11/26/2023 Sermon – Pastor Steve’s World Famous Funnel

Today we are talking about two people who are hugely important in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Two people who had to step into a new day to herald and celebrate what God is doing right now. Two people who very much old school. Very much Old Testament figures.

Two people. One who had to go kicking and screaming into the new day. The other who embraced it and danced into the coming of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation. The coming of the Son of Man. The presence of the Son of God.

In the end they both stepped into a new day. They burned the ships behind them. Embraced the new thing God is doing. Embraced Paul’s words, the old life is gone, the new life has begun. Believe the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We are going to begin their story with: In the Beginning God.

Talk about starting a new thing. We’ve never done it that way before. God creates everything out of nothing. All the universe, all the world, all the animals and plants, and humanity in the image and likeness of God’s very self, and calls it Good, VERY GOOD!

Then all of Salvation History funnels down – All of God’s Relations, God’s Covenant with the People of God, what we call the OT, funnels down to BOOM – The Moment of Incarnation. To the moment of the coming of The Son of God. Word became flesh and lived among us. Full of Grace and Truth.

All of Salvation History, the old school, the old things are important because it all funnels down to the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Call it old school. Old School is hugely important. From the moment of Jesus’ conception – Old School becomes new school. Then all of our history and our future funnels out until Our Lord Jesus Christ comes again to take us to our heavenly home, the New Jerusalem. The old life is gone. The new life has begun.

We stand on the shoulders of the people who have come before us. We stand on the shoulders of the People of God, the ancients. And now, we us, have the broad shoulder of faith upon which future generations stand.

Today, we are going to talk about two people who really were Old School. If there were ever two characters in the NT who seem to belong in the OT, it is the parents of JBAP, Zech & Eliz.
Old Zechariah was very much an OT person. He is a priest of God. His job comes from way back in the first five books of the Bible.

He is a priest of God. He is a priest of God. His job is to go into the Temple and make the sacrifices in the Holy of Holies to YWHW – the Great God “I AM” who created everything out of nothing, and saved the People from slavery.

One of the interesting things about his job. Part of the ritual. Part of the way they have always done it. They tied a rope around the ankle of Zech and every priest who went in the Holy of Holies. If he suddenly encounters God Almighty. Suddenly encounters Awesome God, he is gonna tug on that thing and they could pull him out.

I have never read about that happening. Thousands of years never happened.

Of course, every priest who entered the Holy of Holies encountered God. Everything a worshipper entered the Temple regions; they encountered God Almighty. God of the Angel Armies. God Most High. In fact, where two or three are gathered in God’s name. They, we encounter God Most High.

They all should have been wearing ropes and being tugged on with every gathering. Christian author Annie Dillard says it is ridiculous that we worship bare headed. We should all be wearing crash helmets, for we are in the presence of the Almighty! Jesus cries out, “Where two or three are gathered in my name – I AM!”

Zech goes in doing what they have done for thousands of years. Goes into the Holy of Holies to do his thing. “We’ve always done it this way.”

What happens is something that never happened before. He really does encounter the power of God. “We’ve never done it this way before.” Suddenly old school finds itself doing the new – Encountering the Almighty.

Zech finds himself standing in front of the Angel of the Lord. How ‘bout that sports fans.”
Old Zech should have been tugging on that rope.

The Angel of God says, “Zech, we are going to do a brand new thing. Step into a new day. Your prayers have been answered. Your wife, Eliz is gonna have the baby you have prayed all these years for. And this baby will herald the coming of the Savior of the World. The Messiah. The Christ.”

Zech’s response is so us – isn’t it? “Well, we’ve never done it THAT way before.”
The Angel smiles, “You are the change agent here. You will dedicate your son to God and he will be the prophet to herald the coming of the Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”

Zech says, “Um No. No I’m not. This isn’t the way things work in our religion. It’s not the way we do things in our faith. This is too new for me. Yeah, I’ve been praying for a son – but not like this. This is too different. Besides my wife is really old. Past child bearing.”

Zech falls back on the tradition. Nope, can’t do it.

I think the Angel is angry, and responds, “No, yourself. All things are possible with God. Because you won’t step into the new day, you will be struck dumb – can’t speak until God makes all this happen.”

So this Old School way of doing it guy, is dragged kicking and thrashing his way into the New Day of Christ the Lord. The old life is gone, the new life has begun. Old Ways Zech kicking and (inaudibly) screaming into New Times.

Then we come to Elizabeth, his wife. Kinswoman of Mary.

We know the story. Mary gets her own visit from the Angel of the Lord. God is doing a new thing with you. You will bear the Savior into the world. And the proof of that with God all things are possible – Your kinswoman, that old lady, Eliz is gonna have a baby.

If there is ever an OT character it is the over-age once barren mom, Eliz. She steps to the back of the long line of old women who have miracle babies: Sarah, Samson’s mom, Hannah the prophet Samuel’s mom.

All these disciples I just mentioned were thought their time had passed to serve God. Too old to serve the Lord. Too broken down. Too something or other to serve the Lord.

As we pick up her story, Eliz is about 6 months along, think of how frightening it is for her. High risk age pregnancy. She’s never had kids, what kind of change will a baby bring? Can I parent?

And here comes Mary. Eliz immediately realizes God is doing a new thing. All things are possible with God. Her reaction is just the opposite of her husband Zech. As we have one of the most beautiful encounters in the whole Bible.

Luke 1:41-45, When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Blessed are THEY who have believed God and stepped into a New Day
Eliz and Mary embrace this new thing that God has never done before with Joy and Song and Prayer. Even though it is frightening.

The Child in Eliz womb leapt with Joy as he encountered Mary and the yet to be born Jesus.

