Sermon 12/20/20: If I Were A Shepherd (Bring What You Have) (Advent IV)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, the United Methodists Churches of our Illinois Great Rivers Conference are not holding face-to-face services. Please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video: https://wp.me/aat229-2uT

Alternative Option 1, Google Drive:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RONAX7s-n8enf4GARmXVIjl1eduzHLi-/view?usp=sharing

Alternative Option 2, there is a problem with this link.
https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cYlq0d8B7v

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

HYMN 240 Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Amy Grant (lyric video) HD
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djh02-DP9r8

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 239 Silent Night, Holy Night
Kelly Clarkson Featuring Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood – Silent Night (LYRICS)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QGP6f9nVC8

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: If I Were A Shepherd (Bring What You Have)
Luke 2:1-16
Series: Those Methodist Rules
Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

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SERMON NOTES

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

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HYMN 234 O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Come All Ye Faithful with Lyrics – Martina McBride
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3egGjeiWEA

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

As we talked about last week, what happened in the birth of Christ was the theological concept of incarnation, which is that God way up there came down here to be Emmanuel, God with us. And because of the incarnation, God has an address. Not just an address, but it’s a local address because the meaning of the incarnation is that God is with us right here, right now, right here in Kinmundy, a small town not much bigger than Bethlehem. Right now, wherever you are, Jesus Christ is present and with you.

Today we look at Luke Chapter 2 and the actual events of that night when Jesus came to be with us. And these events involved the shepherds.

I’d like to ask you to think about what it means to be a shepherd. A shepherd is out there with the flocks, watching over the flocks at night. In essence, a shepherd is a security guard for the sheep. The shepherd is there with the crook and the rod to protect the sheep from any enemy that might come to harm them. The shepherds were pretty much like security guards.

I was a security guard while I was in seminary. I wore a uniform, I carried a gun, and if there was any problem I practiced glaring in an intimidating manner at people so that they would behave. I know what it’s like to be up all night just like the shepherds were that night.

The song In the Bleak Midwinter has a beautiful verse, it says, “What can I give him, as poor as I am, if I was a shepherd…” I wonder if you ever feel like a shepherd? That there’s just not a whole lot that you have to offer, there’s just not a whole lot that you can give?

Even though it’s true: through answered prayer you can participate in the doing of miracles in partnership with God. But the reality is you can only do what you can do.

And it seems in this pandemic we’re adapting to the reality that we can do less and less. But it is true, we can only do what we can do. It’s true, you could probably be a better person, I could probably be a better person. You could probably do a lot more, and so could I. But you and I can only do what we can do. We live within our own personal limitations. And so the shepherds think, “What can I give him, poor as I am,” and it’s very likely the answer that comes to them is not very much. Maybe you’ve felt like that over the past few weeks and months of this pandemic.

But here’s the truth to remind us, they say yesterday is history. There’s nothing we can do to change history. Tomorrow is a mystery, something we can’t understand, something we can’t predict. But today, today, the limitation of just these 24 hours, today, today is a gift, and it’s true. You can only do what you can do. But what you can do today is a gift. And the rest as the saying goes that’s why we call it the present. What can I give him, poor as I am, if I was a shepherd? I could, I would give a lamb. That’s what we can do today.

Let’s look at the scripture. Luke Chapter 2:1, “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the City of David, which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David.”

We talked about this last week, the estimate from archaeologists is that the population of Bethlehem was 300 people. But to that tiny little town, everyone who was from there was coming back home in this season. What we expect to see in the Christmas story but do not find is that Joseph is surrounded by his family and his relatives because they are all traveling to Bethlehem. “And he traveled there,” verse 5, “to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed who was with child.” Verse 6, “And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered for her baby to be born. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.” And this has become a very important part of the Christmas story.

