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The “God Drops Hints” Sermon Rewind

Here was the challenge yesterday.

How to take this clear hint from Micah (Old Testament prophet, writing 700 years before Jesus) —

 

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans[b] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

— and not rob Micah of his own context?

How do Micah’s words address both his original audience — Jews under siege in 700 BC — and those of us who read Jesus’ birth into what he was saying.

So the sermon devoted some time to explaining that the bible was written TO and FOR ancient communities a long time before it was ever written to and for us.

With all that it landed at this bottom line:

When you see the already, you trust the not yet.

————————————————–

 

Have you noticed how often you drop hints?  It starts young, doesn’t it, as you drop hints to that guy or that girl that you like them.  You make eye contact across the classroom, you tell your friends to tell their friends that you like them, you laugh just a little too loud at the jokes they tell or the things they say, you even manage to bump into them “accidentally” in the hallway, you get an inside joke between the two of you, you identify a common enemy.  Ah 6th grade!  Wasn’t it fabulous?!            And for some of you, 6th grade never quite ended because you’re using all those strategies I just mentioned TODAY.   You love dropping hints on the chance you’ll find love.

 

            Of course, a little later, we drop hints that the relationship that began with hint dropping is in fact nearing its conclusion.  “It’s up to you,” you’ll say with a lack of interest.  “You decide,” you offer up.  “I don’t care,” you answer.  Hint dropping all over the place and you just hope they get it.  And it all goes so far beyond romance.  Sometimes your boss drops hints that your job is in peril, or you drop hints to her that your results are going to be disappointing.  You drop hints on what kind of gifts you want or what kind of gifts you got.  Years ago, with Julie, I kept guessing, guessing, guessing and she gave just the slightest of hints of what she got me for Xmas.  And I guessed RIGHT!  Like on Dec. 15!  She was like, “That’s it. We’re done talking about this.” 

 

            And sometimes – I know you – you even drop hints about ending conversations.  You look around.  You yawn.  I am famous for backing away.  Some of you even drop hints TO ME WHILE I AM PREACHING!  Crossed arms, check watch, send a text . . . “let’s hurry this up now, preacher!”  Hint dropping everywhere. 

 

            And, remarkably, God is much the same way.   Some of you know this, others of you don’t, and either way is OK, but here goes:  scattered throughout the OT, hundreds of years before Jesus, the virgin Mary, the wise men or the star, are hints that someone great is coming.  Now: the great temptation is to go through these sections of the OT and regard them as some sort of Nostradamus / Crystal Ball way of predicting the future with uncanny accuracy.  But that not exactly how these sections work. They’re better than that.  Because please remember this:  they were written to and for someone before they were ever written to and for you and me.  Show you what mean.

 

            One of the most interesting of these hints is Micah.  Now who was Micah and when was Micah?  Micah was an ancient Jew living approximately 700 BC & he was called a prophet which is less the idea of a future predictor and more the idea of a truth teller.  To that we can add major hint dropper.  And WHEN Micah?  Well, his when is that time when to be Jewish was to be under siege.  His brethren to the North — Yankees! — had already fallen to the Assyrians (in many ways the forerunners of ISIS) & now that army had crossed the Jewish Mason Dixon line and surrounded Jerusalem where he lived.  Micah was part of a community that was repeatedly, continually, surrounded, assaulted and sieged by the most vicious of killers.  That’s why Micah 5:1 says this: 

 

Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

 

Everything about being Jewish was under assault – traditions, beliefs, architecture, ethnicity attacked by those who would destroy it. 

 

            You know, while we today in the Carolinas are not under military siege, does it not seem as if all that every one of us over 18 or so every took for granted, what we hold dear, what seems obvious, is now under siege?  Some of you in this place feel like because of the color of your skin or the land where you were born or the language you learned first that you are under siege.  Viewed with suspicion.  Not sure who you can trust.  Then at the other end of the spectrum, new language about “gender fluidity” encouraged even in children simply flies in the face of what so many of us know and believe about boys & girls and men & women.  I’m not a prude, I’m not a reactionary, I’m not a culture warrior but sometimes I am like, “OMG when will it ever end?  What kind of young child possibly knows that they’re the ‘wrong’ gender?  And what kind of parent encourages that?” The American College of Pediatricians labels it, accurately, as child abuse.  Under siege for believing anatomy & biology matter.  Or others of you went to college and your first semester there that professor just ruined Xnty for you – he was so smart and so sophisticated & made you feel so foolish for believing.  And so soon you didn’t.  Under siege.  Even in your families, some of you, you get ridiculed or bothered for having even a little Jesus in your life.  When you’re under siege, you wonder if there is any hope and if so, where in the world is it?

 

            And then of course our friends in India who are in much more legitimate siege than we’ll ever be.  Where they can literally be killed for believing in Jesus alone & not Jesus among.  (Once, not long ago, someone said on a Sunday a.m. “It’s not convenient to have to bring your own coffee” and so I answered, “Well, our Xns in India are getting burned alive for Jesus so all in all, bringing your own coffee’s not too bad.”

