Sermon Series:Taking the training wheels off of our faith
26 In the sixth month, 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 be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob 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 upon 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 barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
Why does call us to do things we have not asked for? Why does God ask us to abort the path we have gone to great pains to plan and plot for ourselves? And, why does God seemingly put us in positions that make us feel uncomfortable and usually are outside of our comfort zone? The short answer is that God wants to use us. In the course of God using us God also wants to develop us as individuals and people of faith. In essence, God wants to take the training wheels off of our faith so that God in Christ can take us to places we have never been before.
In our last installment we examined the Biblical character Zechariah. We learned that Zechariah, who served in the church or Temple, heard the word of God but experienced difficulty accepting God’s word because his religion and life experience got in the way. God helped Zechariah overcome those stumbling blocks by teaching Zechariah some important lessons about God’s character.
Today, we turn our attention to Mary the mother of Jesus, our Lord and savior. One of the first questions we must ask is who was Mary? Verses 26 & 27 tell us “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth…to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.” These two short verses reveal that Mary was a poor young woman who had a plan for her life. It is important that we identify and connect with Biblical characters on some level. It is through our identification with them that God speaks to us through His word and we are able to apply the lessons gleaned from the text. While most of us may not be able to identify with Mary on any other level, we can all identify with the fact that she had a plan for her life. Mary had dreams, hopes and aspirations regarding where the choices and actions she was preparing to make would eventually lead her. God, however, had other ideas and another plan for her life. God sends the angel Gabriel to visit her and inform her of His intent to change her plans. In verse 31 the angel Gabriel says, “You will be with child and give birth to a son.” God uses the angel Gabriel to break the news to Mary that He, God is altering her life plan and that she must give up her plan in favor of God’s plan. One of the maxims of life is that in order to live we must die. The apostle Paul put it this way, “When I was a child I did childish things and when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Successful living requires daily dying. As we consider the stages of human development, we see this principle played out. In order for a child to become an adult, they must go pass through the different stages of the life cycle. The transition is not complete until they have completely closed the door on the previous stage. God was informing Mary you are not who you are going to be and who you thought you were going to be is not who you will become. Mary thought she was going to be the wife of Joseph, but God intended for her to be the mother of Jesus. Mary thought she would live her life in the shadow of her husband Joseph and stay connected to the family she had always known, but God intended for her to play a prominent role that required her to come out of the shadow of others. In order to become who God wants us to be, God asks us to put away who we would like to be. We also see that whatever God wants us to be is more than what we would like to become.
In essence, God was informing Mary that He had a higher calling for her and her life. Mary’s challenge was different than Zechariah. Zechariah’s challenge was moving from head religion to heart faith. The issue for Zechariah was moving from faith as an idea in his head to something he embraced and believed in his heart. In Mary’s case, her challenge was overcoming the social stereotypes and boundaries imposed on her by society and her family in order to embrace God’s divine plan. Mary’s family and society had carved out and predetermined Mary’s role but God wanted to take Mary beyond what others though she could do and where she should go.
The selection of Mary for such a high calling is very curious when we consider Mary was inexperienced. Up to this point in her life, she had lived with her family and never had to make a decision for herself. Someone else always made decisions for her. Mary was uninformed. Mary had no formal education and whatever she knew it was what someone else had told her. Mary lived an insular life; she only heard the voices of her family, friends, relatives, and neighbors. Mary was still a child herself. She had just entered puberty and was still playing tag, red light – green light, with Barbie and Ken dolls, and her easy bake oven. And so, the task that God selected Mary for would cause her to be viewed in less than a favorable light by society and put a tremendous strain on her relationship with her family. Transformations and change are never easy, but they are necessary. In order to get someplace else we must leave the place we are currently occupying. In order for God to transform Mary into a woman, she had to stop being a little girl.
