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Messengers: A Sermon for Advent 2
December 11, 2017, 9:46 am
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 1:1-8

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today we read of John the Baptist crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The Gospel interprets John as fulfilling the promise written in Isaiah, that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for God’s coming into the world. Get ready! God is coming!

In this season of Advent, we are busy preparing for Christmas, when we will celebrate that God enters human creation in Jesus’ birth. We also look for Jesus to come into our lives and our world. We look forward to Jesus transforming the way things are today into the way God intends for them to be. Advent is a time to prepare for and celebrate God’s arrival, remember those times we’ve known God’s presence, and look forward to becoming more fully aware of God with us always.

John the Baptist is called a messenger of God. His message is that someone powerful is coming, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. His message is meant to encourage people to get ready for this new one who is coming. They get ready by repenting- by turning away from their old way of life and starting on a new path, a path that will more closely align with the way of this new one to come. This inward intention to live a new way starts with an outward ritual. John is washing the people in the river, a baptism for forgiveness. It’s a baptism of preparation, to open the people up for a new message, God’s word, embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one for whom the people are being prepared.

The gospel describes John as something of a spectacle, with a strange uniform and diet. That might be part of the draw- his different way of life. He appears out in the wilderness, away from the confines of society, in the wild lands where people have traditionally met and been guided by God. Any of you who go hunting or hiking may have experienced the openness to greater spiritual awareness that can come out in the wild. He was something different to see, and some of those who came out to hear him were affected and changed by his message. His persona made him an effective messenger of God.

When I think of my own life, however, it’s not the flashy people who have been the most effective messengers of God, but most often, those who simply shared their lives and their love- and in the context of those relationships, have shared their faith.

I always think first of my Grams. For much of my childhood, we lived just a few blocks away from my grandmother. It’s her church present in my earliest memories: the stained glass praying Jesus, embossed ceiling tiles, friendly Pastor June, and basement poles to swing around. I can still picture letters on her kitchen table. She was the sunshine person at her church, sending birthday cards and God’s love through the mail. She sang hymns with me next to her on the piano bench and brought me with to deliver meals on wheels. In her 80s, she’d accompany the nursing home on outings and push the old people around in their wheelchairs. Hers was a lifelong relationship of influence, showing me the way of God’s love through her own living and loving.

There have also been almost angelic visits from strangers, chance encounters where grace was spoken to me. We were in the cities last fall, as my husband interviewed at a church. I had the girls at a neighborhood playground, checking out the community and trying to wear them out. Grandparents were there with a whole gaggle of little ones. The grandmother sat down next to me with the youngest, a little baby, and began to chat. In the midst of my own uncertainty about my future, and sharing very little about it, this woman simply reflected on the variety of vocations to which God calls us. She didn’t pry into my life or tell me what to do, but offered her perspective. She reflected that too often we feel like we have to do all the things- be everything- right now, at the same time, but perhaps it’s ok to have seasons in life, with a time for everything. She helped me lay aside the pressure I had been feeling in order to be more open to discovering God’s new way forward in my life.

As pastor, it’s been more often the case that people look to me to hear a message of good news than they’ve been eager to share God’s message for me. There was a time when my little church in North Dakota was struggling with simply being really nasty to each other. They were afraid, a lot of change had happened in their community, and they were taking it out on each other- and on me. One morning after I had served everyone communion, I was left standing at the table alone. Then Tom got up. He wasn’t he most steady on his feet anymore, but he took the body of Christ into his callused farmer hands, and he fed me God’s love and promise. He gave me the joy of knowing that God was there for me, too.

These three were messengers of grace- of God’s unending love for me.

Who are God’s messengers in your lives?

If there’s someone you’ve been picturing, who’s been a messenger to you, I hope you take time this season to tell them. Give them the joy of knowing that they’ve been able to do something for you- and for God. Some of our messengers are no longer with us, some have gone into death to be held in God’s promise of resurrection. Have you noticed that we pray in thanksgiving for them every Sunday? We give thanks for the saints who have inspired us and we ask for courage to wait to be reunited again with them. We remember that they have mattered in our lives.

