“Everything from Nothing”

    Dec 06, 2015

    Passage: Luke 3:1-6

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton


    Second Sunday in Advent/ Stewardship Sunday

    Malachi 3:1-4 & Luke 3:1-6

    Paul wrote to the Philippians: “I thank God every time I remember you!...because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” Let me echo his feelings today to you. Thank you for supporting the important work of Christ through this church. Your commitment to give to the Presbyterian Church of Madison has made an important ministry possible.
    Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

    Paul continues, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more…”

    That’s my prayer for you. You have the ability to make an important impact in this community and beyond for the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can produce a “harvest of righteousness” in a world hungry for a living truth that not only gives hope and promises peace, but mirrors the love of Christ and produces joy.

    You are a light in the darkness. If your commitment continues to grow, the light you carry will never be overcome. I say grow, because God is constantly challenging us to commit and give more of our selves until our hearts are full of the love of Christ. None of us have reached our potential, but thanks be to God, we recognize the importance of what is being accomplished here and are supporting it. Thank you for all you have done and will do to, as Paul puts it, “determine what is best” so that Jesus Christ will be glorified.  

    So these two venture capitalist were talking in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. The happened to be living in Judea when Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanius ruler of Abilene. They were considering if they should give a tithe of their yearly bonus to the Temple whose high priests were Annas and Caiaphas, or support John the son of Zecharia who was preaching in the wilderness.

    It was purely an economic decision. Where could they get the most bang for their drachmas? John was a nobody in a nowhere place ("He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in a nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody!"), preaching to a bunch of conquered Jews telling them to repent and be baptized.

    And the advice that he gave the people who actually listened to him made no economic sense in that day and age. Tax collectors were to collect only what was prescribed to them and soldiers couldn’t shake anyone down for extra money and they were told to be satisfied with their wages! And the rich were to pull a Zuckerberg and give half of what they had to the poor!

    After some consideration over a bottle of wine, they decided against John. His message would never catch on; he was criticizing the governor and his message called for too much commitment from the people. Best stick to the status quo.

    So here we sit, a little church in a big building in a town on the train line to NYC, but not known outside certain circles of those who want a direct commute to New York and a good education for their children and a friendly, safe place to come home too. Very few people would consider Madison important enough to mention in the news. The only time you see the town’s name, is on the weather charts… giving the temperature in the morning on NBC.

    And yet, I’m thinking that we are of the utmost importance to God’s plan for the salvation of the world! That may sound as audacious to you as it does to me, but when I consider the list of notables among which John the Baptist is mentioned, it gives me pause. They ruled the world and John was in the wilderness in a backwater conquered country preaching to a minority of a minority religion. It was the most unhistorical of events! But the Word of the Lord came to John, not to Tiberius, or Herod or even the high priests!

    God chose a nobody to prepare the way for God’s own Son to come among us. That’s a theme in Luke. God regularly chooses people whom the world sees as insignificant through whom to do marvelous things.

    John the Baptist, Mary the illiterate unwed mom and teenager, the no-account shepherds at the very bottom of the economic ladder who serve as audience to the heavenly choir. People and places that the world ignores, God chooses to participate in his world-changing activity.

    Madison is not a Bethlehem, except that it is in the shadow of NY like Bethlehem was in the shadow of Jerusalem. We don’t supply the city with mutton and wool. But I’m sure we have some folk who deal in pork bellies and cattle along with other commodities. We are not poor, nor do we have to be for God to choose us to change the world. We need to see that we are as integral to God’s plan as any church or government in the world!

    God is eager to use your talents and abilities and gifts to change the world. The work we do may seem small on a global scale, but it is not small to those who receive the gifts we share.

    God is at work through this church and through you. God works through your unique relationships, your jobs, your family and your civic involvements, and more to make this world aware that God loves it and desires it to be trustworthy and good.

    I want you to be able to see the importance of your lives and the life of this church and their ability to change the world.

    God began this work through the most insignificant people in the world. A baby born in a stable and an itinerant preacher without a church preaching by the riverside, an unwed teenage mother, an executed criminal!

    But they have turned out to be more important than all the important people and events of their day!

    I believe the Word of the Lord has been and is coming to the people of this church and it stands as did John against all odds (and reason) to fill the valleys of despair, level the mountains of inequality, make the crooked ways of injustice straight and smooth out the rough places of distrust in our lives, the lives of those around us and in the world.

    We are as powerful as the Spirit of God if we dare to commit our lives and our livelihood to Christ: to proclaim the good news.

    I know what despair is and inequality feels like and the sting of the horrible injustice we witnessed in San Bernardino. I know the crooked messes we can make of our personal lives and the rough road back to sanity and self-respect. I’ve been dealing with it most of my life against the most unbelievable odds. And yet I believe that the crucified Christ, lifted up in the lives of believers will draw all persons to the peace that passes understanding.

    In Like it is John against seven powerful men. By the time Luke wrote this gospel none of the seven were alive, but the story of John’s herald was still being told. Today those proud men are but footnotes to the story of Christ, the one sent to reveal the salvation of God to all flesh.

    And the story, the truth, the salvation story and its reality now for the individual and eventually for all flesh has been carried by churches like this one and people like you and me. Some rich, some poor, some powerful, some old and some very young. All of us believing that what we witness too is more important and more powerful than all the armies of the world and is worth more than all the money in the world.

    Your witness which you may consider nothing in the scheme of things, is everything to God. We have to be about preparing the way of the Lord. There are mountains to come down: Mountains of racism, sexism, ageism: blocks to healthy relationships with another and with our Lord.

    There are valleys to be filled: valleys of depression, despair, loneliness, grief, pain, which keep us from a rich relationship with God and from the fellowship of others.

    There are crooked places to be made straight: There is perversity, abuse, neglect, immorality and violence.

    There are rough places to be made smooth: oppression and injustice…..

    There’s work to do, God has chosen us. Time to stop comparing ourselves to the past history of this church and its present size in comparison to others. It is time to commit our time our talents and our money as venture capitalists. The sure thing seldom looks like a sure thing. It takes faith to commit and follow God’s will.