“That All Might Believe”

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 13, 2020 – Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

(Centering Prayer)

Advent; a time of revelation.

A four-week season preceding Christmas

Where God is revealed for all to see.

The prophet Isaiah and Gospel author of Mark have revealed the past two Sundays

God is forgiving, compassionate and kind, and faithfully keeps promises.

It is almost as if

God is everything the world isn’t.

The world is stained by sin; the Lord is forgiving.

The world is cold and hard; the Lord is compassionate and kind.

The world is full of liars, cheats, and swindlers; the Lord faithfully follows through with every promise and keeps every covenant.

God’s word is GOLD.

Last Sunday, scripture revealed that

The Lord works and plays in the wilderness.

The Lord actively seeks our confession and repentance.

This draws people to Jesus, like people were drawn to confess their sins to John and be baptized by him in the Jordan River.  

We learned that God takes notice of you, all the relationships you maintain, all the plates you are trying to keep spinning.

Nothing goes unnoticed in your life, the triumphs and tragedies; the good, bad, and ugly.

God notices

Failing test scores, breaking up with a boyfriend, piles of dirty laundry, flaring tempers, never ending trips to the doctor’s office, meeting with the funeral director.

From mountaintop to valley floor,

God loves you anyway.

As I reflect on my personal journey of faith,

My walk with the Lord,

The God revealed thus far this Advent

Squares itself perfectly

With the God of my experience.

I have experienced God’s forgiveness, and continue to do so, especially so when I make it a point to ask.

Weekly worship keeps me honest.

I experience the compassion and kindness of the Lord, usually every day, often without even asking.

God’s grace and love are the air that I breath and the water I drink.  

The Lord has never let me down. Period.

The God of my experience is bulletproof faithful.

The one place I’m certain to find the Lord? It’s when I’m lost in my own wilderness.

Listening to a single mother crying that she can’t feed her children,

Mourning the death of a parent or friend,

Getting knocked down, beat up, and left for dead;

That’s my wilderness.

Once lost, I am found.

That is where I have found the Lord.

Faith has made me compulsive.

I can’t help myself;

I just blurt out my sins, known and unknown, when I experience the presence of God.

The blood of the cross keeps washing me clean,

Scrubbing me over and over again.

The blood of the cross

Keeps calling me to a higher standard,

Keeps drawing me towards Christian perfection.

There hasn’t been one thing in my life that I’ve been able to hide from the Lord.

I’ve tried and failed.

The God of my experience knows me like an x-ray,

Inside and out,

Through and through.

If you are to fill in the blank: “The God of my experience ________”

What would you say?

Reflect.

Write it out.

Make it real.

Has the God revealed this Advent

Squared itself with the God of your experience?

Today, the prophet Isaiah testifies further.

The Lord sent Isaiah on a mission:

To bring good news to the oppressed,

To bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn. – Isaiah 61:1-3

There is a lot of territory to cover here.

I’ll be short and to the point.

1. The Lord takes sides, and it’s never with the oppressor, the powerful, or the wealthy.

If you want to join up with the Lord, choose to side with the oppressed.

The good news to the oppressed is that

The Lord is on your side and so are all the Lord’s followers.  

The Lord’s game plan?

Right every wrong.

Though derided and despised,

The Lord’s under dogs always come from behind for the win.

God’s kingdom will come.

Make certain you are on the winning team.

2. What breaks your heart?

What has broken your heart?

Failure? Broken promises? Others letting you down, or, you letting others down?

The Lord gathers the shattered pieces of your broken heart

And binds them back together again.

That’s what God does.

A heart bound by God

Isn’t a heart constrained,

It is a heart being healed.

3. Prisoners, listen up.

Weather your cell is made of bars and cinder blocks, or,

Your prison is a guilty conscious that just won’t go away,

The Lord wants you set free.

Free from your past,

Given all the room you need to repent with a vow to do better.

Free to get a fresh start.

Preceding and greater than the American Constitution

The Lord wills Freedom. Liberty.

The Lord want you free to make your own choices.

Make good choices.

4. In debt? Out of money? Out of ideas to stay afloat?

Dirt poor? Credit maxed out? Collection firms hounding you?

No worry.

The Lord wants your debts cancelled;

Everyone’s debt cancelled,

Before the expected 50-year Jewish recalibration.