You are God’s messengers today. As a congregation, we’re wondering what evangelism means for us and how we go about doing evangelism. Behind that sometimes scary word is the action of sharing the message- being God’s messengers of good news- within the relationships we already have and the new ones we are growing. It’s living our lives in a way that allows others to come alongside us and see what difference faith makes.

I wonder if you messengers have had the joy of knowing how your message was received? Have you been able to hear how your maybe powerful, maybe clumsy sharing of God’s good news mattered to someone else? Has anyone ever told you what you’ve meant to them, even when you weren’t trying to do anything different? I hope you have heard from those people you’ve affected. From my perspective, I see you making a difference. It’s not up to us to save people, Jesus has already done that, but I know that you are effective in strengthening people in their faith and being an encouraging example of living in the joy of faith. We spread the seeds of faith and trust in God to bring faith to flower.

The goods news we are sharing is that God has arrived and is arriving. God has come into the wilderness areas of our lives, where we have been lost, afraid, and uncertain of the path forward. God has come into the love and feast times of our lives, reveling in our joy. God is here, with a promised future of good for all peoples and all creation.

If calling yourself evangelist or even messenger seems a bit too daunting, you might consider yourself a mentor or a fellow sojourner. We walk the path together, sometimes able to help another along, and at others, needing the guidance of another. We’re not building the way, but we’re following it and helping each other live into it. It’s Jesus’ way, Jesus’ path that we are following.

God’s way is being established. This is the Kingdom of God- the new way of living that welcomes all people, ends violence, brings healing, and ensures that all have what they need to live in dignity and worth. I hear a vision of God’s way in Psalm 85, “Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Faithfulness shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” This is where the path we are following leads: love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace.

Pastor Michelle, who serves over in Superior at Concordia, shared the perfect image for this contemplation of following in God’s way as it’s being made straight and level. She grew up in North Dakota, where the winters are harsher. With no trees or hills to block the wind, it doesn’t take much snow to whip up a blizzard. She remembered walking to church one Christmas Eve, her parents in front, blocking the wind from pushing down the little ones. They followed behind, literally stepping into their parents footsteps. Little feet finding the way forward more easily because mom and dad had pressed down the snow in front of them.

That’s what we are all about. We’re called to make that path a little more easy to find, a little more easy to travel. We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. We keep our eyes raised to see the destination ahead. God will bring us to that promised land, where we will be welcomed as sheep into the fold, to live in peace and joy forever.

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Waiting: A Sermon for Advent 1
December 4, 2017, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

The holiday season means a lot of driving for my family. Being up north this year makes things a little easier, but in past years we spent the week of Christmas criss-crossing our way throughout Wisconsin- south to north, east to west, north again, and back on south.

 

With two little kids in the back seat we hear quite often, “are we there yet?” “How much longer?” interspersed with “I’m hungry” and “Can we listen to princess music?” Then back to “I’m bored, when are we going to get there?”

 

Surely no one can sympathize?

 

Every time we get near my in-laws Jeff says to the girls, “Well, we’re still going to be driving for a while, you probably should try to go to sleep.” Then he pulls into the driveway and turns off the car and the girls giggle and shout- we’re here!

 

This season of Advent puts scripture to the sense of “are we there yet?!” we feel as we look around the world and look at our lives. We proclaim faith in a God who conquered death- and yet we see people suffering grief. We celebrate Jesus as Prince of peace- and yet we hear news of war and missile tests.

 

We’re almost there and yet feel so far away.

 

During this season, we express our longing for a change. We need God to do something! It’s a longing we share with generations of the faithful. Isaiah voices the peoples’ prayer, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-“

 

God, do something! Come here, come now.

