A young-ish United Methodist pastor's perspective of living our faith, loving God, and loving neighbor while on this adventure we call life. Amazing things can happen when we put our trust in God, love God, love our neighbors, and engage our community by living our faith.
**The opinions expressed in my blog are my own and not those of Community UMC, Quincy, CA or The United Methodist Church.
time this time of year rolls around, it’s a feast for the senses. All the smells, bells, sounds, tastes, and
sights are in the air. We see the
beautiful lights on the houses and beautifully decorated trees in the windows,
hear the songs of the season as radio stations have been playing nonstop
Christmas music (even though it’s STILL Advent), bell ringing for The Salvation
Army by volunteers (many from our church), and in a number of houses, smell the
wonderful aromas of tasty things baking (or, just step into Midtown Coffee or
Quincy Provisions and smell and see the tasty treats!). Yes indeed, this is the time of year where
the senses are fully engaged. I can’t
help but singing “do you see what I see?
Do you hear what I hear?”
our Advent study this past week on Matt Rawle’s The Redemption of Scrooge, we talked about Christmas past and one
question that Matt asked is how do you know when it feels like the Christmas
season for you? I like to begin it the
day after Thanksgiving by breaking out the CD’s, particularly Mannheim
Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, then stringing my lights in the front
windows. Or, the season also begins when
the eggnog first appears in the dairy box at SavMore or Safeway. Or it begins when we start seeing peppermint
everything, just like Pumpkin spice everything in the Fall. Or it feels like Christmas when the pageant rehearsals
begin. Once again, it is a time for the
senses and in our texts this morning, we get a great dose of the senses of
hearing and seeing. Yet I still can’t
help singing “do you see what I see, do you hear what I hear?” when looking at
these texts, particularly our Gospel lesson. But it also begs the questions,
what do you see? What do you hear? Seeing and hearing play a major part as we
engage with our texts.
week in our Gospel lesson from Matthew, we encountered John the Baptist in chapter
3, as John is in the wilderness, crying out an early prophecy from Isaiah
“prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” in which John is
reinforcing another prophecy in which “someone more powerful“ will arrive and
will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3: 3, 11). Well, fast forward to this week and we now find
John in prison, starting to have doubts and wondering if the prophecy has
really been fulfilled, or not. Like
Jesus, John also had disciples which he asks to inquire of Jesus by asking “are
you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11: 3,
NRSV). This is definitely a far cry from
when John was almost certain that there would be a messiah, or in the Greek,
christos, or anointed one on the way, which many believed Jesus to be, based on
his words and actions.[i]
But now, John isn’t so certain when he asks his disciples to inquire of Jesus. So, when asked by John’s disciples if he’s
the messiah or not, Jesus’s response in verses 5 and 6 is that “the blind will
receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the
dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at
me” (NRSV). Hmm, seems like we also just
heard something like this in our reading from Isaiah 35, in verses 5 and 6
Then the eyes of
the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
we are seeing this and hearing this correctly, it sounds pretty sure that Jesus
IS the messiah based on the prophecy, the one who was promised by what we see
and what we hear. It’s also the same
things that John’s disciples see for themselves with their own eyes and hear
when John more or less asks them what did you see? What did you hear?
even along our own faith journey, even in this time of Advent as we await the
coming of the messiah once again and continue to wait, what do you see and what
do you hear? Where do you see and hear
going on around us today? A lot of it
comes down to our perspectives and how we see and hear around us. For John, he is now in prison, which we don’t
know why until chapter 14, but John is hearing all about what Jesus is doing as
he teaches, heals, and ministers to the crowd, much along what the people were
waiting for that we hear about in Isaiah.
Yet John can’t see this happening for himself. In Isaiah, we hear a prophecy about
restoration of God’s people, returning to their land, and yearning for a
savior. Yet while while in prison, John
begins to feel doubt because now he isn’t so sure that Jesus is the one who is more
powerful to come that John was saying would happen in last week’s Gospel
lesson. However, being in prison changes
John’s perspective, as Jesus shows “works of compassion” instead of baptizing
Instead, “the story in its present context represents the beginning of doubt
rather than the dawn of faith,” in which Advent is typically the dawn of faith
when we wait, watch, and prepare our hearts for the new hope, joy, peace, and
love that we can receive and give at Christmas.[iii]
Yet, what is it that we want to see and hear?
think that given the amount of uncertainty in our world and in our nation right
now, there is a yearning for certainty among many, and at the same time, there
are times where there may be doubt present.
