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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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4 Weeks (and 4 Characters) of Advent — Preparing for Christ Changes You

Advent 1

Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist

John’s whole purpose was to point to the coming of Jesus. As he told us earlier today, John himself was not the arrival of God’s kingdom. He helped us get ready for it. It wasn’t about John, it was about one who would come after him, one whose sandals he wasn’t worthy to untie.

Even though he had some extremely devoted followers who thought he was the coming of God’s kingdom, even though some worshiped him, he spent his adult life lifting up Jesus, talking about Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, because Jesus is the one who reveals God’s kingdom among us. It’s the coming of Jesus that changes everything, not the status of John.

If John the Baptist helps us prepare at all, it’s in recognizing that this season isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about Jesus and what he brings.

John points to the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God. That’s our call today as we begin our preparation for Christ among us.

How about an Advent challenge for this week? Apart from ourselves and our own lives, watch for signs of God’s kingdom breaking in.

Watch for mercy shown in places you wouldn’t expect it.

Watch for bizarre generosity.

Watch for love that moves people to deep sacrifices.

When you see these things happening, in the spirit of John the Baptist point it out to someone!  Tell them that’s what Christ looks like! Tell them Jesus is showing up there!

As John makes clear, it’s not about us. It’s about the God’s kingdom, coming with Christ.

 

Advent 2

Luke 1:5-20, 57-64

Zechariah

Patience and perseverance. Two things that Zechariah the priest had in abundance. Praying for years and years for an heir, someone to assure his lineage and bear his name.

Year after year, praying the same prayer. Year after year, waiting for it to be answered. Perseverance, year after year after year. Never giving up. Patience and perseverance.

Two of the most imporant Advent themes too. Patiently waiting for Christ to appear and make things right. Persevering in being about the work of Christ. Patience and Perseverance.

These great themes of Advent have never seemed more appropriate for us than they do now.

On Wednesday in San Bernardino, CA there was yet one more act of massive violence and death.

In the United Kingdom, our American infatuation with guns and violence was assumed as one English reporter broke the story, ”Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic and fear. This time in the city of San Bernardino in California.”

We’ve become so immune to these stories that the first mass shooting on Wednesday (San Bernardino was the 2nd) wasn’t even reported, because only four people were injured, and only one of them died in Savannah, GA.

Patience and perseverance, Zechariah reminds us this Advent. We wait for the presence of Christ to come and remove the violence and hatred that infects our culture. And we also persevere in the struggle to live lives of love, peace, and forgiveness in the face of such violence. We do not cave in to it. As disciples of Jesus we persevere in looking violence in the face and saying, “Our God is bigger. Our love is more powerful. We will persevere in living non-violence in the midst of violence. Come, Lord, Jesus.”

For years, Zechariah practiced patience and perseverance. Though struck mute for nine months, he continued. Through doubts and questions, he continued. Patience and perseverance. How long, O Lord?

And an Advent miracle happened. Not only did Zechariah become a father, but his son was the one to announce the coming of God’s kingdom of peace. To baptize Jesus as he began his ministry of God’s love in the midst of violence.

In Advent, we practice patience as the violence continues all around us, patience in the face of a culture too broken for us to fix. Patience as we await the coming of the Christ.

And in Advent we practice perseverance in the face of violence. Perseverance in living lives of peace. Perseverance in calling out the horrors that have taken root in our society. Perseverance in being Christ’s people of love, of peace, of compassion, of mercy, and of forgiveness.

Patience and Perseverance. Thank you for that example, Zechariah.

 

Advent 3

Luke 1:24-25, 39-45, 57

Elizabeth

After prayìng for all those years to have a child, Elizabeth is finally pregnant. You’d think she would take to the streets shouting this good news to the world, wouldn’t you?

But instead, she goes into seclusion for five months.

How lonely she must have felt. She had been isolated all her life by the women around her who were already mothers.

Even her husband had been struck mute, so she can’t have a conversation with him and get his perspective.

She was not the only woman to conceive miraculously, and they would understand her situation. But they were long dead and only remembered through stories.

This was a miracle, but a lonely one. For five months she lived in seclusion with no one to share her hidden living inside her. But Mary in on her way.

Then, five months into her lonely pregnancy, there is a knock at her door. Her relative Mary had travelled all the way from Nazareth to visit her. As they exchanged greetings, suddenly, Elizabeth felt the baby in her womb leap for joy! Her hidden hopes were dancing!

