Sunday, December 28, 2014

==IMMANUEL - GOD WITH US (2014)==

“Immanuel (God with Us)” Advent Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
November 30 - December 28, 2014

During this Advent-Christmas season, our series theme is Immanuel or “God with us.” As we’ll hear on Christmas Eve, the angel told Mary that Jesus would be Immanuel, the living embodiment of God with us. This series was sparked when I looked for occurrences of God with us in the Bible. It is only used as a name twice, in a prophecy to Isaiah and when the angel speaks to Mary. But it is a name that is literally a Hebrew sentence. So as I found various forms of the words ‘Im,’ ‘anu,’ and ‘el,’ I found the great promises of God, “I will be with you” and the great declarations of God, “I am with you.” And we’ve been reminded that not only has God not turned away from us, but that He pursues us in love and is and will always be with us.

With Us Until the End (Revelation 21.1-6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 28, 2014
Text: Revelation 21:1-6

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Song of Praise: "I'll Fly Away"
Offering Hymn: "Great is thy Faithfulness" Song of Sending: "Soon and Very Soon"
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


Today we come to the end of a series on God’s presence with us, embodied in the person of Jesus and the name, Emmanuel. Over the weeks we have seen God’s present manifested in the Garden, in the moving Tabernacle, in the fixed Temple, in the Exile, in the Holy Spirit, and in the person of Jesus. We have seen God’s faithfulness in “dwelling with us” as a covenantal God – a God who keeps His promise throughout all of history. We’ve also seen the role of God’s Word and our obedience in experiencing God’s presence. And we’ve heard the angel’s invitation to the shepherds and to all the world to “come and see” what God has done in Christ.

So today, we jump to the end, to these magnificent verses at the end of the Bible. It is the end, but it is also a new beginning – there is a new heaven and a new earth.  God is still with us and this particular language calls to mind the covenant of old and the whole scope of God’s story. I want to walk through these verses with you and be reminded of what God has done, is doing, and will complete.

Covenant Promise (v. 3)


“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (v. 3)

You’d think you were reading something from Genesis, because God said those same words to Abraham, later to his children and grand-children, and then later to King David; even later, God said as much to the world through Jesus and the New Covenant: “I am with you; I will be your God and you will be my people.”

That’s the core of God’s covenant pledge to humanity and it has never been conditional on our goodness or faithfulness, but has been anchored in God’s goodness and faithfulness. And that is Good News!

Tangible God (v. 4a)


I love the verse that comes next! You have probably heard it spoken at funerals. And it is comforting; but what I love most about it is that God is no longer invisible, un-touchable deity. Indeed, in Christ, God truly came near for a time. Now God is with us for good. And the imagery is so near and tangible:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” (v. 4a)

What a tender and intimate thing. In a book where God is victorious warrior and mighty Deity, it is especially meaningful to be reminded of God as the compassionate Father Jesus spoke of so often. And in a world where we do still weep tears and suffer loss, this picture of comfort is especially meaningful and a reminder that God’s comfort and help were also a part of His covenant presence, captured often in words like, “Do not fear; do not be afraid.” That picture of God’s comforting presence leads right into the next part, which is where God’s justice and peace are finally complete.

All Things New (v. 4b)


“…and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (v. 4)

And not only is God present and tangible; God is re-creating everything. The first things – or what we thought were the first things… sin, sickness, sorrow, and death – they have passed away. Death has died! Like “D-Day” on the beaches of Normandy, Jesus signaled the beginning of the end; now, in the scene in Revelation, the long night is over and with the speaker shifting to the one who sits on the throne, God declares:

“Behold, I am making all things new.” (v. 5)

And yet, this is not a shiny, new disconnected reality, but one related to what we have known. I surely can’t explain all the ins and outs of that – I don’t understand it. But I do know that Jesus modeled that in his own death and resurrection. His body and the sin he took upon himself died and God raised him to this new life as a glimpse of what would one day be for us. And Jesus was different, but his friends recognized him. He still bore the scars of his crucifixion. We will recognize “all things new” but God’s justice, healing, and rightness will be brought to bear in a way that is like creation all over again – a new “making.”

