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Sermon Who Could Imagine

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Sermon: “Who could imagine….”

Scripture: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3: 20

However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"…. 1 Corinthians 2: 9

Judas … Well who could imagine that after all the disciples had been through, chosen by Christ, that he could betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Yes, you can say that it was to fulfill scripture, and it was, but sometimes to our humble thinking it is hard to imagine that a follower of Christ could betray his leader. Well, but Peter denied Christ, and how much closer to Jesus could anyone get?

Who would imagine how our lives would change after 9/11. We had become confident of our security – conflict was thousands of miles away. Yes, we had heard of terrorism, and were fighting it covertly around the world, but we only saw glimpses on TV or read about it in the newspapers.

Once before we thought we were isolated from the conflict in Europe. Germany was threatening countries, yet again thousands of miles away – until Pearl Harbor. Who could imagine the millions of lives that we would be lost before peace would once again be obtained. History would seem to repeat itself once again that the “strong,” as victory defines them, determine the destiny of millions of people.

Just look at the history of Israel. It was the mighty hand of God that had intervened in the long history of the covenant people. Both with the mighty right hand of God we learned about the exodus, the clearing of the way for the chosen people to habitat the “promised land,” and the countless times God had rescued his beloved people. Judas knew this history, and the Roman occupation had oppressed God’s people in the tradition of its plight many times before. The solution in Judas’ mind?

Who could ever imagine the cruelty that man could inflict upon his fellow man in the name of “power” or some selfish ideal like Nazism. Who could imagine anyone person or persons feeling justified to exterminate 6 millions Jews or some other ethnic cleansing that has occurred around the world, and do it quoting some scripture of the Bible?

So you can imagine Judas waking up one day, so the theologians have interpreted who have studied the case of Judas over the centuries, and deciding to force Jesus hand – God’s hand? OK, you and I can sit here today and judge Judas, and mind you I make no case or excuse for his betrayal, but we might mistakeningly at times think we can force God’s hand? Haven’t you “negotiated” with God once or twice in your life time? When my late wife was dying of cancer, I tried to negotiate with Him. You know, that prayer you offer up that says if He does this you’ll do that…. No, I can’t imagine that Judas could have thought that he could force God’s hand, but….if we can take on his thinking….

But how can any of us imagine or ever know the mind of God other than through His own words. So how do you interpret the meaning of Christmas to someone whose only orientation to oppression, to hatred, to abuse is a conflict – “mighty hand?” And who hasn’t heard someone repeat from Scripture the phrase “the mighty hand of God.” (I Peter 5: 6), “6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

Christmas, we understand is the beginning of the salvation story – another chapter in the on-going “love story” called the Bible. But who then and even now could imagine that the most important chapter for us would begin with the birth of a baby?

When you think of a baby what comes to your mind? Dependence, helplessness, crying, dirty diapers….? We don’t think of a baby as powerful or able to command resources able to overcome evil or oppression. So who could imagine that God would begin the most important element of our salvation through the humble beginnings of a baby? Can you imagine for a moment, that without knowing the entire story of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, that it would be hard to imagine how this one birth God would reconcile his creation of man to himself? Who could imagine the mind of God, whose nature is love, to turn the world upside down, not with conflict, but with grace. And who among us is an expert on explaining God’s grace. Who among us can easily explain how God intended to overcome the world’s evil with love, not with might. Yes, there have been historical examples in history like Gandhi and Mother Theresa and others, could poor Judas grasp the meaning of Grace? After all, even after three years, after all the miracles, teachings, instructions, prophesies, the rest of the twelve ran from the crucifixion. Jesus had even told them about the “after three days,” but they didn’t get it until after the resurrection. So how could Judas understand what we claim to understand to day?

I still have a hard time comprehending how much God loves me! And that God choose to implement his salvation story not through might but with love? He chose to save me not through a host of angels in a might battle with the devil, but in the name of the baby Jesus. After all, who doesn’t love holding a baby? Even the hardest of hearts is softened at the site of baby – the same way a child loves a kitten or a puppy – small, helpless, but ever so tender and lovable. So how could we have imagined that God did not want to save us through the example of Jesus miracles – and, you know, how he asked his disciples to be quiet about some of the most magnificent moments – but instead save us through the nature of love and sacrifice? For don’t scriptures tell us that “no greater love can anyone have than to lay one’s life down for another….(               ).” How could Judas imagined this…? Saved by love…. Yes, God came in a way that would draw people to Him in love, not fear. Not to be afraid of a baby is not to be afraid to approach God, a God of love. No, I  an’t imagine the love of God, but I have to just surrender to His majesty and wonder.

One more element in the Christmas story causes me to pause at the wonder of God and how He operates. The Shepherds. Besides Mary and Joseph, why would the first to hear the announcement of the birth be the bunch of low life shepherds? Oh yes, we consider them as sweet characters when we lay out the crèche scene and tell the Christmas story. But in their day they were the bottom of the bottom of occupations, considered ceremonial unclean in the eyes of the Temple, and not to be trusted. Yet, God chose the Shepherds to be the first to hear and entrust them with witnessing the miracle birth and spreading the news that it had happened. Knowing their place in Jewish society, we now can look back and wonder why it  wouldn’t have been kings and queens that were the first to hear and see? Even King Herod wanted to be among the first – so he tole the Wise Men to come back and tell him once they had found the baby so he could worship Jesus. (Ya, right) Yet, that same God, not to be imagined with our human mind, would want us to understand, as the theologians have come to interpret that the message of salvation was and is for everyone. If God was willing to entrust that precious message to “shepherds” than we can be confident that his salvation applies to everyone! Just imagine, if the shepherds were included than I can feel confident that God considers even me important enough to love. And just imagine, knowing now how shepherds were regarded that Jesus would want to use the metaphor of the “Good Shepherd” to describe how he cares for us.

A baby? Is there a historical clue that people might have understood how God might use even a helpless baby to fulfill his covenant? God had done something like this before. Remember, the freedom of many in the exodus won through a baby that began in a basket floating down the Nile River in Egypt that grew up to be a man named Moses. Yes, even the shepherds had heard the prophesies; they were considered devout Jews who had also come to trust in God’s words and promises. So they didn’t terry to go to Bethlehem. They didn’t sit around and debate about what they had heard or if they should go. No, scriptures says “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste (haste) and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” I can’t imagine that God would pick these lowly shepherds to be among the first evangelists other than for a specific reason – that everyone is entitled to hear the Good News.

No, I don’t think Judas could have or would have imagined the nature of God. Even with all I know today about God it is still hard for me to imagine how God’s grace works. For now, we must surrender to His grace that comes to us in the form of a baby drawing us ever closer, like the shepherds, to see the wonder of God. If I have a hard time comprehending this, I can only imagine what he has in store for us. And pure Judas, if he had only been able to trust in what Jesus had said, and he too could have beheld what no one could have imagined – a King.

However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"…. 1 Corinthians 2: 9

The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!"

27 Then the king gave his ruling: "Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother." (I Kings 3: 26-27)

So who could have imagined a king….in the baby born in Bethlehem that day… not just a king, but the King of kings?

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