Monday, July 03, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:39-45, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Miracle Moms and Spirit-filled Sons"

* As the Sermon hymn, we sang "For all the Faithful Women" from the Lutheran Service Book, #855, with verse 8 about Mary, and this added verse I composed about Elizabeth: 

Elizabeth the barren
Had drunk the cup of woe.
The faithful child of Aaron
Would soon have joy to know.
Young John the Baptist, leaping,
In Spirit knew His Lord,
By womb and mouth revealing
The greatness of our God. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s Gospel reading tells us of the encounter between two miracle moms and their Spirit-filled sons, who were still growing in their wombs. Great things had been prophesied of both of these preborn boys—Jesus was to be great and called holy—the Son of God. Miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, in the Virgin Mary, who had been with no man; she carried the Holy Child (Luke 1:32, 35). John the Baptist was also to be great before the Lord and “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from His mother’s womb” (1:15). John would prepare the way of the Lord, for His cousin Jesus. John’s mother, Elizabeth, was a miracle mom in a different way from the Virgin Mary—Elizabeth was too old to have children—but nothing is impossible with God (1:37).
So from the God of the Impossible, two miracle moms met, each carrying sons that would be mighty servants before God—but Jesus of far greater honor and glory—the promised Savior Himself. Our reading begins with their first visit after both had become pregnant, and as soon as Mary walks in, carrying Jesus in her womb, and greets Elizabeth, young John leaps for joy inside her womb! Jesus’ presence is already creating joy, blessing, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, in both John the Baptist and his mother Elizabeth!
The womb is a natural and amazing mystery. Words like “reproduction” do little credit to the marvel that’s happening, and sound more like factories and machinery, than the preferred Christian word for child-bearing—“procreation”. Procreation speaks of the special role that God first gave man and women in the ability to bring forth new human beings into the world. In procreation, we participate in God’s activity of bringing new generations of human beings into the world. The amazing growth of medical technology in the last 40 years has given us amazing insights into the mysteries of the womb. A lot more is going on in there than we once realized, and infants in the womb are very aware of their surroundings. An extraordinary example is Boris Brott, a renowned conductor, who had the amazing ability to play certain pieces of music sight unseen. He later learned in conversations with his mother, a professional cellist, that she had practiced each of these pieces of music while she was pregnant with him. (Foreward, The Faith of Unborn Children, Walch).
While we can’t even begin to fathom how this translates into his astonishing musical ability, this and countless other examples show us the reality that just like John the Baptist, other infants in the womb are, in their own way, interacting with their surroundings and experiencing things from the world around their mother’s womb. If a preborn child can be stimulated and respond to the lights and sounds outside his mother’s womb, how can we possibly doubt the greater truth that they can be stimulated and respond to the working of the Holy Spirit, just as John was. Elizabeth also was filled with and responding to the Holy Spirit, when she realized that this was no ordinary movement in the womb, but that young John was leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice—because they were in the presence of Jesus.
With these words of Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, and calling Mary the “mother of my Lord”, Elizabeth becomes the first person to worship the incarnate Jesus. God in the flesh, still hidden in His mother’s womb. John’s own moment of joy was a dance in the Holy Spirit; jumping in his mother’s womb. This was in answer to one of those promises we mentioned at the start: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15). Think about that! How could he be filled with the Holy Spirit, unless he was a vessel of the Holy Spirit? But he was indeed, capable of the Holy Spirit entering into and working in him. I don’t know whether that’s surprising or natural to your way of thinking—but I know that many people don’t think about the Holy Spirit working in a person so young—not even born yet! But should it really surprise us that as human beings, made in the very image of God, that we are from our very conception meant to be vessels of God—made for an intimate and trusting relationship with Him?
If you have some doubts, listen to a few Bible passages. Psalm 71:5–6 “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” The Psalmist traces his trust and dependence on God all the way back to his mother’s womb. As one of my former professors likes to say, what else is faith but “honesty about dependence”? And who is more honest about their dependence than a child? What did Jesus say? Luke 18:15-17 “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” We must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. This is not referring to shrinking our size, or reentering the womb, or returning to immaturity, but to the positive qualities of humility and child-like trust.
And it’s worth noting that the same word “infants”—brephe in Greek—is the word used of John when he jumps in the womb. Inside or outside of the womb, these are the same infants that God blesses and delights in. Vessels of His Holy Spirit, capable of receiving His spiritual gifts. There is no distinction of value, of personhood, or life between a child still in the womb, a child newly born, or a child in early youth. The size or the location of the child doesn’t change his value. At each and every stage of life, we’re created to be spiritual souls.
