This sermon was preached on July 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.”
The texts were:
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25
Merry Christmas! That feels out of sync doesn’t it? Actually, even reading this scripture in July feels a bit discombobulated. We are used to certain patterns of life happening in certain ways and times and when that doesn’t occur…well mayhem can ensue. We are wired as human beings to seek synchronicity, to find homeostasis-sometimes at any cost. Being out of sync or swimming up stream is not desirable and can lead to challenges for us in our daily lives, families and communities. We rarely like to be “the only one” in any situation. We all know that experience of being in a group and voicing an opinion that turns out to the minority voice. Or acting in a way that is an anomaly to what everyone else is doing. Most often, we try to fit in. Losing social status and connections in our community becomes the paramount concern. Staying within social norms is the safe and comfortable space to be in. Until we realize that space isn’t actually all that comfortable especially when it is out of sync our core beliefs and values.
When we read Matthew 1, we tend of focus on the passage as the birth of Jesus, but upon closer reflection, it’s a passage that highlights what it is to live in sync with God’s values versus the world’s values. This is the story of Joseph, who’s very name should hearken us back to Genesis, to Joseph who was the favorite of his father Jacob, who had dreams and visions of the future, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, whose gifts gave him prominence in Egypt and who ultimately was able to save people from starvation and hardship. Joseph in our Matthew 1 passage, thought his life was in sync, even with engagement and marriage to Mary. The usual pattern was that you would be betrothed, which was a formal contract between families that was not easily broken, and after some time, a few months but no more than a year, the contract would be solidified by the marriage. Usually, nothing dramatic happens in that in between time. So Mary becoming pregnant before they solidify their marriage is out of sync with the plan. Joseph has every right to adhere to cultural and religious norms, divorce her, and allow her to be stoned for this betrayal. No one would have thought twice about his actions as it sadly happened all the time that women and other people who weren’t in sync with cultural norms were severely punished with torture or death. Joseph would have been supported by friends and family if he had made that decision.
But it turns out, Joseph’s value system didn’t sync up with that. We read that he was a righteous man, in right relationship with God. When an angel comes to him in a dream, he knows to his core what the right thing is to do, and it’s not what the culture of the Roman Empire or his faith tradition tells him. It’s what God tells him. He gives up his rights, his power and privilege to protect Mary, to protect the child and God’s mission. He chooses to not be in sync with the world but to be in sync with God. Joseph knew that people would ridicule him, would shake their heads that he would still take Mary, an obviously unfaithful and immoral woman, to be his wife. Friends and family would label him a sucker, weak, wonder what moral failings he also possessed to act in this way and ostracize them both. We tend to romanticize Joseph’s actions, but let’s be clear, Joseph was choosing Mary and God over comfort, stability, safety and being in sync with his community. Joseph’s actions spoke volumes about what and whom he valued.
Living from our values as people who choose God is never easy, never comfortable and rarely safe. When we choose a life in sync with God’s vision and mission, we are choosing to be out of sync with the world. We are choosing radical love, mercy, grace and justice that proclaims with words and actions that those who are despised by the values of the world, God loves. Those who matter less, matter to God. Those who have no value by worldly standards, God lifts up as deeply valued. We are choosing the risk of being labeled, the risk of being ridiculed, or the risk of losing family and friends. It might feel overwhelming to think about how as people of God can be out of sync and make a difference, but I want to remind you that we have already made the first step as a faith community. Our Welcome Statement is also our value statement: I invite you to look at the bulletin and read it with me:
Welcome to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
We embrace the teaching of Jesus to love one another as we are first loved by God: wholly and abundantly. We want all people to know that they are worthy of God’s unconditional love and grace.
Whoever you are- we want you here.
Whatever your gender identity- we want you here.
Whatever your status- we want you here.
Whatever your sexual orientation- we want you here.
Whomever you love- we want you here.
Whatever you look like- we want you here.
Whatever your abilities- we want you here.
Whatever you bring to Christ’s table- we want you here.
You are wanted here.
As we all move forward with the work of being God’s love for all people, we commit ourselves to making God’s justice, healing, grace and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and throughout the world.
These aren’t just nice words, these are our values as people of God. This is how we live our values proclaiming God’s good news that through Jesus Christ, separation from God is no more, that all are beloved, that the love in the kingdom of God is more powerful than the hate, fear, and division of the kingdom of the world. Living this out fully in our daily lives, wherever we go, as the people of OSLC, is how we will live in sync with God, how we will make a difference, how we are making a difference.
Joseph understood that God’s values becoming a reality in the world, started with him. He could choose to live differently and in doing so, Joseph became a vital piece of God’s plan for the wholeness, redemption and hope for all creation. God empowered Joseph with God’s presence to live out his values despite the values proclaimed by Caesar, the chief priests, the cultural laws. God empowers us too, through the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, and in our community. We are fortified with God’s grace and courage to live as Jesus showed us. Jesus shows us that when we live in sync with God’s unending and steadfast love, when we lay down our lives for others, when we amplify unheard voices, when we say “no” to the death dealing ways of the world, we are proclaiming that God’s kingdom, God’s values, in the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst, is changing the world, bringing us all in sync with God’s promises, today and forever. Thanks be to God.