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“Here I am, Lord, Your Servant!” First Sunday of Christmas, Dec. 27, 2009

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A Prefatory Note: In this sermon, I want to speak about growing in the maturity of faith, but mostly I side-step this subject and work with the issue of the freedom of the will and the contrast of those who have the mind of Christ and those who lack any self-knowledge, whose thinking is in a rut; those who live by the life of Christ and those whose life stagnates in self-absorption and insensitivity. I keep trying to return to the subject, however.

The First Sunday of Christmas, December 27th 2009

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Psalm 148 Col 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52

“Here I am Lord, Your Servant!”

We mostly celebrate, consider, and honor birth and death while we often neglect growing and maturing, not recognizing how crucial and important growing and maturing are. We have the story here of Samuel in the Old Testament lesson and the story of the boyhood of Jesus in the New. In both cases they are growing up and are set apart for the work of the Lord. Samuel is brought to the temple as an offering by Hannah for answering her prayer. She brings her first-born as an offering, much the way Abraham had to bring Isaac as an offering for a sacrifice, after all the years of waiting for the promised son. But God prevented Isaac’s human sacrifice by Abraham. We do not hear of a temple in the time of Abraham, who experiences God’s appearances before the door of his tent. Hannah brings Samuel to the temple and Eli the high priest accepts him and brings him up. Every year Hannah makes a new robe, called an Ephod, it says, for the little boy to wear, and we know the story about how God called Samuel during the night and enlightens him about the realities of the corruption in the temple, even as a little boy.

Jesus was also sent by his Father from heaven to come and be born in this world to save us. There is a beautiful icon of the Holy Trinity by André Rublev, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are depicted like the three angels who appeared to Abraham. They are seated at a table in communion around the chalice filled with wine, and the Father is nodding to the earth, and the Son is accepting his going down to the people of the earth, and the sorrow in their faces show that Jesus will be sacrificed, the way Isaac was not, and he would not only reform the corruption in the temple, but save all the people, who receive him, from their sins. Jesus came from the blessed communion of the Holy Trinity in heaven to bring communion full of love and self-giving here to us.

So here we are on the third day of Christmas, the light of which is still shining over us, considering how the child was born and now considering him as a young boy of twelve years and growing up.

Let me first deal with the problem of free will, which I have often experienced obstructing my turning around and growing and maturing in faith.

Supposedly we have free will. But recently I heard someone grieving about his life saying, “You know, no one asked me if I wanted to be born.” And many a man and woman with their hormones raging have brought a baby into the world they also did not want. They certainly did not plan to bear the child nor decide either. Many bear children and they themselves have not even grown up.

In the case where parents are infertile as Hannah was, they pray and pray for a child and they cannot have one. Sarah was like that too, but like Hannah, and of course like Elizabeth, too, a barren woman, she became the happy mother of a house-full of children.

Hannah and Elkanah, her husband, also did not ask Samuel if he wanted to be set apart and be an offering. They just brought him. But Samuel by God’s grace, answered God’s call, having the gift of life, he shared God’s gift with everyone, with the freedom of the will that God then gave him for it.

Mary and Joseph did not bring Jesus as an offering to the temple, but they were devout law-abiding Jews, who had to walk about fifteen miles a day for four or five days to get to the Jerusalem temple from Nazareth. Jesus, although he is only twelve years old, stays behind in the temple as they head back to Nazareth. He remains sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard what the boy Jesus was saying, were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Jesus from our tradition can be thought to be having his confirmation. Did you make a big decision at confirmation? We could have said no, but imagine all the presents we would missed out on? We are also baptized and born of God before we are asked about it, just like we are not asked by our parents whether or not we want to be born, and then we start growing up in the Lord, being part of our own family, but then also part of the family of faith, the congregation of the Lord.

Now we can accept this baptism and new birth and accept being set apart among the children of God and the heavy hand of God placed on us because of it – or we can refuse. Some people, (May God have mercy upon us!) refuse the gift of life, snuff it out in others and even commit suicide themselves. We have to take mother Mary as an example and say: “Here I am Lord, let it be with me according to your will.”

God alone has free will and we ourselves need to submit to God and then we begin to live in more and more freedom among others. (This is Luther’s position and I am beginning to share it too.) When we reject the gifts of God, the light and love that comes from above, we don’t become free, we become captured and enslaved by all kinds of dehumanizing influences.

Submitting to God’s will makes our hearts one with God and gives us freedom of will, because God’s will begins replacing ours, the way Christ graciously exchanges our rebellious will, with God’s free will that receives all the wonderful gifts God wishes to give us from on high.

So we have no say so in our natural birth, no say so in our baptism, most often we just go along with our confirmation, too, until like Samuel and until like Mary, we say, “here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your will.”

Then the will of God sets our wills free as we willingly receive all God’s gifts and even those of our parents for us and we answer the call. Another word for your call is your vocation. Don’t think that answering your call means that you have to drop everything and become a pastor. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. That means you and I are set apart as much as Samuel, as much as Jesus, in whatever area our vocation, we witness with our lives and words in it. For that all the questions Jesus asked among the teachers, the kind of understanding that the faithful have in the house of the Lord, also present a challenge to us, and we, too, struggle to receive the mind of Christ and grow up in the life of Christ.

