Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Clean Up Your Act

Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 1:68-70
December 9, 2012
© 2012


I.                Jesus’ birth has inspired amazing music. With the choir cantata, next Sunday’s worship will be almost all music. Mary’s Song, The Magnificat, has inspired exquisite female solos. We’ll get to that the fourth Sunday of Advent.

A.           Zechariah’s Song, The Benedictus, is not as well-known but is also powerful poetry. Zechariah and Elizabeth were an old couple with no children, though they had prayed for a child. Zechariah was a priest, and when he was on duty in the Temple, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayers were answered, and they would have a son. Despite their prayers, Zechariah doesn’t believe it, so Gabriel tells him he will be unable to speak until the child is born. In those 9 months of silence, Zechariah ponders the redemption of God, and when the child is born and Zechariah confirms that his name is John, his silence is broken and he exclaims:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

B.            On this second Sunday of Advent, Peace Sunday, Zechariah’s Song celebrates the light of God’s dawn that guides our feet into the way of peace. Starting with One Candle Is Lit, peace is woven into today’s hymns.

1.              Hail to the Lord’s Anointed: v. 3 “Before him on the mountains, shall peace, the herald go.”

2.              It Came upon the Midnight Clear: v. 1 “Peace on the earth, good will to all, from heaven’s all gracious King” v. 4 “Shall come the time foretold; when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling.”

3.              God’s Love Made Visible!: v. 1 “Joyfully pray for peace and good will.”

4.              O Come, O Come Emmanuel: v. 4 “Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

C.            During Advent we prepare for the appearing of Jesus by permitting him to purify us to become people of peace.

II.            In slightly different ways, all four Gospels identify John the Baptizer as the voice crying out in the wilderness from Isaiah 40:3, and without naming Malachi, they imply John was the messenger sent to prepare the way of the Lord.

A.           John’s ministry calling for repentance matched the tone of Malachi’s prophecy in contrast with the exuberance of Zechariah’s Song. Zechariah looked ahead to the completion of God’s redemptive purpose. John preached in the midst of preparing for it by rigorous purification.

B.            Zechariah looked forward to serving God without fear in holiness and righteousness. For a millennium the people of Israel had lived in fear of foreign oppressors who often restricted, diluted or prohibited their worship. John the Baptizer was fearless in the face of the criticism of the religious leaders, the hostility of the wealthy and powerful, and the violent threats of King Herod.

C.            For the Hebrews, holiness was about character, righteousness about justice. John said “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8) Those with 2 coats were to give to someone with none, and to do the same with food. (v. 11). People who had power, such as tax collectors and soldiers, were not to extort but to be content with their wages. (vv. 13-14) Compassion and justice together.

III.       What emotions did you feel reading aloud the strong words of Malachi at the beginning of the service? How do Malachi’s words help us prepare for the appearing of Jesus this Advent, permitting him to purify us to become people of peace?

A.           Malachi may not be the prophet’s name. Malachi means “my messenger.”  He may have been a priest who was very concerned that so soon after returning from exile and reestablishing Temple worship, it had become corrupted. But Malachi was not the last of God’s messengers. The Gospels see John the Baptizer as the messenger to whom Malachi was pointing. Zechariah’s Song distinguished between the prophet who would “go before the Lord to prepare his way” (1:76) and the “mighty savior” (1:69) raised up in the house of David. When John baptized Jesus (3:21-22), God confirmed that Jesus was this mighty savior.

B.            Zechariah saw a day of serving God in holiness. Similarly, Malachi called for purifying worship in the rebuilt Temple, so their offerings could be pleasing to the Lord. Malachi called people to be faithful to God’s covenant. Zechariah saw God keeping the covenant with his people. When he wrote of sorcerers and adulterers, he addressed the tendency to add pagan practices and sometimes even pagan gods to Temple worship.

C.            Zechariah also saw a day of serving God in righteousness. Typically Hebrew, Malachi defined that righteousness as justice in relationships. He sharply criticized those who were dishonest, who took advantage of daily laborers, of widows and orphans, those who were poor and weak. He equated mistreating foreigners with disrespect for God.

IV.      I would not attempt to explain how or why, but my experience tells me the details of life connect. Back in the middle of November, I mapped out the hymns for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. I wanted the music to work with the Scripture selections for a progression from anticipation to celebration that got in all the standards (you’ll have to come Christmas Eve to get some of these) and mixed the familiar with the less known. I picked Dave and Iola Brubeck’s God’s Love Made Visible for today, having no way of knowing that Dave Brubeck would die this week. Dave Brubeck may be best known for performing Paul Desmond’s  jazz classic Take Five, written in 5/4 time. Remember that when we sing God’s Love Made Visible as our communion hymn.

A.           Dave Brubeck’s personal journey also connects to the Peace theme of this 2nd Sunday of Advent. As a young man he was deeply disturbed by the violence of World War II. This prompted a spiritual awakening that eventually led him to Jesus as the source of real peace. Though the words were written by his wife Iola, that focus on Jesus and peace is clear in God’s Love Made Visible. Eventually, he joined the Catholic Church but said, “I didn’t convert because I wasn’t anything to convert from.” (Rediscovering Dave Brubeck, PBS) I think many of today’s spiritually hungry people would say the same thing.

B.            Our society is caught up in preparing for Christmas: shopping, decorating, baking, mailing, partying. Christmas Eve at church may even be part of preparing for opening gifts on Christmas morning. Then it’s all over, with a week’s respite before New Year’s parties and football games and income tax. The Church’s rhythm is dramatically different. Advent: four weeks of intensifying spiritual preparation and anticipation. Christmastide: 12 days of joyous celebration of God entering our human experience of birth, life and death to give us hope of resurrection to eternal life. Epiphany caps this off on January 6 as we join the Magi in awe at the glory of God revealed to us in Jesus.

C.            We’ve got 2 weeks until Christmas starts. Will you be ready? O, I don’t mean will your Christmas cards all arrive before Christmas. And I don’t mean will you have all your gifts wrapped so you don’t have to make a mad-dash shopping trip on Christmas Eve. I mean, are you prepared for the appearing of Jesus? Yes, his appearing in our Christmas worship, his appearing in the gatherings of your family and friends, his appearing as you grow in holiness in the year ahead, his appearing in your relationships with the weak and wounded people God brings across your path, his appearing as this congregation anticipates a new era a ministry with a new pastor. That requires preparation. If you haven’t taken advantage of the Advent devotionals prepared by our Worship Department, you still have time. They are a good starting place for this spiritual preparation.

1.              Use Advent for some personal evaluation. What does God want you to leave behind or what venture to embrace in the coming year?

2.              During Advent, release to God whatever threatens your inner peace, and watch for the dawn from on high to guide you into the way of peace? We prepare for the appearing of Jesus this Advent, permitting him to purify us to become people of peace.

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