Day is Done (vv. 5b-6a)


“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (vv. 5b-6a)

The only break between “I am making all things new” and “it is done” is a pause to tell John to write this down, these words that are “faithful and true.” Yet even here in a vision of the end, the covenant is in view, with the parties of God and creation, the pledge of God’s faithfulness, the witness of John (and all of us reading the words), and the blessings that follow.

Then, with words echoing the “it is finished” from the cross, we hear a strong reminder that God has been with us from beginning to end. Not only has God been there, God is Himself the beginning and end, the A to Z, creator of time and maker of history. And for such a One to declare, “It is done,” is significant indeed.

And as a brief excursion since I raised the topic, the difference between “It is finished” and “It is done” is the nature of what each describes. I take Jesus’ words on the cross to be describing his act of obedience sacrifice, which was finished with his death. Indeed far more was in view, and I’ve noted that it was the beginning of the end, but I think he was specifically describing the ordeal and it’s completion. “It is done” has the whole scope of redeeming fallen creation in view… the making new of all things. And finally, with that redemption and re-creation accomplished, and from the perspective of the one fully present from beginning to end, it makes sense to say, “It is done.”

From the Tree to the Stream (v. 6b)


“I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” (v. 6b)

In the last part of these verses, we hear some of the blessings of God’s presence in the new creation. And it calls to mind at least two reference points. One is the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; now in the new creation – understood even as a new Garden – there is a Spring of Life. And then I am reminded of Jesus’ own teaching, particularly in John 4 and 7, where he offers those who thirst “water of life” and also claims to BE the “water of life.” Though much of Revelation gives us images to try to understand what is mystery to us, it seems entirely likely that Jesus himself is the reference point in this description of the new creation. He who once said, “Come to me, all who are thirsty” is now the eternal source of life, given freely and graciously.

One Year Ends, a New One Begins


As a take-away exercise, I’d like to suggest the following. This series and today’s text have reminded us of God’s faithful presence and provision – past, present, and future. And we’ve paused along the way this past month to ask questions like, “Where have you experienced God?” and “How can you be a part of what God is doing in and around you?”

As we conclude one year and are about to start a new one, I’d challenge you to do what many of us often do at such a transition: pause to remember the year past and pause to consider the year ahead. But let me frame that exercise in terms of the Emmanuel promise we’ve been studying.

As you think back on 2014, with all its highs and lows, pause to consider where God showed up. If scripture is right, God was and is present with us in highs and lows. Unfortunately we are often tuned out, but I believe that in remembering and looking back sometimes we will see God in ways we did not at the time. And as you remember, consider how you experienced some of the aspects of God’s presence that we’ve studied: God’s faithfulness, God’s comfort, opportunities for spiritual obedience that were taken or not, God’s gracious forgiveness even when we didn’t listen or follow, and where God might be inviting you to obey and follow moving forward.

As you think ahead to 2015, with the past year in view and God’s promises of presence in mind and heart, consider where God might be leading you; consider what it means to listen and follow in the various areas of life and action that you know are coming and those you don’t. Take some time to ask again, “God, what are you doing in and around me and how can I be a part?”

And may you come to know God’s blessing and presence in the coming year. Amen!



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014 - lessons and carols

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 24, 2014
Text: Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:46-55; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:8-16; Luke 2:17-20

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (MENELSSOHN)
The Word in Music: "O Holy Night" (Angelique Freeman, soloist)
Hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "Christmas Child" (Lisa Honeycutt, soloist)
Hymn: "Angels, We Have Heard on High"
Candlelighting Hymn: "Silent Night" (STILLE NACHT)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript: There is no manuscript for this sermon.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

With You to Save You (Jeremiah 1, Matthew 28)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 21, 2014
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-9,17-19; Matthew 28:16-20

