Surprised by grace

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

 3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”

 

 4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:

 

 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

 

 8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

 

16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

 

Luke 1:26-38, 46-55

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 

 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

 

 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

Mary’s Song

 46 And Mary said:

   “My soul glorifies the Lord

 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has been mindful

   of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

   holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,

   from generation to generation.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

   but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

   but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

   remembering to be merciful

55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,

   just as he promised our ancestors.”

 

 

                        Some of you know about my personal hobby.  I like coffee.  Maybe I should clarify that statement, I like good coffee.  No Folgers, please.  There has been a progression for me as I seek to brew a better cup of coffee.  It starts with buying better coffee from a coffee shop.  Then a coffee grinder so you can grind your own beans right before brewing.  Experiments in brewing technique naturally follows, including things like cone filters and French presses.  Then, a couple of years ago, I upped the ante a bit and began roasting my own coffee at home, first in an old popcorn popper, then in a converted bread machine.  Now my wife and I enjoy the freshest coffee in town each and every day brewed in my chemex.  Some of the best coffee in Staunton can be found at my house (and for a fraction of the cost of what you would spend at a coffee shop–though I admit it is slightly more labor intensive).

 

            I like ethics.  I like to talk about ethics and I like to read about ethics.  And I think that ethics is an important thing for Christians to be talking about and reading about.  We need to continue to seek out how God is calling us to live as his people.  God has laid the abundant life before us and it comes from following a narrow road.  Being a disciple of Jesus is tough.

            But today we aren’t going to be looking at ethics.  Don’t expect any fancy Greek words or any –ologies or any isms.  Today we are talking about grace because from where I am sitting, I see today’s passages as being about grace the whole way down.

            To see these passages as being about grace, however, we need to have a better understanding as to what grace is.  And I think that there is a danger in trying to define grace because any attempt to define grace is going to fall terribly short of the goal.  But I am going to try anyway.

            We often say that grace is a gift that we do not deserve and it is often applied to the gift of forgiveness.  That is a good starting place because grace is indeed that.  But it is so much more.  If you see a ballet dancer or an ice skater, you might say that she moves with grace or that she is graceful.  Before a meal, someone might say “grace.”  So perhaps the ballet dancer or the ice skater is exceptionally gifted with the ability to move her body and we might believe her gift to be undeserved and therefore we say that she is graceful.  Perhaps the reason we say grace before a meal has to do with our recognition of God as the giver of all things and that we do not deserve the food that we are about to eat more than the person who is starving in Africa.

            So grace is a difficult thing to define, but we know it when we see it.  We recognize when we are in the presence of grace.  And we know that through Jesus, grace abounds.

            As we enter into our 4th Sunday of Advent, we are beginning to expect the unexpected.  Our theme has been Awesome Deeds We Do Not Expect, and today I want to look at stories of grace so that we can better recognize it when we see it.  Today we will be surprised by grace.

            Our Old Testament passage seems a bit out of place in our Advent series.  We have been looking at texts that encourage us to wait, to anticipate the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We have looked at the prophesies of Isaiah that seem to point to the coming of the Messiah and we have looked at how John prepared the way for the coming of the Lord and how we are to do the same.  But our text from 2 Samuel seems to be focused on a totally unrelated topic.  It focuses on the building of the temple in Jerusalem.

            Our passage from 2 Samuel talks about King David having a bit of an “aha” moment.  David is sitting in his nice, comfy palace and he realizes that God has no place to live.  It seems to David that God is out in the cold, living in a tent.  So David decides that he is going to build a house for God.  David is wise enough to run this past someone else, because he doesn’t want to seem impulsive.  So he approaches the prophet Nathan with the idea, and Nathan is excited about the idea.  Go for it!  God is with you!  Of course, Nathan did take the time to first check with God.

            Well God decided that he better have a word with Nathan, even though Nathan never sought out God’s opinion on the matter.  And I picture God laughing about it all as he gives this prophetic message to Nathan, or if he isn’t laughing, he is probably shaking his head, like, “really?”

            God gives Nathan the message to give to David that he has never had a place to live in before.  He was with the people when they came out of Egypt and he has been moving around from place to place with them, but he has never needed a “house” to dwell in.  If you ask me, it is a little weird to offer to build a house for the maker of the heavens and the earth.

            Instead, God reminds David of how God has been with David, calling him as a young shepherd boy, making him the king over the Israelites.  What I hear going on here is that David is a little worried that somehow he and the rest of the Israelites might lose favor in God’s eyes.  And I think David is trying to provide some kind of incentive for God to remain there with the Israelites, blessing them.  And God says, “I’ve been with you since you were nothing but a shepherd boy and you could offer me nothing but your love and adoration.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m with you for the long-haul.  Then in verse 16, God makes this promise to David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

            I think that at the center of David’s plan to build a temple to God is a sense of insecurity.  Have we done enough?  Are we good enough?  Does God love us enough?  What can we do to keep God around and keep God happy?  David, like so many of us today, is afraid that he is going to be found out to be a phony.  He isn’t royalty.  He is a shepherd boy.  But God says, “I know, and I’m not going anywhere.”