 

Isaiah uses this beautiful imagery-

 

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—”

 

(30 sec fire video) I want God to be that quick spark that blazes into a hot fire, transforming the state of the water in an instant. From lighting to steam- like that *snap.

 

But that’s not really the way things happen. Unless you’re making a video for youTube or trying to impress your friends and maybe burn down your home in the process, you don’t douse a tree with gasoline and light it up.

 

A spark lights the kindling and then fire catches on the bigger sticks and then the logs and then when the fire is going decently, you put the pot on and wait for it to boil. It’s a delicate process that takes time and attention.

 

God has answered Isaiah’s prayer. God has come down. For these next four weeks, we move towards a celebration of God’s arrival in the birth of a son. God is still arriving into our world.

 

In this season, we remind each other to stay awake, so we don’t miss the signs of God’s arrival. Sometimes God’s presence might be as obvious as that tree lighting up, and at others, it’s as if God is a spark smoldering underground, eager to pop up at any place, any time.

 

God will get this fire of justice and renewal burning. God will bring peace- healing- meaning. The transformation of the world not something God needs us for. But, it’s something God invites us in to.

 

I think of our role in bringing God’s kingdom like the holiday cooking in my kitchen.

 

I like to cook and I like things a certain way, so it’s usually better for everyone if they just give me a wide berth and let me do my thing. Then I can do it all and present the finished product to oohs and ahhs. Everyone can admire the finished product.

 

Things are changing in my kitchen. Little ones want to be involved. Friends and family want to be helpful. I’m becoming more open to sharing the work. Then all of us get to see the transformation first hand. We enjoy the completed masterpiece that much more for having been a part of moving from raw meat, bottles of spices, dirty vegetables, and cupboards of dishes to a set table with steaming dishes. With Lydia on the step stool next to me, our measurements aren’t always completely accurate, but it’s a joy for her to be a part of it and for me to share this work together.

 

I think it’s God’s joy to share with us space in the kitchen as God cooks up the Kingdom among us. God’s not The Little Red Hen, who asks her friends to help her bake a loaf of bread, and after they all deny her, she bakes it herself and shares with no one. God is willing to open to the new kingdom to all, not requiring them to gather the wheat or crack the kernels or knead the dough or keep the fire burning. God doesn’t need anything from us. Yet we have been created in God’s image with the impulse to create- to cook up God’s vision of a world in which all are loved and valued and sustained in life forever.

As novice chefs, we can make things a little more messy, but we get the joy of being awake to the Kingdom emerging around us. We’re not to the banquet yet, but we can smell the aromas and we are invited into the kitchen to learn the recipe.

 

We’ve come here because we want to be active participants in God’s kingdom cooking, God’s sparking into being a new world. We gather gifts and warm clothes because we hear God’s intention that all the world be clothed and cared for. We share communion and cookies at tables in sanctuary and fellowship hall because we know Jesus welcomes all people into one community. We name those places of brokenness and hurt with trust that Jesus, the God who came to be with us was crucified, remains with those who suffer, and will bring them into a resurrected way of life.

 

Last week, as we drove to Jeff’s folks for Thanksgiving, Lydia piped up from the back seat, “Daddy, do that thing you do when we go to Granny and Papa’s.” We were confused at first. “When we pretend to go to sleep,” she prompted. Ah. She’s learned a rhythm to how we prepare to arrive. She can’t quite understand how many miles, how many minutes remaining in the journey, but she understands the ritual that tells us we are close.

 

It helps us to wait, when we have something to encourage us that we are almost there. That’s the gift of the tradition in this season. Whether you light an Advent wreath, turn on the Christmas music, or wrap presents, may these rituals serve to strengthen you in your waiting. They point us towards the celebration of Christmas and the unfolding of what God is doing through Jesus’ birth. God is continuing to come down, to be found among us, and to pull us forward into a new kingdom of peace and joy and good will.