Sunday, December 2, 2012

Expect A Miracle

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 4:16-21.  This sermon series was based on the book A Different Kind of Christmas by Rev. Mike Slaughter.

In the movie Grand Canyon, Mary McDonell’s character finds a baby which has been abandoned under a bush, in talking with her husband, played by Kevin Kline, she tells him that her finding the baby was a miracle, which he discounts.  But she responds that maybe miracles are so rare that we don’t notice them when they occur.  While I love that movie, that line has always struck me as being wrong.  if something is really rare, those are the things we tend to notice.  So instead of being rare, maybe miracles are in fact so common that we no longer notice them, they are in fact so common they we no longer call them miracles, they are in fact so common that they pass us by every single day, maybe even the ones being done by us, and we never even notice they are there.

And if we ignore miracles during the rest of the year, I think we’re even more prone to ignore them during Christmas because most of us just want to get through it, we can’t wait until it’s over.  In Dr. Seuss’ classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, he says “the Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season, oh don’t ask why no one quite knows the reason…”  But for most of us we could be able to name the reason.  It’s a time of stress and hustle and bustle, it’s a time of even busier schedules and fuller calendars, or maybe we are dealing with loss or illness or one of the many other things that keep us from even believing it’s the most wonderful time of the year, let alone living like it, and so we miss the miracles of the season, the small ones and even more importantly the big ones.  We become so obsessed with the things we are told to be focusing on during this time of the year, that we even miss the gift of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Is there another way to live and a different way of doing Christmas?  I think there is, and so today we begin looking at a different way.  Over the next four weeks will focus on the ways that Christmas can, and does, make a difference in our lives, based on a series created by Rev. Mike Slaughter, and promoted by the church for this advent season

Today’s passage from Luke is really about one of those miracles, and in two very different ways.  In Luke this is the first message that Jesus delivers, it happens even before Jesus has called the twelve disciples.  If we ask what is the Gospel, which literally means good news, for Luke?  It is a message of redemption, welcome and inclusion.  This is miracle of what Jesus represents to us, and the miracle of his birth.  But for those who hear the gospel message of hope in this passage, then it is also a witness of a miracle.  Picking up the scroll and reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

For the poor, for the blind, for the oppressed, for the captives, this is a miracle message of hope that not only has God heard their cries, but that is doing something about it.  That Jesus is going to make this proclamation to them, to us, and to the entire world about why he has come.  Jesus has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the lord’s favor, which means the year of jubilee, or the 49th year when all debts would be forgiven.  Now that would truly be a miracle, and it has been a claim that has brought hope to people as long as the statement has been made.  “the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me” he has appointed you “to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me” he has sent you, “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  What miracle does the world need this Christmas?  Who do you know who needs a miracle this Christmas?  What miracle do you need this Christmas?

Since we’re in an area in which you understand the importance of high school football, and especially understand what it is like in Texas, so you will understand what happened at Grapevine Faith Christian School in 2008 that made it so remarkable.  Located 20 miles north of Dallas, the Faith Lions, as they are called, had 70 players, 11 coaches, the best equipment money could buy and were 7-2 going into a game against a team from Gainesville.  Although only another 50 miles to the north, Gainesville might as well have been a million miles away because of the differences.

They only had 14 players and 1 coach, had no field and so every game was on the road.  They usually only had a few fans who traveled with them and that did not include any cheerleaders or band, and they went into the game with Grapevine at 0-8, having scored only two touchdowns the entire season.  For you see the Gainesville school is a maximum security prison for teenagers.  Knowing the great disparity between the two teams, Faith’s head coach Kris Horgan came up with a truly radical idea.  What if for one game, he said, the Faith community split their fans in half and had a full sideline cheering for the other team, and what if they sent their JV cheer line over in order to lead their fans in cheers for the other team?

After this idea was announced, one player walked into the coach’s office and asked why they were doing this?  The coach responded “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life.  Imagine if everyone had pretty much given up on you.  Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”  And so for one night, when the Gainesville players got off the bus and had their handcuffs removed, they ran onto the field through a throng of cheering fans and through a paper banner held for them by their cheerleaders, and the stands on their side of the field were full of people cheering for them.  “I thought they were confused” said one Gainesville player, “they started yelling ‘dee-fense!’ when their team had the ball.”  Another player said “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games.  You can see it in their eyes.  They’re lookin at us like were criminals.  But these people, they were yellin for us!  By our names!”