 

            So to a people like you, like me, whose treasured beliefs & long held assumptions (& even physical safety) are under siege, Micah says this in 5:2:

 

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans[b] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

 

Whoa.  Now that is precise.  Small thing, small tribe, enormous leader.  Massively small!  And so Matthew picks up on that 700 years later and retweets Micah when he’s telling the story of Jesus’ birth in 2:6-7: 

 

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’

 

His way of saying, “See!  Micah was dropping a hint all those years ago and now it has come to pass!”  And that’s true.  In fact, Micah 5 is one of a series of 61 or so OT hints involving the life & death of Jesus that actually came true.  The odds of that are something on the order of 1 in 10 to the 157th power.  Whew! No wonder we call it inspired, eternal, and true

 

            But you know what I can’t get away from?  We jump so quickly to “Oh, Micah was talking about Christmas!”  that we forget he was speaking to & teaching a people under siege THEN, people who needed help THEN, not 700 years later.  Can you imagine telling a ppl whose city is encircled by ISIS army:  “No worries! Big time help is coming in 700 years! You’ll be alright!”  Uh, no.   I think what Micah is calling them to is this:  Remember how God has helped you already?  Parting the Red Sea and all that?  Remember how God turned a group of nobodies into somebody?  Remember how you went from slaves to select? And what is the best predictor of future behavior?  Past behavior!  That’s true for God!  See, Micah 5 is one of those hints that might well have had some kind of immediate answer – help arriving in the 700s – but a more significant answer later, with Jesus.  Did it help in the immediate? Yep.  Was more going on with the hint than even Micah himself realized?  Absolutely.  Because God has the freedom to do that with his word. 

 

            The hint has been dropped and God has been as good as advertised.  In the unlikeliest of places – Bethlehem (Wadesboro) and in the unlikeliest of ways – an unwed mother giving birth – he sends the Savior, the Messiah.  But look what’s going on, and look how the hint radiates: it helped those first hearers, it helped Matthew 700 years later (proved Jesus!) and now it helps us in the present day.  Those of us under siege.  Because we see what he’s done already – hint dropped about Bethlehem & fulfilled miraculously – and that allows to believe in the not yet.  Our world (collectively and privately) may be in a shambles, faith feels like under siege, but we serve a God whose best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  Because of that, because his word is miraculously fulfilled 700 years after it was written, I am full of trust 2000 years after.  I’ve seen what he has already done so I have hope in what he’s going to do.  Here it is:  When you see the ALREADY, you trust the NOT YET.

 

            I little bit like the boy who was standing in front of a parent SS assembly & was supposed to recite the 23rd Psalm.  He got as far as “the Lord is my Shepherd” and then stopped.  Could not remember it.  So I said, “the Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all I need to know.”  When you see the ALREADY, you trust the NOT YET.

 

            Or it’s like the message US forces found etched in a German basement during the holocaust: (AV) I believe in the sun even when it does not shine.  I believe in love even when it is not shown; I believe in God even when he does not speakWhen you see the ALREADY, you trust the NOT YET.

 

            Or it’s like an appetizer.  You know what an appetizer does, don’t you?  It prepares your pallet for the better stuff, the main course, that is to come.  Listen: there are appetizers of God’s goodness all around!  Most of us have just piled on layers of cynicism over our eyes so that we no longer see them.  When you orient your mind and train your eyes . . . the whole world is a Bloomin’ Onion! (AV).  Even when you’re under siege, you remember the incarnation, you remember the crucifixion, you remember the rez, I remember the times my body has been healed which is just the appetizer for the better body I’m gonna get that will never need healing!  When you see the ALREADY, you trust the NOT YET.

 

            And look closely at 5:2: READ.  Huh.  It’s about God.  Listen: this is not “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This is: God has a plan and you fit your life into it.  Or better:  does God have your life for his plan?  You know, don’t you, that the one who came innocently & almost secretly as a baby is COMING BACK aggressively and publicly as a Savior?  A warrior.  To judge the quick & the dead.  So you better quickly surrender to him or you’ll end up among the forever dead!  It’s funny – Methodists rarely talk about Jesus’ Second Coming.  And I wonder if that’s because so many among us misunderstand his first.  We make him role model.  Great man.  Social activist.  Hard core patriot.  When he is in fact Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the very embodiment of God.  Not one who points to God.  One who is God.  Not one who has faith. One who is faith.  When you understand how radically unpredictable was God’s ALREADY – taking on the body of a baby! – then the NOT YET of his returning to right every wrong and heal every hurt makes perfect sense.  We will very much be one of those Methodist churches that talks about his Second Coming because my prayer is we “get” his first.  When you see the ALREADY, you trust the NOT YET.

    

        Because it is all way more about him than it is about you.

 

            And that’s why you can hope when you’re under siege.  Because he is doing something bigger and better and grander than you can see with your limited viewpoint.  At a fundamental level, I don’t care what the siege is like in my today when I know who wins the Second Coming.  Satan really will be vanquished and all really will know that Jesus is King.  Because that 2nd Coming is less something that happens and more someone who arrives.  REFRAIN

AND THEN WE RECITED THE APOSTLES’ CREED AS THE GRAND SUMMARY OF ALL OUR ‘ALREADY’S.

            I guess what I’m saying is that the God who has been dropping hints will one day drop the mic. 

 

           

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