Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the mystic presence of the Holy One. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Activist Dorothy Day once said that “What we would like to do is change the world: make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do..... We can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble into the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world…there is nothing that we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.”
Some of you have shared with me some of the God-moments, or Faith-Markers, that you've had over the years, and today as we close in on Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to speak about Faith-Markers, and what they mean to us. A faith-marker is a place in the life of a person that marks a moment of faith. I also call them “God-moments,” because it marks a place in the life of someone where we see God working actively in their lives, or in this case, where we can see a snapshot of ourselves in a moment of faith. For example, before the development of the electron microscope, scientists had to work under the assumption and faith that atoms existed, even though they couldn’t see them. And out of this belief and faith in their existence, came a whole new mindset in the world of physics that paved the way for the discoveries that Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck and others opened a new world, a world of relativity and quantum physics. In chapter 11 of the New Testament Book of Hebrews, we read that, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is SEEN was not made out of what was VISIBLE. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.” So, a faith-marker is that moment when we experience what can’t be explained away as anything other than what God has made possible for us to experience. And, when that happens, it’s important we not chalk it up to blind luck; that we give God the credit or thanks for providing us with a faith-marker, a God-moment, when our faith, our belief and reality intersect in present time. It happens out of our belief in what is unseen, and sometimes out of our belief in the impossible, because as Christians, we know that with God, all things are possible.
Luke the physician, writing as long as 50 years after Christ’s resurrection, sought to interpret what the whole story of Jesus meant for a Gentile audience. Today's scripture, which is known as the Song of Zechariah, was an early Christian hymn which may have had Jewish origins. Literally, it is a string of Old Testament phrases and concepts taken largely from the Psalms that give explicit reference to the coming of the Messiah. Two main ideas stand out in this hymn of praise: (1) the intervention of God on behalf of the covenant people of Israel, and (2) the fulfillment of God's covenantal promise to Abraham. In selecting these excerpts from the Psalms, the Song of Zechariah supports the concept of a Messiah from the Davidic line in the context of the covenant tradition.
Zechariah, of course, was the father of John the Baptist, the prophetic forerunner of Jesus. In that context, John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said that John “came in the spirit and power of Elijah.” Healing and wholeness would not come from John, but from Jesus the Messiah. Jesus would forgive sins and thus re-establish God’s promise to humanity as outlined in the Old Testament. The fact that this Psalm is uttered by Zechariah, a Levitical priest in the temple, may actually be the fulfillment of the last of the Old Testament prophecies in Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament. Thus the Song of Zechariah begins the gospel story by placing John the Baptist and Jesus within the historical and
religious context of Judaism. Luke did this to clarify for his audience, which presumably consisted almost entirely of Gentiles, why a Jew should be seen as the savior-hero of the entire world. So, in order to more fully understand why Zechariah's joyful song is important as a faith-marker, we need to look at the first part of Luke 1 that comes before today's scripture lesson.
In Luke 1, we read, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain Levitical priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. And they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. What’s the most important thing that you’ve done in your whole life? (In those days, there were too many priests available, so he was chosen by lot to burn incense in the inner sanctum of the Jewish temple, probably the most important act in his whole life) The whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside, at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. But the
angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb." And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." And the people were waiting for Zechariah and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them and remained mute." So, after not being able to speak for nine months because Zechariah had demonstrated to the angel Gabriel a lack of faith, Zechariah's joyful song, after the birth of his son, shows us that his faith had been reborn out of seeing the miracle of birth that God had granted to he and his wife, Elizabeth. So, Zechariah's song becomes a joyous faith-marker in his life, as well as in the unfolding story of the Messiah.
As Christians, we know to radically expect the impossible, and have the faith of a mustard seed to allow God to create what we have the faith to believe in, say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We may have feelings of insecurity about the future and the needs of the church. Our fears can only increase our insecurities, since fear tends to stem from emotional or mental projections, shifting our attention to what some say is the "real world." So, will it be faith or fear, a faith-marker or a fear of failure? God knows our hearts and our thoughts, so let’s have the faith to see our worries about the future turn into faith-markers out of the God-moment that we are studying today. By bringing our attention into the present moment, we can release ourselves from mind-based fears. Our fears are based on possibility, not actuality, and if what we are afraid of ever does come to pass, it’s usually never as frightening or unbearable as we have imagined. So, let's stay focused in the present moment, be here now, and see how walking in faith allows us to prepare for a positive, loving future for our Church.
We can decrease the chances of our fears becoming real because we are no longer feeding them by paying attention to them. When we release ourselves from our fears, we will be free from apprehension and together enjoy a more secure reality, based upon our faith, and our faith-markers. And remember, a faith-marker is a place in the life of a person that marks a moment of faith. Then, out of our faith-belief, God will walk with us and shepherd us into the secure reality that God gives to us today, and every day. So today, this day, let’s live into our faith and impending joy that the knowledge of the risen Christ gives to each of us. “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come into His presence with singing. Know that the LORD is God. It is He who has made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His steadfast love endures forever; and His faithfulness through all generations.”
Rev. Jan Ekstedt MDiv.