Hope for the Lost

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Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

This morning, we are delving deeper into one of my favorite texts in the Bible, the parable of the prodigal son, or as some translations read, the “occasions for celebration.” Because this text is so beloved and familiar, sometimes it is important to come at it from a different angle to attempt to find something new. That’s one of the amazing things about scripture– no matter how familiar we can be with a text, the spirit can lead us to look at text in new ways each time. If you are a visual person, and would like to engage the scripture lesson actively during the sermon, please feel free to color the front of your bulletin using the crayons on tables as you listen as sometimes that can help us experience scripture in a different way. Listen to how raw and filled with emotion the text is. Today, I invite us to think about who this parable for? Which character do I find myself relating to most?

Perhaps the text is so emotional because we have all felt intense joy, experienced failure, grieved for something that was lost, felt jealousy or misery, and have longed for home. In his poem, “Portrait in Nightshade and Delayed Translation,” C. Dale Young, writes about a day at the art gallery which continues to haunt him. Though he describes himself as a stoic, he was moved to unexplained tears in front of Rembrandt’s, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The portrait depicts the prodigal being embraced by his forgiving father, whose hands reach to embrace him. Young writes, “What nerve agent did Rembrandt hide within the dark shades of paint that he used? What inside me had malfunctioned, had left me kneeling and sobbing in a museum?” As he wept a museum guard placed a hand on his shoulder saying, “Just cry, just cry, and free yourself.” The poet confessed he had no idea what brought on such rare emotion. The poet and perhaps all of us, still hasn’t figured out wherever or not he was the lost son or the found. Perhaps the text evokes so much emotion for us because so much is left open ended.  What did the lost son do after the party? Did the lost son still scandalously disrespect his loving father? Did the older son actually go into the party? Did the two brothers ever reconcile? What would the older brother say to the brother who was lost if and when they finally spoke? Perhaps through clenched fists unable to receive or give grace, the brother said something like……..

Brother, if I’m honest, I may never understand you. Don’t you realize how scandalous it was when you asked our father for your share of the inheritance? You basically were telling him, I wish you were dead so I can go ahead and take my share? He should have disowned you then. Brother, why was our family not good enough for you? Do you have any idea how many tears our Father cried for you? I thought the workers were joking when they told me you had come home.  As you came home, dad ran to meet you. By running he brought shame upon himself because as you well know, those with authority do not run in our culture. He fell on your neck as if you are superior to him. Brother, I think it should have been the other way around. By falling at your neck, Dad automatically placed himself at LOWER status than you! As if all this welcoming wasn’t enough, Dad gave you our signet ring! You had already squandered away everything and he was going to give you more? He gave you his shoes and made you master of the house? I can’t believe the nerve you have to even show up back home again after what you did! Are you really sorry or just hungry and needing a place to crash? And what was with your canned, planned confession? Don’t you know that is exactly what Pharaoh said when he wanted Moses to ask God to stop the plagues? Are you even sorry, brother?

Yet after all the shame you brought to our family, Dad still came out told me he killed the fatted calf tonight and to stick around for the party? A fatted calf? Enough to fed one hundred guests? If you ask me, our father wasted grace and a perfectly good fatted calf! Maybe I’m jealous, I never got a party. I deserved one because I’ve been here day after day working in the fields taking care of our land and taking care of our father, religiously living a good life, while you were miles away squandering your inheritance.  Brother, I may never understand you.

Perhaps we can relate. We can feel angry like the older brother or jealous. But in standing outside, the older brother was keeping himself from the party, he was separating himself from his family and his father’s grace. The picture on the front of bulletin shows the older brother standing in the distance. All the extravagant gifts, the ring, shoes, fatted calf, best drinks, could all have been his, too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for anything because he was too busy trying cheerlessly to show his worth and religiously to earn the gifts and grace that his father would have given him freely. He got caught up in his own self-righteousness.

In her article, “Enough about the Older Brother” Emily Heath observes:

“The reality is that both brothers live inside of us, the responsible one and the prodigal one. It is an uneasy coexistence made worse by the reality that neither is perfect, and that both make real mistakes. The dutiful brother’s lack of compassion and grace when his brother returns is indeed worth our attention. But he’s not the only one. Of all the places in our life, church should be the one place where we can all admit that we are sometimes the other brother, too. Even when others admire the highlight reels of our lives, each of us knows that there is a lot sitting back there on the cutting room floor. We need a place where we can say that, and hear it from others too. In Lent we get to be real with God and one another. We get to be honest about the fact that we sometimes disappoint God. The good news is that we also get to hear the truth: God is waiting to come running down the road and welcome us back. Dutiful son, prodigal son, or a little bit of both…God knows us already, and God can’t wait for us to come home.”

To put it another way, God is not content with a party that has empty seats and both sons have a place at God’s table. Jesus doesn’t just eat with sinners, he runs down the road to meet, hugs them fiercely, redeems them, and throws a party.  Even while there are some who may refuse to come in and be among sinners and tax collectors, the grace of God remains all-encompassing and reaches out hoping to reconcile all back to right relationship with God. God’s dancing feet keep wandering past the fence posts out into the fields to meet us there. Friends, God runs to meet us where we are. Turns out, God’s grace is a “portable party” that doesn’t like to be constrained to the boundaries we create—- and friends, the grace of God is exactly what we all need, exactly what saves us, and there is plenty to go around!

So, on a personal level, let’s ask ourselves a few questions. What is keeping you from joining the party? What do you need God’s spirit to help you cultivate? You should have some sticky notes on your table. I’d invite us to consider for ourselves the question: what do you need God’s help to let go of, and write our answers on sticky notes.