One more verse to prove even more specifically, that infants or little ones are able to believe in God—Jesus warns in Matthew 18:6 “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” What do the little ones do? They believe in Jesus, and it is a tragic error to lead them into sin. Other verses could be marshalled—the sending and choosing of Jeremiah by God from the womb, Psalm 139, and others, that show that important truth, sometimes lost or obscured today by adults, that we don’t become spiritual creatures at some stage in middle childhood or adulthood, but that the Holy Spirit is active all the way back to the womb. So we should confess with the Psalmist, Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you!
And the joy and blessing of Jesus that young John foreshadowed in this episode, was a joy and blessing shared by those two miracle moms. And really, the blessing of all three was centered around Jesus. All three of the others were marveling at God bringing salvation into the world through the miraculous birth of Jesus. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment for the things spoken to her by the Lord.” Here once again we see the quality that we are to imitate—the quality that is reflected in John, Elizabeth, and Mary on that day—faith in the Lord—believing in His promises. Faith is an honest dependency on God and His promises, and it fills us with spiritual joy and blessings in our Savior, Jesus.
Jesus entered all three of their lives under miraculous circumstances, and even the beginning of His journey into this world brought joy and thanksgiving to God. But even more so as He ran His course through birth, childhood, adulthood, and His public teaching ministry, His rejection by Israel, and His death and resurrection. And so Jesus also enters our lives under miraculous circumstances. Whether first touched in the womb, where He knit us together, or later in adulthood experiencing the rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3), Jesus enters our lives and moves us by His Holy Spirit for us to know His joy, and for us to overflow with thankful praise to God, together with John, Elizabeth, and Mary. When Jesus moves to enter our lives, through the hearing of His Word, or through the washing of water and the Spirit in baptism, He fills these spiritual vessels with the Holy Spirit. He pours into us the Spirit of life, God’s own sanctifying presence to purify and make us holy. He makes you and I to become Spirit-filled sons and daughters of God, who sing and rejoice at His saving presence in our midst, and filled with a holy “leap for joy” at the wonders of what He has done for us.
For what else can we know but joy and profound thanksgiving, to see that God has so willingly stooped low, bowed down into human flesh, and become first a zygote, then a tiny fetus, an infant growing in mother Mary’s womb, then a baby boy born and laid in an animal’s trough, who would grow into adulthood to teach, to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to die on the cross, that our sins and guilt would all be taken away? And what sorrow to know that it was our sins that sent Him to the cross? But what deep joy to know that He went there expressly for the joy of redeeming us, and He willingly laid down His life, and powerfully took it up again in His resurrection from the grave.
And that joy continues to reach us today, as we gather once again in His presence, and receive the workings of His Spirit, and celebrate His presence in true body and blood at the meal that He has prepared for us. So with the joy of the church, who knows what it is to have the saving presence of Jesus—with the joy of Spirit-filled sons and daughters, made for fellowship and relationship with our Holy God, Three in One, we sing All Praise to God the Father! All praise to Christ the Son! All praise the Holy Spirit, who binds the church in one! With saints who went before us, with saints who witness still, we sing glad Alleluias and strive to do Your will. (LSB 855:4). In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why were Mary and Elizabeth “miracle moms”? What was different about their two pregnancies? Why were their sons “Spirit-filled”? What was different about John and Jesus? Luke 1:39-45; 15, 32, 35.
  2. What brought joy to the infant John?
  3. Why do words like “reproduction” fail to adequately describe child-bearing? Why is “procreation” a more meaningful, Biblical, (and humanizing!) word?
  4. Why should we not doubt that the Holy Spirit is able to work on infants, even in the womb ? (consider natural examples also) Luke 1:15, 37. If John could be filled with the Holy Spirit, this requires that he was, even as an infant, a proper vessel of the Holy Spirit. Why does this make perfect sense, knowing who we are and how God made us? Genesis 1:26-27
  5. What Bible passages support this, and what do they reveal about the nature of “infant faith” or “trust” or “honest dependence” on God? Psalm 71:5-6; Luke 18:15-17; Matthew 18:6; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139. Do we need to be capable of understanding or speaking, in order to be in trusting relationship with God? Does an infant need to, to be in trusting relationship to their parents? Why is it proper to understand faith as first and foremost receptive?
  6. What did the presence of Jesus, entering the lives of John, Mary, and Elizabeth produce? Who was active when He was among them? Luke 1:41. What response did all three give, in their own ways?
  7. How does the presence of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit enter our lives? John 3; Romans 10:5-17; Titus 3:5-7; Acts 2:38-42.
  8. What is our joy filled response? 2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Peter 1:8; 2:9-10.

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