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (IN DULCI JUBILO; arr. Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (REGENT SQUARE)
The Word in Music: "Once in Royal David's City" - choir, handbells, violin (arr. Helvey)
Time for Reflection: "Joy to the World' (Kaitlyn Hetterly, piano)
Offering of Music: "What Child is This" (Bobby White, piano)
Song of Sending: "Go, Tell it on the Mountain" (arr. Rick Bean)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


During this Advent-Christmas season, our theme has been Immanuel or “God with us.” As we’ll hear on Christmas Eve, the angel told Mary that Jesus would be Immanuel, the living embodiment of God with us. This series was sparked when I looked for occurrences of God with us in the Bible. It is only used as a name twice, in a prophecy to Isaiah and when the angel speaks to Mary. But it is a name that is literally a Hebrew sentence. So as I found various forms of the words ‘Im,’ ‘anu,’ and ‘el,’ I found the great promises of God, “I will be with you” and the great declarations of God, “I am with you.” And we’ve been reminded that not only has God not turned away from us, but that He pursues us in love and is and will always be “with us.”

On Christmas Eve we will see how that Immanuel promise is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, but for today and next Sunday we actually move a bit past the birth of Jesus to understand some of God’s PURPOSE in being with us. We have seen that part of that purpose is love – to pursue us though humanity turned away. We have seen that part of that purpose is comfort, with God often reminding us, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” We have also seen that part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance. And all that is SO much, but there is even more that God is doing; and we get a glimpse of that in our scripture texts for today.

I Am With You To Deliver You (Jeremiah 1)


Originally, I had chosen this Jeremiah passage as another example of God being with us. The key verse about God’s presence is v. 19, where God says, “I am with you to deliver you.” If we read that verse out of context, we might think it is a promise about salvation, but the context here is crucial – and is also what connects this passage to the one we’ll look at from Matthew 28.

This is the beginning of the book and story of Jeremiah, one of God’s prophets. And this introduction to Jeremiah’s story sets out God’s purpose for Jeremiah’s life and calling. It’s a wonderful reminder of God’s plans and purpose, even before we are born! God tells Jeremiah that before he was formed in his mother’s womb, God purposed for him to be set aside as a prophet. And God makes this known to him when he is still a young boy. In verse six we read of Jeremiah’s hesitation because of his age, but God responds by saying that God will provide the plan and the message: “…everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak… I have put my words in your mouth.” (v. 7,9) God goes on to say for the first time, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 8) 

And there we realize the different context for “with you to deliver you.” God is not bringing Jeremiah OUT OF something; God is sending Jeremiah INTO something. But God promises to be with him and protect him. After challenging him to “gird up” and “do not be dismayed,” listen to the strong imagery in verse 18: “Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land… to the kings… princes… priests… and people.” And God is honest: it’s not going to be easy or comfortable: “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you….” (v. 19) And then, for the second time, “…for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 19)

Hold on to and ponder that and let’s turn to the New Testament, to Matthew 28.

I Am With You Always (Matthew 28)


Matthew 28 is the end of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ life. Not unlike Jeremiah, God planned Jesus’ life and calling long before his birth. He, too, was born for the sake of “the nations.” Reminiscent of Jeremiah 1, Jesus several times says something like this: “… I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me. And He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:28-29; cf. also John 12:49)

So fast-forward through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, and we find him with the disciples at the end of Matthew. And Jesus is giving them direction for after he leaves. He has told them he is leaving his Spirit; he has told them that the Spirit would give them the words to say (like Jeremiah, like himself). And now he charges them with what we have come to call the “Great Commission” – which simply means the mission in which we participate in God’s great work. He says, famously, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….” (Matthew 28:19-20a)  And then this, which is what connected this passage to all the rest we have been looking at this month: “…and lo, I am WITH YOU ALWAYS, even to the end of the age.” (v. 20b)

The one who is called Immanuel – God with us – ends his earthly ministry by telling his followers, “I am with you always.” That is, God is with you always! It’s the old promise: underscored, highlighted, set in triple-bold, and read out loud. God is with you and will never leave you and never forsake you. It’s not something that comes and goes with the Christmas birth of baby Jesus; it is the very life and death and even leaving of Jesus which underscores the promise even more: God is with you and will never leave or forsake you.

