First Day of Advent Sermon

Text: Isaiah 2:1-5

Skit:
(couple in waiting room)

Brook: This waiting room is so cold.

Kristan: Not for me- no one told me I would be this hot during pregnancy

Brook: How long have we been here? Seems like forever

Kristan: Why don’t we do this why don’t we come up with a list of questions for the doctor

Brook: I only have ONE question–
How much longer do we have to wait until the baby gets here

Kristan: Brook, I told you we don’t really know but they might be able to tell us the gender today

Brook: Really?? if it’s a boy I say we name him Martin Luther!

Kristan: Hmmm..I’m  thinking more like Charlie for our FIRST baby…

Brook: First baby? Ummm this will be it, Kristan. We aren’t going to be like one of those crazy families with 5 kids!

Kristan: If you say so…

Brook: Either way I’m just so excited!!

Kristan: Me Too!

PG: Mr and Mrs Seaford, the doctor will see you now…

****

Waiting can be exciting can’t it?
The anticipation
The delayed gratification
It’s not always EASY, mind you, but it still has a feeling of fun.
Especially when it’s the kind of waiting where you sort of know what’s coming—

—like that fresh pie that just came out of the oven- but you have to wait until after dinner to eat it
—or the thrill of knowing those friends who you haven’t seen in years are on their way into town for a visit— and you’re imagining the fun things you’ll do, and the old times you’ll rehash

—or that moment when you’ve received the call that you’ve gotten that dream job you’ve always wanted but it doesn’t start for 2 weeks.

Yes, waiting can be fun and exciting

Advent is the season of waiting.
We are anxiously looking toward Christmas Day
When we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Knowing in our hearts that the hope of our salvation has finally arrived
And that our future is secured.
But we can’t quite celebrate yet
It’s still a few weeks away
So we wait
Imagining
Dreaming
Anticipating

The people of Israel dreamed of the Messiah and the hope and deliverance he would bring.
Perhaps with the same excitement and joy we have now
They listened to and shared and discussed the prophecies—
what they meant and what they promised-
how at that time a new future would be ushered in
A transformative time.

These people needed those words of hope
and the promise they offered.
Maybe you do as well.

In the reading today, we listen to the words of hope the Prophet Isaiah spoke— to a community in desperate need of them.
At the time of this particular prophecy, the people of Judah, where Isaiah ministered, were used to being beaten down and oppressed.
They lived in a divided kingdom, and were in constant conflict with their counterparts of the North over social and theological issues
They were constantly being invaded and attacked.
These were turbulent times.

But Isaiahs’s words gave them a glimpse of a future removed from this pain and conflict
Of a time when violence and war will be no more
A time when they would be vindicated and redeemed—
Safe and secure in the presence of God

However, not all of Isaiah’s words were comforting
In the passage before this one today, the people of Judah had just been admonished for straying from God
They had been like rebellious children.
And like a good parent, God was now offering encouraging words of promise and hope.
The hope of a new future
Isaiah captured this imagination with beautiful imagery:

that the place of THEIR temple- which resided on what physically resembled more of a hill
would be lifted up and established as the “highest of mountains”
That their community—
their place—
Would be the chosen place where God resides
the one true God—
In a time of competing deities.
That their homeland would be
the intersection of heaven and earth
and that all nations would be drawn to it
with a sense of majestic magnetism.

And that the strife and fear and risk they had endured
for as along as they can remember
would be no more.

They could probably feel it
Almost taste it
And see it
The reign of the kingdom of God
Unlike any others
because
This kingdom is not a threatening one
This kingdom is a kingdom of joy and peace
In this kingdom, weapons aren’t required
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks”

Because in this new future,
what once brought forth death
would be transformed into what brings life.

Isaiah could see this—
The people of Israel could see this—
Maybe we can see it also.

Occasionally we get glimpses of this peaceful reign Isaiah spoke of—
God’s dream—
And when we see bits and pieces of this dream now- in our lives today- there is an opportunity for us to jump in and help bring it to pass

Today’s passage ends with the prophet saying,
“come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”
Walk is an active word
“walking in the light of the Lord” suggests this participation

One person did it in a unique way-
and it was made into a movie I just watched called “Hacksaw Ridge”
An amazing movie.

Its a drama based on the true story of Desmond T. Doss who was drafted into World War II.
Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, he refused to kill or carry a weapon but still felt called to do his patriotic duty and serve his country.
This refusal to carry a weapon didn’t necessarily sit well with the other guys in his unit.
They teased him, harassed him, even beat him up, trying to get him to quit.
But Doss remained steadfast in his resolve.
Committed to the truths of his faith.
So they eventually stationed him as a medic.

