Monthly Archives: December 2018

Today is the Day of Hope (Dec 23, 2018)

Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Part of this text is called “the Magnificat,” sometimes “the Song of Mary.” Mary, pregnant with Jesus, rejoices in the promises of God being fulfilled, including justice for the poor and the lowly, feeding of the hungry, and help for all Israel. God’s justice, she remembers, includes God bringing down the powerful and sending the rich away with nothing.

That’s a pretty bold statement of hope in any situation, but it is even more so in Mary’s particular context. The Roman Empire was vast, powerful, and unforgiving. Historians write about a Jewish rebellion around 4 BCE, which triggered a massive military response from Rome. A village about 4 miles from Nazareth was burned to the ground. Those Jews who were found were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived that were left with nothing. Mary was certainly well aware of this cruelty of Rome’s power, it having occurred so close to her town of Nazareth.

Yet in the face of Roman power which reached to the ends of the known world, Mary sings this song of hope. Not of hope for the future, but hope present right now in the world.

For Mary, today is the day of hope.

For Jews in that day, the only hope for justice wasn’t found in government or military or revolution. Hope could only come from God keeping God’s own promises of justice, of mercy, of compassion for all people.

For Mary, today is the day of hope. Her hope is that God would rule in the world the same way God rules in heaven. Her hope is that her soon-to-be-born son, the promised Messiah, would bring God’s justice—bringing down the power-ful and lifting up the power-less.

For Mary, today is the day of hope. Mary sings this song of hope into the very face of overwhelming helplessness. She sings this song of hope in situations like this: From NBC news Tuesday:

While the executives who presided over the bankruptcy of Sears and Kmart will ring out 2018 with news of $25.3 million in bonuses, laid-off worker Ondrea Patrick will be using her unemployment check to pay for new brakes on her 2000 Dodge Durango.

Patrick, who lost her job when the Kmart she worked at in Rockford, Illinois, closed in October, had been hoping to use the money to buy her kids . . . something new for Christmas.

And it infuriates her that they’ll be getting hand-me-downs and relying on charity this Christmas while the people in charge are handsomely rewarded.

“Those top people and (Sears CEO Eddie) Lampert are having a wonderful Christmas,” Patrick, 36, told NBC News. “They got $25 million in bonuses. Me? I’m late on my bills. The electric company is threatening to shut me off. And I don’t have anything left to spend on the kids this Christmas.”

Patrick, who worked part-time for Kmart for nine years, is one of the thousands of workers whose lives were upended in October when Sears Holdings, more than $5 billion in debt and unable to compete with Walmart and Amazon, declared bankruptcy.

“I was making $10.50 an hour when they closed my store,” Patrick said. “I got my pharm tech license and was working at the service desk. All my life we struggled and I finally felt like I was making it.”

On Friday, a U.S. bankruptcy court judge allowed Sears Holdings to hand out the bonuses after the company successfully argued that it would lose its top people if there’s nothing in their stockings this Christmas.[1]

Mary sings this song of hope into the very face of overwhelming helplessness. She also sings this song of hope in situations like this:

This week a judge in US Federal Court allowed four women with their children, who were fleeing abuse and violence yet were turned away at the US border, to re-enter the US and reapply for asylum. 

It’s in real-life situations that Mary sings her song of hope. For Mary, today is the day of hope. In the coming of Jesus, the promises of God’s compassion and justice are present in the world. Right now.

Advent is a season of hope. Hope in our lives, hope in our church, hope in our neighborhood, and hope throughout the whole world.

Our thanks to Bishop Jim Gonia for being here for this 4th week of Advent hope, and sharing with us his reflections on God’s hope revealed in our world. In the coming of Christ, our hope is real. The world’s hope is real. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can be among those who reveal God’s hope just as it is revealed to us.


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Posted by on December 21, 2018 in Sermon


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My Hope is Tied Directly to Your Hope (Dec 16, 2018)

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

“You brood of vipers!”

I’ve always wanted to start a sermon with that line from John the Baptist. . . . It’s not as much fun as I’d hoped.

Even though it apparently worked for John better than it just did for me, that’s not the line that got my attention. It’s the next one, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Don’t flee, repent.

The crowds are out in the wilderness to be baptized by John. But rather than repenting, they are fleeing—running away, and John calls them out on it. So when the crowds say, “well, then, if running away and saving our own skins isn’t the thing to do, then what should we do instead?”

And John’s answer is this: “Instead of trying to save yourselves, turn back toward your neighborhood, your community.” Invest in them, help them, give them hope. Your hope is tied to theirs.

If one of your neighbors doesn’t have a coat, that means one of us is cold; give them one of yours. Because only when they have hope can you have hope.

If one of your neighbors doesn’t have food, that means one of us is hungry; give them some of yours. Because only when they have hope can you have hope.

If you’re a tax collector, don’t cheat people for your own personal gain. You are all tied together, so if you cheat them out of hope, then one of us is being cheated. Only when they have hope can you have hope.

If you’re a soldier in the Roman army, don’t use your position of power to take advantage of people. If you do, then one of us is being oppressed. Only when they have hope can you have hope.

There’s a Messiah coming, he says, and I’m not good enough to shine his shoes. He’s the one anointed by God, and he will show you God’s way. And God’s way is not about fleeing in order to save yourselves. God’s way is that we are all bound up together, and the hope of one of us is the hope of all of us. You cannot save yourselves while one of your neighbors is cold or hungry or poor or oppressed. Instead of turning away from them, turn toward them. Only when they have hope can you have hope..

It’s like in school when we had to work on a project as a team. Everyone got the same grade for the overall project. I hated those because I always did my portion but was dependent on everyone else to do theirs.