So some of us were out to lunch when we were born, when we were born of God in our baptisms, and when we were confirmed. But when we grow up in the gracious gifts of God to say, “Here I am, your servant, O Lord, fashion me according to your will” or “Here I am, send me” or “use me,” then we have decided God’s decision by saying, “Yes by the grace of God,” I choose life and I choose to live in the clear light of God and get the darkness of ignorance out of my life. I choose to accept being part of the family of God, affirming the gift of life in a world full of the rejection of it, affirming a life in which I stand up in my full stature, knowing that it is really in the stature and maturity of Christ, my Lord, because that way I am free.

Then walking uprightly like that, I share the wonderful gifts of the life and light of Christ with those caught up in the self-destructive forces that are in rebellion against God and the wonderful gifts flowing out of God’s heart, the boy Jesus, into us, because the Father’s heart is beating in the boys heart.

It was Socrates who said, “The uninvestigated life is not worth living.” As a philosopher he was interested in banishing the darkness of ignorance out of our minds. Is your mind a stagnant pool of water and has your thinking started stinking? Now that gets to the nitty-gritty! And Jesus goes further. We are to have not only the mind of Christ but also the life of Christ. Have you driven the hatred, prejudice, selfishness, cowardice, abject apathy and resignation, doubt, cynicism, bitterness, and despair out of your lives? As the saying goes, “Education should overcome our prejudices and not merely rearrange them.” Our faith has to go all the way from our thoughts and feelings down into our lives. Have you stood up in your full stature, straightened out with integrity, loved people and used things, instead of loving things and using people?

To grow up is such a painful thing, but so wonderful when your heart leaves the winter behind and a spring-time of new growth starts welling up in your soul.

Here are some winter conditions: A member of our congregation condemned us because we did not have the Holy Spirit like Jimmy Swaggert; that was before his scandal, in which he lost face. I believe that acting the part of a Christian on television is not as difficult as living the Christian life in a real congregation. But some people send their offerings to televangelists, rather than supporting their own living congregation.

In a former parish of mine, some who wanted to be Pentecostal rather than Lutheran called us a worldly church. Because we also served the homeless and hungry, as well as the mentally challenged, they called the pastor nothing but a social worker. Meanwhile not drinking, smoking, and dancing does not necessarily imply having ethics. The ethics of the street are really no ethics at all.

Insensitive parents unaware of their own feelings can let their frustration out on their children and call it punishment. In the neighboring apartment in the housing development where we lived, we heard one poor little boy get beaten –it seemed like- every evening when his parents came home from work. A woman, we knew, would whip her children with a belt, hitting them with the buckle end. Another man I knew, would whip his niece and nephew for their single mother with an ironing cord. Such punishment itself is a crime.

Who is going to save God’s people? We are set apart and because we want God’s freedom, we say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” God’s light can overcome the darkness, even though the darkness cannot comprehend it.

What can we make of all the pastors and priests, who became pedophiles or abused children? They have knocked down the trust that the church built up so carefully through the years. Then the hearts of some other pastors are filled with cynicism through which they destroy souls, snuffing the flame of faith out of the souls of any who get close to them.

In such a case, the 99 sheep have to look for the lost shepherd. Do you want to grow? Do you want the gifts just flowing for your Christmas from heaven above? Then say, “Here I am, Lord Jesus, send me.” When a congregation has to deal with a lost pastor, it is, however, very difficult, indeed!

Sometimes it is not only our thinking that starts stinking, but our lives can smell to high heaven too. But Jesus turns our lives around through his painful cross, through that manger, that food trough, no crib for a bed, no room for him in the inn, while his heart is big enough for all of us.

But when we turn around by the gracious forgiveness of God, then we start growing in grace and, enriched by more and more grace, we receive the gifts for our lives from above. Our thinking becomes as clear and deep as the thoughts in the mind of Christ and our whole lives become a living and loving sacrifice, a pleasing, sweet smelling offering, with a fragrance like frankincense, ascending up to the Lord.

It often takes a turn around in our lives whether it be from a false religious zeal, like that of St. Paul, or from the darkness of self-righteousness, in which a person is completely unaware how mired his or her life is in self-ignorance and sin. Without self-righteousness, it is easier to become lifted out the darkness of our ignorance, rejection, and lovelessness for others in our ways. How will someone learn anything if they know it all? How will a person change his or her ways, if they are self-righteous? In order for us to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and God’s people, we need to say, “Here I am, Lord, I am your servant, search me and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wickedness in me” (Psalm 139: 23-24). God will thresh out our impurities, if we remain in God’s Word and keep hearing the Gospel of our Lord. Then a wonderful fragrance will ascend unto the Lord from our lives. All God’s grace and blessings come down to us and we are overcome. We then say, “dear Lord, here is my heart, here is my life.” “You are my portion. What have I in heaven but Thee, and what good is anything on earth without Thee? (Psalm 73:25) It takes a great deal of learning and a great deal of growing, even courage to become mature and saying “Yes” to the life and light of Christ, but grant this gift to us all, O Lord. Amen.

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Written by peterkrey

January 11, 2010 at 4:49 am

Posted in 1, Selected Sermons

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