In Okinawa—Doss participated in one the bloodiest battles of the war—
It was a frightening scene of fire and smoke; screams and explosions—
But in the midst of this horror, Doss dodged bullets, ducked explosions, and
single-handedly rescued 75 wounded men from behind enemy lines.
All without firing or carrying a gun-
In fact, he was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon.
And for his valor and accomplishments, Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The first Conscientious Objector to ever do so.

When asked why he would do something so seemingly crazy- to participate in a war but without a weapon to protect himself, Doss responded,

“With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

To Desmond Doss, this was his way of helping bring God’s dream to fruition
To participate in bringing to fulfillment the prophetic visions of peace to a world in pain.

While most of us won’t be war heroes like Desmond Doss
we can participate in our own unique ways.
Maybe we can

—Help a single parent struggling to rebuild his or her life by offering financial assistance or help with childcare through ministries like Christ Our Shepherd Ministries right here in Matthews.

Or maybe we can

Help build a home for a low-income family either here or around the world through a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity

Or maybe we can
take that moment
overcoming any nervousness and fear of awkwardness and share our faith
with someone in need.

Advent is a time of waiting
But its active waiting.

Just like new parents anxiously awaiting the arrival of a child are going to joyfully prepare a space in their homes and in their hearts for this arrival
Maybe we too should prepare a place in our hearts and in our lives and in our communities
for the greatest arrival of all
Jesus Christ.
we aren’t going to just sit in the waiting room until the moment arrives
We are going to joyfully live into and participate in this life of expectation

This is Advent
This is the season of joyful waiting.
Lets walk in its light.

Amen.

Christ the King Sunday Sermon: Forgiveness is Hard

Text: Luke 23: 32-43

Kristan and I both have trouble admitting we’re wrong.
When we are in a “disagreement” the one of us who really is wrong (her) has a hard time apologizing.
So instead of simply saying “I’m sorry”
we approach the other say “I forgive you” OR
“I FORGIVE you…”
So over the years, the words “I forgive you” have come to mean “I’m sorry”
At least for us.
And the reason is its hard to apologize!
But It’s even harder to forgive.

Indeed forgiveness is hard.

By the time we arrive at today’s gospel lesson, Jesus has been mocked, beaten, taunted, whipped, and now nailed by his hands and his feet to a wooden cross and allowed to hang until death.

His friends have abandoned him.
People have cursed him
Spit at him
His family and loved ones feel threatened by association.
And yet.
In his final moments
As he hangs in agony

Jesus calls for forgiveness
for the men who have just tortured him.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”

We’ve heard these words hundreds of times.
Maybe even thousands.
But when we truly examine them—
When we place ourselves in the story as Jesus—
It becomes all the more incredible.
Doesn’t it?

Because forgiveness is hard.

Truly only the Son of God could offer such mercy.
It is only fitting that this reading is for today, Christ the King Sunday.
Because historically at least,
kings are the epitome of triumph.
Kings are the result of victory.

In the other reading for today, Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15)

In a sense, Paul is showing us or rather teaching us that if we want to know what God looks like; how God acts; who God IS..we only need to look to Jesus.

Which makes this scene; these words- all the more powerful.
All the more instructive.

In the midst of this agony, in the face of despair, Jesus defies all expectations and instead of calling for vengeance— which he arguably could have done—

Ok, Let’s talk about that

I mean, Jesus could have called—literally summoned—armies of angels to come down and lay a BEAT DOWN on these people so badly everyone would have looked like Robert DeNiro at the end of Raging Bull.
Seriously
Eyes so swollen they can’t even see through them.
Bruises and cuts and blood everywhere-
It would have been a nasty scene.
Really scary
Like what my house would look like if I cancelled Friday Family Pizza Night…

Anyway you get the point— Jesus could have unleashed quite the whoopin

But thats not what happens.

Vengeance doesn’t become his.

Instead, Jesus offers… forgiveness.

Forgiveness, not revenge.
Mercy, not malice.

Not an easy task.

Forgiveness is hard.

Think about your worst enemy.
Or it doesn’t have to be an enemy so to speak.
Just think about someone who has really crossed you
or hurt you
Or maybe it was they hurt someone you cared for deeply.
And not just a slight.. a REAL hurt. Something deep.

Admit it- you’ve often fantasized about getting revenge.
Not necessarily physically hurting them (but maybe you have !!) but just getting even.
Getting revenge.
Saying that thing you’ve been wanting to say for YEARS.

And you FINALLY have that opportunity but instead…
you let the moment pass
Or even better
You offer that olive branch of forgiveness.
And you put the past in the past
and start anew.

