Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Pentecost 4)
Rev. Norman Porath preaching
Luke 1:57-67 Sermon
June 24, 2012

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
356 "Jesus Saviour Come To Me"
272 "When All The World Was Cursed"
61 "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People"
508 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"

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1.  Bringing down the High and Mighty

2. Lifting up the Lowly


M:  The Lord be with you.
C:  And also with you. 

            I said, "the Lord be with you."  It is about the Lord who is in our midst.  Who is this Lord?

            He is a Lord who is unlike any god that this world may have to offer.  He is the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  Moses, you understand, was a prophet who had the benefit of a court education in the country of Egypt.  And then, he had about 40 years of education in the university of hard knocks.  He was living in the wilderness because he was running away.  There was a price on his head, because he was guilty of the murder of an Egyptian.  This Moses had a unique education, first of all in the Egyptian court, and then in the boondocks.  The Lord called. 

            Now Moses' response was an awful lot like the nominating committee going to see one or another of you to run for office.  And what does the nominating committee hear from you when they ask you to consider running?  "Not me!  Not me!" 

            Moses said the same thing.  "Not me, Lord!"  But the Lord is not to be trifled with.  The Lord persisted.  And finally Moses agreed.  He didn't know how he was going to do it.  But, before he went, he wanted to know who sent him.  "What is your name?  What shall I tell the people about the one who called me and sent me on this mission?"  Answer:  "I am who I am.  That's all you need to know."   

            It's a Hebrew verb:  "I am."  In earlier translations of the Bible, it's sometimes transliterated "Jehovah."  In more recent translations, it's "Yahweh."  You'll find it in the Bible.  You saw it this morning in the reading from Psalm 141 that wherever you find the Lord's name printed out with four capital letters, L-O-R-D, the word behind it is the Hebrew verb, "I am who I am."  In the imperfect tense, one who is without beginning, and who is without end.     

            That's reflected in our liturgy when we sing the Gloria: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and is always going to be."  That means that this Lord has more durability than John Deere, General Motors, Pinnacle Bank, or any of the so-called gods in which people trust in this world.  A god is that in which you put your trust for your means of support.  That's the way Luther defined it.  This Lord is the one who said, "I am who I am, and I am going with you."  You also see it in the end of the Gospel of Matthew:  "Lo I am with you always, until the end of the earth."  You also find it throughout the Gospel of John, "I am." 

            These "I am's" were Jesus articulating the name that God had given to Moses when Moses was called to go before Pharaoh.  That is the name, you saw it in Psalm 141; you also saw it in the Old Testament reading; there are some places there, the Lord of Hosts, and toward the end, pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.  This Lord is the one who is, the one who was, and the one who always will be.

            Now what's so special about this Lord?  What's so different about this Lord is that he comes to people who have imperfections:  Moses, for instance.  Or later, and you may have heard this a few weeks ago in the reading from Isaiah, when the Lord called Isaiah.  Isaiah met him in the temple.  Isaiah was on duty in the temple.  And he had this vision.  He saw the Lord of hosts, high and lifted up.  The vision encompassed the whole world; the whole world was filled with his glory. 

            First thought on the part of Isaiah when he encountered this Lord who spoke to him, was "Oh, I have seen the Lord face-to-face.  I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.  Woe is me, I am done for, I'm toast! "

            The Lord's answer?  The Lord sent seraphim, took a coal off of the altar with tongs, and touched his mouth.  Now if you have ever picked up a coal out of a barbecue, you know that it would really, really make his mouth toast.  But that was enough to move Isaiah to say, "Okay, so this is who I was, this is where I was, this is my background."  But when the Lord asked him who is going to go, Isaiah's answer was, "Here I am, you can send me." 

            What is the character of this Lord when he comes to people?  What we find out about this Lord, is that he comes to people who, like Moses, have imperfections, or like Isaiah who have imperfections; but who nevertheless comes with compassion and care and love.

            And if the people are willing to listen, he uses us for his purposes, and that's the special and unique thing about our Lord.  This Lord, unlike the gods of this world comes to you; and though you lack qualities, which are good in terms of any kind of recognition this world may have, the Lord says, "you are mine."  Why are you his?  When you were brought to God's house for Baptism, his name was put on you.  You belong to him. 

            We articulate that in the beginning of the service, where the pastor says to those who believe on his name, the "I am who I am," he gives power to become the sons of God, and has promised to them his Holy Spirit.  That Holy Spirit comes to people who are willing to be open and willing to listen when the Lord calls.

            This was just a little bit of a problem for Isaiah.  In Isaiah chapter 6, right after Isaiah says, "here I am, you can send me," the Lord tells him, "Okay, don't get too excited.  You're going to be a preacher, you're going to preach to these people, but they're not going to listen." 

            I don't know how Isaiah felt about that.  I can tell you that I, as a preacher, when I get a warning that says you're going to preach, but sometimes people aren't going to appreciate you; I say, "I'm not sure, do I want this job?"  The answer is, he who was, who is, and always will be, will be with me.

            Another thing about this "I am;" you remember in the commandments that we're not supposed to mess around with God's name.  Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, don't use it in a way that is irresponsible, use it respectfully, and use it with honor. 

            The Jews had a thing about this name; so much so, that they put a fence around it, so that whenever they came to this name in the Scriptures, where it was printed out in Hebrew, they wouldn't utter it, because they were afraid they might say something wrong.  So they used a substitute word, a different word.   