From vs. For


I said earlier that God’s presence with us has PURPOSE. Part of that purpose is love – and God does love you! Part of that purpose is comfort, and we often do need to hear and know, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” Part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance – and we know that completely through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But here’s the bottom-line that I think we must hear from today’s texts, and it has broad implications for our understanding and experience of faith and life itself. God is not just about rescuing us FROM something – sin, death, hell, enemies, fear; God has made it clear time and time again that He pursues us FOR something.

God was with Jeremiah to deliver him – not out of danger or away from harm or out of the world, but because God was sending him into the world with a message from and about God.

God was with us in Christ to deliver us – not only from sin and death, but for a Great Commission to the world.

The Christian faith and life is not ultimately about be safe or comfortable or keeping out of Hell; it is about following Jesus Christ into the world God loves to act and speak in the ways God the Father has shown us in His Word and in Christ. This is what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ; this is what it means to be the Church.

And God is with us for that purpose. God is with us for love; God is with us to encourage and strengthen us; God is with us to save us; but don’t miss that God is with us for a PURPOSE – for our good and that of the world, for His name’s sake, for His glory… that Heaven and Nature might indeed sing, “Joy!” Amen.





Sunday, December 14, 2014

With You in the Straw (Isaiah 41, 43, Luke 1)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 14, 2014
Text: Isaiah 41:10,14-15b; 43:1-2,5-7; Luke 1:26-38

:: Sermon Audio (audio not available) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "O Holy Night" (Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (HYFRYDOL)
Hymn of Praise: "Lo, How a Rose" (ES IST EIN' ROS')
The Word in Music: "Go Tell it on the Mountain" (Children's Choir)
Offering of Music: "Joy to the World" (Mira Pearce, piano)
Nativity Hymn: "Christmas Offering" (Baloche)
Postlude: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


This Christmas season we are looking at God’s great promise to be with us. That promise is captured in one of the names given to Jesus: Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” We’ve looked at the origins of God’s presence with humanity in the Creation story. Then, remarkably, we’ve seen that God did not give up on us when we fell short and turned from Him; but God came after us in loving pursuit. Through a series of covenants, God pledged on His own name and life, to be with us and remain with us. He invited (and invites) us to faithfulness and relationship, but His love and presence are not contingent on that. We’ve also followed the progression of God’s presence from the mobile tabernacle in the oldest times to the fixed Temples of Jerusalem to the in-the-flesh presence of Jesus and the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit in all who believe.

Thus far our main focus has been on God and God’s action. Today we turn a bit more toward what the means for us. What does it mean that God has come TO US where we are? We’ll see that God has indeed come among us and into our mess, both in the Old Testament as well as in the new.

Promised Presence (Isaiah 41,43)

10 ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’… 13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ 14 “Do not fear… your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:10,13-14b)

1 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. …5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. 6 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, 7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”  (Isaiah 43:1-2,5-7)
We start in Isaiah, in chapters 41 and 43. We’ve talked about the context for this before. It is some years after David and Solomon and God’s people have been disobedient, struggling, and have lost much. They have been conquered by foreign powers, taken captive, and scattered abroad. Indeed, much of what happened was a consequence of their disobedience and disregard for God. It would have been easy to draw the conclusion that God was done with them. (Have any of you ever drawn that conclusion about your own life?)

But God speaks through His prophet, Isaiah, to say a series of astounding – and comforting and encouraging – things.

From chapter 41:

    “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.” (v. 10)

    “I will strengthen you… help you… uphold you” (v. 10,13a)

    “Do not fear… do not fear… your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (v. 13-14)


What do you hear over and over? – “Do not fear.” And it’s not just, “Don’t be scared; pull yourself together.” It is, “Do not fear; I am with you.” “I’ve got you; I am with you; I am your God.” God has not abandoned His people, just as God hasn’t given up on you. God is the “Redeemer” and the “Holy One of Israel.”

