Sunday, December 30, 2007

Faith in Trouble - A Sermon

Happy New Year.  What’s your dream for it?  Peace?  Harmony?  Success?  Deeper Faith?  Trouble?

Trouble brings us back to Joseph as Bilbo Baggins again -- minding his own business and faced with dreams.  More dreams.

In fact, in the space of three paragraphs, he has three dreams, each which is an order to get up and go -- either fleeing from danger or going somewhere dangerous.

Before we go into the dreams, we must understand that nobody else mentions this series of event -- only Matthew.  Nowhere else does Joseph dream like this, nowhere else do they flee to Egypt, and nowhere else is there a murder of the innocents -- although the ancient historian Josephus does write about a mass murder of some Pharisees and members of Herod’s house who might have been plotting against him.

Having said that, these dreams are not particularly welcome events for Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel.  In the first dream, Joseph is warned to flee Bethlehem for Egypt because King Herod wants to kill the child.  He heeds the dream and runs.

Years later, although the bible does not specify, another dream orders him to return to Israel because Herod is dead.  Finally, once they arrive, a third dream warns Joseph to head north to the region of Gallilee in order to avoid the new king, Archelaus.

The question then is, if these scenes only happened in Matthew and were unknown -- and unimportant -- to the other Gospels, why did Matthew put them in?  And what do they have to offer us?

For Matthew, it was very important that Jesus be seen as the answer to ancient prophesies.  He believed only those who had been foretold by the ancients could truly be of God.  So he goes out of his way to find prophesies that can apply to him.

Thus, we have Matthew writing, “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”  And, Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”  And,  “There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

In other words, these stories proved Jesus’ validity, they gave him legitimacy.

But there has to be more to it -- at least for us.  And there is.  These are stories of Faith in Trouble.  Faith in Times of Trouble, Faith that leads to Trouble, and Faith that is troubled because things are bad. 

For Joseph and us, these dreams are a sign of faith.  Even when things seem bad, we can trust God to be there with us.  God stands by Joseph in times of social un-ease (his pregnant fiance) and in times of danger (Herod).  Think of an example from your life: maybe times of illness or relational pain.

Yet these dreams show us that our very Faith can lead us into trouble -- like being hunted by the king.  Examples are Countless -- from martyrdom to simply telling truth when it’s inconvenient.

All this trouble can cause us to ask if God really is there after all - or if God really does love us.  It’s natural -- our faith will always lead us to times of doubt and uncertainty because life is not easy -- not even for the Holy Family.  And if it’s not easy for them, why would it be easy for us?

Matthew obviously wanted us to see Jesus as being foretold of old.  But he also wanted us to know -- that is, the next generation of Christians -- that following Christ would never be easy.  It hasn’t been.  

But the promise of God’s presence and love, and the encouragement to persevere, have sustained countless Christians throughout the ages.  They can sustain us in the good times and the bad as well.  

So, begin this new year with dreams -- and with hope.  God is with you all the way.