            God choses this little shepherd boy from nowhere to lead his people, and God promises that David’s throne will exist forever.  But that isn’t the only example of God using people that you wouldn’t expect from our texts today.  If we turn to our New Testament passage we find the angel Gabriel revealing God’s intentions to a young woman named Mary.

            Gabriel tells Mary that she will bear a child and he will be the one to sit upon the throne of David that we learned from our Old Testament Passage would last forever.  And Mary gets excited because she knows that it is payday!  Her ship has come in and she isn’t going to have to worry about money, working, clothes, food, or doing her own housework ever again.  Her son is going to be king!

            One problem, she isn’t married yet.  And there is something that one has to do before they can have children and she hasn’t done that yet.  Something doesn’t add up.  But Gabriel reveals to her that her child will not be of a man, but God’s own seed.  God can do stuff like that.  And as an example, Gabriel points to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who is having a baby in her old age.

            So God choses a teenage, unmarried, betrothed-to-a-carpenter, Nazarene virgin to be the one to bring Jesus into this world.  No royalty, no riches, no fame, to fanfare.  Mary is from Nazareth.  Can anything good come from Nazareth?  God moves in unexpected ways.  That’s grace.

            Some of you know that I am a fan of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.  I don’t like to go out on Saturday evenings and I usually tell people that it is because I like to be home to prepare for Sunday morning, but in all honesty, I don’t like to be away from my radio and miss this variety show.  Of course the highlight of every show is Garrison Keillor’s news from his fictitious hometown, Lake Woebegone.  Well today you are going to hear some stories from my real life hometown, Sterling, Ohio.

            It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in Sterling, Ohio, my hometown.  I graduated from a high school out in the country, which is made up of the students from three surrounding cities.  My high school is called Norwayne High School.

            Norwayne is known for its excellent agricultural and woodworking programs and for perennially finishing near the bottom of the Wayne County Athletic League in most sports.  I did not play football in high school, but I believe that my senior year the football team won one game.  We lost to Rittman, that’s how bad the team was when I was in high school.

            Over the last number of years, Norwayne football has been improving.  A few years ago they made the state tournament for the first time ever.  They lost in the opening round, but it is an honor to make it to the playoffs.

            This year Norwayne football was blessed with some great talent; talent usually seen at the larger schools, the schools known for their football programs.  They went through the season winning all but one of their games, which is the complete opposite of my senior year!  They went to the state playoffs again, but this time, they won their opening round game.  Then they won the second round.  And the third.  Then the state semifinals.  My high school would be playing for the state championship.

            It would be the proverbial David versus Goliath scenario as little Norwayne faced the experienced team from Kenton with their star quarterback who had signed to play at a division 1 football school and had been named Mr. Ohio for football earlier that week.  And it was a shootout.  Five touchdowns were scored in the last seven minutes.  The lead went back and forth, back and forth.  And I wish I could tell you that my high school finished first, so I will.  Final score: Norwayne 48, Kenton 42.  What an unexpected gift to the little town whence I come.

            Just down the road from my high school in Wooster, Ohio, you would find Triway High School. Triway compared to Norwayne would be like Staunton City Schools to Fort Defiance.  Triway is the alma mater of a man named Josh Krajcik.  Josh is a 30-year-old burrito maker who now lives in Columbus.  He is slightly overweight, has bad skin, and is anything but clean cut.

            Josh has become a bit famous lately because he has been on a television show called The X Factor.  The X Factor is a reality television show fashioned in the likeness of American Idol, right down to the judges.  So Josh shows up at the audition having drove, make that his mother having driven him, all the way from Columbus to Chicago, wearing a frumpy jacket, his chest hair hanging out of his v neck t-shirt, looking less than spectacular.

            I saw the video of Josh’s audition and they ask him about what he does and where he is from, and he is just this regular guy.  Then Simon, who is known for being a bit rude, asks him what he is going to sing.  And Josh replies, “At Last, by Etta James.”

Simon looks at Josh and he says, “Really?”  And if you click this youtube link, you can see what happens.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BWPbIdFlvs

            I love Simon’s response.  He says that he thinks that after all of these years that he can pretty well guess how someone is going to perform.  That’s the opposite of grace.  Josh Krajcik is grace personified.

            God promised a little shepherd boy from the sticks that his throne would endure throughout eternity.  God later entered into this world through an unmarried virgin from Nazareth.  God moves in unexpected ways and gives unexpected gifts.  That’s grace.

            Today, as a gift, I want to offer the fruit of my labor to you.  Anyone that wants to take home some of my coffee can do so.  I roasted it yesterday.  It is the freshest coffee you will taste, and it is fairly traded.

            Grace is a small word, only a single syllable.  But it is a huge concept.  Grace is an undeserved gift.  Sometimes that grace comes in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources.  Whether that be an unmarried virgin who is chosen to be the mother of God, or a little high school out in the country that wins the state championship, or a 30-year-old burrito slinger from Ohio, we know that God moves in unexpected ways.  Come and taste and see that the Lord is good.  Grace is available to you; it is free for the taking.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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