And from chapter 43:

    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

    “Through the waters… through the rivers… through the fire… and the flame”

    “Do not fear, for I am with you… I will bring you (and your children) home”


Again, “Do not fear… do not fear… I am with you.” This time, God gives context to his presence. It’s not just “with you” but with you in the most difficult places and parts of life: the raging water, the burning flame. And not only does God still claim His people “by name”; He also promises to bring the scattered people (and their children!) home.

These themes are echoed in 100 more places in the Old Testament. My mind goes to the 23rd Psalm and the declaration of the song-writer, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v. 4) That is an example of someone trusting God’s promise and presence and describing that trust. But all the texts I chose today are God’s words to us: “I am with you; do not fear; I bring you blessing.”

Promises Fulfilled (Luke 1)

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
In Luke 1, we hear the familiar Christmas story of the Angel coming to Mary. Though there is much to be learned from Mary there, today I want to focus on what God is saying and doing. The angel bears the news, greeting Mary and beginning with the same three things promised to all God’s people through Isaiah: “The Lord is with you (v. 28)… do not be afraid… you have found favor with God.” (v. 30)"

Then, in a fascinating connection with some of the things we talked about last week, the angel says these things: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David; he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (v. 32-34)

Do you remember the promise to David? God would make an enduring house, and that wasn’t in reference to the Temple, but to David’s royal line. And though David’s children and the people of Israel were notoriously disobedient, God’s promise is good. That’s part of the reason for the genealogies in the beginning of Matthew and Luke – to show that Jesus is of the royal line of David.

But he will also be born of the Holy Spirit and will be a “holy Child” who “shall be called the Son of God.” (v. 35) And with this birth, God has come near, not as blazing deity or as invincible earthly king (both of which people expected in various ways). Rather, God came after us and came among us with this almost scandalous “low birth.”

In the Straw


That the God of Creation and the heir of King David would be conceived by a virgin not yet married and born into the straw of a stable in Bethlehem with shepherds and sheep gathered as witnesses while SIMULTANEOUSLY fulfilling the Old Testament promises and prophecies should be ample proof of the angel’s words in verse 37: “Nothing impossible with God.”

In another reminder of last week’s sermon, we see that Mary’s experience of God’s power and presence is intimately tied to her hearing and responding to God’s Word, here spoken by the angel. Mary hears all this and responds, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (v. 38)

So what does this old (and even older) story mean for us today?

I continue to be amazed at the consistency and continuity of the message from the earliest pages of the Old Testament through to Jesus and beyond. That story is this: the perfect and powerful God made this world and humanity with it, inviting us to a unique relationship as those “in His image.” We made (and continue to make) a mess of it, but God did not and has not abandoned us. Nor has God simply waited for us to fix it or find our way back to His presence and blessing. Rather, God has come running after us, at times as unseemly and ungainly as the old father running out to meet his errant son and then slipping out of the party to invite his prideful son in.

Further, God has come down among us in Jesus, down in the straw. Someone asked me recently why it was important that Jesus experienced the suffering, temptation, and limitations of humanity. After some pondering, I think that it was not important for Jesus to have that experience, but for us to know that Jesus had that experience. With that, we see and know a God who we can trust has seen and known us, not from a privileged position, but from our own position.

With Jesus, God has come down in the straw with us. He is with us even now; with YOU even now. And whether you’d describe your life and your experiences as straw or a raging river or a burning fire or the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you even now. Don’t be afraid.

God is with you. Do not fear. In Him – in Christ – there is also the blessing of knowing, not only is God with me; I am with God. Amen.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sent With You (John 14.23-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 7, 2014
Text: Deuteronomy 31:23-27a; 1 Kings 11:35-39; John 14:23-27 

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Prepare Ye the Way" (Caedmon's Call) - GSPC worship team audio
Hymn of Praise: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "The Yearning" (Craig Courtney)
Offertory Hymn: "He Leadeth Me" (HE LEADETH ME)
Song of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


Today we are continuing the theme of Immanuel (God with us) that Kathy introduced last week. She gave us an overview that stretched from Creation to Revelation and she focused on the covenant – God’s promise to a people and to the world to be with them.