Coach Horgan’s message to the Faith community was simple: “here’s the message I want you to send,” he said, I want you to let them know that they “are just as valuable as any other person on planet earth.”  Although Faith beat them 33-14, for one night the Gainesville Football players were just as normal as anyone else.  After the game, as the faith players gathered at the center of the field for prayer, the Gainesville quarterback and linebacker, whose name was Isaiah, as if you need another message from God, joined them and asked if he could lead the prayer.  “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” Coach Horgan said, but Isaiah said this: Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”  As the Gainesville players made their way back to the bus, surrounded by 12 uniformed guards and were handcuffed for the ride back the prison, their coach grabbed coach Horgan and said “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight.  You’ll never, ever know.”

The spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed us to proclaim miracles to the world, and more importantly to expect miracles and even to be the miracle workers.  Maybe it will be as simple as Nine Nanas, an anonymous group of women who bake cakes for people they know who need a pick-me-up, which they then leave on their front porches with a note that simply says, “somebody loves you.”  Maybe it’s as simple as Teresa Gavin, who inspired by an anonymous donor who gave a kidney to her uncle, decided to give one of her kidneys, and her act spun a group of 30 other people who also paid it forward and donated a kidney to others.  Or maybe it’s as simple as two strangers who lifted Patrick Connelly out of his wheel chair and held him on their shoulders for 20 minutes in 100-degree heat so that he could actually see Blake Shelton perform at the concert he was attending.

The prophet Isaiah, the same one whom Jesus quotes, says “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined…. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named wonderful counselor, mighty God, ever lasting Father, prince of peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.”  The simple truth is God does not bring about amazing miracles through great actions, “miracles” Rev. Slaughter said  “are conceived and delivered through ordinary people who are willing to dream God’s dreams and then act on God’s vision.

One of the biggest obstacles to revealing and creating miracles is the simple fact that we don’t think we can do it, that the problems are too big for us, or we don’t know where to begin.  “If we really try to grasp the full import of” of what we are trying to do, Carolyn Bush says, “we may despair, or try to hide or run away because we do not know what is to be done.  That is where faith communities come into place,” she says.  “(Faith communities) believe in the possibility of transformation, of turning around from the path we have been following.  Equally as important, in the Christian faith tradition, is hope.”    Immanuel means God with us.  “God doesn’t need your ability” Mike Slaughter says,  “God will work the miracle through you – all God needs is your availability and commitment to act.”

In your bulletin you will find a card, and on that card I want you to write a “Christmas Miracle Wish List” for the world.  I want you to write 3-4 miracles, or more if you would like, that you would like to see happen this year, and then I want you to select one and commit to a specific way that you can make on these Christmas miracles happen this year. What will be your miracle this year?  What miracle will you bring about this year?  what miracle do you need this year?  To make change in the world, we must become the change that we seek.

This reminds me of the starfish story written by Loren Eiseley, which some of you probably also know:
One day a man is walking down by the ocean, when he sees someone else father down the beach who looked like he is dancing.  The man smiles when he thinks of someone who would dance to the day, and so he picks up his step.  As he gets closer he sees that it is a young man, and he is not dancing at all, instead he is running around picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.  As he gets even closer he sees hundreds of starfish that have been washed up on the shore, and this is what the young boy is picking up and throwing.  “Why are you throwing the starfish into the ocean?”, the man asks the boy.  The boy replies, “The sun is up and the tide is going out, and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”  Upon hearing this, the man looks up and down the beach and says “young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish everywhere.  You can’t possible make a difference!”  At this the young man bends down picks up another starfish, throws it into the ocean and says “I made a difference for that one.”

Picking up the scroll and reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  What miracles will God accomplish through you this Christmas?  What miracles are you willing to undertake?  Christmas is about a miracle, but miracles don’t just happen they are born, just as Jesus is, through labors of pain.  We are the mean’s to bring about God’s change in the world.  We have the power to do amazing things, we have the power to create miracles both big and small because the spirit of the lord is upon me, and it upon you, it is upon all of us, to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  The power of the lord is upon us to be miracle workers this Christmas season.  May it be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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