The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
STRENGTH TO LOVE
Micah 5:2-5a and Luke 1:39-55
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
THE BREATH OF HEAVEN PROVIDES YOU WITH STRENGTH TO LOVE.
When I walked into his room, I met two of his college aged grandsons. These were fine young fellows who are like most of us during our young adult years; they knew more answers than they knew questions. They had not yet experienced enough of life to realize the true meaning of human existence cannot be located between the human ears.
One of them voiced to me his disbelief in God. I acknowledged his doubts and agnosticism were fine with me. He persisted in pushing his positions by proposing that ancient stories have no impact in our lives in this scientific age. Honestly, most of his arguments were covered during my studies in philosophy, ethics and theology. I have explored other aspects of his perspective by being an honest and inquiring follower of God as revealed in Jesus, a husband, a father, a father who has buried a child, a son who has buried a father and a son-in-law who has buried both my mother-in-law and father-in-law. Through the years, I have seen folks like him amidst life crises and I have seen folks like his grandfather amidst crises as well. His argument that ancient stories are unimportant today made very good sense to him.
After a while, he turned to his grandfather and said, “Grandpa, tell your pastor that story of the day during the war when you prayed in the foxhole and several of your platoon still died. God didn’t show up that day; right?! The grandfather smiled at me and then looked at his grandson, “Well, based on your idea, that ancient war story doesn’t matter; it happened a long time ago.”
Beloved, you have gathered in this sanctuary because an ancient story makes sense to you.
You are drawn by this story that happened during the 6th or 7th Century before Jesus’ birth.
You are influenced by this ancient text from Micah.
You may not care whether it was Nebuchadnezzar or Sennacherib who destroyed Jerusalem.
Yet, the predicament of the exiled people of God centuries ago still has impact upon you.
On this eve of Christmas Eve, Micah’s words have meaning for you.
When you are depleted in your spirit, the breath of heaven offers shimmering surprises.
God, Breath of Heaven, disturbs your orientation toward hopelessness and gives you a new song.
Over and over, when arrogance, violence and ignorance appear to prevail, God intervenes.
Although it seems as if the stories of today are the most important; God’s STORY prevails.
Gloom hovered as Jerusalem was destroyed and the inhabitants were exiled to other nations.
Micah saw a future day when the small village of Bethlehem would bring forth a new leader.
This leader would feed his flock on the strength of the Lord and offer the way of peace.
A century later, as people walked back into Jerusalem, some saw this as the work of Cyrus.
Others, however, remembered Micah’s words and heard a new verse in God’s song of hope.
This ancient story of Mary’s song matters to you in this 21st century.
A few centuries after Micah, Mary’s song portrayed a world of hope in a culture of despair.
As the Roman Empire dominated, Mary’s song painted a picture of peace in a world of calamity.
Mary’s song offered joy when most people could only see oppression and misuse of power.
That humble maiden from a poor village exhaled a new song of praise describing a new world.
Often, we decry how the meaning of this season has been commercialized and stolen by retailers.
One person bemoaned that holiday songs are mere background noise for hurried lives.
However, to echo the Advent angel, “Fear not.”
Rancor, manipulation, corruption and greed may highlight the news headlines.
Yet, although it appears as if arrogance, violence and ignorance will prevail, God intervenes.
You are gathered today because Mary’s song offers a new verse in Micah’s song.
Yes, Micah’s vision matters for you; and Mary’s song echoes in the chamber of your spirit.
Within you, there is a song to be sung invigorated by the Breath of Heaven.
Recently, a mature disciple of Jesus and a person of exemplary character expressed frustration. He said, “Over the years, I have really tried to love every person in my life. But, recently, the increase in bigotry, racism and arrogance has reached a point that is off the charts. This widening gap is more than differences in moral theory or political policy; it is a lowering of expectation for basic civility and a lack of appreciation for the capacity for humility.” He then added, “I am having difficulty finding the strength to love some people.”
Beloved, “How do you renew your strength to love?”
Martin Luther King published a book of sermons in 1963.
He entitled the book, Strength to Love because of the words in his dedication page.
I quote: “To my mother and father whose deep commitment to the Christian faith and unswerving devotion to its timeless principles have given me an inspiring example of the Strength to Love.”
In one of the sermons in that book, King wrote: “By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures…Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
Your strength to love is renewed as you practice what Micah and Mary practiced.
You worship the God who intervenes; and you open your life to spiritual transformation.
For God in Christ has come to stay. And it is this God who gives to you a new song.
Sadie, a hospice chaplain, tells of visiting with Robert one Sunday morning. Robert was a dedicated deacon of influential wisdom at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. As Sadie visited Robert, he was not wearing his best Sunday suit; he was wearing his plaid house coat over his pajamas and had tubes inserting medicine into his body to help him battle cancer cells. He was not sitting in his usual pew, but in a chair by his bed in Room 418 at St. Matthew’s Medical Center. Sadie read to Robert from the Psalms and the Gospel of Luke and then served him the bread and cup and offered a prayer. Before she left, she asked if she could offer any other spiritual ministry. He looked at her and said, “Yes, you could sing one verse of Amazing Grace.” Sadie smiled, “Oh, Robert, you don’t want to hear me sing. I sound terrible.” He closed his eyes and said, “Okay, I promise to not listen to your voice with my ears; I’ll listen to your spirit with my spirit.”
As you inhale Breath of Heaven, your strength to love is renewed and people hear your spirit sing.
Amen and AMEN! In the will of God, may it be so!