Sunday, December 21, 2014

When God Breaks in ... each one is remembered!

Advent Four 21/12/2014
Sermon preached at
 Prestbury Methodist Church 9am and Wesley Methodist Church 6pm

Isaiah 49: 8-16
Luke 1:26-38 

Isaiah 49:15  I will not forget you. 16  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
Luke 1:30  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Q: If you want to remember to do something – and you really, really do not want to forget it: what do you do? Who writes on your hands?
......... Today I want to speak about God writing on his hands!
We have two stories – one from Isaiah and the other from Luke – both of which tell us of a God who does not forget his people.

The first story takes place in 580BC.
Nebuchadnezzar II colonised the children of Israel. Their leaders were taken off to Babylon, while the peasants stayed behind to produce crops for their new rulers. Apart from building his empire, Nebuchadnezzar began building the Etemenanki ziggurat. This was a seven story, 91 meter high monument of gold, silver and precious stones. He was determined to be remembered by this building – and so he put his name on the doorway.
In time the Jewish leaders in exile were offered leadership posts in the Babylonian government, and they began to live more comfortably – so much so that when they were offered an opportunity to return home, many chose to stay in Babylon.
All this time the poor worked the land to make Babylon wealthy – and prayed for God to rescue them from their corrupt rulers.   

The Prophet Isaiah responds by assuring the children of Israel that God had not forgotten them.
Isa 49:14  But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."
Isa 49:15  Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
When God breaks in – each person is remembered.

Fast forward five hundred years and we find the children of Israel have new rulers. But not much else has changed: this time it is the Romans who rule them, and the Roman soldiers who collect the taxes from the poor. Something else that had not changed were the politicians – the leaders of the people co-operated with the Roman rulers: the Chief Priest was appointed by the Governor; and King Herod was appointed by the Emperor.
One other thing that had not changed was the desire of the King to build a monument: King Herod embarked on an ambitious project to rebuild the temple.  Herod employed 1000 priests as masons and carpenters in the rebuilding, and the new Temple was finished in a year and a half.
But the poor continued to struggle : Herod taxed them for his building projects, and the Romans took their fish and wheat to feed the army and the people of Rome

Again we discover the intervention of God. Luke tells us that an Angel of God announced that God was breaking into history: 
Luk 1:30  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.
Here is the thing – who was Mary?
Not who do we now know her to be, but who was she in her time? The reality is that she was a 16 year old girl from a forgotten village in a forgotten province. But she was not forgotten by God – in fact God even knew her name!
When God breaks in – each person is remembered.

So how does this touch our lives today?
Well – it seems that some of this story is very familiar:
These are stories of kings who embark on building projects to show their importance
– Nebuchadnezzar built a Ziggurat
-      Herod built a temple
-                Anyone familiar with a story of our chief ruler building a monument to himself?

These are stories of politicians who become comfortable –
The Jewish leaders who are carried off into exile begin to enjoy their status
The Leaders of Israel in the time of Jesus look more and more like the Romans
It seems to me that political leaders do not change much through history – and we still see people who use their positions to look after themselves and their friends. 

We see the corruption,
                   and the crime,
                             and the poverty,
 and nations going to war, and Ebola, and Aids and it is easy to become despondent.

But the story of Isaiah and of Luke reminds us that God does not forget us.
Hear the Good news: Christmas is coming – God will break into our history once again.
Let me return to the words of Isaiah: 
 Isa 49:15  Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Isa 49:16  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands

This takes me back to the image I introduced at the beginning – “writing on our hands”. Isaiah says that our names are written on the palms of God’s hands! Can you see your name written there: every time God looks at his hands he sees your name.
He can never forget you because he knows you by name.

This is the Good News of our faith: but I will fail the Gospel if I stop here.
I am asking us to remember that when God looks at his hands, yours is not the only name there: there are other names too!  Sometimes we reduce our faith to “Jesus and me” and forget that we are called to live in community. This is not only the community of the church, but also the human community. Our challenge is to remember other people in the same way that we are remembered by God. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loves the world...” This includes everyone. We cannot pick and choose whose names are engraved on God’s hands: everyone’s names are there.

Christmas celebrates a God who breaks into our history and remembers us.
Perhaps we can demonstrate this by sharing God’s love with others. Let us give gifts as a sign of the love of God: but here is my challenge: to give a gift to someone who will not give one in return!
God bless us all – and may we be God’s breakthrough into the lives of other people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Day of Reconciliation

Today is a national holiday in South Africa. This public holiday is rooted in two different (and separated) sections of our community:
·         For white Afrikaners December 16 was the day set aside to celebrate an 1838 victory in battle against the Zulu leader Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu. Afrikaner leaders were convinced that God had given this victory in exchange for aVoortrekker vow to keep this day sacred as a holy day.
·         This day marked the 1961 founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress. As white South Africans celebrated an ancient victory over black people, this became a day that many black South Africans renewed their commitment to overthrow white minority rule. 

This becomes a difficult day for the new South Africa: two such different meanings make this an emotionally divisive day. Those who proposed the new list of national holidays chose this as “The Day of Reconciliation” – but we continue to be a nation divided by race, privilege and history. A New Constitution, or a majority governing party, or tough minded determination cannot force people to be reconciled to one another.

I am convinced that the Christmas story offer us the only real hope of reconciliation. Christmas begins as a story of betrayal and shame... and ends with reconciliation. Joseph, a righteous young man is betrayed by Mary his fiancĂ©. She is pregnant and he knows it isn‘t his child. He is shamed as a man and as a faithful Jew. Yet he sets aside his personal beliefs and chooses the tougher route – the route of reconciliation. This is not romantic, and is extremely deliberate. And this is only possible because God is in it:  as Matthew 1:23 points out – “Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."    

This then becomes the hope for my South African nation – and for every nation in need of reconciliation; this is the hope of divided families, and of individuals who are divided one against another: Emmanuel

When God is with us we are enabled to embrace the gritty task of reconciliation.  The challenge of Christmas is for us to be reconciled to one another. Reconciliation is the real meaning of this Advent season.


Advent Three

With warm regards

Rev Dr Peter Grassow

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