Proclaim the Good News – December 13, 2015

“Proclaim the Good News”

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Luke 3:7-18


A story in yesterday’s Greenville News gave a summary of the eleven mass shootings in South Carolina this year. By some counts there has been at least one mass shooting somewhere in the U. S. for every day of this year. As a society we used to be bewildered and dumfounded when a tragedy of this kind occurred. While some people seem to feel it’s the new normal most of us are hurt and angry. We shed tears with tough people like the President and journalists covering the story and with those not-so-tough who were directly affected by their personal immediate and untimely loss. We have said prayers for those impacted. We have said prayers for the first responders. Some have even said prayers for forgiveness of the person or persons responsible. Wherever people gather to socialize and converse…the corner coffee spot…or the international coffee shop known as Facebook…there are those with instantaneous answers…re-opening old debates. Debates about gun control…debates about society’s care for those with mental challenges…debates about individual responsibility…debates about the level and type of security to be offered in public places…debates about terrorism and immigration. They are old debates…and all sides of each debate have been reinvigorated to resume their debates more loudly… more publicly…more emotionally…and more shrilly. Most would say the victims were innocent of wrongdoing…and they would probably be correct in many cases. The great theological debate about why bad things happen to good people is one that has resumed. The reality is that we don’t know the answer…and probably never will…at least as long as we walk this earth. The scripture was chosen for today’s sermon 21 years ago…when a collaboration of Christian scholars created what is called the Revised Common Lectionary. They had not heard of Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Massachusetts…nor Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina…nor the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. They had no way of knowing the tragedies that would occur in those places. What they did know…however…was the comfort and teaching in the Bible…God’s Word for us. Mention of the lectionary causes me to pause to answer a question I commonly hear. That question is “How do you put together a sermon?” The method is one that I learned at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, one of the finest United Methodist seminaries in the world. The process begins with the lectionary. The lectionary is a three year plan that recommends five or six Bible passages around a theme for each Sunday and Christian holy day of the year. When devised it was created around the belief that pastors would use two or three passages each worship service and that by following the lectionary a church could be taken through the most important parts of the Bible over a period of six years. The United Methodist Church has added to the lectionary recommended music selections to match the theme of the day. With that said, the lectionary is the first step in sermon preparation. A choice is made from the scripture passages recommended for the worship service. Almost every time a passage from the New Testament containing teachings from Jesus is included. His most common topics for teaching were the Kingdom of God, what it is, and what we must do to get there and to make it happen on earth. Second was money or treasure…how to get it and what to do with it. Then…two to five commentaries and John Wesley’s notes on each scripture passage chosen are studied and understood. You can find the commentaries and Wesley’s Notes at any Christian book store or on the internet. Throughout the week before the worship service…observations of people and conversations with people take place. You don’t know where a contemporary story supporting the passage will originate. Add to that daily reading of a half dozen newspapers and several news magazines. All of those inputs come together to create the sermon that you hear on Sunday. I hope that helps answer the question that some have asked. I’ll be glad to elaborate further with anyone who has added interest. Back to today’s messages from Zephaniah…one of the least known prophets…and from Luke…one of the best loved Gospel writers. Though they are old they should give us hope and guidance as we ponder and debate solutions. Zephaniah’s short book…only three chapters…begins miserably…with God’s people about to be sent into oppressive exile…but ends with today’s passage…a declaration to sing with joy and praise. This part of the song begins with future encouragement…for people who will witness God’s presence and his might to save them. The song ends with the community being taken into the life of God—into his delight, love and rejoicing. People proclaiming God’s word! People experiencing God’s kingdom. In the end God speaks directly to the remnant that trusts in him…those that trust in him and are not bewildered and dragged into a state of paralysis by the news of the day. God promises several actions. God will deal with all who oppress and who hurt people. We don’t know specifically what God will do or when He will do it. We can trust that God will provide appropriate justice. More importantly…we can be assured that those who are led by God will work on this earth to find ways to comfort those who have been injured…those who hurt. We can also be assured that those who are led by God will work to find just and humane ways to prevent a recurrence. God promised He would gather his people. One of the greatest early stories to come out of tragedies like those in Newtown…Charleston and San Bernardino…showed how the community members… through their places of worship… Christians…Jews…and Muslims… gathered in God’s name…to offer their support. Yes…they all hurt…but together…with God’s support…they were strong. Together…in community…with God’s support we can all be stronger. We can all proclaim God’s word and build his kingdom. God promised that He would restore their fortunes. The treasure that was the lives of the children and adults lost in these shootings will not be restored on earth. However…the treasure that is the lives of those left behind…with reliance on God and following the lead of the Holy Spirit…will be restored on earth. And…we have faith that the love that was shared on earth will be restored when all are reunited in Christ’s mansion…in God’s kingdom. The short version of Zephaniah’s prophecy is that God is with his people. God is with his people. Isn’t that the message of the season we celebrate? Matthew wrote, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel” which means ‘God with us” (1:23) God has drawn nearer to humanity in the incarnation… life…and death of Jesus. The reality of this nearness is perpetuated in his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The constant Biblical theme of God’s nearness is what begins the letter to the Hebrews. John’s gospel begins with a similar theme. Paul’s appeal to the Gentile Ephesians tells us that the vision has been fulfilled. (Eph 2:12-13) 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:12-13 NLT) As we pray…as we mourn…as we ask questions that seem to have no answers…as we lean on each other…as we reach out to those who have been hurt…let us remember that despite the heinous nature of these tragedies…as it has been through the years…God is with us…God is with us. Let us…among ourselves…and in reaching out to others proclaim with word and deed the Good News…of God’s kingdom. God is with us. God is with us.