A Question of Faith
The Word of God
May the Lord add his Wisdom and Understanding
To Our Interpretation of His Word Today
Learning To Trust God. It is what our scriptures are talking about this morning.
We’ll take a quick look at the scriptures. They come from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2, versus 13-23, and they tell us about Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod.
The Gospel of Matthew was written sometime around 70-90 Common Era (CE), 40 to 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection and the founding of the Christian Church, and it was written to the Jewish community. The reason for writing the Gospel of Matthew was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah predicted in prophecies of the Old Testament. For this reason Matthew uses Old Testament scriptures to explain, or prove, the reason for the events of Jesus’s life.
Matthew starts his story with Jesus’ Genealogy, covering 42 generations, going all the way back to Abraham the father of the Jewish people, through David the chosen of God, and finally to Joseph the husband of Mary, establishing Jesus’ Jewish credibility.
Next Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant and decides to divorce her, quietly without a public scandal. An Angel appears to him and tells him to marry the young girl because her child is a gift from God and will save mankind, as told by the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 7 verse 14 of the Book of Isaiah.
Next we have the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, that simple and quick.
Then Matthew tells how the Magi arrive at King Herod’s palace asking, “where is the one who was born King of the Jews?” Herod turns to his scribes and astrologers, and they tell him that according to the Book of Micah Chapter 5 verses 2 and 4 the new king will come from Bethlehem.
Upon hearing there may be a competing king Herod plots to destroy this potential rival. He tells the Magi to go to Bethlehem and witness this King. After witnessing this new king the Magi are to return to Herod and tell Herod where to find this King, so that Herod may go and witness this new king also.
The Magi travel to Bethlehem, witness the child and give Jesus their gifts. After being warned in a dream about Herod’s treachery, they return to their homeland by another route.
Finally after this set up we have reached our scriptures for this morning.
After the Magi have left, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that Herod will be looking for the child and the family must escape to the safety of Egypt. Immediately Joseph bundles up Mary and Jesus and their belongings and flees to Egypt.
When Herod discovers he has been deceived by the Magi he initiates his plan based on other information. He uses the estimated date of the birth he learned from the Magi to determine how old the child might be. He uses the information gained from his scribes about Bethlehem. Herod sends troops to Bethlehem, and the neighboring areas, ordering them to kill all male children who are two years old and younger.
There are three prophecies which are associated with Jesus’ flight to Egypt and the family's return to Nazareth. The first two are:
1) The flight to Egypt …. refers to Hosea 11:1 which tells how God will call Israel, the country, out of Egypt. Here Matthew equates Jesus to the community of Israel and so God bring Jesus up out of Egypt, just like God used Moses to bring the Jews out of Egypt.
2) Death of the Children….refers to Jeremiah 31:15 where Jeremiah speaks of the slaughter and the weeping of Rachel who is considered a the Matriarch of the Israeli community. Matthew equates the killing of the male children in Bethlehem to Rachel weeping for the children is Israel.
As the people listen to, or read this story, they will be reminded of Moses, Exodus 1:15 and how the Pharaoh of the Exodus ordered the Jewish midwives as they delivered babies to kill the male Jewish children.
Now that listener/reader's thoughts have turned to Moses and his story which everyone knows, people will naturally equate Jesus’ journey as similar to Moses’ journey. Both came up out of Egypt. Moses is established as the person who liberated and saved the Jewish people, creating the Jewish nation. Jesus is the person who by his death and reserection granted everyone eternal redemption and salvation.
3) Jesus comes from Nazareth….Matthew claims there is third prophecy which says the Messiah will be a Nazarene. Matthew uses the reason that Archelaus, Herod’s son, now rules the area of Bethlehem Joseph for safety reason moves the family north to Galilee and the city of Nazareth. Scholars have no idea what prophecy Matthew is referring to here. The general consensus is that Matthew was using a book or books that no longer exist because the prophecy has not come down to us and has been lost in the last 2,000 years.
The prophecies aside as I read this passage today I am amazed at the pure and simple faith of the man Joseph.
First, when he is told in a dream that the woman Mary, even though he knows she is pregnant, is a virtuous person, that the child is a gift from God to the human race. Joseph is told to marry Mary, and so he marries her as had been arranged.
Second, when the angel appears to him again, following the Magi visit, and tells him the child is in danger and they must flee, Joseph immediately packs up Mary and the child and their possessions and leaves for Egypt.
Such Faith, such an immediate response. That holds my admiration. If only we reacted to events with such Faith, and then when told to move…moved.
We all have such situations in our lives. And so for the next few minutes I’d like you to think about those times in your life when it seemed God was telling you to move, and how you reacted…and while you do that let me tell you a story.
Te weather has been just miserable back in the Midwest, back in Northwest Iowa, where my family lives out there on the farm.
Last week there was that massive snow storm which passed through the Midwest, but most of it went north of them into the Dakotas and Minnesota. What Iowa received was the wind and cold and rain. The skies have cleared. Now they have high winds, temperatures in the high 30s during the day and the teens during the night. This means wind chills and a layer of ice over the mud…not fit weather for man nor beast.
