Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon: The Lord Will Fight for You

Favorite Bible Stories: “The Lord Will Fight for You”
Exodus 14: 1-25
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
January 14, 2018

Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.’ And they did so.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’

But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!

But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.

At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
- Exodus 14: 1-25

Over the course of our lifetimes, Scripture comes alive to each of us. God's Word often speaks to us in surprising ways to bring comfort in distressing times, to deepen the roots of our faith, and to prune those roots by challenging us.

No matter how young or old we are, when we learn about the B-I-B-L-E, we all come to hold a favorite biblical passage that becomes meaningful. For in the story God speaks directly into our hearts. Therefore, Scripture becomes quite personal to us as God rewrites our own personal and communal stories. And because of this deepening relationship with the Author of our lives, we are forever changed by God’s Word in some small or big way.

One of the most important stories in Scripture, and also one of my personal favorites, is the story of God parting the Red Sea. The familiarity of the story can cause our spiritual eyes to focus on the sheer wonder of God separating this massive body of water.

But there is more to the story that holds implications for our trust in God’s power and our faithful response to it.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians clung to Israel like baggage they could not rid themselves of. Whatever direction that God’s people looked they heard that seductive voice of fear, “The wilderness has closed in on you. This is as good as it gets. There is no way out.”

You and I know the power of that voice and how heavy that baggage gets. It made God’s people complacent to believe that nothing would ever change their circumstances. To imagine anything other than this baggage was too, too hard.

Complacency gets comfortable because it confines us to a particular lot in life. Complacency defines us in underwhelming ways. It ties our hands behind our backs. Complacency strives to hold us down in the darkness. It denies us the hope to spread our wings and rise up to the light.

But hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24b-25).

I love this story because Moses sees all this in real time and he knows what time it is. It is time for Moses to tell his truth.

Moses was once in the same boat. His own complacency with self-doubt, fear, and feeling inadequate kept him from rising up to God’s call. And yet time and again Moses saw the surprise of God’s power and deliverance in his own life and in the lives of God’s people.

In a climactic moment of leadership, Moses says: Do not fall prey to fear and complacency. Stand firm in full reliance upon God. He is the stable center of your hope. Give all your attention to the hope that God saves. Your baggage is heavy and exhausting but prepare yourself - you will never carry it again. I know this is not logical but trust that the Lord will accomplish this today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still (Exodus 14:13-15).

Joan Chittister is an author and speaker on the spiritual life and was a former Benedictine nun. She says,

“There are some things in life that cannot be avoided: death, illness, change, personal expectations. What each of them does to us depends a great deal on the way we have allowed ourselves to deal with lesser things. The purpose of stability [Moses’ instruction to be still] is to center us in something greater than ourselves so that nothing lesser than ourselves can possibly sweep us away.

Stability says that where I am [that] is where God is for me. More than that, stability teaches that whatever the depth of difficulties around me, I can, if I will simply stay still enough of heart, find God there in the midst of them.”

God is acquainted with all our ways and hardships. God is faithful and gives us the assurance of his presence. The Lord goes before us and is our rear guard to shine the light into the darkness. If God is for us who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

God will fight for us because the Lord our God is with us and he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in us, he will quiet us in his love, he will rejoice over us with a song of deliverance (Zephaniah 3:17).

God always makes a way forward when there seems like no way. Faith allows us to wait for God’s plan and God’s timing to intersect with great anticipation. We do not wait passively of helplessly. We wait with a prayerful eagerness that the Lord will never leave us where God found us.

And then we can be still no longer. God worked through Moses to part the Red Sea but notice that God did not carry the Israelites across the dry land. God said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the people to go forward!” (Exodus 14:15).

God prepared the path of deliverance, but the people had to respond in faith by taking the next step to experience God’s freedom. How can we possibly look forward into God’s future if our eyes are fixed on the past that lies behind us? Our attention is divided if we do that.

Years ago, Jake Clark met Pastor Lorenzo on a mission trip to Costa Rica. Pastor Lorenzo was a man you can not forget; he always had a big smile on his face and a joyful presence. One day, Jake just happened to share a story about prison ministry with Pastor Lorenzo. In those moments God led Pastor Lorenzo to tell his story of God’s faithfulness.

As a child Lorenzo never knew his father. Lorenzo’s young mother gave him away at birth. I imagine much of his life story was narrated by the voice of abandonment. Lorenzo was adopted and raised by a farming couple. He was not exposed to the blessings of faith community, but he was exposed to hard labor, violent beatings and verbal abuse. At the age of 15 he stole money from his parents and ran away. Daily survival on the street came from fighting for pay.

Lorenzo married and his wife bore children. The cycle continued as Lorenzo unleashed his anger on his wife and children. At the age of 25 Lorenzo was arrested for stealing and left to serve a prison sentence. He wandered aimlessly in a wilderness that was closing in on him. There seemed to be no hope to rise up from the darkness into the light. But hope that is seen is not hope, is it?

Prison was a stable center for Lorenzo; it forced him to be still. And in the stillness of a prison cell someone shared the good news of God’s deliverance with him. Lorenzo put his trust in God’s steadfast love, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the deep embrace of Holy Spirit and it changed his life.

When Lorenzo served his sentence and was released from prison, he had no idea what freedom might truly look like. Nor did he have any expectation that his wife and children would forgive him. The only thing Lorenzo knew was that he was a different man. But God made a way forward when there seemed like no way. God’s plan and timing intersected before Lorenzo and God’s Spirit nudged him to take the first step into God’s freedom.