What do you need to let go of in order to join the party? What do you need to leave at the cross in order to reconcile your relationship with God and your relationships with your neighbors? Like the brothers in parable, do you need to let go of selfishness? Of hoarding grace? Of keeping score or jealousy? The fear of not having enough love from God to go around? Of competitiveness or anger? Or is something else entirely keeping you from fully trusting in God’s grace? For me, I let my excessive worrying get in the way. I fear not being good enough or I fear and worry about the future. I need to let go of the need to be perfect. If you are like me, you may need multiple sticky notes, so I encourage you to use what is needed. If deeply personal, you can write, “God knows.”

A little later in the service we will sing, “Change my Heart, Oh God,” during the song, I’d encourage a representative from each table take your table’s sticky notes and leave them on cross. I invite you now to spend a few moments pondering. What are we carrying that prevents us from fully celebrating God’s grace? Friends, what do you need to let go of? Amen.

 

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Lent: Cultivating and Letting Go

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Matthew 6:1-6 Common English Bible (CEB)

Showy religion

“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Showy prayer

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

Showy fasting

16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Earthly and heavenly treasures

19 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Tonight marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. These forty days (not including Sundays) before the glorious Easter morning resurrection challenge us to stop—to slow down. Lent is a season for intentional reflection, penitence, and self-denial—of owning our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness. Lent is a bit like spring cleaning, it’s not something we by human nature like to think about or do, but something that is good for us nonetheless. These forty days can be a time of spiritual spring cleaning designated to expose the parts of our imperfect humanity that we would rather not delve into and that would we rather store in our closest.  Lent is a time when God helps us work on our stuff.

Throughout Lent, we are using Sanctified Arts Resources and mediating on the theme “Cultivating and Letting Go.” Some of us may let go of things for Lent like sweets, swearing, or social media. Some may let go of anger or resentment—-others may let go of envy or anxiousness. Others may let go of never feeling that they are enough.

What does our text challenge us to let go of during this Lenten season? Jesus wants people to let go of only going through the motions of a showy faith. Jesus challenges us to stop doing religious things just for the sake of putting on a show and drawing attention to ourselves in order to gain praise from others. If we seek to show others just how religious we are, we are missing the mark. If we pray for the sake of show, we are missing the point. If we let our treasures rule our hearts, we are missing the point. Perhaps for Lent, we let go of intentions and things that lead our hearts away from God. What will you intentionally let go of this Lenten season?

On the other side of the coin, we are challenged to cultivate our faith during Lent as well. During Lent, some nurture additional postures or spiritual practices to draw closer to God—whenever through reading an extra devotional, participating in Lenten photo challenges, or engaging in a new spiritual practice. During our spiritual spring cleaning of Lent, let’s also celebrate ways we can draw closer to God and nurture our faith.

How does our text challenge us to cultivate our Christian faith? Jesus challenges listeners to help others through almsgiving and works of love and mercy. What is one way you can love your neighbor better during Lent? Our text also reminds us the importance of realigning ourselves with God through intentional and frequent prayer. May our season of Lent be a season of intentional spiritual growth through engaging God in prayer. What will you intentionally cultivate this Lenten season?

How might reflecting on Ash Wednesday begin our Lenten journeys of cultivating and letting go?  Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber gives an image highlighting the meaning of Ash Wednesday which was helpful to me in my reflecting and I hope will be helpful for you as well. She describes our lives as a long scarf, with our baptism at one end and our death at the other end. We do not know and cannot predict the distance between our baptism and death. Ash Wednesday pinches the scarf and then holds it up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future brush together with each other and collide with the promises of God. She says that, “with these ashes it is as though the water and words from our baptismal past plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the future to meet us here today. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God.”

During the imposition of ashes, we will all be reminded the truth of our mortality, you are dust and to dust you will return.  Today reminds us that we all are called to let go of our sins. Ash Wednesday also reminds us just how much we are all in need of God’s forgiveness……but we are also held in God’s promises that even in death, we belong to God.

Ash Wednesday begins the forty days of looking inward and reckoning with our own selfish wishes, biases, and sins—while willingly looking outward to a world we may not be accustomed to seeing and serving. Ash Wednesday, specifically, reminds us of our bodies’ frailties and our mortality. Our scripture text tells us to store our treasures in heaven. Today reminds us of just how limited our time on earth is and invites us to reflect upon how we might better use that time; how might we use our days to share God’s love? How we might better store up and use our treasures?

Listen to poet Sarah Are’s reflections on Ash Wednesday:

“Thumb to forehead, that’s how this begins- A thin dust reminder that life, in time, ends.

So how do I want to spend my days?

How do I live a life that weighs heavy with love and heavy with truth-?

Heavy with memories of laughter and you?

And is that what matters, at the end of the day?

Or is it justice and peace and the sound of your name?

Thumb to forehead. Remind me again.

That this precious life begins and ends.

And like the trees in autumn, may I learn to let go, making room in my heart for a new kind of growth.

A change in seasons, a change in me. Thumb to forehead. Let it be.”

Friends, how might we be more open to discovering how God seeks to challenge us throughout this Lenten season? How is God challenging you to grow in your faith during these forty days? What actions, treasures, or spiritual practices will you cultivate this Lent? What is God challenging you to let go of? What treasures might you let go of? May we all make space as we let go and open our hearts—–allowing God to work on us and begin to drastically transform us during Lent.  Amen.

Lenten Photo Challenge from Rethink Church: http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/easter/2019-lent-photo-a-day?fbclid=IwAR3NaSWAQOj-KhoOaKzY4Ga1W7GhH4eZ6VEYz9FvwXR0D5ye24kdP7tBl9k

Upside Down Love

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We are still in the season of Epiphany, a season of the ongoing revelation of who Christ is, what he stands for, and what it looks like to follow him. One may ask, who is this Jesus who levels the plain? Curious potential Christ followers gathered to hear more about Jesus and what we find in today’s text is a new message which turns our understanding of love upside down.

