Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 1 - apocalypse now.

November 29, 2015
First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

“There have been many losses,” writes Janice Jean Springer, reflecting on the days following her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Among these losses, she counts the erosion of her “self-image as a strong and vibrant woman … ” By contrast, the struggle to keep her balance, to not fall, seems unpleasantly familiar.
She has lost other things as well, but perhaps the most painful loss of all she shares is this, “I’ve lost my illusions. I’ve lost the illusion that I am exempt from the losses and limits that besiege other people.”

She writes that each of us will be confronted by losses that make us wrestle with the question, “[How] can I be faithful in my new circumstances?”

How can I be faithful in my new circumstances? 

A few years back I was visiting with someone whose life had dramatically changed.  They wondered what the future would bring and how to move forward with family and loved ones dealing with a new health concern.  We talked about how to adjust to a “new normal.”  In essence, we were asking the same question, How can I or how can my family and I be faithful in our new circumstances? 
It’s not just a new normal anymore, is it? Our lives our constantly changing and as soon as we think we’ve got things under control, something shifts, and we have to adjust and continue on. 

This is something that Luke touches upon in our Gospel lesson for today. 
Luke lived with the fact that Jerusalem had fallen, but ten or fifteen years later, the Son of Man had not come. He held to the faith that it would happen. There would be a rescue. That is Luke's great insight and hope. When the signs are clear, don't be afraid. They are good news!  "When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Be alert!

John Petty writes, “The apocalypse is not some future event, but a present one.  Everyone lives in a situation of impending doom—apocalypse—all the time.  …  At one time or another, for every person on earth, everything that used to feel solid and sure will start to come apart.  Paul Tillich called this "the shaking of the foundations." Jesus said to expect it:  "For it will come upon all the ones dwelling on the face of all the earth."

Did you hear that?  The apocalypse is not some future event….but a present one.  I concur that everyone lives in a situation of impending doom – an apocalypse all the time. 

Okay, it may not be as apocalyptic as zombies surrounding our community and taking over the world or some other horror movie situation.  But we do all live our lives with situations that change our lives and bring in a sense of fear or foreboding, or a wonder as to what the future will be like and how we will live our lives in this constantly new and changing world. 

I am a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the TV series that was on in the 90s.  For those who don’t know Buffy was the chosen one, a high school sophomore sent to Sunnydale, California to fight off demons and vampires and all sorts of nasty creatures, but no one was to know that she was the slayer, least of all her mother. 

Well, one night, she knows she needs to go out and fight the forces of evil to prevent an apocalypse, but her mother is worried about her grades and her behavior, so Buffy is grounded.  Buffy says, mom, I need to go out!  Her mom replies, no you don’t, it’s not the end of the world!  (Little does her mom know that it actually could be the end of the world.) 

So maybe we’re not Buffy and we don’t need to fight off evil to prevent an apocalypse, but we do need to get up every day and live in a world that is sometimes frightening and is constantly changing.  And we do so walking in the light of Christ. 

Each week in this season of Advent, the lights will get brighter and brighter as we light more candles on the Advent wreath. 

Each week, we will listen to scripture about how hope Christ continues to carry us and hold us through the dark times that surround us. 

Each week we are continually reminded that even though there will be signs of changes to come we are called to raise our heads up, to see Christ already in our midst and to prepare to celebrate his birth among us. 

The texts that we hear during the season of Advent kind of remind me of a choose your own adventure book.  Did any of you ever read one of those? You would read a story and as you got into it, you got to decide how the story went.  If you want to enter the castle and fight the dragon, turn to page 52.  If you would rather wait outside for back up, turn to page 45. 

Advent seems to present us with texts that may challenge or frighten us and that gives us an opportunity to respond.  As I talked about last week, we have the opportunity to respond out of love or out of fear. 

When we respond out of love, the light of Christ in the world shines brighter and brighter. 

Take a moment to watch this: Good Life Anthem

I know it’s a commercial, but given the fear and danger in the world, we are still called to live our lives.  As we celebrate a baptism at the late service this weekend, we will hear the words, Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. 

Living our lives….for good…is letting that light shine. 
Living our lives…for good….is walking with others as they mourn and grieve. 
Living our lives…for good….is listening to someone when they need to share how they are feeling.
Living our lives…for good…is seeing beyond our own needs and giving our time, our talents and our treasure in a way that benefits the community and world around us. 

The world is a dangerous place. 
But we will continue to live our lives each and every day, knowing that we walk in the light of Christ, and that light will shine into the darkness and light a path for all of God’s children. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Christ the King Sermon

November 22, 2015

Christ the King Sunday
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

Please pray with me,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

What does it mean to act out of love or act out of fear? 

Think about it, what does it mean to act out of love?  And what does it mean to act out of fear? 

