August 27, 2006

12th Sunday of Pentecost

"Overcoming Obstacles - Together"

(Luke 2:1-7, Psalm 107:1-9)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


There was a businessman who had five kids, his wife stayed home to care the kids. And it never failed, he'd come home from work and Mom, needing the care and advice of another adult, would begin to tell him all the things that went wrong during the day. And which of the kids needed further disciplining from Dad.

One day the stress of work got to Dad, as Mom regaled him with the various trouble HIS children had gotten into he lost it. "Honey, just once, just once couldn't you greet me at the door with GOOD news?" Mom was a little hurt but and the very next night as Dad walked in the door, Mom said: "Well, I've got good news." Dad's face lit up and Mom said, "Four of you children didn't break their arm today."

After years of research they came up with two major theories as to how men can win arguments with their wives and maintain their respect. Unfortunately, neither theory has worked yet. (1)

I remember having a knock down drag out fight with Mary, one time. It wasn't just a loud discussion like we have every now and then, like all married couples have, this was a go for the jugular argument. It was tough but Mary finally she came crawling to me on her hands and knees. Yeah, she poked me with the broom and said, "Billy, you come out from under that bed and fight like a man!" (2)

After years of study, researchers have determined that there are two primary reasons for marital conflict: husbands and wives. (3)

All month long we've been look at "The INS and OUTS of Families." We've looked at one of the IN families, Abraham and Sarah. And we've looked at a couple of the families who were sort of on the OUTS with God. Even though God was faithful to God's promise, we saw the dysfunction in the family of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. That was followed by the conniving, deceitfulness of Ananias and Sapphira. Today I want us to look at what might be considered one of the more perfect marriages of all. That of Mary and Joseph. They definitely were IN with God. Let's begin by looking at a very familiar passage that we usually only hear in December.

Luke 2:1-7

I'll bet some of you are thinking, why end the series with an event that seems more suited to Christmas than a series on families? Well, as I was looking at families in the Bible to use as examples, what better family than the Holy Family? Especially when it comes to dealing with the obstacles of life. I can't think of better example of overcoming the troubles of married life with faith than Joseph and Mary.


I'm not sure there has ever been a young couple who was tried and tested more than Mary and Joseph. Let's review their relationship. Some say it was an arranged marriage and that Joseph was much older than Mary. That's OK, that works. But I like to think they were contemporaries, fairly close in age, and not because it makes a better Christmas card but because, to me, it makes more sense in their relationship.

The first thing that happened was that Mary and Joseph were betrothed. They were engaged to be married. Back then, it was harder to get our of a betrothal than it was to get a divorce once you were married. It was a social faux pas and embarrassment to both families.

We know the story. The angel visits Mary and Holy Spirit comes upon her and next thing you know she's pregnant. It's not Joseph's baby. Not the best beginning. This was one of the few reasons for ending a betrothal. And actually it was punishable by death. Mary's not Joseph's. You see, betrothal had the same status as marriage when it came to adultery. And since that was the only way anyone else could conceive how Mary conceived, prospects didn't look good.

But Joseph must have really loved Mary because Scripture says he didn't make a big fuss, which was his right, he was just going to quietly divorce her and get on with his life.

We know how the angel visited him and explained it all. And we how Joseph stuck it out. But then, to add insult to injury, there's this whole census thing where everybody has to go back to their hometown to be counted. Today it wouldn't be much problem. A few hours in the car and we'd be there. The whole county of Israel would fit in the area of DFW and Houston. But back then it was about a three day trip for Mary and Joseph. And Mary was due any minute.

When they got there, they couldn't even find a room and had to stay in the barn. Shortly after the baby's born, the angel visits Joseph again in a dream and tells him to beat feet out of the country because Herod, who was so insecure about his power and throne, and so threatened by a baby who might be a king, that he ordered all the children 2 and under to be killed.

So, off they go, refugees in Egypt until they get word that Herod is dead and they can safely move home. Not only that, but Jesus wasn't your normal, run of the mill, child. He probably came with all the challenges of raising a child who is a special needs child. And that's not easy.

Mary and Joseph had a lot of hurdles to jump and a lot of obstacles to overcome in their lives. So, how did they do it? What was their secret?


