Sermon Series:Difference Makers
Over the next several weeks I want to talk to you about a subject that will change your life and mine. As individuals, we all have things that we consider to be important to us and necessary for our continued survival. The interesting thing about what we consider to be the necessities of life is that as we move through the various stages of life, the things we considered important at an earlier point in our life do not seem quite as important at a later point in our lives. The things we thought we absolutely could not live without at 15 and 16 lost their significance at say 25. As our situation changed and we assumed more responsibilities in life, i.e., career, family, etc, in our thirties and forties what we considered to be important in our twenties suddenly seemed insignificant and we learned we could do without them. And while our priorities change throughout the years, some things remain the same. There are some things that no matter what stage of life we are in, what plateau of life we have reached, or what is going on in our life, there are some things that are constant. These are the things that are required of us. These are the things that we absolutely cannot neglect because if we do we run the risk of living a life that will unravel.
Requirements are important is because they make a difference. Knowing what is required of us provides stability and helps us to make sense of the world around. Requirements allow us to wake up in the morning offering clear focus and direction. When we know what is required of us we simply roll up our sleeves and get to work. Requirements are the constants in our life that put our mind at ease when all else is falling down around us. To know that the old car will start no matter what the weather conditions outside are like offer reassurance. To know that after a hard day at the office you will come home to a nice meal, a soothing touch, and a comforting presence fosters hope. To know that no matter what you do or do not do there is at least one person that you can bear your soul to and they will not judge you reduces anxiety and calms our fears. Knowing where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, and what we are supposed to do, are things that are really important and help to hold us together through tough and uncertain times. These are things that make a difference.
Difference makers are things that not only impact people, but they also impact situations. Difference makers define our character and offer us the opportunity to change our circumstances, status and position in life, top and bottom line, relationships, careers, and ultimately our destiny. At different places and at different times life will confront and offer us an opportunity to make a difference both for others and ourselves. When it does, it is up to us to follow through and make good on our opportunity because the reward will always be greater than the sacrifice.
In accordance with the Law of Moses and following the period of purification, Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill their obligation as prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Law called for every male child to be circumcised on the eighth day following their birth and every firstborn male to be consecrated to the Lord along with the offering of a sacrifice.
To the casual observer the fact that Joseph and Mary fulfilled their obligation to the Law probably seems like nothing special. The reality is that they were simply doing what they were supposed to do, right? Well, yes, but, when you put what they did in context we see that they did more than just what they was required of them. Lets say, that Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem following the birth of Jesus for at least two years. Now, let us also bear in mind that the primary means of transportation was walking. The estimated distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem was approximately six miles. According to the text, Joseph and Mary had to go to Jerusalem twice. They went once for the circumcision and they went back again for the consecration. That would suggest that they walked a total of 25 miles within a 40-day period. In addition, geographically, Bethlehem was 100 feet higher in elevation than Jerusalem. This would mean that going they would have to go down a hill and coming back they would have to climb up a hill. Not to mention there were no comfort stations along the way, no water, or other traveler needs, and they would have to travel through snow in the winter and searing heat in the summer.
When we consider all that Joseph and Mary had to go through to fulfill what the Law required of them it is clear that these were two people who were willing to go to any lengths to honor their commitment. Like Joseph and Mary, when we follow through it says that we are people who will honor our commitments. It says that we will fulfill our end of the deal. It says that we will do what is required of us even though we may not feel like it, are not up to it, or really do not want to do it. The actions of Joseph and Mary teach us that in order to follow through there are certain things that must be important to us, things like our word, our character, and our integrity. The issue is does it make a difference? For Joseph and Mary, doing what they said they were going do, proving they were trust worthy, and their relationship with God all mattered. These things made a difference to them and therefore it was important that they made good on honoring their commitment. If we want to show people how much we care, then we need to do what we say we are going to do and be where we say we are going to be when we are supposed to be there. The bottom line is that people who care follow through because it makes a difference.