In our Gospel lesson today, we have clear examples of each.  As we hear the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus just before his crucifixion, we see the actions of both of these men.  I think that one acts out of fear and the other out of love. 

Pilate acts or reacts out of fear of Jesus and his teachings and actions.  He may also be acting out of fear as to how the crowds will react if he does not get rid of this so called King of the Jews. 

You see, he’s in a tricky, political situation.  Do you listen to the man standing in front of you?  Or do you listen to the crowds shouting outside of the windows?  Whatever happens with Jesus will greatly impact Pilates’ leadership and future. 

Even though he and Jesus are talking to one another, they seem to be talking on two different levels.  This is nothing new in the gospel of John.  We remember the misunderstanding between Nicodemus and Jesus when Nicodemus talks about being born again and Jesus talks about being born from above. 

We see it when Jesus talks with the woman at the well…she is offering him a drink of water and he wants her to have living water.  

It happens over and over again. Jesus tries to talk to people about who he is in the world and how his teaching, life and death will change the world, and people just don’t get it. 

It’s explained at the very beginning of the gospel of John, in one of my favorite Bible verses, John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. 

The King James version is this, The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. 

You see, Jesus came into the world as the light of the world.  And the darkness of our world cannot comprehend that. 

We cannot wrap our minds around this great love that God has for all of God’s children that Jesus showed us by reaching out and touching the untouchable, the outcast, the sick and the poor. 

We cannot wrap our minds around an all-encompassing grace that comes to us in the form of a man who will conquer sin and death by dying himself.  It’s unfathomable.  And so we, like Pilate, try to comprehend, try to understand what Jesus is up to in our own terms. 

And when thinking about the political future, Pilate reacts out of fear as to what could happen if Jesus were recognized as king.

Jesus, on the other hand, acts out of love. 

He has nothing to prove.  Well, I guess he is going to prove that death can be defeated, and God has the upper hand in all of this, but he will not physically fight the system to prove it.  He will continue on a journey that will take him to his death because he knows that his death is not the end. 

Jesus acts out of love. 

He has no one to fight for prestige or posterity.

Jesus acts out of love. 

Where do we put our energy and our passion and our action in the world? 

Do we act out of fear or do we act out of love? 

We probably ebb from end to end of this spectrum. 

But I’m here to tell you: love wins. 

Love of God through Jesus Christ conquers sin and death and sets us free to love our neighbors and our enemies. 

That’s tough stuff, but that’s love at work in our lives and our world. 

And that’s the tough stuff that we try to wrap our minds around on this day as we remember Christ the King Sunday. 

We try to wrap our minds around Christ as king.  I don’t know about you, but when I think of a king I think of power, riches, castles and big fancy parties and a little lion cub singing, “I just can’t wait to be king!”  Maybe I watch too many Disney movies.  But you can probably see where I’m coming from. 

Yet Jesus as king is the complete opposite.  His kingdom and ruling comes through actions of love and grace, words and touch of healing and compassion.  His kingship is shown as he wraps a towel around his waist and he washes his disciples feet.  He is a servant leader.  He is one who leads by example of going to places least likely, touching people who are deemed ‘untouchable’ and by inviting tax collectors and sinners to dine with him. 

He’s not the king the people of his time were expecting. 

And in a way, he still may not be the king that we are expecting. 

We live in a world dominated by the view that the only answer to violence is more violence.  And the end result of that view is death.  (Lose)

So what does that mean for us as we watch the news and our hearts stir for refuges?

What does that mean for us as we watch the news and our hearts break for cities and nations impacted by violence? 

What does that mean as we see more and more commercials for gifts we ‘need’ to give this Christmas knowing that our local and global neighbors are hungry? 

What does that mean for us as we gather with family and friends this week to share in a meal that gives us a day and some time to give thanks? 

Sorry for all the questions, but I think that’s the challenge with today’s gospel text. 

We can see Pilate and Jesus in this interaction…and we know that love will win and what the final outcome will be. 

But in our own world….we do not know what tomorrow will bring. 

We do not know what the next big news story will be that will change our hearts and our world. 

But in the midst of it all, God is with us.

In the midst of it all, God continues to love us through Jesus Christ. 

God continues to be with us,

To give us strength and grace to witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and our King. 

I pray that we are able to witness to Jesus who demonstrated power through weakness, who manifested strength through vulnerability, who established justice through mercy, who build the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic and violent world taking its pain into his own body, dying the death it sough and rising again to remind us that light is stronger than darkness, love is stronger than hate and that with God, all good things are possible.  (Lose)

Let us go from this place,

Strengthened by God’s love and grace,

Empowered by the Holy Spirit,

And fed with the body and blood of Jesus to share God’s love with the world. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.