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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ordinary Women, Extraordinary God (Luke 2, 2 Timothy 1)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 14, 2017 - Luke 2:21-24,36-40; 2 Timothy 1:3-8a

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: O God Beyond All Praising (arr. Forrest)
Singing Together: Come People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
Singing Together: Speak, O Lord (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Sending: Called as Partners in Christ's Service (HOLY MANNA)

:: 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.

If you’ve ever wanted a Bible hero who was not super-strong like Samson, able to kill giants with a stone like David, or a world-traveler like Paul, you may find something remarkable in today’s characters. One is an 84 year old widow; one is a homemaker whose son has just grown up and moved out; and one is the grandmother of that same young man.

And if you don’t think you can find inspiration in these ordinary people of faith think again – these are ordinary people who trust in our extraordinary God. They are not the ones who do extraordinary things, but God is!  They teach us that one of the greatest things God can do through you is passing on faith to others, particularly the next generation. To get there, they will also teach us about trusting and waiting on God, worshiping and serving Him, and sharing His story.

Anna (Luke 2)

Anna is tucked away in the story of Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple for circumcision and presentation to the Lord.  Simeon often figures prominently in that story as well, as the old priest who has been waiting for the Messiah, and who bursts into song when he sees the baby. Anna is right there as well.  She is 84 years old, widowed (likely as a young woman) only seven years into her marriage.  And she has lived out the rest of her life in the Temple.  Listen to the description again:

    She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. (v. 37)

The particular quality of Anna’s life that I want to highlight for you is her life of service and worship.  She spent all her time serving, fasting, and praying in the Temple.  She demonstrated both action and devotion.  These are things that anyone can do, but in the wake of her husband’s death, she did not pull back from God, but rededicated herself to Him all the more. What do I mean by action and devotion?  For her it may have been serving the priests or the people who came to worship at the Temple.  She may have acted like a tour guide, knowing the Temple as well as she did.  She may have cleaned up after the many, many visitors.  Surely her fasting and prayer is just what it sounds like; she alternated between service and spending time talking and listening to God.

That’s really what worship is – both the service and the devotion.  Worship is not only what we do when we gather here or when you spend time in private prayer or scripture reading.  It is also a life of service to God, whether that be helping inside the walls of the church or reaching out to others as a “good neighbor.”  All of that is a life of worship, and that’s what Anna lived. It’s reasonable for us as well.  I’m not talking about being a nun or a monk, retreating to a walled monastery and chanting prayers all day.  I’m talking about a life with God at the center, where faith isn’t an hour Sunday morning, but day in and day out action and devotion before God.  And that is something for 30 year old men, 84 year old widows, 16 year old teens, and 6 yr. old children.  Talk with God and live for God.  That’s Anna’s story.

And there’s more!  When she saw the baby Jesus, she recognized who he was.  Luke tells us this:

At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (v. 38)

Her faithful life of worship (action and devotion) expressed itself outwardly.  She didn’t keep it to herself.  Not only did she serve others in the Temple, she continued to speak of him.  That implies not only that she told the news of God’s salvation from that point forward, but that she was probably talking about God’s promised salvation for many years before.  Like Simeon, she recognized God’s Messiah because she had been waiting for him.

We, too, can speak of God’s promises kept.  We can tell the story of what God has done for us and for the world.  It doesn’t have to be a six-point outline or a rehearsed presentation, just in your words and your style – your way of talking.  It’s part of a life of worship – action, devotion, and telling God’s story. That’s who Anna was; and you – women, men, and children – you can be Annas, and God will tell His story through your life.

Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1)

Let’s look at two other women, Lois and Eunice.  They are mentioned in 2 Timothy in Paul’s letter to his young friend, Timothy.  Paul is urging Timothy to hold fast to his faith, and to fan its flames with power, love, and discipline.  And Paul gives us a tidbit of insight into where Timothy learned of this faith:

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (v. 5)

Timothy became one of the significant early leaders of the Christian church, under the tutelage and blessing of Paul.  But where did this faith and this calling develop?  It came from his mother and grandmother in the home. Paul knew grandmother Eunice and mother Lois, and knew them both to be women of faith.  And he knew them enough to know that they told God’s story and shared their faith with young Timothy.

Anna had to wait on God’s Messiah, for a long lifetime.  She served God through a life of worship.  And she shared God’s story with those around her. In a different way, Eunice and Lois did the same thing.  Sharing faith with one’s children is not a knock on the door or walk forward to the altar kind of thing.  Like raising children in general, sharing faith is a day by day process of words, actions, and prayer, with lots of waiting, patience, and trust in the Lord.  Sometimes, you see faith bloom early.  Sometimes, it takes years and years. Many parents, teachers, and mentors are still waiting, and for a spiritual parent, that is a tough, tough wait.

Eunice and Lois surely led a life of worship as well, as every parent of faith must as we try to model faith to our children.  Even that doesn’t guarantee that our children will believe – they are, after all, human beings who must respond to God on their own terms.  But, God has established the human family for the purpose of passing on faith.  That is part of our understanding of the covenant and baptism and church.  And Eunice and Lois demonstrated God’s intent for parenting and grand-parenting.  So, like Anna, they too shared God’s story to the one closest and dearest to them.  And he, in turn, became one who shared God’s story with the world.

Our first mission field is our home.  God doesn’t guarantee our success, for our children must make up their own minds, but we can pour ourselves into them as Lois and Eunice did for Timothy.  God delights in telling His story and showing Himself through the lives of parents of faith.

Ordinary Women

What can we take away from the brief stories of Anna, Eunice, and Lois?  All three women demonstrated a pattern of faithfulness that is well worth embracing and emulating.  First, trusting God often involves waiting on God.  It is exciting and wonderful when God answers a prayer quickly.  And in our culture, we are used to fast results.  But God is not a genie, nor is prayer about getting our way.  And so, trusting God usually means waiting.  Sometimes that wait is unbearable.  I recognize that and don’t know any shortcuts.  I just know that faith includes waiting.

Second, a faithful life is a life of worship.  By that I don’t mean coming to church every Sunday (though that is not a bad thing!).  Rather, a life of worship is a life characterized by action and devotion.  It is a life with God at the foundation and at the center.  It is organizing and prioritizing our life and purpose and goals so that we are in line with God’s will.  Tying back into prayer, if we are to pray for God’s will, we are likewise to live God’s will, and if we stray from that, turn back again and again. That’s the whole point of Hebrews 12:1, where we are running after Jesus and avoiding the trap of sin.  It’s living a life of worship.

Thirdly, a faithful life results in telling the story of God, whether that is to our children, our neighbors, or the world around us.  Worship always spills over into mission.  In fact, telling the story is a part of a life of worship – it is not only devotion and action, but also mission.  Anna told God’s story to all those around her.  Lois and Eunice passed on God’s story to Timothy, who shared it with the world.

This is not a magic formula.  God changes human hearts and human beings can and do stubbornly resist God’s love and grace.  But the focus this morning is not on results, but on faithfulness.  That is God’s design and desire for each of you – a life of worship, which is a personal relationship, ministry, and mission with God.

These women lived ordinary lives of faith and obedience to our extraordinary God; and I’d like to be more like them.  God help us make it so!  Amen.

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