Time to Move Forward

given on Sunday, January 10, 2009
[Oddly the blizzard-like and frigid weather which began on December 23, 2009, has caused our churches to cancel services on both December 27, 3009 and January 3, 2010.  This sermon is one which begins in the cold and hopefully will warm hearts in ways that will grow our Christian community, even in the dead of winter.]

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Time to Move Forward

The holiday season is over.  The celebration of the Messiah’s birth is over even though the story continues.  Why, the Wisemen have even followed the star, found the Baby Jesus, and decided to get back home without checking in with Herod!  Yes, it is time to move forward.

I admit that I have not done nearly enough reading and study of the scripture over the past three weeks.  Yet, in my nightly Guidepost readings, my thoughts have played with a number of different ideas.  There are so many unconnected thoughts running around in my head that I have struggled to make the connections.  Running throughout all these thoughts have been two primary themes or ideas:

  1. Warming the heart
  2. The New Covenant did not happen overnight

Don’t you agree that these two thoughts do not seem connected?  Well, that is my dilemma.  How come these two ideas keep running through my mind and try to connect?

Last night I think I found the link.  As the Christmas story ends, we move right into the history of Jesus’ youth.  Remember the Wisemen decided it was a good idea to head home by a different route.  Just because the Messiah had been born, the Old Covenant was still in place.  The angels had announced the birth, the shepherds came and saw the child with their own eyes; but they had to return to the fields and care for the sheep.  A baby still had to grow up.

Look at the scripture in Luke 2 as Mary and Joseph continued to follow the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant:

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was born.”

While they were at the temple, two more, Simeon and Anna, had words that confirmed to Mary and Joseph the significance of their newborn son:

Simeon said:

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

Anna’s words:

she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all

who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

As Mary and Joseph listened to these words, their hearts must have been warmed much like it was when they learned Mary was expecting because how else could they have accepted their roles as parents of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit and announced by the angels?

Back to the link of the two themes, warming the heart and the New Covenant was not an immediate development.  The fact is that the New Covenant could not develop until Jesus was old enough to teach it.  His family had to live under the Old Covenant in order to prepare Jesus to introduce the New Covenant.  The fact is that when God speaks, whether directly to a person or through an angel or a prophet, the words, the message and/or the experience “warms the heart.”

The link is there and critical to our understanding that God is in our lives when we come to understand that the New Covenant is the answer to life here on earth—love one another.  The New Covenant simplifies our lives and warms our hearts.  We are freed of all the weighty rules of the Old Covenant and can turn our warmed hearts into a purpose to serve the Lord in ways to help others find the freedom of the New Covenant.

John Wesley modeled a behavior that many of us have lived.  He lived his life believing in God, teaching us how to serve even the poorest in the community, but he questioned his understanding of God even in his own life—until his Aldersgate experience when he “felt his heart strangely warmed.”  As peculiar as it seems, even Wesley struggled to understand his personal faith and there are many days when we do too.

This is the way Wesley recorded his experience in his journal:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Wesley was 34, and Jesus was believed to be 33 when he was crucified.  The connection?  Maybe this is simply a coincidence, but I know one thing: when we learn that our faith in God’s New Covenant provides us complete the freedom is important, not the age at which it happens.  For those of us who were brought up in a Christian home, we may not understand a conversion experience; but I believe we know the freedom from sin and death as we experience warm hearts.  Each time we acknowledge God’s love, God’s glory, and God’s work whether it is in seeing the beauty in the snow, accepting the restraints of the cold and discovering its healing traits, or knowing that our work helps others our hearts become “strangely warmed.”

The challenge I see for each of us is how do we live the New Covenant right here, right now in a society that struggles with accepting God.  First, we must understand our community.  We must know that despite the miles that separate us, we have neighbors who need God.  We may be close in space; but in faith, we are miles and miles away from each other.  Our job is to erase the miles and find ways to serve our neighbors so they, too, may experience the freedom of the New Covenant which strangely warms hearts.

The second step is to follow Jesus’ model.  We need to find ways to teach, to heal, and to serve those in our community—whether locally in the county or whether statewide or even internationally.  We need to identify ways to love one another in ways we can manage.  Each of us has different skills and interests to demonstrate God’s love.  We have different ideas about how to show God’s love.  There is no reason for us to limit how we work, we just need to work for God.

When I sat on my front porch reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren for the first time, I knew I believed.  I knew that I had a job to do in leading the 40-day campaign.  What I did not expect was to find my heart “strangely warmed” as I sat and read the pages.  When I reached the understanding that each and every one of us has a purpose in life that is God-driven, I had a sense of awe as I realized that my purpose was just that—mine. No matter what, each and every one of us has a purpose and that purpose can perform great works when turned over to God.  A heart warms when a person discovers that the task is done with love for one another just as God teaches us.

As we move into 2010, we need to move into action living out the New Covenant and sharing our warm hearts with others.  The first step I am asking is that we expand our community to include those in our neighboring community.  We cannot work alone anymore.  We must work as a team and our community needs God in action.  We are able to serve as God’s eyes, hands, and feet; we just have to find new ways to serve.  Our joint purpose as members of a Christian community is to serve, and we will serve as Wesley did until our hearts are “strangely warmed” and we too realize that God sent his son to die for our sins and establish the New Covenant, to love one another.  The link is love and the time to move forward is now.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We begin a new year alone, waiting for the opportunity to come together and worship you.  As we work to serve one another in love, we wait to experience the moments when our hearts are strangely warmed.  Help us to move forward in ministry as we define our purposes and seek ways to bring others into our Christian family so they too may know the freedom from sin and death that the New Covenant provides.         –Amen
Accompanying scripture:

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Luke 2:21-40  “Jesus Presented in the Temple”

21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

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