By following through on what the law required Joseph and Mary honored their commitment to the Law, but they also made it possible for the Priest to perform his job. When we follow through it allows the entire operation to run smoothly. It is no secret that everything in life is dependent on something or someone else. Children are dependent on their parents. Employers are dependent on their employees. Spouses are dependent upon each other. As parents grow older they in turn will become dependent upon their children or some other outside entity for assistance. This principle became painfully obvious during the latest blizzard that hit our City. The slow response to the blizzard by the City impacted other services. The unplowed streets prevented EMS personnel from getting to individuals in need of assistance. When we do our job it makes it possible for others to do their job. The Priest could not do what needed to be done for the child unless the parents brought the child to the Temple and presented him. Neither entity was more important than the other, but both were dependent upon each other so that the entire operation could run smoothly.
There are times when operations are compromised because individuals convince themselves that they are the only or most important cog and that everything else revolves around them. I think about Darelle Revis the cornerback for the New York Jets. Here is a guy who is without question one of the most talented players in the entire National Football League. Prior to the start of the season he placed a certain value on his worth to his team and until his demands were met he decided to hold out. One person held an entire team hostage. The team essentially had two options, a) move on, or b) do whatever it takes to bring him back. The Jets chose option a, but continued working toward option b. The point is that we all are valuable to the effective operation of any system we are a part of, but we can also be replaced. Systems and operations are dependent upon us, but they do not revolve around us. When we fail to do our job, hold out, or do not follow through it causes a breakdown and puts additional stress on every other part of the system. When any organ within the human body fails or its functioning is compromised the other organs will compensate but they will be forced to work twice as hard to keep things running smoothly. When a husband stops being a husband it means the wife has to work twice as hard to be both husband and wife. When you and I stop following through, when we decide to stop honoring our commitment it causes a systems breakdown and puts stress on every other part of the system. The way we minimize the stress and make sure the system continues to run smoothly is by following through and doing what we have committed to do and be where we have agreed that we will be when we are supposed to be there.
So far we have seen that by doing what the Law required Joseph and Mary honored their commitment and allowed the operation to run smoothly. The text introduces us to two other people, a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Both had spent their entire lives waiting for God to doing something profound. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel and Anna was waiting for the redemption of Israel. By doing what the Law required Joseph and Mary made it possible for Simeon and Anna to get what they were waiting for and Joseph and Mary got more than they expected. When we follow through everyone benefits. Everyone wants and desires things. We all want on some level to get the things we want and desire. Simeon and Anna teach us we get what we want by being where we need to be, we want to get paid and in order to get paid we need to be at work. Growing up my father said all he wanted was peace. He realized that in order for him to get peace he needed to be at home with my mother. Joseph and Mary show us that we get more than we expect when we do what we need to do when it needs to be done.
In the case of Simeon the Bible points out that the Holy Spirit was instrumental in Simeon receiving what God had promised him. Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit, Simeon had to be both flexible and open to direction. In order for God’s promise to be fulfilled in the life of Simeon, Simeon had to be willing to change his position and following the leading of someone other than himself. It is not easy to follow through especially when it calls for us to move out of our comfort zone and leave long held beliefs. It is not easy to follow through when we are required to submit to someone else directing the path we are to walk. While it is not easy sometimes it is necessary. If Simeon does not follow the leading of the Holy Spirit he does not receive what God promised him. If Simeon is resistant to moving to a place where God can bless him then he cannot be a blessing to Mary and Joseph. Our resistance to allowing God to help us follow through can cause us to blow the blessings that God has for us and God using us to be a blessing to others.
In the final analysis, before we can follow through we must be willing to follow:
• Joseph and Mary followed the Word of God which led them to the place where they need to be
• Simeon followed the Holy Spirit which put him in the position to see and experience what he was promised
• Anna followed her faith which helped her to hold on until it was time for Christ to show up
The Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and faith, these three go together. They are the tools that God uses to help us follow through. When we allow these three to work together in our lives God is able to empower us to become completers and not quitters. When we rely on these three we will see things through and find unexpected blessings along the way.