So when I telephoned my Mom she is sitting by the wood stove, drinking coffee, and planning the spring garden…perfect work for this kind of weather.
As we talked she reminded me of one of our neighbors 60 years ago. I remember Elmer as a big man, a really good, sober, hard working farmer, who was always smiling. He farmed a quarter section a couple miles to the southwest of our farm. I remember his farm had this gentle curving stream meandering through it. I was always amazed that even though the stream was surrounded by this beautiful weed free blue grass pasture he never owned any livestock. He was one of the few farmers who only raised grain, a mixture of soybeans and corn.
I knew him as a farmer, but according to my Mom it had been a journey for him to reach that point.
He had been born on a farm just a couple of miles further to the west. When my Mom went to the country school, he had been one of the senior classmates who taught the younger students. This was fine with her, because he was her Sunday School Teacher at the Presbyterian Church in town.
After graduating from high school, Elmer married his high school sweetheart, Elaine, and they had rented a farm next to his family and started farming. He continued his relationship with the church, eventually becoming an elder, doing some fill-in preaching and eventually becoming active in the Prospect Hill Presbytery.
It was about this time when he made a major decision. One summer evening he and Elaine were sitting on the porch talking about life and their plans and watching the sunset, when suddenly the dying sun sent these beams of light through the clouds and they illuminated a patch of clouds which in that golden light seemed to be forming the letters ‘PC’.
They stared at it open mouthed. They called to the children, who came out on the porch, and they saw it just as the sunlight faded.
They talked about the sight they had seen. They prayed about it. Elmer and Elaine talked to the church elders about it. And the elders prayed with them about it. And finally he talked to his and Elaine’s parents about it.
The general consensus was that it was sign. And since he was so well liked in the church, enjoyed the church work, and found it really fulfilling, he should pursue a life in the church. Surely the "PC" in the clouds meant Preach Christ.
The family sold what they could. His father and father-in-law agreed to finish the crop season and split the farm lease between them. With loans and support from the Presbytery the family was off to seminary. Over the next four years Elmer was able to finish a combination Bachelors and Masters of Divinity, and found a home as the pastor of a church.
He did a good job. The church expanded, was financially sound, and he was able to keep the dissent to a minimum The church in conjunction with other community organizations and on its own did several outreach efforts into the community. All told, everything looked great, and if anyone had been asked concerning the situation all would have said God was being glorified. What more could anyone ask?
The problem was, that as the years passed, and everything seemed more and more successful, Elmer didn’t feel it. He tried. The congregation members told him that he gave good messages. In one on one situations he was patient, kind, and respectful. He had fantastic organizational skills. But inspire of all that seemed to begging correctly, he did not feel he was connecting the way he should.
He would occasionally discuss it with a few members of the church and they would tell him don’t worry about it….he was doing great. And occasionally when he and Elaine would get a break, and sit together on the porch in the evening like they used to do on the farm, he would bring it up, and Elaine would ask, “What makes you happy?” And almost always Elmer would shake his head, get up, and go work in the neglected garden behind the house, checking the state of the vegetables and pulling ever-present weeds.
Elmer had been a minister for nearly 20 years when they went home to celebrate Elaine’s fathers 70th birthday. During the days they were there, Elmer and Elaine walked around the farm, remembering growing up there. They walked over to the quarter section where they had once farmed. Elmer’s and Elaine’s fathers had kept up the joint lease, and the farm house looked empty, and that sight broke their collective hearts.
The next week Elmer turned in his resignation to the session, and it was a sad day in the church and the community when Elmer and Elaine packed up their house and moved back to the farm.
Elmer started farming again the next spring, and with the help of his family, they got the crop planted on all three farms and it did well. In a couple of years it was if they had never left the farm.
But for Elmer, even though he was happier than he had ever been, there was always this sensation in the back of his mind that he had failed. He had given it his best, and spent 20 years Preaching Christ, but there had always been something that was not there.
And so he spent the rest of his life as a very successful farmer "Planting Corn". A different "PC" from hat they had seen in clouds so many years ago.
It is sometimes difficult to tell what God has in store for our lives, but there are a few clues we can use to move forward.
First, God needs all kinds of people. God needs carpenters and plumbers and lawyers and accountants and insurance salespersons and parents and grandparents and mentors and farmers and truck drivers and the list goes on and on and on. The good news isGod needs all kinds of people and you have just the skills he needs.
Second, God is not going to ask you to do something you do not have a passion for doing. In fact that is one of the clues….what do have a passion for, what is in your heart…God probably a place waiting there for you that fills that passion.
Third, is affirmation. Once you have identified that passion in your heart start looking around and you will see a place where you are needed and the passion will be fulfilled. Discuss the move with those you trust. If there is a real call and need people will tell you and affirm that you may have a place there.
Finally, take the steps forward. If that is the place you are meant to be, God will open the doors and the path will be straight. God will provide the tools, the means, the wisdom and the strength. It will all happen so fast you will look back and think, "How did that happen?"
And you will discover you are in a place you could never have imagined, and it will be right where God needs you…and you need to be.
Another thing you will discover. As soon as you are ready to begin your journey…God has you in just the right place to start.
All we need is the Faith of Joseph, and be ready to take that first step forward.