There was no place for them where it was safe to have a baby. We don’t know why they were not welcomed by Joseph’s relatives. We don’t know why there wasn’t a place inside the inn that they couldn’t have made some sort of place for a pregnant woman about to give birth. We don’t know. But what the record shows is that Jesus was born. We call it a stable, and Jesus who was born there in the stable. And he was laid in a manger, the trough where they would put food for the animals. Another thing that we do not know is if the innkeeper offered them the use of the stable, or if they simply snuck in in the middle of the night. But by all accounts, Joseph and Mary were alone and friendless and without support at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. That’s not something that God is willing to put up with!

Verse 8, and in that region, there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. As I said before, security guards were watching over sheep and staying up all night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them in the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people for to you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Allow yourselves to think of what it’s like to be a shepherd at this moment. What are they to do? Well, if you know anything about sheep and if the flock of sheep was very large, you know you can’t get the sheep to go from one place to another very quickly. Maybe some of the shepherds stayed with the sheep. But some of them decided to come and find out what the angel was talking about. Verse 15, when the angels went away from them into heaven the Shepherd said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, those who went and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. So the shepherds left, some of them left the flock, and they went to find the baby because of what God had said.

“What can I give Him, poor as I am … if I was a shepherd, I could give a lamb?” On the slide on the screen, there’s a picture of a sandwich – I would like you to note that that is a lamb steak sandwich. You see the tomatoes? You see the onions? Do you see the feta cheese? I want to tell you just looking at that picture makes me hungry. I wonder if the shepherds brought what they could bring. I wonder if somebody actually brought their lunch and gave it to Mary and Joseph who possibly have had nothing to eat for some time. Who are the shepherds and what can they do? Well, they could bring a lamb. They could bring a sandwich.

It’s my own theory but I think the very next night, Joseph and Mary were camping with the shepherds, surrounded by the sheep. They had found someone who would watch over them, someone who cared about them, someone who would be family for them. If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man – that’s next week – I would do my part. But what I can, I give him. I give my heart.

What would happen in your life and for people you love and for people around you if you were to give your heart to Jesus Christ? What might happen because of that? And my answer today involves a story. Because here is what I would suggest would happen, and that is a gallon of milk.

This is a famous story. It’s a story that whenever I read it I actually weep. I may begin to cry uncontrollably as I read it for you now. Who knows what may happen? But here’s the gallon of milk story.

A young man had been to Wednesday night Bible study and the pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice. And the young man couldn’t help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After the Wednesday night service, he went out with some friends for coffee and pie, and they discussed the message and several different ones talked about how God had led them in different ways.

It was about 10 o’clock when the young man started driving home and sitting in his car. He just began to pray, “God, if you still speak to people, speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.” As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought, that he should stop and buy a gallon of milk.

He shook his head. And he said out loud, “God, is that you?” He didn’t get a reply, and he started on toward home. But, again, the thought came, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how Samuel didn’t recognize the voice of God and how little Samuel ran to Eli and Eli said, “Listen to the voice and do what it says.” And he said out loud, “God, is that you?” He didn’t get a reply, and he started on toward home but, again, the thought came, buy a gallon of milk. He stopped and purchased a gallon of milk and started off again toward home. As he passed 7th Street he felt the urge, turn down that street. “This is crazy,” he thought. And drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down 7th Street. So at the next intersection he turned back and headed down 7th Street and half jokingly he said, “Okay, God, I will he drove several blocks when, suddenly, he felt like he should stop.

He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were all closed, and most of the houses looked dark as if the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something. “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.”
The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door, and then sat back in his car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they’re going to be mad and I will look stupid.” Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door and he said, “Okay, God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. And if you want me to look like a crazy person, well, okay. I am willing to be obedient. I guess that will count for something. But if they don’t answer right away, I’m out of here.”

He walked across the street and rang the bell, and he could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?” And then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man who lived in the house was standing there in his jeans and a T-shirt. He looked like he had just gotten out of bed. He had a strange look on his face. And he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his front porch. “What is it?” he asked. The young man thrust out the gallon of milk. “Here,” he said. “I brought this to you.”
The man took the milk and immediately rushed down the hallway speaking loudly in Spanish. And then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a little baby and the baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face. The man began speaking through his tears, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for the baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.”