Mary asks, “How will this be?” God understood that before a person can be something else, they must first be exposed to something else, hear other voices, see other places, and experience other things. The angel Gabriel makes two statements, a) The Lord is with you and b) do not be afraid. The thought of doing something we have never done or going somewhere we have never been alone can be frightening. Therefore, to help Mary overcome her challenges Gabriel begins to educate and inform Mary about the presence of God. Prior to engaging in any activity for God we need to know something about the presence of God. Gabriel says in verse 35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” One of the first things we learn about the presence of God is that God is Spirit. Spirits cannot be seen or heard. The question is, if God is Spirit then why do we keep looking for a person? This is perhaps one of the areas where people who want to believe struggle the most, trying to comprehend the presence of God in human terms. Gabriel points out that God encounters and engages people spiritually and to try and understand God in human terms is to miss an encounter and the engaging presence of God. Gabriel goes on to say in the same verse 35 “The power of the Most High will over-shadow you.” Here we learn that when God is with us His presence is over us, in front of us and behind us. Literally, the presence of God covers us. The truth is that we do not have to see a person to know they are there. When I was a child, my father would sneak up on me and scare the life out of me. Prior to saying boo, he was there I just did not realize he was there. There are times when my wife will stand at the doorway as I am working on the computer and I am totally unaware she is there because I am engrossed in whatever I am doing, but she is present. Gabriel concludes by saying, “The Holy one to be born…” In order for a child to be born they must first be carried inside their mother’s womb. We learn that the presence of God indwells us or resides inside of us. The indwelling presence of God is the believer’s direct connection and link with God. This text provides a picture of the triune presence of God. God the Father over-shadows us and covers us with His presence. God the Son dwelling and living on the inside of us operating as our personal link to the presence of God, and God the Holy Spirit encountering and engaging us as the initial contact with God’s presence. While we may try to approach and understand God intellectually, Gabriel teaches Mary and you and I that it is through the senses that we encounter, perceive, and experience the triune God. A God who only appeals to the intellect is a sterile God, for it is with our senses that we feel love and experience compassion, warmth, and tenderness.
We like Mary will encounter people who feel we are not ready, do not have enough experience, or are making a mistake in our life choices. Yet, we must remember that it is not people who call us to serve them, but it is God who calls us to serve Him. Mary was faced with a very difficult decision, she could have said no and continued to live the life that her family and others had chosen for her or she could give herself over to God and allow God to take her someplace she had never been. In most cases the choice for us is not so dramatic, for us the question is do we understand that God wants to use us, and how do we get to the place where we believe, accept and embrace what God wants to do in and through us? To help us get to that place we must examine Mary’s response, “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.” Mary saw herself not as Mary the future wife of Joseph, not as Mary the daughter, Mary the sister, or Mary the friend, but Mary the servant and vessel of God. Mary teaches us that servanthood is a privilege and not a right. Let us consider that, of all the women in Nazareth and the region of Galilee, God chose Mary. Whenever God chooses you and I to serve Him in any capacity we must first understand that it is a privilege to serve and not a right. We do not deserve to serve God, but rather we are chosen to serve God. The reason Mary found favor with God was because she was available, not because of any other reason. Mary simply said, in spite of my inexperience, my lack of formal training, and my age, I am available. Mary provides us with a profile of what it means to be a servant of God. God’s servant gives up their will in favor of the will of God. God’s servant gives in to the directives of God. God’s servant gives him or her self over completely to God for the accomplishment of God’ plan and purposes.
John Calvin reformer and theologian said, “The obedience which is rendered to him as to our father, he calls by his prophet “honor.” The service which is done to him as to our master, he calls “fear.” “A son,” he says, “Honors his father, and the servant his master. If I am your father, where is the honor which you owe me? If I am your master, where is the fear? Malachi 1:6 Even though he distinguishes the two, he unites them at the beginning, comprehending the one and the other under the word, “honor.” Consequently, the fear of God is for us a reverence mixed of such honor and fear.
According to John Calvin, to honor God is to obey Him. It is in our obedience to God we show God honor and we declare to God that He is our father. Likewise, to reverence, respect, and/or fear God is to serve Him. It is in our service to God we show reverence, not by keeping silent in worship, and through our service to God we declare that God in Christ is our master.
Are we too big, important, busy, or afraid for God to use us? Are we unavailable for God? If we are unavailable for God we may find God unavailable when we really need Him. For homework, I want us to ask ourselves are we experiencing the favor of God? Is God pleased with us and do we feel the closeness of God’s presence in our lives? Can we say, Lord, here I am use me however you want? Do we believe the presence of God in us will overcome every obstacle outside of us that can hinder us from God using us?
Remember, God says, let Him use us and His presence with us, around us, and in us will empower us to overcome whatever challenges we face. If we want to grow in our faith we have to be willing to let God use us and take us where we have never been.