Down To Earth: An Obedient Servant
Down To Earth
December 20, 2015
“An Obedient Servant”
1. Obedience Redefined
– Luke 1:26
– Luke 1:38
2. The Big Yes
3. The First Step of Yes
– Luke 1:46
4. A Breath of Fresh Air
See this week’s REFOCUS questions for deeper reflection.
Questions to go Deeper
AN OBEDIENT SERVANT
December 19 & 20, 2015
Down to Earth: Obedient Servant
Pastor Rachel Billups
Philippians 2: 12-16
Brothers and sisters, God’s story—our story—is a story of amazing love, and today we are going to continue to look at what God has done.
Over the last several weeks, we’ve been talking about what it means to be a DOWN TO EARTH PEOPLE who worship a DOWN TO EARTH GOD—the God that created the universe—in all it’s BIGNESS—thought for some reason it would be the BEST idea to become small, to become human, to be one of us—Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. And because we want to follow Jesus—we too want to be a DOWN TO EARTH kind of people—first realizing that down to earth is as much about our relationship with one another as it is about our relationship with God—and then looking at Jesus’ example—humble servant, sacrificial servant—and today we’re going to talk about what means to be an obedient servant.
So open your Bibles; pull out your message maps from your bulletin and let’s look at Philippians 2:12 together. Let me know when you get there. I am reading from the Message Bible, “What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience” (Philippians 2:12 The Message).
All of us who say that we follow Jesus are asked to live in responsive obedience.
Now, obedience is a hard word for me—maybe it’s because when I here the word it transports me back to my childhood. I hear my mom and dad, stating and restating the rules that my brother and I didn’t like to following—when we were younger, simple stuff like don’t play baseball in the livingroom—you would think that would be a easy rule for us to follow—nope, but as we grew it was don’t be out past your curfew, you better not be drinking, did I smell cigarette smoke on your clothes. Don’t, don’t, don’t! We’ll maybe sometimes parents are right. (Show clip from Christmas Story).
If Ralphie had only listened—if he just would have been obedient—that would have never happened. So I never shot my eye out as a kid, but I didn’t shy away from trouble—and obedience for me as just the avoidance of punishment—just enough obedience to avoid getting into too much trouble.
So what about you? Maybe hearing the word obedience doesn’t transport you back to your parents, but maybe it’s that word makes you think of school, or getting yelled at on the bus, or even a scolding from an old lady in the neighborhood—what ever it is sometimes it’s really hard to relate to Christianity.
I guess I’m trying to be obedient; I don’t want to get in trouble. I think I’m doing the best I can in situation my life is in right now. Besides, I’m not a kid anymore; I’m a grown adult. Am I in trouble with God right now?
I guess that’s obedience. BUT obedience—when it comes to our faith—gets a redefinition. When it comes to following Jesus is less about the avoidance of punishment. It’s a whole lot about saying yes to God. Let me say that again—obedience is not the avoidance of punishment—obedience is about saying a BIG yes to God.
What does redefinition of obedience even look like? We’ll a beautiful example of that kind of yes in found in the story of Mary, Jesus’ mom. Will come back to Philippians, but for now go with me to Luke 1:26.
Let me set the scene for you. There’s this teenager doing what most teenage girls do in the first century: sewing, planting, maybe cooking, somehow contributing to the family in anyway that she could. Her family isn’t wealthy, doesn’t even seem like they are tradesfolk—in other words they are poor—this poor teenager is doing everything to help her family survive. Now if you’re a teenager in the room, before dismissing Mary as completely different than you, okay she doesn’t have Snapchat, but there some of you that are trying to help your families stay together, navigating your parents rough relationships, some of you working extra jobs to help pay the bills, some of you are dodging friends or family addictions. You’re not that different than Mary. You’re stressed; she is stressed.
In the middle of this struggle to survive, she is visited by an angel—a messenger from God—with news that she’s going to be an unwed, pregnant teenager. On the surface, it’s NOT good news—its hard news, scary news. So, I wonder if Mary’s life is really that much different than our lives. Just like Mary, today you might find yourself struggling. Like Mary, your life might be a little scandalous. Like Mary, you might be scared out of your mind, and like Mary you may not know what to do. That’s the Mary we find in Luke 1. This is not some pie-in-the-sky vision of what can or will be—but real life, real hard life, right in her face.
In walks the questions—not an avoidance of punishment but the opportunity to say a BIG YES to God—can God see beyond Mary’s situation? Can God see all of God’s possibilities for Mary’s life? Can God see a miracle waiting to be birthed? Absolutely!
But Mary can’t—all she can see is what’s right in front of her. Unwed, poor, uneducated, unimportant, insignificant, soon to be reject by family, by community—not an easy yes, but when face to face with life bending question – with a God possibility, Mary says, “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you said” (Luke 1:38 The Message). She says, Yes!
(THE BIG YES)
Brothers and sisters, what would it mean for you—right here, right now in the situation you find yourself in—to say yes to God? What’s your big yes?
Maybe somebody right here today needs to say yes to his or her marriage. For years, you’ve been saying to yourself, “If he would only do this, or if she would only do that.” Today is the day you are going to determine to lean into your spouse—you going to stop playing “the if/when” game and say YES to your spouse.
Maybe it’s grown children your navigating—their drama—and today, you are going to say yes to healthy boundaries. Perhaps you are filled with resentment about work and today; you are going to say yes to a new attitude. Some in this room and watching on line are struggling with a chronic illness that will not go way. Today your yes is accepting God’s grace to endure the pain. There are folk who are drowning financially with no foreseeable end in sight. For some, your self-esteem is in the toilette. Whatever you are facing—right here; right now. Obedience is not wishing for my circumstances to change—God please take this cup away from me—no! It’s not half hearted, “Well, God maybe you can help me out.” No!