If Jesus, very much human, can forgive those who brutalized him…
Perhaps we are being called to the same?

Yes, Forgiveness can be hard.
We usually don’t like it.
But oftentimes we are surprised to learn who benefits the most from our forgiveness…

I’d like to share a story – one I encountered on the radio one evening:

Oshea Israel was 16 years old and involved with gangs and drugs when, one night at a party, he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd.

Byrd was the only son of Mary Johnson so this loss pained her more than words could say.
The anger
The bitterness
The sense of loss
All of it was just eating her up.

So after 12 long and heartbreaking years, she had finally had enough
So she decided to go down to Stillwater Prison where Israel was serving his sentence for the murder to meet the boy who’d killed her son.

The results of the meeting surprised her.
in fact, she was overcome with emotion.

It had been 12 years so Mary was surprised to find not an angry 16 year old boy, but a grown man. who was clearly filled with regret. And surprising herself- she instinctively reached out to the boy
and hugged him.

And at that moment, all the anger and resentment and animosity was lifted.
She recently said in an interview, “all that stuff I had in my heart for him— for 12 long years- was over. I had totally forgiven him.”

She was free.

Johnson ultimately founded a support group for mothers who have lost children to violence.

But this forgiveness hasn’t just helped Mary Johnson.
Now 34 years old, Israel has been released from prison and is starting a new life.
And guess who’s helping him along the way?
Mary Johnson.

Israel now lives next door to Johnson so she can keep an eye on him.
they support one another.
In fact, he is helping her in her old age.
She even refers to him as her son.
“Well, my natural son is no longer here.” she once quipped.
In a recent interview where both were present, Johnson spoke to Israel, “I didn’t see him graduate so ”You’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate..
And I didn’t see him get married. So one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you.

Mary Johnson could have easily continued in her bitterness and anger
and in doing so would have consigned away all the joy and happiness in her life.
But she didn’t
Through the powerful act of forgiveness she extended the grace we all experience by our Heavenly Father and in turn was able to regain her life.

When we hold on to the resentment and pain that prevents us from offering forgiveness
in a sense we are rejecting the work Jesus accomplished on the cross.
It’s as if we are walking up to the cross and giving back the gift of forgiveness Jesus gave us all.

Director and producer David Boese once said,

“Forgiveness does not change the past
But it does enlarge the future”

Forgiveness is hard…

But i’s not impossible.

Because of the power of Christ that lives within you—
Yes, each and every one of you—
Forgiveness is possible.

Even the most difficult trespasses can be forgiven.
Not because you’ve suddenly become more virtuous
No
but because the risen Christ lives within you.

So
We can forgive that family member who wronged us many years ago
We can forgive that parent who might have come up short along the way
We can forgive that person who hurt us…so deeply that we’ve felt we’d never be the same.
And yes, we can even forgive that person in our community whose view of our country’s future might look just a little different than yours.
We can forgive.
Yes, Forgiveness is hard.
But it’s not impossible.
Because of the love of Christ that dwells deeply within us.
Forgiveness is possible.

And thanks be to God for that.

Amen.

Our God Is the God of the Living: All Saints Sunday Sermon 11/06/16

Text: Luke 20:27-38

 

It was November 2013 and it was a dimly lit hospital room. It was getting late in the evening and at the moment the floor we were on was quiet.
Nothing but the sounds of incessant beeps, periodic clicks, and the rhythmic whisps and puffs of air escaping the machines gathered around the bed.

The chaos of the day had mostly settled down and now it was just this strange calm.
Earlier that morning I’d returned from church with the kids only to find my wife of 12 years at the time unconscious and gasping for air. Thanks to the quick response of many- too many to name—we had gotten her to the ER and mostly stabilized her, and now gotten her to a room.
She was in a medically-induced coma but she was there.

Yet the concern in the faces of the doctors and nurses unsettled me.
And I noticed how some of the attendants no longer really looked me in eye.
I was worried
I was afraid.

For hours, teams of doctors came in and out
checking this, checking that
Whispering among themselves.
Finally, one of the nurses approached me and gently told me, “it’s time you should probably call in family”

And at that moment every dream I had, every plan I had made. Every hope and excitement I had for the future…was just…snuffed out.
Over the next few hours which became several days and then eventually a week, miracles began to rain down on my family.
A risky but successful transfer to the main hospital offered us the glimmer of hope we had prayed for
It was a roller coaster for sure
There were exciting peaks and harrowing valleys –
there were more doctors and specialists — more than I could ever count-
there was anger and frustration
There was nervous laughter and gut-wrenching cries
There were agonizing days and nights of tear-soaked pillows

But slowly and surely
Her heart got a little stronger
Her lungs started to drain and were able to retain more oxygen
each organ got a little stronger and with that
her entire body got a little stronger.
And my Kristan slowly began to recover

There would be great costs to this recovery as we all now know- more than we could have ever imagined or honestly ever feared-
but she survived.