All Elizabeth’s loneliness disappreared in an instant. These two women, each experiencing miraculous pregnancies, each being promised their sons would be important parts of God’s mission in the world, poured out their hopes and dreams together. Elizabeth finally had someone who would understand! Someone she could share this hope with!

In Advent, we wait for miracles. We hope for God’s presence to make a difference in our lives and in the world. Even though we long for God to do something new, we often are made to feel we can’t share those longings. “Faith is personal,” we are taught. You don’t talk about your faith to people, it causes problems. Your faith is your own, so don’t impose it on anyone else.

Like Elizabeth, how lonely we’ve made our faith and spiritual life to be! We hope for God to be present, and we have a hard time sharing our hope. Sometimes we even quit hoping, because hope can’t live in isolation.

Like Elizabeth, we can become so lonely in our hopes that we have convinced ourselves that God doesn’t work in our lives. We can become so isolated in our deepest dreams that we might even believe God isn’t really present in the world.

Elizabeth understands. She shares our secret hopes. She knows the isolation. She knows what it’s like to long for God’s intervention but be unable to talk about it. She knows that there are hopes hidden so deep within us that we can’t share them with anyone, sometimes even ourselves.

Advent is the season when Mary comes to visit. When she comes, all our hopes and secret dreams hidden deep inside us leap for joy! We can share our hopes.

Like she was for Elizabeth, Mary is on her way. What are the hopes hidden deep inside that you have never shared? What secret dreams do you have that have never been expressed? What longing has been isolated so long that you have a hard time admitting it to yourself? Mary is on her way. What needs to leap for joy inside you when she arrives?

Advent is the season of hope. And Jesus’ coming into the world means that our deepest, most secret longings hidden deep inside us are getting ready to leap for joy. With God, all things are possible.

 

Advent 4

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph

You’ve gotta feel bad for poor Joseph. He’s really stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either protect and care for his pregnant, soon-to-be wife, or be faithful to his God’s law and divorce her for her adultery (which it would be considered even in the case of rape). Apparently there’s no way to do both.

So he plans to divorce her, but quietly. That way he fulfills the law of denouncing a woman who, for whatever reason, regardless of who is to blame, is pregnant outside of marriage. He also does the best he can do to keep her safe from the extremists who would call for her to be put to death. He thinks he’s figured the best compromise way to handle this.

And then the angel visits him and throws everything into deeper chaos. Oh, no, the angel says. This hand of God is involved here. Though you aren’t the father, Joseph, you need to go ahead and raise this child as your own. He will be the one anointed by God as Messiah. So stick to the original plan and get married. Deal with the consequences of God’s work—for the rest of your life.

What amazes me is that the text describes Joseph going along with all this. He’s willing to risk everything to be part of what God is doing.

We tend to stop here. As if everything’s fine now. Joseph is OK with this pregnancy, Joseph and Mary will raise this child together. God is at work. It’s a miracle. All’s well.

Uh, yeah—not so fast. Yes, God is involved. And, yes, they have been called to be part of what God is doing here. But now the reality of living this out is in front of them. When God calls you to step into with what God is doing, your life is different.

Nothing would ever be the same for Joseph, and certainly not for Mary. Every aspect of their lives is now changed. This isn’t just a pregnancy, it’s stepping into the work of God in the world. For the rest of their lives.

Joseph didn’t ask for this. This is not an answer to prayer. This is God at work in the world and Joseph and Mary are called into the middle of it.

That’s the way it is with God. God calls, and if we answer, our lives are transformed forever. Because:

When God loves, and we live out that love.

When God forgives, and we live out that forgiveness.

When God is compassionate, and we live out compassion.

Not because it’s wonderful and glorious. Not because it makes us cozy and warm. But because God is doing it and has called us into it. God’s mission in the world isn’t easy, certainly not convenient, not always comfortable. Ask Joseph. But it is God at work. And therefore, as Christian people, it is us at work too.

Joseph and Mary’s lives are changed forever because they recognized God at work. Being part of what God is doing shaped everything for them—from that moment on.

Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on. Because God is still at work. The mission of God is still the same: bringing peace, compassion, forgiveness, love to all people. As we recognize God at work in bringing these things to the world, we recognize that in following Jesus, we step into that work too, our lives are also changed forever. Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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