that our time together was very brief and that at the end of the day, you still do not know me or my family very well, and we still have a long way to go before we know you as well as we hope to. That is how introductions go though. It is like a round of speed dating when you think about it. You have a very short window to make an impression and you can only hope that what you say is interesting and memorable enough that the person you are speaking with to take interest in you. Sadly, when we are pressured to get all of the impressive points out, we often cannot get the right words or cannot remember the things we wish to highlight.
Sometimes if you are meeting someone through a mutual acquaintance, you can make a different kind of assumption that can get you into trouble. You can assume that the person already knows something about you. If they know something about you, then it is likely something good, and you don’t have to work as hard to grab that initial interest. There is a foundation. There is something to build on. This, however, can be a terrible assumption, because in many cases if someone knows something about you already, it might not be the most flattering thing in your repertoire. It also may be exaggerated a bit. But, it could also be the opposite. There is the strong likelihood that the person knows nothing about you. You are incorrect to assume there is a foundation to build on and that there is already an existing good vibe. I am going to steal one of my father-in-law’s story as an example:
Phil, is a retired Colonel from the US Army. I should say that he has a strong association with Alaska even though he was only here for a matter of hours. It was the first US soil he touched following a gruelling tour in Vietnam. He was so happy to be here he kissed the ground. Many years after that return he was moving through the officer ranks in the Army. He had met his share of high-ranking officers and he was making a name for himself among the junior officers. Upon going to work for one of the most well-known Generals in the Army at the time, Phil was personally asked to accompany the General to Washington, D.C. As would be the case for most of us, Phil thought to himself that this General must have heard some good things about him and knew he would be capable of whatever task he was given. As they made their way to the car from the airport, the General told Phil, “I am glad you are here, that way I can use HOV lane and not have to sit in traffic.”
Granted, there are many lessons in that story, but today I use it to illustrate that what we think others may know about us or any topic, may be less than we think. Maybe the foundation is not complete and maybe the good our works do not precede us as much as we hoped.
A Voice Cries Out
The lessons from the Old Testament and New Testament today are quite similar, are they not? Both are introductions. Both are laying the foundation for what and who is to come. This is setting the tone for the new covenant, this is laying the foundation for change, this is opening the pathway to salvation.
Salvation. We speak about salvation in church quite a bit. But, I think it is safe to say we often assume everyone knows and understands the use of that language. We introduce Jesus Christ as the Savior and we focus on His atonement for our sins, but maybe we stop short sometimes of really building an understanding of why God had to walk the earth in human form, and why salvation could only occur in this way.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking about the restoration of a people that have been battling in their relationship with God for thousands of years. Kings have come and gone, some having recognized the importance of being a chosen people, while others focused on the interests of the world in which they lived. As we read the Old Testament we see distance grow between the creator and the created. We get the feeling that a complete return to walking hand in hand with God in the Garden of Eden is not only improbable, but impossible. But, Isaiah is setting a new tone and introducing a new story. With God, nothing is impossible, and God has the last word.
So, when the time comes and God is ready to deliver salvation to God’s people. It is not without notification. It is not without a heralded introduction. John the Baptist begins spreading the Word and preparing the way. Things are going to change and hearts and lives must change to support the coming of the Savior. The people still have no idea who or what is coming. Many will be surprised by the form which the savior takes. Yet, the Word is on the wind and the Word is carrying to the people to be prepared and to welcome salvation, for all humanity will have the fortune to see it.
This is the introduction to Jesus. This is the foundation that the voice in the wilderness rises up among the people. With great jubilation and what could only be gathered to be forcefulness, a man wearing camel hair and eating locust and wild honey, proclaimed change for the coming of our Savior. I can imagine the many different images that one might have of the Savior. A mighty warrior riding a mighty stallion, set to dethrone all sitting Kings and to restore the throne of David to all the lands, was quite possibly the vision to be seen.
This is Jesus
I want to take a second to direct you to a passage that foreshadows the nature of the Savior we are given. In Luke 2: 28-32, we are told of Simeon’s meeting of Jesus. <<Read Luke 2:28-32>>. Looking upon a baby in his arms Simeon sees salvation. In this baby, in this innocent child still cared for and dependent upon His mother and father Simeon sees the Salvation that Isaiah has spoken and, later, John will speak about. The person of Jesus was salvation in of Himself. A single conduit of divine and human nature joining in mere existence that which had been separated for far too long. A baby, not a thunderbolt wielding God. A rabbi, not an earthly King. Salvation through love, not through force. That is what the world was to witness in its salvation.
At the annual conference this year our District Superintendent, Rev. Rapanut, gave a very good talk on returning to Jesus. At a time when there seems to be so much going on in our world. Elections invoke the Word of God quite often and it becomes hard to see the Truth amongst the rhetoric. Violence covers our newscasts and Christians are quite often on the receiving end. Hate spills into our homes via extreme agendas and fierce opposition. It can seem chaotic and it can seem without end. I believe there is a solution. I believe you think there is a solution too. By returning to the basics, I hope together, we can deepen our understanding of who Jesus is to us and what the Salvation He provided truly means for our lives. On this journey you will get to know me, maybe far better than you care to, but I hope to get to know you even greater than you expect me to.