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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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Where is God? Last, Least, Servant, Slave (Mark 10:35-45)

If you’ve been here any Sunday during any of the last several weeks, you’ve heard this theme in Mark repeatedly: the greatest are servants, the last are first, whoever wishes to be first of all must be slave of all.

Everytime Jesus tells them this, the disciples never get it. This time James and John are wanting glory for themselves. And when the others hear about it they’re angry because they didn’t think of it first.

Why is it in Mark’s gospel, Jesus gives us this same emphasis over and over? Welcome the kingdom like a little child instead of a powerful person. Give all your money to the poor and then you’ll have treasure in heaven. If you want to save your life lose it. If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to be the greatest, be the servant.

Last, least, servant, slave. Over and over, Jesus, we get it! We’ll take serving others more seriously! We won’t seek our own glory! We won’t abuse power over others! We’ll be humble and meek and generous and helpful to everyone!

Sort of.

What we mean is that we’ll serve others when we have time to do it. We’ll put others ahead of ourselves until they start getting credit for our work. We’ll be generous with all of our extra money and time. We won’t seek glory for ourselves unless someone else starts getting recognized. We’ll consider ourselves last until others start thinking we actually are last.

Let’s be honest, it seems that what Jesus is proposing–over and over and over–doesn’t really work in our world. You start putting everyone else ahead of you and pretty soon everyone else is ahead of you.

You start being the servant of all and it isn’t too long before all people start thinking of you that way.

You keep being last and soon you are last.

If you don’t shine at least a small spotlight on yourself and tout your own abilities somehow, who will ever notice your abilities? Then, even when you have gifts to offer no one will take them seriously because you won’t be seen as credible. Your strengths won’t be recognized after a while. If you do a good job of being last of all and servant of all and least of all, that’s exactly where you end up.

We get what Jesus is saying, and we try to live it, I think. Up to a point. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus really wants from us? Just do what he commands–to a point? Just follow him–partway?

Our Estmate of Giving cards for 2016 are coming in today. We’ll give generously–kind of.

How do we reconcile these constant demands of Jesus to be last and least and servant and slave with the reality of how our world actually works?

At some point, don’t we have to recognize what we’re good at–maybe even great at—and call attention to that aspect of ourselve in order to be seen as having something worth offering? In order to contribute with our gifts?

Jesus seems pretty clear, over and over. I’m not as clear as to how that works out. But here’s how I’m wrestling with it–at least today.

I believe Jesus means what he’s saying here. As his disciples, we are to be least, last, servant, slave. We know he means it, because he does it himself. From birth through life and even into death, Jesus is last, least, servant, and slave. Doing this may mean we don’t get ahead at work. We may not maximize our earning potential. It might result in those who glorify themselves not taking us seriously. It’s humbling, even humiliating at times.

But what happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we look at people differently. We connect to them differently. Or relationship with them changes. We notice what’s going on in their lives. We recognize needs we never would have noticed before. The whole barometer of measuring success is dramatically different.

One by one, little by little, we affect people’s lives in ways we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We may not even notice, they may not either. What happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we embody the compassion of Jesus. We become Christ in the world. We change the world in God’s image from the bottom up rather than contribute more of what the world already knows, from the top down.

I’m beginning to think that the only way to save the world is from the bottom up, not the top down. We reveal Jesus more significantly from below, not from above. We affect people’s lives in more important ways as the least rather than as the best.

Most people around us, even many in the church, will disagree. Because the prevailing understanding is that power changes the world, not slavery. Jesus challenges that. And then calls us to join him at the bottom. Last, least, servant, slave. That’s how the world is saved. That’s where we’re called to be. That’s where we join Jesus.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Sermon

 

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