Sunday, December 20, 2015

Church Can Happen ... ANYWHERE

Final sermon in our Advent series at Main Street UMC ...

Shhh! Lean in close. I want to tell you a secret. I have uncovered a conspiracy: a subversive plot to take over the world.

I know, there are a lot of crazy conspiracy theories out there. Conspiracy theories about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Theories that the Apollo moon landings were faked. Theories that the government is hiding alien spaceships, and Bigfoot is cryogenically frozen in a government laboratory, and the contrails of a jet are actually chemicals that the government is spraying on us to keep us under control. Theories that Paul is dead and Elvis is alive. Theories of a secret world order called the Illuminati that controls the global economy.

Lots of theories. Crazy theories. But I’m not crazy, and the conspiracy I’ve uncovered is not a theory. It’s for real. It’s a subversive plot to overturn the existing world order, and it’s happening right under our noses. And some of the conspirators are right here, in this room!

I have uncovered this conspiracy in the pages of Holy Scripture.

-          Luke chapter 1, beginning in verse 39:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  

(Luke 1:39-45 New Revised Standard Version)


Now think about how subversive this is. What the world sees is two pregnant women. One’s a little older; the other’s a good bit younger. One’s farther along, the other’s just starting to show.

Anybody who happened by would just see two women enjoying each other’s company.

But little did they know that both of those women were pregnant because of miracles! One was old and barren, the other is a virgin.

And little did they know that one of these women was about to give birth to God’s last great prophet, John the Baptist. And inside the other one, God himself was taking on human flesh and preparing to enter the world disguised as one of his own creatures.
Little do they know, as people look at Mary and Elizabeth, what God is doing right under their noses!

But Mary knew:

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55)


We always think of Mary as sweet and gentle, meek and mild—but this is tough talk! The rich and powerful will be toppled? The poor and humble will be lifted up?

Just in case you didn’t get it, Mary is prophesying the end of the world as we know it. She’s predicting that her child is going to launch a revolution!

This song by Mary is called the Magnificat (Latin for “magnifies”) because it starts out with “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Famous missionary E. Stanley Jones called it, “The most revolutionary document in the world.” Martin Luther said that the Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.” New Testament scholar William Barclay called it “a bombshell” filled with “revolutionary terror” that turns the world’s standards upside down.

In the Magnificat, Mary lets us know that Christmas is the subversive story of an upside-down kingdom.

*Christmas is a conspiracy to change the world as we know it!

And it started with two women – two ordinary pregnant women: one older, one younger -- one pretty far along, the other just starting to show.

Anybody who happened by would just see two women enjoying each other’s company. But little did they know what God was doing right under their noses!

Which raises the question: What other things is God doing right now, right under our noses, that we don’t even know about?

If you’ve watched the news this week, you know about the presidential debates; you know that congress passed a budget deal; you know about Obama’s press conference. You probably didn’t know that today in Africa 32,000 people will give their lives to Christ—or that this week 3,500 new churches will open around the world.

If you’ve kept up with the news this year, you probably heard that the Pew Research Center released a major study that found that Christianity in America is declining. Church attendance is down; the percentage of people who say they’re Christian is down.

What you may not know is that, according to the same study, the number of committed Christ followers is actually going UP. Yes there are fewer cultural Christians who go to church just because it’s the thing to do—but there are actually more committed Christians who take their faith seriously.

If you’re up on economic news, you probably know that China owns most of our foreign debt. What you probably don’t know is that every single day 10,000 Chinese people give their lives to Jesus Christ. And you probably didn’t know that there are more evangelical Christians in China than in the United States. This despite 66 years of repression by an atheistic communist government.

You see, God is at work, right under our noses, quietly working to undermine the current world order and overthrow the existing establishment.

And just like 2000 years ago, when Mary and Elizabeth got together, most people don’t even know what’s really going on.

It’s certainly that way with Christmas. People look at the baby in the manger and say, “Oh how cute. Oh how sweet.” What they don’t realize is that this little child is really God sneaking behind enemy lines and recruiting subversives!

The well-loved Christian author C.S. Lewis said it this way: “Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

Christmas is the subversive story of an upside-down kingdom.

Make no mistake:  The ultimate goal of Christmas is to overthrow the current establishment. “Baby Jesus” is really KING JESUS – and one day, he will return to set up His kingdom and run things his way.

Until then, he is quietly recruiting subversives--people who say, “My allegiance is not to the current establishment”—who go ahead and start living by the values of the upside-down kingdom. While the rest of the world goes after money, power, prestige, pleasure, these subversives go about quietly seeking the Kingdom of God, and recruiting other subversives to join them.

And here’s the thing: These subversives … these revolutionaries … the perpetrators of this conspiracy—they could be ANYWHERE!

Oh yes, you can find them in here worshiping on Sunday. But during the week, they’re out there, beyond the walls, following Jesus in mission to the world.

During the week you might find them serving meals at Bethany Cafe and feeding the homeless at New Story Church.

You might find them visiting the sick and caring for the lonely.

You might find them ministering in prisons and serving the poor.

You might find them sharing Christ through word and deed.

This group of conspirators – these subversive revolutionaries – are called “Church.” They don’t GO to church – they ARE the church. They are the church seven days a week – change agents on a mission to overthrow the current establishment.

AND HERE’S THE QUESTION:

Do you want to join the conspiracy? 

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