Today I want to look at three related passages in which God says in one way or another, “I will be with you.” Over the past number of weeks we have talked about experiencing God’s presence – His GOODNESS and GREATNESS. I realize that many of us – and all of us at one time or another – struggle to experience God in a tangible way.

Each of the passages about God’s presence also includes some kind of challenge to obey God’s Word, so I also want to look with you at the relationship between our attentiveness to that Word and our experience of God’s presence.

Mobile Home (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)
23 Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” 24 It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. 27 “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness… (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)
Last week Kathy talked about the word ‘tabernacle’ – both the noun and the verb which describe God “pitching a tent” among His people. After Creation, when God walked with humanity in the Garden, and before the Temple of Solomon, God was understood to travel with the Israelites and dwell in the Ark of the Covenant. At the end of Deuteronomy, as leadership of Israel was passing from Moses to Joshua, God commissions Joshua, saying, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” (v. 23)

This is a reminder and renewal of the covenant promise – both for land and for God’s presence and blessing. God is telling Joshua (and all Israel) that the covenant is still good and God is still with them. What immediately follows that verse is the account of Moses completing the writing down of the Law and instructing the Levites to put the written Law/Word beside the Ark of the Covenant, that it may remain there as a witness against you. (v. 26)

Moses has seen the tendency of the people to stray from God and says so out loud: “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness…” (v. 27a). So the written Word serves the purpose, among others, of testifying or witnessing to God’s will and purposes. I appreciate the physical proximity of that Word, as if to underscore that “if you set your minds and hearts on this Word, you will be setting your minds and heart on God, who is present here with you.”

This is the first indication, with more to come, that if we want to see and experience God (who has already promised to be with us) that we are more likely to do so if we are following His Word, written in the Scriptures.

An Enduring House (1 Kings 11:35-39)
35 … I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. 36 ‘But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name. 37 ‘I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 ‘Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always.’ ” (1 Kings 11:35-39)
Last week Kathy indicated the progression from the “mobile home” of the tabernacle to the fixed house of God which was the Temple. The first Temple was built by King David’s son, Solomon, yet this passage is not about what you might think. At this point (1 Kings 11), Solomon has been unfaithful to the Lord and this passage describes God speaking to Jeroboam (through the prophet, Ahijah) with an invitation to obedience and blessing. The Kingdom is about to split and God tells Jeroboam that he will be king over 10 tribes and prosper if he will “listen to all that [God] has commanded and walk in [His] ways.” (v. 38)

Nonetheless, unfaithful Solomon will retain one tribe (and Jerusalem, which includes the tribe of Benjamin) for the sake of God’s promise to his father, David. Here’s where it gets complicated, yet also amazingly gracious.

God renewed the covenant with David, just like he did with Joshua. And God explicitly renewed the promise of descendants and blessing, promising David that his ‘house’ or kingly line would endure forever. So there were TWO “enduring houses” connected with David and Solomon: one was the ‘house’ of David’s line and one was the physical ‘house’ of the Temple Solomon would build to house the presence of God. It was all tied together; and it was so tangible and visible a sign of God’s witness against them when excessive sin and disobedience finally resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the Exile.

The beginnings of those consequences are seen in Jeroboam’s rise to power, introducing an interesting dynamic that we will see played out in the New Testament again. God never abandoned the promise to David, though there were certainly earthly consequences for David’s children completely abandoning God’s Word. Yet the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people (or King) did not stop God from blessing those who would be faithful and obedient.

And in a God-sized move, even when humanity seemed to have wrecked the enduring temple in Jerusalem and the enduring house of David, God rebuilt the Temple and redeemed the kingly line through Jesus. Both of those are themes Jesus speaks to in his ministry!