Before we come to today’s scripture lesson, I have a crucial disclaimer. As Dan mentioned last week, today once again only Jesus can preach part two of the sermon on the plain without hypocrisy and only Jesus alone. We can try, but human beings mess this up. As rabbi, Jonathan Swift observes, “we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Perhaps as we read the continuation of the sermon on the plain, you might see why Jesus is the sole preacher who can preach such bold and challenging words with integrity.

Luke 6:27-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Love for Enemies

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Do you remember the first person in your life who acted with so much malice towards you that you looked at them and realized they were your enemy? Someone who perhaps for no reason at all sought out to hurt you? One day during 1st grade recess, I was innocently playing with my best friend Halima, beside the monkey bars. Out of the blue, and for no real reason at all, a group of about three other classmates came over with their buckets filled with playground sand and dumped them on our heads as they explained, “You two are weird!” Friends, I’ll confess to you, that my immediate response was not to love them. The natural scripted response would be to dump a bucket of sand on their heads as well. Our enemies may look different throughout the years but one thing remains true, Jesus’ call of loving our enemies is a radical challenge and hard to do. I’ll confess that I more often than I’d like to admit have a hard time even beginning to love my enemies. But perhaps if we think about it, we might all be someone’s enemy—either intentionally or unintentionally. If we could spread love as quickly as we spread hate and negativity, what an amazing world we would live in.

Various translations of today’s text begin differently…I can appreciate these two “But those who are ready to listen or to you who are ready for the truth—love your enemies.” After giving a few examples of how this could look, Jesus poses the challenge again. Listeners are challenged not only once in the passage, but twice to love our enemies and not to let enemies bring out the worst in us. You can almost imagine Jesus’ first listeners thinking, “What?? You lost me again Jesus. Pray for my enemies? And love them? Really, Jesus?” Forgiveness and treating our enemies the way we want to be treated can be enormous challenges.

Love your enemies—if anyone has got this down it is Jesus. Through his life and ministry Jesus shows us how to live out this radical challenge. Even on the cross, Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” This is a radically different type of love. Jesus’ teachings take all we think we know about love and how enemies should be treated and turn it all topsy-turvy and upside down. The upside down love Jesus challenges his followers to live by is radical, non-judgmental, counter-intuitive, and knows no limits. If we choose to follow Christ, we choose to strive to live a life such that we are not to do to others as they do to us but as we would WANT them to do to us.

Friends, a common theme revealed in Jesus’ sermon on the plain is that following Jesus is costly and involves risk however, love and compassion are at the center of the gospel. As if Jesus’ statement to love enemies wasn’t radical enough, he also encourages his followers to forgive and not to judge others. Theologian Fred Craddock writes, “Christian behavior and relationships are prompted by the God we worship who does not react—but acts in love and grace toward all. This is what it means to be children of God.” Friends, like the rain that falls upon the good and the evil alike, so the love of God extends to all without exception.

A NPR podcasts, “Invisibilia” recently produced an episode which explores what happens when someone flips the script, and does the exact opposite of what their natural instinct might tell them to do in any given situation.  The podcast acknowledges that human behavior often reflects an eye for an eye mentality. So when someone is hostile to you, you are typically hostile back. Warmth begets warmth. And breaking this pattern – say, being really warm to somebody after they’ve been incredibly hostile to you – that is non-complementary behavior. The podcast explores non-complementary behavior and how this behavioral mindset can radically transform and completely turn a situation upside down.

Here’s just one example that podcast used. One summer evening a group of friends were having a party in one of their backyards. Suddenly someone shows up out of nowhere and puts a gun to one of their heads and shouted, “Give me your money!” Only there is one problem—the group of friends didn’t have any cash and knew the situation could go south quickly. First they tried to reason with the robber, asking him to think about how he might end up getting punished for robbing them—but to no avail. Until one person in the group flipped the script, did something unexpected, and simply tried to see the robber as a person and asked him if he wanted something the group of friends had on hand, a glass of wine. Immediately the robber’s face changed, he was puzzled, this was not the results he had expected. Yet, the gun came down, he accepted their offer and his response was, “my goodness, this is a good glass of wine.” And then one of the friends recalls him saying the strangest thing, “can I get a hug? He hugged him. Then he said, can we have a group hug? And so everyone got up and formed a circle around the man. And he said, he was sorry.  The robber walked away with the glass and when he was done later returned glass—gently placing it on the front porch.

Following Jesus challenges us to turn our understanding of love upside down, it challenges us to engage in non-complementary behavior. Jesus is not telling people to remain victims but to find new ways of resisting evil. “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you”, was the ethic that moved Martin Luther King Jr. to kneel down with so many civil rights activists before water hoses and snarling police dogs. Many people thought his non-violent approach was crazy. Only violence can combat violence, they told him. But King was determined to try to live out the words of Jesus’ sermon and show unexpected love to those who acted as his enemies. King followed Jesus’ words and Paul’s words in Romans, “do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” But the authorities didn’t know what to do with this kind of resistance. They knew the power of using violence to stop violence, but this was a kind of flipping the script and not paying back anyone their evil actions with evil actions was not expected.

Following Jesus involves radical counter-intuitive posture that is capable of turning how we view love, upside down. While this posture of love is extremely difficult and I fail at loving my enemies consistently, it still remains important to keep challenging ourselves as we live out our faith—-to keep allowing Christ to transform our hearts and our relationships—to take the hard steps needed to follow Jesus a little better with each new day. This takes time.