His wife from the kitchen yelled out, “I asked God to send an angel with some milk. Are you an angel?” The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him, then put it in the man’s hand. Then he turned and walked back to his car with tears streaming down his face. He knew that God still answers prayer.

You see, God is always talking. God is always speaking to us. And if we could for a while, just for a while, just turn the music off, turn the television off, turn the world we will be able to hear the Lord speak to us. And in listening, we would be able to obey. And in obeying, we might be God’s means to bless someone in need. Are you that person? If you will allow God to speak to you, and if you will obey, you are carrying someone’s miracle with you. Turn the world off so that you will know where to go and what to do when you get there.

The blog post where I took this story says it is a true story, and it is a true story, but perhaps not the way that you might think. Hollywood could take this story if they wanted to and make it more dramatic. The wife threatens to leave her husband over his inability to provide milk. The husband is sitting in the Hollywood version in the darkness of the living room, holding a gun in his hand. He’s thinking of robbing a liquor store, and if he’s caught, he’ll go back to prison and unable to be with his baby growing up. As a child, his baby will not have a father present. “If there is a God,” he thinks, “why don’t we have a gallon of milk?” And in the dark, in the Hollywood version, you could see the gun in his hand. He’s raising it to his head, about to kill himself when he hears the doorbell ring, because this is Hollywood.

At the door is the hero of the story with a gallon of milk.

I’ve been a pastor for 40 years. I have been a Christian since 1972. And from the very first day of my faith, I’ve always wanted one true thing. And this is what’s true about this story. I’ve always wanted to be the man at the door. With the gallon of milk. Such a small thing that means the whole world to someone else because God answers prayer.

But you see, God frequently chooses to answer prayer through a person like you or me who listens and who is willing to do what they can do. So who are you in this Hollywood drama? If you’re listening to God, it’s really quite simple. You’re the hero at the door with the gallon of milk. You are providing the answer to prayer. What an amazing world we would live in if all of us would listen to God and bring the milk. In the dark weeping with anger, the man hears the doorbell ring…

Friends, you could probably be a better person. You could probably do a lot more. But you know something? You can only do what you can do. But when God asks you to be an answer to prayer, He always asks you for something you can do, even in a pandemic, even in these godforsaken days, God will ask you only for what you can do. And to you, it’s a gallon of milk. Such a small thing. But to someone else, whatever it is that God asked you to do, it’s a miracle. What connects the two is that you listen to God and you are willing to do what you can. And that, from the first Christmas when the shepherds came to show Mary and Joseph that they were not alone, to today in whatever it is that God might ask you to do, if you listen to God and do what you can, it is enough. The blog post says it’s a true story. It is, but perhaps not the way you would think. What’s true is that this, I believe, is truly what we hope our faith can be like.

We pray and listen.
God speaks.
And then, we bring the milk.

Please pray with me. Lord, the world is noisy. It wants our attention. Lord, You have many enemies and they want to distract us. They want our attention, too. Advertisers want our attention. The media wants us to turn away from the real world and pay attention to what’s on the little box in our living rooms. Lord, if we are willing to listen to You, it may be like the shepherds, and we will hear angels singing. Lord, if we are willing to listen to You, it may be that we will walk a path where we will find the baby Jesus or some other baby that is hungry and needs us. Lord, if we are willing to listen to You and then do what You asked, whether it’s a gallon of milk, a plate of cookies, or some other way that we provide assistance in a time of need, even if it’s merely a smile and a cheerful face and the sign that someone cares. Lord, we know that you can take those little, tiny miracles that if we have the courage to do them, can entirely and completely change someone’s life. Lord, not only the person who gets the milk, but entirely and completely change our life. Lord, we ask for this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.
 

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