A sermon on Matthew 1:18-25 by Pastor David Jacobson.
We’re in the season of gift giving. Today I’d like to give you a gift. This is one of those gifts that doesn’t cost me anything, but I think many of you will really like it.
Before I give you the gift, a little background. Some of you may remember that at the beginning of October, I plugged a prayer gathering taking place at Grace Community Church. Our church was well represented at that event, with about 30 of us attendance. The primary speaker and prayer leader at that event was Pete Greig, who founded the 24/7 prayer movement. 24/7 has groups of people in churches and college campuses around the world doing a week of non-stop prayer in 1 hour shifts. The organization has developed an app, and that app is my gift to you. Hey, you knew it wasn’t going to cost me anything, so hopefully you’re not too disappointed.
So you smart phone users, get your phone out. The app is called Lectio 365. It’s by 24/7 prayer.
So, here’s the slightly awkward part about my gift to you. One of the last times I taught on prayer, I recommended leaving your phone in another room while you pray in the morning. And here I am saying, “use your phone to pray.” What gives?
Well, I’ve talked to many people who have told me that this app has helped them to pray better. And that’s what’s important, because prayer is the most important activity in our lives.
“Come on, Pastor David, prayers good and all, but really? The most important activity in our lives?” Yep. Here’s why I can say that: You were created for a relationship with God. Two essential aspects of any relationship are spending time together and communication. Prayer is how you spend time with God. Prayer is how you communicate with God. With that outlook it’s worth doing everything you can to pray more frequently and more deeply.
Monday through Saturday, the app leads you through the prayer acronym P.R.A.Y. Sunday prayer is a bit different.
P is for Pause. You pause “to be still; to breath slowly; to re-center [your] scattered senses upon the presence of God.”
R is for Rejoice and Reflect. Using a few verses of a Psalm, you’re led to give thanks and praise to God. You then read a few verses of another scripture reading and take a few moments to reflect on them.
A is for Ask. Although this is the time when we ask God for things, we also use it to let what we read from the bible ask questions of us.
Finally, Y is for Yield. We read the scripture again and yield ourselves to God’s will in it.
The best part of this app is that you can hit the play button the writer reads to you. It feels like you’ve joined a prayer gathering lead by a leading teacher on prayer. Even if you never hit the pause button like you’d supposed to, you’ll still pray for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, which is a great start. I really think that this could be a game changer for a lot of us, helping us to get into a habit of praying daily, and not rushing right into our laundry list of concerns we bring to God.
So, that’s my gift to you– at least to you smart phone users. Merry Christmas. I hope you like it. If you don’t use a smart phone, well, this is a pretty good reason to get one. Still, the P.R.A.Y. acronym is a great tool to use to enter into prayer.
Why do I bring all this up? Well, I really do want us as a congregation to grow in prayer together. But the primary reason I bring it up today is that this past week’s material had 3 days of meditating on our Gospel reading for today. The insights from those reflections have been bouncing around my head all week.
The devotion this week was specifically focused on the biblical character of Joseph. “We don’t know much about Joseph. He’s only mentioned a handful of times in the Gospels. We do know that he was a working man — a carpenter. In many ways, he was called to play second fiddle to his wife and his stepson.”
Joseph was called to a particular type of humility. He’d never be the center of the story.
You can imagine him going about his life, trying to be a good Jew, trying to prepare a good life for himself and his future wife and family. And then the bombshell drops: Mary’s pregnant. She seemed like such a great girl. Faithful. But he can’t move forward with a marriage to a woman carrying another man’s baby. Better to break off the marriage, give her a certificate of divorce so she could move on with her life with the minimum amount of shame.
God knows that’s the direction he’s moving in, but divorcing her would have been counter to God’s purposes. So God sends an angel to Joseph in a dream. The angel says, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The devotion gave a thought experiment: “Imagine Joseph waking up from this dream in which God has told him that his fiancee’s pregnancy is miraculous and that he should go ahead and marry her. What expression do I see on his face as he sits up in bed that morning? Does he seem awestruck or sceptical? Relieved or terrified? Questioning or calm?”
“Joseph could easily have felt indignant, insecure and alone…. Bypassed and deprived of true fatherhood. Side-lined by God himself.”
Have you ever felt side-lined by God? Like somehow you were a bit unnecessary? Or do you ever feel like God is writing a story, but you’re not a main character?
Joseph is very much not the main character in this story. The main character is, well, God, actually– God coming to earth in the person of Jesus through Joseph’s fiancee, Mary. Joseph is very much called to play second fiddle. He’s called to a supportive role.
But it is not at all an unimportant role. Joseph is given the specific task of naming the baby “Jesus,” as an early reminder of what Jesus will accomplish for humanity. Jesus’ greatest work wouldn’t be fashioning sturdy houses from wood, as Joseph did, but fashioning salvation from the wood of the cross. Joseph will play a vital role in preserving Jesus for that mission, keeping Jesus safe as he grows up.
You might feel like you’ve been side-lined. Like you’re relegated to second-fiddle. This might be of little consolation in the moment, but the fact is that the world needs second fiddles! And if God has called you to that, like God did for Joseph, then that’s the best place you could possibly be. There is no better place for you to be than fulfilling the call of God. In the words of this week’s devotion, “The price of obedience is always outweighed by the privilege of the call.”
Joseph was never going to be the one to bear the Christ child. That much is clear. But he was still called, invited to participate in God’s work of salvation. You are called and invited to participate in that work, too.
As I have to frequently remind myself when I’m reading these familiar stories, these people weren’t in the bible yet. They didn’t know it was all going to work out. Joseph didn’t know that he was going to have a Catholic high school named after him on Frederick Avenue. All Joseph had to go on was a girl’s story, a dream, and a belief that God had been faithful in the past and would be faithful in the future. But Joseph rose to the occasion, big time. He did what God told him to do through the angel. Joseph was faithful to the call, and so God’s purposes were fulfilled.
Obedience to God’s will is never wasted. You have no idea what the impact of your saying “yes” to God’s plan for you today will be. You may forever be obscure in the history of the church, but that’s ok.
I think of Europe’s great cathedrals. Most of them were built over many decades, if not more than a century. The Great York Minster Cathedral in England took nearly 250 years to complete. Nearly every single one of the workers names is lost to history. They all played second fiddle. But they all took part in building a structure that has lasted for more than half a millenium.
We need Joseph’s humility. Everyone wants to be somebody in this world, but if God us calls us to be nobodies, then we need to stop competing and comparing ourselves with others and start preferring and promoting others instead.
With the right spirit, playing second fiddle can be wonderfully fulfilling.
I want to close by sharing with you the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. It’s the type of prayer you want to think about before you pray it. Some might call it a dangerous prayer. It’s nonchalantly placed in our hymnal as number 607. I’m currently planning that we’ll use it together on the first Sunday of the New Year.
I’ll use some modernized language for clarity, but here it is:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.