Take a moment and think of someone or perhaps something that is your enemy. What little steps might we take to flip the script, to follow Christ’s example and turn love upside? As we follow Christ, how can we better engage in upside down love which is radical, non-judgmental, counter-intuitive, and knows no limits? How can we let following Jesus open our eyes to God’s expansive love and turn our understanding of love upside down? Friends, following Jesus’ call to love our enemies is a hard challenge, but perhaps we can allow God to guide us and start with even the smallest steps. Even if I’m only able to begin to see my enemy as a child of God, or can only murmur a one sentence prayer for them. Upside Down Love looks like inviting our enemies to join the celebration, handing them a glass of wine (or a cup of grape juice) and a hunk of bread, saying ‘This is Christ’s body and blood, broken and poured out for you. Amen.

Jesus’ Mission Today

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Luke 4: 14-21

An extraordinary Sabbath day started out like any other day, a day for Jewish people to gather in synagogue and worship.  Per Jewish custom, worshipers have engaged in prayer, heard the law read, and are now at the point of their synagogue service when a volunteer reads from the prophets. Only today, an extraordinary worshiper volunteered. Though the scroll of Isaiah was given to him, Jesus chooses what verses to read from the scripture. The Messianic text Jesus reads from Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 61: 1-2 takes place in the context of post-exilic Isaiah when the people are returning from captivity with a spirit of hopefulness. The words are profoundly powerful- the words offer people a better way. Then Jesus sits down, in Jewish custom once the speaker sits down that cues the worshipers in to begin to engage in the tradition of Midrash, in sacred conversation. The speaker would apply the text read from prophets, to the religious, political, and ethnics of the day. All eyes are fixed on Jesus. Where will he go with this prophetic text?  He says, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus identifies his purpose in one of the shortest sermons ever recorded. What does this mean for Jesus to say this has been fulfilled today? Through such words, Jesus states very clearly why he has come to be among the people.

Theologian and author, Karoline Lewis observes, “Jesus’ sermon in his hometown of Nazareth is not only a life-changing sermon; it is a life-changing act. God has now entered the world as flesh so that no human can be overlooked. No one can be left in a place of oppression. No one is unworthy of God’s good news.” Jesus’ mission statement is at the core of liberation theology–the belief that Jesus in fact came to the world to bring justice, peace, and reconciliation. Throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ purpose of fulfilling the scripture from Isaiah continues. He proclaims through his words and actions that good news will be brought to the poor, he heals the blinds, and eats with the outcast. Jesus proclaims a ministry of liberation and justice, which cannot wait any longer and has a strong sense of urgency. His purpose was fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry. Christ’s purpose and reason for being very clearly proclaims to the masses that now is always the time to release the captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, proclaim year of the Lord’s favor.

Imagine being in the crowd and hearing Jesus’ purpose proclaimed for the first time.  How might you respond? Ruth Ann Reese, professor of New Testament at Asbury seminary writes, “We can imagine a hometown congregation filled with all the characters of the village- rich and poor, seeing and blind, oppressed and oppressor- and wonder what this liberation looked like for them. Did they anticipate the good news would come first to the poor, the prisoner, and the oppressed? Or did they think it would come first for those with inside connections, the rich, and the religious? Yet, Jesus offers them good news. Will they hear it and receive it as good news to be shared with all, especially the vulnerable? Or will they hear it and hope that is a message for them alone?” How do we hear Jesus’ declaration of his mission statement, ministry goals, and ultimate purpose of choosing to come among us in such a messy world, today?

The Public Religion Research Center recently surveyed church goers and discovered that many churchgoers fear the present, as a collective group, we fear today. The survey revealed church goers have high levels of anxiety and nostalgia. According to the survey, people who go to church have nostalgia and some might even believe that “our best days are behind us.’ Several believe that the future of society and future of church is bleak. Perhaps our added anxiety comes from living in a world, among a culture which is such a place of much unrest.  Perhaps it is because we live in a messy world and we are not certain what possibilities the future may hold. Perhaps, but friends, if we are focusing on Jesus’ mission statement, we are called to embrace the power and importance of today. Today is not merely a space to mourn the loss of the past and fear what we cannot imagine. Today is a space to grow in our faith, to engage in creative ministry, to proclaim hope, and to listen for new ways the Spirit might be revealing ideas in our midst.

Theologian and author Diana Butler- Bass speaks of the power of today. She points out that the word, ‘today’ is a “Deeply dangerous spiritual reality- because today insists that we lay aside both our memories and dreams to embrace fully the moment of now. The past romanticizes the work of our ancestors; the future scans the horizons of our descendants and depends on them to fix everything. But “today” places us in the midst of the sacred drama, reminding us that we are actors and agents in God’s desire work for the world. ‘Today’ is the most radical thing Jesus ever said.”

What is the Spirit saying to us in this moment; today on January 27th 2019?  How do we understand the text Jesus reads from Isaiah as being fulfilled when so much suffering exists in the world? Who are the poor among us who need to hear the good news? Who are the oppressed among us who need to be freed? How is Jesus still bringing good news to the poor, today, proclaiming freedom to oppressed, today, bringing sight and renewed vision where darkness has too long prevailed, today? How can we response to the call to be among those who follow to join in his work of healing, liberation, and grace? We are called to continually strive to follow Jesus’ mission “today.” And today, Jesus’ mission remains the same.