At the same time, there are some, such as author Anne Lamott who and
others who believe that the opposite of faith is actually certainty, not doubt.[iv] This is a time of year in which we are
literally in darkness with the shorter days and longer nights, but also because
of situations in life that happen or with things that are happening around our
nation and world, there is a deep yearning for certainty, which John is also
desiring when he wants to know if Jesus is really the messiah or not. He wants to see it with his own eyes and hear
it with his own ears even though Jesus does offer affirmation of John for
preparing the way. Like we talked about
in August when we seek the unseen, we are going by faith, not so much by
sight. And for John, he is not able to
see the works that Jesus is doing as the messiah from being in prison. However, John’s doubt and uncertainty may be
because of the fact that Jesus is also not the conventional savior or messiah
people that were expecting to see or hear from, based on John’s earlier claim
of baptizing by fire in Matthew, chapter 3.
Maybe John’s doubt is because Jesus is showing acts of compassion and
fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 35 of restoring sight to the blind, hearing
to the deaf, speech to those who cannot speak, and giving encouragement to the
poor. Doesn’t really sound like
baptizing by fire, now does it?
It’s the actions that Jesus
shows and the truths that Jesus speaks that we see and hear and perhaps today
in 2016, a message and actions that we need to see and hear once again as we
await Christmas Day, words of kindness or comfort and actions of compassion,
much like the same actions that we saw and words we heard from Jesus. Like backing up those words with our actions,
it also takes listening carefully, as Jesus says “let anyone with ears listen!”
(Matthew 11: 15, NRSV). And it takes us
really opening our eyes to see the world around us, see poverty where it
happens, see those who are in need, and be compassionate and generous in our
actions and listening. And right now at
this time of year, words and actions are even more important to be mindful
of. As I was preparing for today’s
message, one of my friends and colleagues in Texas, Rev. Joseph Yoo had an
excellent blog post on Ministry Matters, which I read regularly online and Joe
regularly contributes to. While this is
a time of year for the senses, we also see and hear actions that can distract
us from fully enjoying this time of year, especially when we get into the whole
debacle over saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” often making
accusatory statements about taking Christ out of Christmas. However, Joe makes a very important point about
words and actions when he says
it’s not really the job of Starbucks,
JC Penney or Macy’s to spread Christmas cheer or the Christmas story.
They’re in business to make money —
and to do everything they can to bring a lot of people into their stores. So
they’re going to be as generic and as broadly appealing as possible.
Why would I expect JC Penney to
spread the Christmas story to their shoppers? Why would I expect Starbucks to
tell the story of Christ’s birth on their cups?
not their job.
ours, isn’t it?
ourselves accountable for putting “Christ” in Christmas rather than demanding
that others do?[v]
Jesus coming along that way that John prepared in the wilderness then defying
being a conventional messiah by showing acts of compassion and speaking the
truth in love, and bringing good news to those that the rest of society tended
to relegate to the margins, maybe that’s what we need to focus on as we make
our way towards Christmas, showing these actions as the hands and feet of
Christ in our world today, actions that people need to see from us and words that
people need to hear from us as people of faith and followers of Christ. As we talked about last week, we can prepare
our hearts and minds for Christmas by repenting or turning around, pruning out
the sins and baggage, and through these weeks of Advent and beyond, we see how
we need to be the ones to share the story of this messiah, this anointed one
who came to earth as our personal savior and savior of the world. Can we be the ones to share good news
wherever we go so that people can say they heard such when asked “what did you
hear?” And can we be the ones to show actions of mercy and compassion, so that
people can say they saw that when asked “what did you see?” That’s a part of
the hope, joy, peace, and love that we can give and receive at Christmas as we
prepare our hearts and minds. It’s US
who put Christ in Christmas. And it is
US and our actions and words that people will see and hear when asked “what did
you see and hear?”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Blue Letter. ‘Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV)’. 2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.