Already, this child who we know grows to be JBAP is already proclaiming Jesus Christ and we are in a new day.

And we have a Savior who we all need and who always saves. Salvation history has funneled down to this moment. We have a savior!

After this awesome reunion, Mary hangs, and Eliz baby is born. All the relatives get together and say, let’s follow tradition.

Name him after his dad. Eliz, says “No, no, no, God has already named him John.”

They say No Way! You don’t have any tradition of naming a child John. No relatives named John.”

Zech gets his little blackboard out (I always imagine that little black board we had in elementary school), and he writes in huge cap letters: HIS NAME IS JOHN!

Finally. It took Zech nine months to step into the new thing God is doing. He accepts God’s new thing and immediately sings his own wonderful song:

Luke 1:64 – Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has looked favor on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a might savior. He remembers his Holy Covenant with Abraham and Sarah and from there he has brought forth THE SAVIOR!

He continues his song, “And you my child shall be the prophet of the Most High, and you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. To give His people the knowledge of Salvation through the Forgiveness of Sins.” Luke 1:78-80.

These two old school people have stepped into a new day, one reluctantly, one dancing but both have now stepped into the new day of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever heard the Christian song by For King and Country, Burn the Ships? Cool song. Songwriter Luke Smallbone tells the story behind it.

The song Burn the Ships is about an explorer who went to a foreign land. When he arrived, he said to his crew, “We are going to go over the mountains and explore this land that is new to us.”

Then he realized that none of his crew wanted to follow him. They just wanted to return to what was comfortable, to the familiar, to the past. Maybe the past wasn’t great or maybe it was. But it was not new and scary.

So, the explorer waited a few days and called all his crew back onto the beach, had them face the ships, then gave his officers the command to blow up and burn the ships right before their eyes.

He said, “I guess we’re not going back. We won’t live in the past. We won’t retreat. We will leave ourselves no option but to see what is over the horizon. Then to see what is over the mountain. To see what is in our future.”

This is Zech and Eliz story. Eliz didn’t need to burn the ships. She was ready. She was ready to dance into the new day.

Zech had to see the ships burn behind him. Old school is hard to give up. Fears are real. Step into a new day is sometimes really hard. Yet, when he didn’t hang dog and say, “Oh gosh, I guess I will.” No! With joy, he sang out God’s new thing, and commissioned his newborn son to lead us into the way of salvation.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel – You my child shall be the prophet of the Most High.

If there was ever an old school church building this is it isn’t it? This is the most beautiful sanctuary I have ever served in. Incredible. Forever bragging on it. But it is old school church architecture. John McLucas, what is it called? Becca you have a name for it.

Yet in 1984, this church burned the ships and stepped into a new day. More Light. New life embracing the fight against AIDS and embracing the LGBTQ community. Frightening wasn’t it? And we have thrived.

Today we are going through a different kind of frightening time. And we once more MUST step into a new day.

We stand on the shoulders of the saints who did not let the rampant fear of AIDS and possible denominational sanctions slow them down. Remembering Old School becoming New School lifts us.

And put on your crash helmet. Where, two or three, 15-20, millions are gathered Jesus Christ – God Almighty – God of the Angel Armies is with us!

In March of 2020, when the world shut down, Our North Central Iowa Presbytery called special Zoom meetings of the presbytery, almost weekly. Our EP, Rev. Ian McMillan kept saying to us – “This is the time of the church. This is our time to shine. This is our time to show the world the power of Jesus Christ to overcome adversity. Our time to shine.”

Unfortunately, many of us were held back by fear. Panic. The unknown. What is going to happen to us? We can’t pay our bills. We fell back into old school worry.

We are not letting that happen today at FF!

Honestly, we are in a frightening time in our church. Money is tight. Volunteers are tight. AND, AND this is the exciting time to step into the new day.

Standing on the shoulders of giants – our FF life has funneled down to this moment in time. Our session gave up last weekend. we are having three session meetings in 2 ½ weeks. And while frightened, some of us are quivering with excitement.

Our session, our church is standing on the shoulders of saints. People who came in the 1840s, 1920s, 1980s, 2020s. All funnels down to this moment in time – we live into the incarnation – Jesus Christ with us.

So often we use Paul’s words during our assurance of pardon: The old life is gone, the new life has begun. But, we just aren’t talking about our personal repentance. But so much more:
The old life is gone. The new life has begun. We are ready to burn the ships. Step into a new day! Some of us will be dragged along. Some whole working hard and joyfully to explore the new. Some of us are quivering to do something new in following the HS.

Standing on the shoulders of giants. All of salvation history. All of FF history has funneled down to this moment. Strap on your crash helmets.

Time to burn the ships, and explore what God has in mind.

Speaking of exploring. I just read that Lewis and Clark expected to start in St. Louis, ride the waterways in their canoes and paddle on water ways all the way to the west coast, Oregon and Washington state.

The Rocky Mountains kinda got in the way. It would have been so easy to cry and lament. It would have been so easy to go back. Do what’s comfortable and tell the president, so sorry. We give up. It is not what we expected, and it is too hard.

The explorers didn’t burn their canoes. They picked some up and carried them over the mountains. They repurposed some turning them into wagons and sleds.

The two Old Schoolers, Zech & Eliz stepped into a new day. They did it! We are doing it, in Jesus Christ standing on the foundation, the shoulders of these and all the saints and all who have led us to this moment in time. Going forward in Jesus Christ. The Most High God.
I cry out to you, “You my children are the prophets of the Most High. You do, and will continue to go before the Lord to prepare his way. To give people knowledge of salvation. To invite and lead the way into the New of Day of Jesus Christ.”

Amen. Alleluia.