Friends, there is an immediacy to Jesus’ mission, there is an immediacy given to Jesus’ first public prophetic word, today, and too often the prophetic word is followed by those who might answer, well maybe tomorrow or let’s simply wait. History is full of examples of how people of the faith have been tragically too slow to embrace the cries of the prophets or the opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

So how can we emulate Jesus’ mission statement, today?  Perhaps we do so a little bit every day. Small acts of kindness can go a long way. We can befriend those who are poor in spirit or those who are lonely through compassionate conversation. Through partnerships with organizations like International Justice Mission, we can help captives be set free. We can actively speak out against injustices in the world. During most recent government shutdown, as federal workers were furloughed, others sought out ways to help offer support. From free meals to collecting gas and VISA gift cards, people were willing to help.

How might we push through feelings that we can’t even begin to try to follow Jesus’ mission? Another lectionary text for today includes 1 Corinthians 12, and verses 24-26, “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” Each member of the body has different gifts and we don’t have to try to live out Jesus’ mission alone. Some among us ask the hard questions of society, some among us are patient listeners, some are able to see both sides of every disagreement, some are called to work to share compassion in the justice system, others are teachers or mentors of children, and each of us have spiritual gifts. We not only have examples in the Gospels of ways Jesus lives out his mission, we never have to try to live out Jesus’ mission statement alone. When one person suffers, we all suffer together, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice together. So when one oppressed person is freed and treated with welcomed dignity and given a place at the table, the body of Christ is stronger.  To be so moved by the Spirit is a cause for celebration because it demonstrates the reconciliation won for us in Christ, the Scripture fulfilled in our hearing.

Friends, Jesus is very clear what his mission and purpose is in today’s scripture. His concise sermon remains as clear, poignant, and urgent as ever. Today, what we need is present in Christ. Luke’s gospel continues to show ways Jesus lived out his mission statement. The pages of Luke’s gospel are filled with Jesus teaching, interacting with, and sharing good news with the poor in body or in spirit. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes God’s transforming favor for the material poor. The pages are filled with countless examples of Jesus giving sight to the blind and healing people in body and circumstance and of Jesus living out his mission.

How might we strive to better follow Jesus’ example and Jesus’ mission statement–today? Amen.

Star of Wonder

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What comes to mind when you hear the word, “wonder?”  As we embark on new journeys throughout a New Year, we may wonder what 2019 will hold. We may wonder how things might shift in coming year. We may wonder at new ways God might be at work in our lives and where God might be leading us. Even when the story might be familiar, we are called to approach scripture with a sense of awe and wonder.

Matthew 2:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men a from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Today, even though yesterday was the 12th day of Christmastide, we are still celebrating the glorious news of Christ’s birth. Who still has their trees up? Growing up I was taught that trees should be left up through Russian Christmas, or at least Epiphany. Epiphany happens every year on January 6th, but it doesn’t always fall on a Sunday. Admittedly, pastors tend to geek out a bit when it does. Today we celebrate Epiphany which marks the arrival of the magi from the East, probably around the time Jesus was a toddler. Someone once defined an Epiphany as a moment “when the jagged pieces of life come together to define us;” in case of our text the jagged pieces of ancient prophecies come together in Christ’s birth. An epiphany is often an intense revelation mixed with an invitation to wonder and the celebration of Epiphany by its nature stirs up wonder within us.

One point of wonderment in our text is the star. Since humankind started looking towards the night skies, stars have been a source of wonder.  On cold nights when the wind brings a crisp sense to the night air, as we look at the billions of stars in the night sky, we are awestruck with wonder. We ask many questions: how many stars are there? How vast is our universe? Might there by other life forms? People dedicate lives to studying stars.

The magi in our text were people who studied the stars. These Gentile magi astrologers, possible Zoroastrians, came from the East, perhaps from around the area of modern day Turkey. They not only studied the stars, but they assigned a particular meaning to how the stars and planets moved across the night sky. The magi recognized the appearance of a new star was a big deal, so they made some calculations and assumptions and set out on their journey to follow the star of wonder. Much of their identity remains a point of wondering but here’s what we know about them. Though in the hymn we sing “We Three Kings,” They were instead magi from the East, not kings. In fact, the only kings referred to in passage are Herod and Jesus. Our text also never mentions how many magi there were.  The idea of three magi was added over five hundred years later. The wise magi followed the star and appeared with gifts for Jesus and his family, which is what one theologian labels as the “first baby shower.” When the magi show up to pay homage to Jesus, Gentiles became part of the Jesus’ story.

Wonder can also disrupt our lives and direct us down a completely unexpected path.  The magi left their homes as they traveled probably well over a thousand miles. They took a chance of something they didn’t completely understand. They set out without knowing exactly where they would end up or what they would see. They traveled purposefully towards an as-yet-unknown and vague destination.

The magi eventually reach Herod, who is caught completely off guard—he had no idea this threat to his rule was growing right under his nose. Wonder disrupted Herod’s life.  Herod was already in the habit of trying to eliminate all threats within his own palace. He had a reputation for assassinating anyone who he thought might overthrow him and take his power away, include his own sons. The birth of a promised Messiah would be good news for all who wish to participate in God’s radical inclusive love and grace—but not good news for those who desire power over and against others. The birth of someone who, “shall become a ruler who will shepherd the people” poses quite a threat for the Herods of the world. Be afraid Herod, be very afraid. The world is about to turn, Christ broke into the world to make everything new.

Our text reminds us that the birth of Christ had cosmic, astronomical, and societal importance for ALL people. Epiphany celebrates the nation-encompassing of God’s invitation to be in relationship with not just those in Jerusalem, but those spread throughout distant lands, those who set out in wonderment and seek Christ like the magi. Epiphany reminds us to look UP towards God and OUT towards all creation and people who all are beloved by God.  Perhaps all wonder is an invitation…and invitation into pondering who is this God who came among us and what does God means for our lives. For some, it is a fear, for others, a joy. When the magi arrived at the place where the star was and saw Jesus and his family, they were exceedingly joyful and worshiped Christ. And sometimes, pondering God brings wonder, joy, and fear; simultaneously.