Let me summarize all that another way: God promised to be with us – to never leave us and never forsake us. Our unfaithfulness cannot thwart, derail, or sidetrack God’s holy promise; it can only get in our own way of experiencing that blessing and presence. Let’s look at one more text and then we’ll take a look at our own experience of these things.

Home With You (John 14:23-27)
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:23-27)
In John 14, Jesus has told his disciples that he is about to leave them. He is offering words of comfort before his impending crucifixion. And now the promise is not just to be near them in a moving tent or established in a fixed Temple. Now Jesus promises that He and the Father will “make our abode” – make their home – WITH us. But again, the experience is rooted here in obedience… even more strongly this time: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” (v. 23) He goes on a few verses later to speak of the Holy Spirit – the “Helper” – who will abide with those who believe and listen to him.

The promise of presence is even stronger now: God in Christ through the Holy Spirit promises to make a home with you and in you. How will we experience this? We experience it through love of God and keeping His Word.

Does that mean God goes away when we are bad? No indeed; it does mean that we can get deceived and distracted and lose sight of God and God’s best. But God is still near.

Sent With You

I called the sermon, “Sent with you.” That may seem like an odd title when so much of this has been about God being with us. But here’s the thing: all along, our experience of God is tied to our listening to and following His Word, from the time of Moses and Joshua to the time of the Kings to the time of Jesus and to today.

What does God’s Word say about this God who pledges to be with us? It describes God as having a huge heart for the world that He made. It describes God who did not turn away from disobedient children, nor even one that reluctantly receives them back if they are really, really sorry; rather, God is pictured by Jesus as the foolish father, running to look for and welcome home the disobedient child. Indeed, God moved Heaven and earth to come after us, travel alongside us, give us commandments, dwell in a Temple, work through Kings, call together a people, and more. And even when we wrecked almost all of that, he gave His Son to do all that in a personal and perfect way. Even when we tried to wreck THAT gift, crucifixion, torture, and death were not enough to defeat God’s reach of love.

So what do we hear when we listen to God’s Word? We hear about that God who still has the world on His mind. We hear about loving our neighbor and going to teach the Word and share the Good News. We hear about doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

The point is that God is on the move. So if we listen to God, we follow after Him. Sounds like Jesus’ teaching, right – “Come, and follow me!” In a word, we are SENT because God is at work. And all the promises of God meet that obedient act to remind us that we are not sent alone, but we are sent with God. God is present with you and known most fully when you go with Him.

Let me paint one last set of pictures:

Our spiritual development is not unlike our physical and emotional development – and not necessarily tied to those things. There is a spiritual immaturity (or even lack of faith) that doesn’t listen, doesn’t follow, doesn’t care; if we think of God at all, we wonder, “Where is He? Why can’t I see or feel Him? Does He care at all?”

There is a kind of spiritual adolescence that does listen from time to time, though more in terms of what God can do for me than the other way around. So, in times of need, we might be aware of God’s peace or presence or strength or help, particularly if we are looking and listening and asking for it.

But there is also a spiritual maturity that still listens, but begins to discover that God isn’t just waiting around to feed us and clean us and respond to our every need; rather, God is at work all the time in a God-sized way. And it begins to cross our mind that if all of history and scripture points to a God like that, and God does delight in our presence and our participation, then maybe we should be asking if and how we can be a part of what God is doing.

Ponder that. And ponder it with these two disclaimers: 1) You can be 10 years old and have spiritual maturity, and 50 years old and be starting out in faith; 2) Just as in other areas of our life, we can revert to immaturity at any point. Just like I can stub my toe and turn into a big 46 year-old baby, I can whine at God or even question and doubt His whole existence when I get shaken up. That’s okay; that’s human. But be drawn onward to the promises we’ve heard today: God is with us and we know it best when we are listening to and following God’s Word to us.

So listen; God is nearer than you know.

Trust and love God; He lives in you through His Spirit.

And go with God in obedience; you will know Him best when He is working in and through you. Amen.