Debtors rejoice!

At the same time

Investors groan.

(Hey, prior performance does not guarantee future results.)

The Lord so despises poverty that

God doesn’t think twice or hesitate to reset the economic playing field

Such that everyone’s fundamental human needs are met.

Consider how many times

The world’s economy has been knocked down and defibrillated back to life?

5. Isaiah tells us the Lord hates mourning.

Through Jesus, death is taken off the table.

Eternal life is given.

The intellectual rational for mourning is removed,

What remains is a natural emotional loss.

When one does mourn death or loss,

The Lord comforts.

Comfort comes through a lifetime of faith and promise of eternal life,

Through the grace and love of others,

Through prayer and meditation on the Word of God,

Through worship, repeated worship, with a focus on thanks and praise.

My relationship with the Lord

Squares itself with the God

The prophet Isaiah reveals.

How about you?

Oppressor or oppressed? Which team will you choose?

Deprived of freedom? Locked up? Let the Lord set you free.

How does the Lord pay off your debts? Was it Jesus’ suffering? Death? Resurrection?

When has the Lord comforted you in your time of loss?

How has the Lord worked through you to bring comfort to others?

Today, the Gospel of John takes the lead from Mark

Because it most eloquently describes the testimony of John the Baptist,

The one chosen and sent by God

To fulfill the promise of the prophet Isaiah.

1. The first Advent revelation from the Gospel of John is that

Jesus is light.

This metaphor worked for the ancient mind and

It is so simple, it works for me, too.

John the Baptist is setting the cosmic stage

With Jesus and light on one side vs

The Devil and darkness on the other.

Right vs wrong.

Good vs evil.

Righteousness vs sin.

Life vs death.

Jesus,

Son of God,

Coming after John,

The subject of John’s witness,

Is the light of the world.

The qualities of light are the qualities of God.

Light removes darkness faster than bleach erases a stain.

Without darkness there is no place to hide.

Light exposes words and actions with complete transparency.

Turn out the light and darkness immediately returns.

Don’t touch that button!

Don’t flip that switch!

The temptation may be huge,

But don’t do it.

Casting Christ out of your life leads to catastrophic consequences.

Light shines better when it is held up for all to see.

Your personal testimony of what God has done for you since Jesus came into your life,

Removes the basket covering the light,

Letting it shine for all the world to see.

The power of personal testimony is enormous.

Why wouldn’t we tap into the same power that John the Baptist used?

Sadly, witnessing about

When Jesus came into your life and

How Christ as changed it for the better

Is rarely used in many Protestant congregations.

Light makes safe passage possible.

Obstacles in your path?

Walk with Jesus.

A life with Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles,

But it exposes them.

Light reveals the path forward.

Discernment is better in the light.

Light allows one to

See all the data.

Gather all the data.

Analyze all the data.

Make better decisions.

Solving life’s puzzles is a lot easier in the light than in the dark.

Light leads the faithful directly to God,

Exactly where the Lord wants us to be.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:9

2. Lastly, and I believe, most importantly

The Gospel of John reveals  

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe.

All.

That is as inclusive as it gets.

All means all.

Don’t like the fact that God so loves the world?

Get over it.

There is nothing we can do to change it.

If God makes room at the altar for me,

There is room for you, too.

That all might believe.

Faith isn’t the absence of doubt.

Faith is belief without proof.

Faith is following Jesus,

Walking with the light,

Even though doubt persist.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the Christ,

Our example,

Our redeemer,

Our savior.

God’s deepest desire:

That all might believe

Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Messiah fulfills every prophetic prophecy.

Go down the check list: descendant of David, anointed, sent on a mission, died and rose again, promised to return.

Jesus checks every box.

Messiah is our savior, liberating the world from sin and death

Into righteous perfection and eternal life.

Messiah.

Light.

Son of God.

….

Beloved, Advent reveals much about our God.

Even still, there is so much more to learn.

The mysterious nature of God remains, as it should.

Keep watching, waiting, learning.

Take it all in.

All the while,

Witness and Testify

To the God of your experience,

To our Lord revealed through scripture,

To Jesus the promised Messiah.

Become the living testimony God is calling you to be

That all might believe.

Amen.

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