A. PRAYER: While Scripture doesn't give us any details, there are a couple of things we can infer from what we know about Mary and Joseph. First. They both had a deep spiritual life and spent considerable time in prayer.

It was in the midst of the prayerful attitude that God spoke to them. Joseph, twice in a dream and Mary, when Gabriel came with the news that she had been chosen as the Messiah's mother. The reason I think they both spent time in prayer is that I don't think you can be open to such life changing decisions like they made without being in the right frame of mind and spirit. And they were. They were able to hear God's call in their lives.

B. TRUST: Second, they both had a deeply committed relationship with God which allowed them to trust God enough to take that leap of faith and act upon God's call for their lives.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Indy and his father were on a crusade to find the legendary Chalice of the Holy Grail. In one scene near the end of the movie, they have been captured by the Nazis inside the cave that leads to the Holy Grail. Their lead investigator points a gun at Indiana to force him to take on the three challenges necessary to make it to the grail. When Indy refuses, he shoots Indy's father instead. Now only the Grail can restore Indy's dad.

Indiana Jones passed the first two tests successfully, and is about to embark on the final and most difficult challenge of all.

Indiana comes out of the huge cleft in the rock and finds himself standing on a ledge at the edge of an immense chasm. He refers to his notes: "Only in a leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth." He looks at the distance between the ledge he is standing on and the one he needs to reach. He says, "Impossible. Nobody can jump this."

His friend tells him that he has to hurry, because his father can't make it much longer. Indy looks out over the chasm and says, "It's a leap of faith." The step is overwhelming. All of his senses tell him that he'll die if he steps out.

His father, lying on the ground, says, "You must believe, boy. You must...believe."

Indy screws up his courage and his faith, closes his eyes, and steps straight out. Incredibly his foot lands on something solid. There has been a bridge before him all the time, obscured by the surrounding rock. His footing unsure at first, but gaining confidence with every step, he crosses the bridge to the chamber that holds the chalice. (4)

We don't know how many others God may have called who either didn't hear, ignored God's call or went running in the opposite direction. They didn't have the faith. They are unwilling to take the step. And if we're honest with ourselves, even now, trusting God with our lives and possessions requires a leap of faith. Faith is believing. Trust is take that first step or leaping.

Mary and Joseph caught a vision of the greater picture of God's plan. And they had the depth of faith to all them to step out, with eyes fully open and with trust in God to lead them. It wouldn't be easy but they knew who was leading them.

C. LOVE: Third, I think Mary and Joseph had a deep love for one another. You see, I kind of believe in soul mates. I'm one of the lucky ones who has been able to find mine. And I think Joseph and Mary found their soul mates in each other. I think on that day when they looked across the table or the yard or the court or wherever it took place, and their eyes met, maybe not even for the first time, I think they knew. There was something more than attraction that drew them together.

I think part of that attraction was the depth of each other's faith. Faithful people look for faithful people. They are attracted to that quality as well as all those other things that attract us to each other.

And I think every one of the events that we see as troubles, obstacles and tribulation you whatever you want to call it, actually worked to deepen their love for each other and their love for God. You see, they only overcame those obstacles because they faced them together. With each other and with God.

D. FAITH: And fourth, Mary and Joseph both had a deep faith in God. Faith that God would fulfill God's promises. Faith that God would be with them. Faith that God would provide no matter what the problem. They held a deep faith in God.

In the movie Evelyn, based on a true story, Pierce Brosnan portrays Desmond Doyle who is in a courtroom battle to overturn one of Ireland's longest-standing family-court laws to win back custody of his children. Doyle is being questioned by the government's attorney about his suitability to have his children, since he is a single father.

The government's attorney belittles and questions Doyle about his fitness to have a family as a single father because Doyle had grabbed and threatened a nun who had beaten his daughter. The lawyer says, "Even as a very dubious kind of Catholic, who finds himself throttling a nun, you must know the fundamental building block of our society is the family. Whose very model is the holy family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. How can you, as a single father and as a Catholic, possibly claim to bring up your children without a mother? There is absolutely no precedent for it in the religion you eligibly believe."

There's a long pause. And the lawyer says: "Cat got your tongue, Mr. Doyle?"

Doyle's thinking and finally responds: "There is. There is a precedent as you like to call it."

"What are you saying?" asks the attorney.