A miracle.
A resurrection.

Resurrection happens every day.
Sometimes we just have to name it for what it is.
Addictions are conquered;
relationships are healed;
purposes are restored.
Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
In the gospel passage, the Sadducces, who were mostly aristocrats and held to the belief that only the first 5 books of the Bible were authoritative, did not believe in the resurrection because this wasn’t in those Scriptures.
They were black and white.
They were strict rule followers.
And they didn’t like this rogue rabbi going around talking crazy to everyone
so they were coming to Jesus with a scenario so exaggerated that they were convinced they had tricked him and proven their point- that resurrection wasn’t rational.
The Mosaic Law taught of one way for our lineage to continue- through our heirs- anything other than that was simple fantasy.

But Jesus answers by not only dismantling their argument but answering the question BEHIND the question-
Because this is usually what happens isn’t it?
When a friend or colleague or neighbor is trying to trip us up in a particular argument-
usually there is a question behind the question.

the Saduccess are not convinced that there is everlasting life.
Because in their minds it defies all rational thinking.
I mean, how can this be?

but we all have these questions, don’t’ we?
Black and white thinking has permeated our world today.
We’ve lost the enchantment of our ancestors
Of angels and miracles.
Just like the Sadducees, we get trapped in our limited view of the world.

Nothing in our current, modern experience makes room for such outrageous thinking

Or does it?

All of creation speaks the promise of our resurrection.
Evidence of it is everywhere, if we only expand our vision to see it.

Saplings sprout and blossom out of the charred remains of forest fires.
The sun breaks out from behind the clouds after the remnants of storms.
Loving people collect and gather to help in the aftermath of devastating storms and tragedies.
Our God is the God of the living.
NOT the dead.

But not every story has a happy ending.
Sometimes, lives are lost
Sometimes relationships end
Our health betrays us
Our pain becomes too great.

We cry out to God as the psalmist did “how long O Lord?
But the hope that lives in us
That light
that fire- although sometimes dim
Is the hope of resurrection.

On that fateful day on Golgotha, God raised Jesus from the dead and in that moment everything was changed

Death has been conquered.
Everlasting life is our promise
the eternal flame lives in our hearts just like the promise
The waters of our baptism assure us that resurrection has indeed taken place
And will happen again.

Our hope is in Christ.
And like the candles we light here today to remember and celebrate the saints in our lives
We acknowledge that our God is the God of the living.
and while the flame of these candles might go out
And the lives we love might go with it
the hope burns on
the eternal flame lives in our hearts just like the promise
And although it might be joined by sadness
And although our flame might flicker with grief and mourning
It burns on
With the hope of resurrection
In death, resurrection isn’t just that our Spirit will simply carry on in some magical way
No
Resurrection promises that our physical bodies – our very selves
will be restored
in a heavenly way.
yes this is outrageous
yes this is hard to believe
But it is no less real.
Our faith is so much bigger than any of the concrete patterns and rules we live by.
Because our God is the God of the living.

As the dust continues to settle on my family’s saga, Kristan and I often have some heavy conversations.

About now
About the future.

And one night I was asking her about how she sees heaven and the promise of everlasting life.
And she confidently told me that she imagines a day when she is fully and physically restored.
that those hands that once brushed the hair of her children
and knocked her goofy husband upside the head from time to time
will be fully restored

That those legs that carried her to medal-winning times in marathons
Will carry her once again.
They will be restored.

that is her hope
That is my hope
and that is OUR hope
the hope of the resurrection
Our God is the God of the living NOT the dead

You might be dreading tomorrow. The thought of dragging yourself out of bed to start another week might be overwhelming. You could be facing loss, pain, or a body that seems to be breaking down. But you have a reason for hope. And that hope is Jesus Christ. . That hope is placed in your heart by the Holy Spirit. The new life is available through the resurrection and is available each and every day. We don’t know how it works or how it’s possible. But it’s the promise of our faith.

So if your hope is to see that loved one again
Hold on to that promise
our God is the God of the living

If your hope is that your pain will be cured
Hold on to that promise
our God is the God of the living.

If your hope is to have your body restored-
Hold on to that promise

whatever that resurrection is in your life
hold fast to that hope

Our God is the God of the living

And yes it is a promise

Thanks be to God.

Amen.