In doing so, Lorenzo’s family forgave him. Surely God went ahead of them and was their rear guard because Lorenzo and his family were able to make peace with the past and reach forward into the promises of new life. The Lord used Lorenzo’s wilderness and baggage to glorify God; the Spirit called Lorenzo to serve God and God’s people as a pastor. God rewrote Lorenzo’s story of abandonment and pain with the finger of God’s grace.

Today Lorenzo’s story is knowing he is loved beyond measure and has a greater purpose in life within the heart of God. That story brings a smile and abiding joy for he is deeply aware of the power of God’s grace. And now Pastor Lorenzo helps others to see God’s deliverance as a new reality.

Friend, how long have you felt that you are wandering aimlessly in the wilderness? I know how heavy that baggage can become; the baggage of broken relationships, past regrets, deep doubts, and hard decisions in the mix of daunting uncertainty. I know how seductive the voice of complacency can be; it dulls our hearts to believe this is as good as it’s going to get.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm by fully relying on God. Give all your attention to the truth that God saves. Do not the let the past divide your attention.

God delivered us once through Jesus’ death and resurrection and God will deliver us again and again from anything that stands in the way of experiencing Christ’s promises of freedom and new life. Believe against all odds that the Lord will deliver you and then live into God’s reality.

The Lord will fight for you. Be still in God’s strength only waiting to hear him say, “Rise up and go forward.”

May it be so for you and for me. In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sermon: Called by a New Name

Called by a New Name
Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3; Luke 2: 25-40
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 31, 2017

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.

The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
- Isaiah 61:10 - 62:3

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
- Luke 2: 25-40

There is something very special about a name.
A name can embrace what is unique about one’s personality. A name can tether us to a family lineage. A name can give shape to one’s life story.

How many of you know what your name means?

I discovered the meaning of a few of your names: Mika means “Beautiful;” Jeremy means “Exalted by the Lord;” Teresa means “Harvester;” Randy means “Protector;” Mia means "Mine." Those are all very rich meanings. And Carson means “son of the one who lives in a swamp!”

The names within our biblical texts today hold deep significance in God’s Word. Each name shaped the individual’s story within God’s purposes.

The prophet Isaiah means “The Lord is salvation.” Jesus means “God saves.” Mary means “Beloved.” Joseph means “Jehovah will increase.” Simeon means “Obedient.” Anna means “Favor or Grace.” These names they tell the great story of God’s love unfolding for the Holy Family and also for the family of faith. God’s story is even rewriting our communal and personal life stories according to God’s faithfulness.

The prophet Isaiah lifted his voice to assure God’s people of God’s loyal love. The good news of God’s deliverance binds the brokenhearted, breaks the chains of sin, frees us for new life, and strengthens us through Emmanuel for God is with us. Isaiah promised that one day our tattered human condition will be clothed in the Lord’s garments of salvation and God’s righteousness; the Lord is salvation.

Mary carried God’s beloved promise in the womb. Even as she risked trusting God, Joseph felt the tension of it all and Jehovah increased Joseph’s faith to stay by May’s side. Joseph had the privilege of naming this holy child Jesus; through him God saves because God so loved the world. The babe lying in the manger cried and cooed with sighs too deep for words that nothing is impossible for God.

Simeon was obedient to his priestly calling. He presented the Christ Child as the new covenant, God’s promise to clothe us in forgiveness and redemption, remembering our sins no more.

Anna was moved by the tangible tenderness of God’s favor and grace; she began to praise God and to speak about this child to any and all who were searching for God’s loyal and redeeming love.

We are all here today because we have experienced the mystery of God’s love and have received grace upon grace. Each of us has some story of encountering the truth that God is with us.

We sense God’s hospitality through the warm welcome from strangers who quickly become friends. We see the light of Christ shining in the generous acts of another’s kindness. We feel God’s deep embrace through the prayers of the family of faith in our greatest joys and deepest sorrows. We hear the Spirit whispering words of comfort, guidance, and challenge through God’s Word. We have encountered the joy of Christ’s birth in some unexpected way this season.

There is a great treasure in this gift of faith. No matter how the story of our lives is unfolding, when the light of God’s love is made real to us then something amazing happens. For some this is a life defining moment. For others it happens slowly over a life time. No matter our age, our hearts are tuned to sing of God’s glory at baptism.

The baptismal font is the womb of God’s deliverance. By water and Holy Spirit we are given spiritual rebirth. We are delivered from the power of sin and we are freed to behold God’s promise of new life in Jesus Christ for the Lord is salvation. The grace of God begins to rewrite our story and reshape our hearts and minds by God’s faithfulness.

The Spirit calls us by a new name; we are forever more known as a beloved child of God; in fact the prophet Isaiah says we are called God’s delight.

Today I praise God that we will behold the Sacrament of Baptism for Mika and Jeremy. And I also lift my heart in gratitude remembering Teresa’s, Randy’s, and Mia's baptisms as they enter into the household of faith here.

As we prepare to celebrate God’s promises may you – Mika, Jeremy, Teresa, Randy, and Mia - hear the Spirit whispering your new name. You are a beloved child of God; you are God’s delight. May the roots of your faith be deeply planted in God’s garden so that you may bear the good fruits of right relationships and praise.

And as we each remember our own baptisms, may God transform our life stories to receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know Christ more and more. I pray the light of Christ and the gift of his salvation may enlighten our hearts. I trust the Spirit will reveal the hope to which the Lord has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe (Ephesians 1: 17-19).

In the name of God our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.