            Then comes Jesus in the New Testament era, and he says in the Gospel of John for instance, about all of the "I am's" that are drawn from Israel's history.  And you remember in the Gospel of John the times and places where Jesus says "I am:" the Bread, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Light of the World, the Vine, the Resurrection.  All of those things were Jesus uttering the Lord's Name, and connecting that name with himself. 

            Now what this Lord had to do, the Lord brings down the high and the mighty.  Pharaoh, or the powers that be, whoever or wherever they may be in this world, and he lifts up the lowly.  And among the humble and lowly include for instance prophets like Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah.  An encounter with this Lord is something that spooks the bejeebers out of people when they experience face-to-face encounters with the Lord.  But what we find with him is that he meets us, certainly with severity, but with the kind of love and promise and compassion that he'll continue to stay with us, he'll go with us even to the end of the world.

            John's task his preaching was to move the people of Israel to a kind of alertness, to open their eyes to something that was coming, which was from out of this world.  The one who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, not conceived by a biological relationship with a man, but God's doing.   

            And marvelously, in the Gospel of Luke, you see two different responses on the part of people. You remember John's father Zechariah and what happened when the angel came to Zechariah in the temple and told him your wife is going to have a child. You remember Zechariah was pretty old, and so was Elizabeth.  Maybe not as old as Abraham and Sarah, but they were up in years. 

            And what did Zechariah say?  "This can't be!"  And the Lord struck him mute.  And the people wondered what happened to him.  They knew something must have happened to Zechariah, because when he came out, he didn't have a word to say; other than the fact that he was awe struck by that encounter with the Lord who had come to him. 

            And we find in the reading this morning from the Gospel of Luke, that finally when the infant was born to Elizabeth, that there is a discussion about what his name should be.  His name according to Elizabeth should be John.  But the people didn't buy into this at all.  Because after all, a son, especially a first son should be named after his father, Zechariah.  So they turned to Zechariah and ask what should his name be?  His answer: "name him John," which means, "the Lord gives, the Lord is gracious."

            What we're looking at in this Lord, is a kind of Lord and a kind of love which is simply alien to the ways of this world.  Now I told you about Zechariah and the way he responded to that call.  He was struck mute.  When he finally gave the name John to him, he was able to speak again. 

            Contrast Zechariah with Mary when the angel came to her.  What did Mary say?  "How can this be?  I don't know a man."  And the angel said, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you."  And what was Mary's response?  "Be it unto me as thou hast said."

            Zechariah rejected it.  He couldn't see it.  Mary said "yes" to the Lord's call.  And this is a contrast in terms of the ways different people respond.  Mary said "yes," finally Moses said "yes," Isaiah said "yes," and Zechariah said "no."  And yet, God is ready and willing to use, even people who are resisting him, as Zechariah did.  And as sometimes we do, for instance when the nominating committee comes and asks, "will you run?"  And we are reluctant.  God qualifies those he calls.  His calls are not limited to those who are qualified.  He gives them the qualifications.   

            The qualifications, which belong to a servant of the Lord, is one who has met him face-to-face, and said "yes."  To those who believe on his name, he gives power to become the sons of God, and has promised them his Holy Spirit.

            Just a little bit more about that name:  "I am who I am," and then add to that "your deliverer."  That's the name "Joshua, the Lord is my deliverer."  That name Joshua, made into a contraction in the Greek language, becomes "Jesus, the Lord is my deliverer."  I can't deliver myself.  It is the Lord who is my Saviour and my deliverer.  That's the Lord's doing, and that's because our Lord is different in every way that can be, from the powers that be that we sometimes are inclined to trust in. 

            Somebody said, and I noted it this last week, with regard to the things we trust in for our retirement, if you had a nest egg of $400,000 3 years ago, if you're the average person in the market, your nest egg has taken a 40% cut.  You're down from $400,000 to $240,000.  That should be a lesson to us about the things we might be inclined to trust.  The things of this world we're inclined to trust are not that durable.  Nothing is as durable as the Lord is in terms of the ability to last.

            Other things in which we trust in this world...well, I might in years gone by have trusted in my good looks (haha) or my charm.  But what you know is, these things are fleeting.  There is one thing that lasts: the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  And what that Word does, is with those people who are high and mighty, and this we saw in the Magnificant with Mary's Song, and we see this also in Zechariah's song in the Benedictus.  The Lord is able to lift up those that are lowly, and bring down the high and mighty. 

            The task that John had, was to tell the people of Israel, "wake up and see what is happening right in front of you."  And that which was happening right in front of you, was the one who was born of the Virgin Mary, who loved like no other person in this world, including love toward people that the rest of society wanted to reject.  Love toward women of ill repute, love for tax collectors, love for the lowly; and the thing is when it comes to using people, the Lord finds it really difficult to deal with people who are so full of themselves that they know they are good.  Jesus said, "I came to heal the sick, not those who think that they are well."

            When we all acknowledge that, humanly speaking, we have weaknesses about which we can do nothing apart from the one who gives us a new lease on life.  Well, what we find is he is able to help as he has promised, and as he continues to serve.  There is so much more that could be said, but the story of the Church's mission and ministry is the work of the Lord who comes, and who continues to work in our midst.  The work of the Lord is the work of him who put his name on you, and you belong to him, and you have the call, the mission, the responsibility to tell the world that when I come, "nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." 

            He is the one who is the deliverer, and deliverance was proved for us on Good Friday, and the trump was on Easter Sunday when that worst of all enemies was defeated, and Jesus came out of the grave.  We have that hope because he lives, and that we are who we are because it is he at work in our midst with the kind of love only God can give.

            I want to conclude this by simply saying, "may the peace of God, which is beyond your understanding and my understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Amen."