Doyle speaks up saying, "The fundamental building block of our faith is not the holy family, it's the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When my mother died, my father brought us up on his own with only the Holy Spirit to guide him. He used to say the Holy Spirit is love. Doesn't the Holy Bible say 'Faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.' Well I've given up the drink. I've worked all the hours God sends. I've become a better person to try and fill myself with the Holy Spirit so I can bring my kids up surrounded by love. That's all I can do. No man can do more."

The courtroom audience breaks in applause, as judge yells for silence in the court. (He won the case and got his kids back by the way.) (5)

I happen to agree with Doyle's assessment. The fundamental building block of our faith and our family is the Holy Trinity. It's the foundation as well. Mary and Joseph knew, because of their faith, that their marriage was stronger because it wasn't about just two people. There weren't just two partners in their marriage, their were three.


So, what does all this have to do with us. In Ecc 4:12 we read: "And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken."

My wife Mary's hair used to come to her waist and I used to like to watch her braid it. I asked one day why she separated it into three sections instead of two, like I'd seen some other women do. She said something about the braid staying together longer. And it's true. In scouts and in the Coast Guard I learned that rope, woven with three strands, is a whole lot stronger and doesn't ravel as quickly as two strand rope.

It's the same in marriage. When we invite God into the center of our lives and develop a strong faith, it will strengthen our love for each other. When we invite God into the center of our lives, we're more able to pray and worship and open ourselves to take those leaps of faith when we're called upon to trust God.

When we invite God into the center of our lives, the center of our family, the center of our marriage, God becomes that third strand that helps keep everything from unraveling. Not because God promises that trouble won't happen. God never said that. Jesus never promised that.

There was a lawyer trying to console a weeping widow. Her husband had died without a will. "Did the deceased have any last words?" asked the lawyer. "You mean right before he died?" sobbed the widow. The lawyer said, "Yes. They might be helpful if it's not too painful for you to recall."

"Well," she said. "The last thing I heard him say was: 'Blanche, you can't scare me. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with that gun.'" (6)

At the Last Supper, Jesus told the Disciples: "A time is coming, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jn 16:32-33 NIV.

Will there be conflict in our families. Absolutely. "Where two or more are gathered together in His name or not, there's going to be disagreement." Will there be trouble in our lives. Without a doubt. Just like Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble."

What we have to do is remember the second half. "But take heart! I have overcome the world."

When we invite God into the center of our lives, families and marriages, it is Jesus who takes up residence in our hearts through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We are woven and intertwined with the Son of God, our Savior, who has overcome the world. It is Jesus who gives us strength for life.

It is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of the unconditional love of God which we have experienced through Jesus. It is that unconditional love, grace and forgiveness which empowers us to hear as Mary and Joseph heard, trust as Mary and Joseph trusted; enough to take that leap of faith when God calls. And it is that unconditional love that becomes our model for our love for each other.

Mary and Joseph aren't just for Christmas. They are an example for marriage and families everywhere. They are examples of how Faith, Love, Trust and Prayer can help us face and overcome any obstacle that might happen to face. They are examples of how we can do it, together.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July 2000

2. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1997 adapted

3. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), February 1999

4. 2003-2005, All Rights Reserved

5. 2003-2005, All Rights Reserved

6. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), October 1991

Other References Consulted

Barclay, William: Daily Study Bible of the New Testament (WordSearch Bible Software Version)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lights, Camera...Faith by Peter Malone with Rose Pacatte (Daughters of St. Paul, 2002)

Praying the Movies by Edward McNulty, (Geneva Press, Lousville, KY, 2001)

Movie Clips for Kids (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2002)

Bore No More, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 1995 & 1999)

Group's Blockbuster Movie Illustrations, Vols 1 & 2 (Group Publishing, Inc., Loveland, CO, 2001 & 2003)

Movie Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, by Craig Brain Larson and Andrew Zahn(Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)

Videos That Teach: Vols 1-3 by Doug Fields & Eddie James (Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, 2002, 2004)

SermonWriter by Dick Donovan (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000

The Sermon Mall

Deacon Sil's Homiletic Resources

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Ministry and Media

Internet Movie Database's Movie Ministry

The Text This Week Movie Theme Index

The Source For Youth Ministry Movie Clips