So friends, we must ask ourselves, is there room in our lives for disruption and wonder? Is there room for God to invite us to follow- or to go a different way? Let’s celebrate Epiphany and remember the jagged pieces of our lives should point toward our God. Like the magi, we don’t necessarily know where we will end up when we are drawn by wonder. Wonder leads us to amazement and healing, as well as places beyond our wildest dreams.

In a few moments, I’m going to invite you to make room for wonder as we listen to God and follow Jesus in this New Year through a very particular practice known as “Star Words” or “Star Gifting.” You may have noticed extra baskets this morning as you came in. In these baskets are stars. Each star has a word written on it. The stars are face down because you don’t get to pick your word- the star will, like a wand, choose you in a sense. Think of it as the opposite of a New Year’s Resolution, in which you try to correct some defect in yourself, and receive instead this gift of a word, to carry with you throughout the year. To illuminate your journey; to help guide you as seek new ways to encounter God and share God’s love with neighbors throughout the year. Perhaps consider looking your word up in the dictionary in order to grasp new meaning.  For example, we hear the word grace all the time, but what exactly does it mean?

I invite you to take a star as you come forward for communion. Take it home with you, and put it somewhere you can see it. On your bathroom mirror, near your coffee pot, as a bookmark in your daily devotional, on your computer monitor at work or home, in your workshop or car.  The word on your star may not make sense to you at this point. You may not even like; but watch and wait. After all, we don’t always get a word that makes our hearts sing, but as one of my much younger friend says, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” In some ways, meditating on the words that are more challenging or dissonant can be even more revealing than words that we like, or words that make sense. Sometimes the word we most need to hear is that which we least want to hear. Our challenge is to reflect on the words’ presence in your life throughout this year. It may break in like an epiphany. It may slink in like a barn cat.

As I wrote words on each star, I prayed over each one of these stars-that each star would find its way to precisely the right person, to guide them in the way of Jesus. To challenge them in a new way as they seek to grow in their faith journeys and strive to love God and love neighbor. My hope is that like the star that guided the magi, this word may guide you this year as you share the all-encompassing love and grace of God with all you encounter. We are all challenged and invited to use our words as a chance to reflect on how God speaks to God’s people. What might we learn from one word? What treasured wisdom might resurface?  How might this revelation entail as we seek to participate in God’s call for uprising of justice and the insurgence of grace? May your word surprise you in the best ways, may you wrestle with it and poke at it-and may it poke back at you. May you be filled with wonder and awe as the magi were as you encounter God in new ways. Amen.

Light of Emmanuel

emmanuel

Why does Christmas matter?  In the coming days, we may begin to un-decorate our homes and take down trees.  Perhaps we have gone back to our jobs and school will begin again shortly. Job hunters seeking employment will go back a trying job market.  Families will continue to mourn the loss of loved ones. The lonely family member will go back home to an empty house without the sounds of loved one’s laughter.  To the world, another Christmas which held so much hope and expectation, has come and gone.  We return to every day routines; we return to the world, a world which can be messy and dark.

But friends, Christmas for Christians should make all the difference in the world.  Because of Christmas, we received our Lord and Emmanuel Jesus Christ. Christ, who is fully God and fully man, beginning and end, our Redeemer and Savior, began flesh, like us.  On Christmas, God chose to come live among us in the messiness of world.  Through his birth, Jesus became God with us. Through Christ, light enters the world.  The word of God says despite the darkness in the world; even the depth of gloom and darkness will not have the final say.

Our text this morning comes from John 1:1-14. This prologue to John’s gospel serves a highly theological birth narrative. Unlike Matthew and Luke, there are no shepherds or angels. The writer uses deliberate poetic voice to speak about Jesus’ coming into the world. Hear these words….

John 1:1-14 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The Word of Life

In the beginning was the one
who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
and was truly God.
From the very beginning
the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
God created all things.
Nothing was made
without the Word.
Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
and his life gave light
to everyone.
The light keeps shining
in the dark,
and darkness has never
put it out.[a]
God sent a man named John,
    who came to tell
about the light
and to lead all people
to have faith.
John wasn’t that light.
He came only to tell
about the light.

The true light that shines
on everyone
was coming into the world.
10 The Word was in the world,
but no one knew him,
though God had made the world
with his Word.
11 He came into his own world,
but his own nation
did not welcome him.
12 Yet some people accepted him
and put their faith in him.
So he gave them the right
to be the children of God.
13 They were not God’s children
by nature
or because
of any human desires.
God himself was the one
who made them his children.

14 The Word became
a human being
and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory,
the glory of the only Son
of the Father.
From him all the kindness
and all the truth of God
have come down to us.

Advent, the season of waiting for the promised savior, is over.  Our Savior has come.  However, the season of remembering God is with us has just begun.  Christ has broken into the darkness of our world.  Christ, our light and life, conquers darkness and death. Friends, God is not only with us when the Christmas decorations are up, God remains with us throughout the year.  Our text reminds us the good news of Christmas that Jesus is the light of the world and the presence of God shinning throughout the world.

For Christians, it makes all the difference in the world, that Jesus became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word order in our text may seem confusing in the English translation.  The Greek captures the true oneness the Trinity in a profound way and can be translated, “what God was, the Word (Christ) was.” One of my former seminary professors, Dr. Andrew Purves, constantly reminded students that there is no God hidden behind the back of Jesus. Therefore, as we see and encounter Jesus, we see and encounter God. What would the world look like today if Christ would have not become flesh?  We would be lost to the darkness of sin and we would possibly worship Gods who seem distant and cosmic.  Thankfully, Christ did come, Christmas did happen, and we are able to relate to God through Jesus.  Is it important to remember that Christ came to save us from our sins?  Yes, but Christ also came to be in relationship with humankind.

