I am bad at posting the text of my sermons — mostly because I don’t usually write a manuscript from which to preach and then post. Plus, I’m convinced that sermons are best experienced when heard, rather than just read.
Here then, is the audio from yesterday’s sermon. My editing talents are limited so there is a little extra material at both the beginning and the end. Go to the four minute mark to hear the beginning of the sermon. Or start at the beginning to hear a bit of a song and the two scripture passages for the day, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 7:17-23.
However, if reading is preferred over listening, I’ve also posted my notes below. The caveat being that I mostly use them as a guide, meaning what I actually said doesn’t completely match up with what I wrote. I doubt I’ve ever had a sermon completely match in that way. I suspect that’s true for most preachers.
We didn’t have time after the message for discussion in church, so I’d love for this to become a conversation here. So comment, question, and critique away.
”Names for the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor”
We are a country divided. From coast to coast, we have an issue that pits sister against brother; child against parent; even spouses against each other. I am of course talking about…
Properly using commas.
Why, what did you think I was talking about?
“To Oxford Comma, or not to Oxford comma, that is the question.”
I can’t and won’t solve this dilemma today, though if you know much of anything about me you can probably guess in which camp I fall. But for our purposes today, let’s at least acknowledge that comma placement affects the meaning of a sentence.
Here’s an example; notice the difference: “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain, and God.” OR “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain and God.”
Comma placement matters. Can we agree upon that?
Here’s why that’s important today:
The key passage for this sermon series, ‘Names for the Messiah”, is, as you might expect, the passage that, you know, names the Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Thanks to Handel’s “Messiah”, we are probably most used to hearing that list as five names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, etc.
“The two terms are to be taken together. ‘Counselor” refers to the exercise of governance, the capacity to administer, to plan, to deliver policy.”
‘Wonderful’ may suggest the new king will have great wisdom. Or it may suggest that the plans and policies of the new king will be tremendous and surprising.
Here’s my next controversial statement that’s not actually controversial at all: The prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE. He was writing about the crowning of a new king of Israel. He was not predicting Jesus of Nazareth, some 800 years later.
The early church read those terrific titles and used them to bear witness to Jesus, connecting the reality of Jesus to the expectation for a Liberating King, a Messiah, to the Hebrew Testament.
So we inherit a tradition that sees these titles in Jesus. And ‘wonderful’ becomes the operative word.
His teaching is ‘wonderful’ because he tells us and shows us that things we think are impossible are actually possible for God. Scriptures tell us Jesus is wise beyond explanation. He open up new possibilities for us. Thus he is a threat to conventional wisdom and conventional power.
The passage from Luke shows just how surprising and unconventional Jesus is. Even his relative, John the Baptizer, the one called to make the way for Jesus, isn’t sure he really is the one! But because of Jesus, the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the poor have good news.
“The old limits of the possible are frauds designed to keep the powerless in their place.” Jesus exposed this desire of the power order of his day and invited the common people to see that another way was possible, and not just possible but what God actually wants for all people. No wonder the religious and political leaders of his day wanted Jesus dead — he was “teaching them out of their allegiance to the entrenched order!”
Jesus breaks down such conventional wisdom, such as that “wisdom” that says white men should be in authority in order for society to maintain “proper” order.
Make no mistake, conventional wisdom and power are resistant to change; resistant to new possibilities. We’ve seen that in the rise of white nationalism, white supremacy, trying to disguise itself in a new name, “alt-right”, but with the same goals: keep white men at the top of the power structure; at the top of society. These are people who, intentionally or not, feel empowered by this month’s election to come out of the shadows and speak overtly, publicly that all who aren’t straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christians don’t belong.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist racism in all its forms.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist demonizing and “othering” of all groups of people: no matter their race, no matter their religion, no matter whom they love.
One way we are living this out is through our new Hospitality Statement. What is that statement? Come to Church Conference Dec. 7 to be part of the group that hears, and hopefully, approves this historic document.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means another, better way, another better world is POSSIBLE. Not just possible, but is actually what God wants for the world.
We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of hope, especially for those desperately in need of good news.
We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of God’s better way that includes ALL people.
That, I am convinced, is our way forward, together. Amen?