Could it be that obedience is believing that God can do a miracle in our lives and aligning ourselves with what GOD WANTS to do—NOT WHAT I WANT but what God wants, and saying yes—a BIG out of control, don’t feel right, maybe it might, how can this be—yes!
Now brothers and sisters, this is not some kind of hazy-head trip. Someday when God asks me to do something big for God, I will say yes, like if I ever have to be face to face with ISIS. I’ll be a yes for God. This yes, is a BIG yes to the everyday, the ordinary—this is yes to what is going on in your life right now. How do you say yes to that?
(FIRST STEP OF YES)
Well the first step of yes is TRUST. Let’s go back to Philippians 2: 12-13, “What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure” (Philippians 2: 12-13 The Message).
Even these first followers of Jesus struggled to really trust Jesus. I’m not going to pretend this faith thing—believing, living a life based on a person you can’t see with your own two eyes—is easy, but so often we treat God like were just casually dating.
Hey let’s see how it goes—I like you, I know you like me and let’s be friends and just see if this works out. But saying yes—it’s deeper than that—it’s marriage. It’s when things are hard, when the kids are sick, when life gets routine, when you look at the stranger next to you in bed and say, “This isn’t what I signed up for!” It’s in the middle of the mess that we say yes, not just once, but again and again—what Paul calls redoubling our efforts. The true test of trust is our attitude—can I thank God in the middle of the mess? This is NOT fake it till you make it theology—let’s just put on a happy face even though I’m dying on the inside—this is real genuine gratitude for it all—the good, the bad and the in-between.
True confession—I’m still working on this. Sometimes I say out loud to God and frankly anyone one else who is willing to hear it—God I didn’t sign up for this. But then I’m reminded, I have a choice—have a crappy attitude: bitterness, anger, resentfulness—cause sometimes that’s what I want to choose—or am I thankful?
When we say thank you we are giving God space to move in our hearts and in our lives! Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, said, “And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”
It’s through gratitude, we lay open our hearts for God to do some major surgery—cutting away the anger, the bitterness and the resentfulness—pouring into our hearts God’s Spirit! In the same way, you can’t use your phone without turning it on. You can’t trust without beginning with thankfulness. Even if you don’t believe in your spouse, your doctor, your trainer, your banker, your friend, your teacher or even yourself, once you go to thankfulness your saying but I do believe in God. It is impossible to feel thankful and go back on your yes. Listening to how thankful Mary is after saying yes to God. Luke 1: 46, “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others” (Luke 1: 46 The Message). This is her song of thanks—all of this in the face of community rejection—she is actively naming God’s new reality not only for her, but also for the people around her. Mary doesn’t fully trust, until she is able to thank God for her whole situation.
I just want you take a moment—close your eyes—think about what is right in front of you and say thank you. Not gritting your teeth, but with surrender know that God can use even this to create healing space in your life. Do you trust—do you think God is big enough and small enough to do a miracle in your life? Trust is the first step to saying yes. But once we’ve said yes, we can’t keep that to ourselves. All of you families who’ve said yes to baptism—you’ve shared your yes with this whole room and those watching online—now go and share it!
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you what the world is waiting for—its waiting for your BIG yes—people want to see it, experience it, to know that it is possible to live a life of obedience to God. The world is saying Let’s see your BIG yes! Take a look at verses 14-15, “Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.” (Philippians 2: 14-15 The Message).
Remember we started this Down To Earth series claiming that down to earth people don’t focus on arguments, differences and red cups—you can see here that even Paul had to remind those Jesus followers at Philippi that there’s no room for bickering and second guessing when we taking our yes not the world. Our yeses don’t add to the noise, the chaos, the hate, and the frustration—no, scripture tells us our yes is a breath of fresh air.
(BREATH OF FRESH AIR)
That’s what we are CALLED TO be for another and for the world—a breath a fresh air. When people experience us—they are suppose to walk away feeling lighter, happier, healthier and frankly changed. Not because there is something otherworldly about us—we are just ordinary down to earth people—no but because God’s Spirit—is alive and pouring out of us.
Just the other day, I was working off-site at Warehouse 4. I couldn’t help but notice this group of ladies—they were more seasoned. I could tell they were friends and even though I attempted not to eaves drop on their conversation—I could help it—they weren’t gossiping, they weren’t complaining about their struggles, they were laughing, sharing, grieving and caring for another. God’s light was radiating out of them. It was everything inside of me to not go over and join their conversation—I WANTED TO JOIN THEM, but I didn’t. As the last one of the friends walked down the stairs, slowly, carefully with grave hesitation, I stopped her and said, “I need you to know that you and your friends were a real gift! I loved seeing how you love one another so well!” She looked at me and said, “Isn’t laughter contagious?” Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. That’s what I saw that day, a glimpse of good living and of the living God. I saw a BIG yes—a contagious yes, one that I wanted to be a part of—not because they were cool or young or even hip, but because I could feel God’s love flowing in and through them.
So brothers and sisters what is your BIG yes, as we are step out of Advent and into Christmas—what is it—yes to leaning into your spouse, a yes to JOY even in the middle of chronic pain, a yes to a new way of navigating your work place, your self image, your family, your friends?
Mary couldn’t even fathom what God was really asking her to say yes to. All she could see was the situation right in front of her face—unwed, teenage mother, confusion, fear—she said yes to what was right in front of her. “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s ready to serve.”
Today let’s make room in our lives to say yes, I invite you to close your eyes and pray:
If you’ve assumed you’re too old for anyone to listen to your wisdom
If you think you’re too young for people to care what you think
If you imagine that your life as too many problems for anyone to take the time
If you have labeled your self too far gone for God to want you
Then let these words wash over you… Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.
We pray this in the powerful name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
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