The Message’s translation of John 1:14 captures Jesus’ mission to relate to us.  John 1:14 reads, “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhoods.”  God in Christ, sought out humankind.  He heals the sick and eats with sinners. Jesus, in the flesh, is in the presence of the unclean and untouchable.  He speaks to outcasts. God through Christ, knows what it is like to cry and have deep ranges of emotion. He knows what it is like to lose a loved one. He knows what it is like to be rejected. God desires to be in relationship with us, so Christ came into the world not only to save us from our sins, but to dwell in our neighborhoods.  In his piece, God is in the Manger, Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, comfort in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

Sometimes, trying to comprehend why God would choose to become like us is difficult.  As a lover of music, I whole heartedly agree with the quote, “when words fail, music speaks.”  Later in our worship service we will sing one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “Once in Royal David City.”  The hymn, originally a poem by the Irish poet and hymn writer, Cecil Alexander, captures many theological points in few words.  Listen to the words of hymn: “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and His shelter was a stable and His cradle was a stall: with the poor and mean, and lowly lived on earth a savior holy…Jesus is our childhood pattern, day by day like us He grew. He was little, meek, and helpless, tears and smiles like us, He knew. And He cares when we are sad and He shares when we are glad.”

So then how are we challenged to response to the knowledge that Christ is the light? Because Jesus is our childhood pattern; we are called to live our lives in ways which point to Christ and share the light of Christ with others.  Within the first chapter of John’s gospel, our text points out a person who pointed to the true light found only in Jesus Christ.  John, the Baptist, is recorded in John’s gospel as the one who bears witness to the light of Christ.  The gospel writer makes it clear that John, himself, is not the light, but John is sent to testify and bear witness to the light of Christ.  As Christians we are called to bear witness to the light of Christ in our lives and share the light of Christ with others through our words and deeds.

I have encountered many Christians who have the light of Christ in their lives and who share that light with others.  Like John, they bear witness to the true light, Jesus.  While worshiping at a small Presbyterian church outside of Pittsburgh during my field education, not a Sunday went by without me receiving a hug from Henry, one of the patriarchs of the congregation. If you opted out of receiving a hug, Henry still said, “God bless you and we love you.” Henry’s love for others was evident as he bore witness to the light of Christ in the community and as he welcomed everyone to worship through greeting them. Think for a minute about those in your life who have shown the love of Christ to you.  From Sunday school teachers who became adopted grandparents, to scout leaders who influenced us in subtle ways, to a friend who offers comfort in a time of need, all of these people have the light of Christ in them.

Christmas is about God’s love. In the Christmas classic, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, the jolly ghost of Christmas present sings a melody and encourages Scrooge to find the love behind Christmas.  Listen to some words from “It Feels like Christmas.”

“It’s in the singing of a street corner choir
It’s going home and getting warm by the fire
It’s true, wherever you find love
It feels like Christmas
A cup of kindness that we share with another
A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother
In all the places you find love
It feels like Christmas
It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the spirit
The message, if we hear it
Is make it last all year.”      

How can you share the light of Christ with others during the new year? How can you show people that Christmas does not end after December 25th?  How can you show others that God is and will always be with us?  As we come alongside others to bear witness to Christ’s light in the world, we do not want to be like blinking Christmas lights, only shinning when it is convenient for us. Christ calls us to be constantly shinning our lights, and constantly bearing witness to His light and presence in the world. How can you come alongside those who need to experience the love and light of Christ and bear witness with your actions and deeds?

Civil rights leader and theologian, Howard Thurman speaks to how Christians are called to response to the work of Christmas in his poem, “The Work of Christmas.” Listen to his words:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.”

Jesus shows us how to love others through his ministry- he shows us the blueprint for continuing the work of Christmas. Sometimes, all that is needed is a prayer of encouragement.  Sometimes, the continue work of Christmas means being present with those undergoing life’s storms.

Life still remains messy and complicated. Being Christians does not mean things are easy for us, but it does mean Emmanuel. God is with us. God desires to be in relationship with us, and chooses to be with us. God in Christ, pitched His tent among humankind and knows our trials.  God is with the teachers and students who are getting ready to go back to school.  God is with the job seekers as they search for employment.  God in Christ sits at every hospital bedside.  Christ becomes a constant companion for the those separated from family. God in Christ holds those who are mourning close, and wipes their tears away.  The storms of life may continue to churn but because of Emmanuel, God is constantly with us during those storms.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, and the darkness will never overcome it. Amen.

Prepare the Way for Peace

John the Baptist’s message

In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler[a] over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler[b] over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler[c] over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

A voice crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.[d]

Earlier in the service, we lit the candle of Peace. In one particular Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally are talking about peace, along with the uncertainty of life and all the craziness life can entail. Sally proudly proclaims that she has inner peace, but still appears to be really restless. As the comic strip continues, something sets Sally on a rant and she begins raving to her brother, “I hate everything! I hate the world!” Charlie Brown trying to calm her down, stops her. “I thought you had inner peace,” he says. To which Sally woefully responses, “I do, but I still have outer obnoxious-ness!” It is all too easy to identify with Sally, isn’t it? We have many “outer- obnoxious-ness” in our lives.  How can we prepare the way for peace this Advent season, even amidst all of our “outer-obnoxious-ness”?