What John understood that we don’t is that God’s way is the ultimate team project. No matter what’s going right for me, if you don’t have hope then I am affected by that. Whether I like it or not. God’s way is that our fates are intertwined. Only when you have hope can I have hope.

Though we deny that aspect of interconnectedness with every breath we have in our culture, it doesn’t change the reality of it. In this culture we long for individualism, to have all the resources needed to take care of ourselves. And once we have all we need for ourselves, then we might share a little of the extras. What’s ironic is that we never quite attain all that we need, so we keep hoarding more.

Which is not the way of this coming Messiah. Our hope is tied up together with our neighbors. None of us have hope until all of us have hope.

Advent is the season of hope. We heard two weeks ago about God’s hope revealed in our lives, and last week about God’s hope revealed in this church. Today we’ll hear from Venessa V about God’s hope revealed in our neighborhood, which is the message of John the Baptist. And a week from today we’ll hear from our Bishop Jim Gonia about God’s hope revealed in the world.

If our neighbors don’t have hope, then neither do we. God’s way, the way this coming Messiah will live and teach and proclaim, is that our fate is intertwined with that of our neighbors. Only when they have hope can we have hope.

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Posted by on December 18, 2018 in Sermon


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It’s All About Hope, Even in the Church (Dec 9, 2018)

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “

One thing most all of us have in common, I think, is that we all want to make a difference. We all want to believe we are valued and that what we have to contribute to the world around us is worthwhile.

Which is one reason why we seek some sense of power and influence. Because it’s from those positions that we can have an impact. When we have some authority we can more quickly make changes that we believe will improve things. Sometimes that influence is abused and is used for selfish purposes, but often the intention is good. Make a difference, be the change, improve the world. If you’re not recognized as influential, no one will ever know whether or not what you can contribute would be helpful.

We’ve got in this text a whole line-up of power players. Luke lists a virtual “Who’s who” of authorities and big-time players. Emperors, governors, rulers of various regions, and high priests. Political and religious influencers. Everyone who can have an impact on the world around them is listed.

And then comes John the Baptist. This guy who’s living out in the desert, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs. Pretty significant contrast between the Emperor of the most powerful nation the world had ever known and this “possibly” sane man screaming quotes from old-time prophets out in the wilderness.

And yet, Luke makes clear, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God sent it through wilderness-John, the bug-eater. And I think we would all say that if there’s any hope for the world at all, God would certainly be at the top of the list of providers. And bug-eater John is who and how God brings a word of hope into the world.

One of the things I learned on my “Listening Tour” sabbatical is how lots of people view the church. The church is seen by many (both inside and outside the church) as similar to John the Baptist. Maybe the church used to be influential, but now it’s just kind of quaint. A group of kind of naïve do-gooders who are just a bit out of touch. The church would be a good place, perhaps, to bring your kids so they can learn how to be nice and moral citizens. But not much more. If you are looking for charity, go to the church. But if you’re looking to change the world, you gotta go to the power-players, the influential folks. Go to the people and the institutions that give you the best hope of making a difference. That is not perceived as the church.

And yet, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God has sent it through the church. I think the more the world looks to power for hope, the more important the message of hope from the church becomes. What so many people consider to be the least likely source of life-changing hope becomes an instrument used by God for that very purpose.

Advent is all about hope, and how God reveals it.

Today, Daniel P, from our council’s vision team, will share experiences of God hope revealed in this church.

Next week, Venessa V will share how God’s hope is revealed in our neighborhood.

And two weeks from now, our Bishop, Jim Gonia, will talk about God’s hope being revealed in our world.

Advent is the season of hope. It’s all about hope. And God’s hope is sometimes revealed in the least likely ways through the least likely people. Blessed Advent. May it be filled with renewed hope for you.

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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Sermon


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The Paradox of Advent (Dec 2, 2018)

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

A friend of mine once told a story of attending a contemplative retreat. One activity involved several minutes of complete darkness. Windows covered with heavy plastic, lights off, etc. Complete and utter darkness without distractions.

As darkness settled, it became unsettling. After several minutes, however, tiny pinpoints of light became visible through the plastic covering the windows—light that would never have been seen if not for the attempt at absolute darkness.

Light is seen while you are in complete darkness. That’s a paradox: two things that seem to be opposite that are present at the same time. Instead of “either/or,” a paradox is “both/and.”

Our faith is actually grounded in paradox. Hope is experienced in the midst of despair. Light experienced in the midst of darkness. Life experienced in the midst of death. That’s the nature of a paradox. There’s a both/and thing.

As we begin Advent, this text from Luke does that same thing. It sounds all miserable and hopeless. Jesus is talking about the end of the world, the end of time.

And in the very midst of all this destruction, Jesus tells us to “stand up, raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.”

Redemption in the midst of destruction. We begin the season of Advent with this paradox. In the very midst of those things that cause us anguish and anxiety, hope is present.

The whole point of Advent is that “it’s all about hope.” Christ brings hope among us in wonderful and surprising ways. Always. Sometimes you can only see it in the darkness.

We’re spending these four weeks of Advent revealing the hope that Christ brings. Four different people will share their experiences of visible light of hope in the darkness. This week is “Hope in Our Lives,” and Susan J will share her experience of hope in a dark time.

Next week Daniel P will share his experience of “Hope in Our Church.”

Following that, Venessa V will talk about her experience of “Hope in Our Neighborhood.”

The last week of Advent, our RMS Bishop, Jim Gonia will be here and share his experiences of “Hope in Our World.”

It’s all about hope. Hope has come. Hope is present. Hope can be seen. When all the destruction and despair and the anxiety and the fear “begin to take place, stand up and raise your head, because redemption is drawing near.”

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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Sermon


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