In the midst of the Advent season, our text this morning cries out using Isaiah’s words to, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  Think about the last time you prepared for something, perhaps a work or school project, a party, or a meal for guests. What did you do to prepare? Often times when we are preparing for something, we tend to want to plan ahead, to make to-do lists. When we are planning meticulously and preparing, we care enough about the tasks at hand to want to get our preparations exactly correct. Over the course of the Advent season as we prepare, let us bring the same eagerness to our anticipation of Christ’s coming.

Christian author, Handel Brown writes, “Christmas has lost its meaning for us because we have lost the spirit of expectancy. We cannot prepare for an observance. We must prepare for an experience.” Just as we take time to pull Christmas decorations out of our attics and we carefully prepare to place ornaments on our trees (and in some homes we re-hang ornaments on the tree multiple times after cats knock them off), just as we take time to make our shopping lists and to double check them twice, just as we take time to prepare holiday meals; we are called to create a space to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.  Preparing our hearts to receive Christ is at the very heart of the Advent season.

John the Baptist was born to anticipate and prepare. John, the voice crying out in the wilderness, was charge to prepare the way before the Lord, to prepare the way for peace. While many powerful people are mentioned at the beginning of our text, it is seemingly insignificant John, the son of Zechariah, a temple priest, who has a call to proclaim and help others prepare the way for the Lord. The writer of Luke took special care to remind us that John the Baptist was called to deliver a message, a call which occurred smack in the middle of world events, at a very particular time and a very particular place. As he does in other places throughout the text, Luke, a writer with a historian mind-set, places the events of Christ’s life in historical context and provides us with a rich background to portray John as prophet who worked and spoke in the real world of human authorities.

We don’t get the words of John’s proclamation in today’s passage, stay tuned for Dan’s sermon on John’s words and counsel next Sunday. What we can infer from our passage today is John the Baptist is charged with preparing the way and anticipating the ministry of Christ; to proclaim baptism and to get people ready to see Christ’s ministry and hear Christ’s teachings.  To wait and see, to get people ready for Christ’s unique peace. A peace saving people from the darkness of their sins—bringing indescribable peace through an unlikely cross. A savior who brings peace through mercy and forgiveness and who shows us all glimpses of peace with every new day—if we are paying attention. A savior who gives us peace in knowing that salvation is offered and a savior who makes, “every mountain and hill made low.”

So what does all this mean for us as we prepare for Christ’s coming and Christ’s peace today? Advent suggest that God seems to want us to wait. Waiting for Christ in Advent is hard. God seems to expect expectation. What does this level of preparation and peace look like? Especially when we don’t have to look too far to be hit with our “outer-obnoxious-ness.” What must we do to prepare the way for the Lord?

Preparation for the coming of Christ happens not only when Tiberius was emperor but also December 9, 2018. In this second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when Ralph Northam serves as Governor of Virginia, Pope Francis occupies the Vatican, and just a month after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, as National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend begins this Thursday, and as the Yemen food crisis continues. While war, struggle, and heartache occur in many places, we are called to be prepared and to celebrate joyfully ‘a child, a son, a Prince of Peace given to us’—not in spite of all that is horrible, dangerous, or distressing about the world around us, but precisely because of it.

But perhaps we should bring it to more personal level—-what does anticipation and preparation for the Lord look like for me? What does it look like for you? How do we feel when we hear that it’s time to prepare? Nervous? Excited? Ecstatic? Anxious? Ponderous? Peaceful? Overwhelmed? What do the words of Advent, hope, peace, love, joy, provoke you to do in preparation? What are you looking forward to? Advent preparation is similar to the refining and redefining process. Do we feel like we are refining ourselves during Advent? Which practices prepare you the most for the coming of Christ? I’m partial to singing, it feels emotionally connected and yet mysterious. Singing also brings to light why anticipation can be so emotional as we connect with and pray the lyrics of songs. Another practice we use to prepare is the advent wreath- each candle connecting us to a specific theme as we prepare. How else can we prepare for Christ and what characteristics are needed?  Advent preparation is attentive and intentional. Advent preparation is about creating moments to be still, to pray, and experience God’s peace.  As author, Bill McKibben writes, “Advent is the time to listen for footsteps of God – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.”  Advent preparation calls us to the challenge of striving to work alongside others to make God’s salvation and peace known to all humankind.

Preparing the way for Christ and for peace in a busy world filled with turmoil can be as hard as trying to build a sandcastle close to the spot where the waves of life crash at the water’s edge. There’s always the chance that some outer-obnoxious-ness will come along and shake things up and tear down our carefully built peace castles. Poet, Sarah Are, addresses what to do when such a shakeup happens through a beautiful poem in our “Draw Near” devotionals. Listen to her words:

“Truth is like sand-

Slipping through my fingers

Every time I turn on the news.

So day after day, I gather the dust at my feet

And build sand castles of the world I want to see-

Sand castle cities with fair housing, no walls,

Families united and a name like Love.

And when the waves threaten to tear them down,

I will rebuild.

For the truest thing I know is that

God is love,

And love is strong than fear.

So at the end of the day, if you need me,

I’ll be taking sand-soaked alternative truths

And turning them into sand castles of a better world-

A world rooted in love,

Which I will keep building

Until “love,” and “truth” and “God” all sound like

Synonyms.”

Friends, preparing the way for Christ to work and preparing space for God peace, can often be hard and messy work as we are crowded by outer-obnoxious-ness. But such preparations are important work we are all called to engage this season of Advent; to proactively, and expectantly prepare, to proclaim peace among mess, and to proclaim the salvation that the Lord gives us. Let us approach Christmas with an expectant hush, rather than a last-minute rush. As we ponder the peace of Christ and prepare, let us live in the moment that believes such promise is possible that all flesh will see the salvation of God. Wait for it. Wait for Christ’s peace. Amen.

 

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