[ii]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol.
VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 266.
‘Faith, Doubt and Inspiration - Brené Brown’. February 9, 2011. Accessed
December 8, 2016.
Joseph. ‘Is the War on Christmas over Yet?’. Accessed December 8, 2016. http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/7887/is-the-war-on-christmas-over-yet?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork.
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was
in the beginning with God. All things
came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and
the light was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
(John 1: 1-5, NRSV).
it happens each year, once Daylight Savings Time ends in early November,
darkness comes quickly and earlier in the day.
I’m not really sure what to think when my house becomes dark around
3:00pm when the sun goes behind the mountain, but this is a part of the cycle
that happens each year. The darkness
comes early, but after the Winter Solstice, the light gradually returns until
we Spring forward once again in March.
comes as no surprise that the season of Advent and Christmas are during the
darkest time of the year. The darkness
is literal, but can also mean other things too.
Some may be in the darkness of the trials of life, the darkness of loss
and grief, the darkness of hopelessness, the darkness of being
overwhelmed. The list goes on and
on. And sometimes, the Christmas/Holiday
season is not always a happy time for everyone.
the darkness that may be felt at this time of year, there is always new hope
and new life that can be born and re-born in each of us. But it also takes each of us to be the ones
to bring hope and light to those who might find themselves in darkness. And there are many ways which we can do
that. We can be the ones to brighten up
someone’s day through our simple presence and listening ears. We can be a beacon of hope to the lonely by
extending invitations for dinner or to our gatherings. We can be the ones to bring joy to families
in our neighborhood who may be struggling.
We can be a comforting presence to those who are grieving. And we can be the ones who can bring food to
the hungry. There are many ways to
accomplish each, but this is one way the work of Christmas begins and can last
throughout the entire year, not just December.
think of the words of Isaiah, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a
great light” which was written during a dark time in Israel’s history during
the Babylonian captivity that lasted around 70 years. In their darkness, the people yearned for
someone to come and save them, a messiah.
However, contrast that message with John 1 where the new light comes
into the world, bringing about a new hope that darkness would not be able to
overcome. We need to be the ones who are
the light in this world when times are dark, we need to be the ones who will
bring the hope, peace, love, and joy that Christmas brings.
is a time to slow down from all of the hustle and bustle of the season, to
reflect as we wait, watch, prepare, and anticipate. For the people who were held captive in
Israel, they waited and watched for signs of the messiah, the one who would
free the people from their captivity.
But for each of us today, what holds us captive from living our lives to
the fullest and lives that are pleasing to God?
What new hope and what new life needs to be born or re-born in you this
Christmas? And what can we do during
this Advent to be the light of the world for others in our neighborhood and
world as we await the new hope that Christmas brings to each of us?
that preparation coming for Christmas?
Have you got your tree up yet?
Nativity sets? Lights? Presents?
I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s really beginning to look a lot
like Christmas around town now that we’ve had Sparkle, which I was definitely excited
about and eagerly anticipating!! Once we
get into that first week of December, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is
in full force, but not quite high gear quite yet. Give it another week, though. I do have to say there is something special
about small towns and the holidays, as it seems like it’s extra festive here
and reminds me of something we would see from Currier and Ives, Norman
Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, and others who love to use sentimentality to grab our
attention. I think some of the
commercials we’ve been seeing on TV since Thanksgiving also do a good job at
that, or tug at the heartstrings. Or
like Thursday night, I think we are a little closer to prepared now that “A
Charlie Brown Christmas” has been on ABC.
I feel like I’m a little closer to prepared now!
while we are maybe a little more ready to enjoy the Christmas season than we
were last week, we are in the second Sunday of Advent this morning, continuing
along our journey in the season of waiting, watching, and preparing our hearts for
the new hope, joy, peace, and love that we receive and give at Christmas. But as we engage with our texts this morning,
what are we preparing for? We see in
Isaiah God’s peaceful kingdom and a new day when all of creation is at peace
with one another with the joy of a child leading, but then in Matthew we
encounter John the Baptist as the “voice who cries out in the wilderness,”
repeating a prophecy found in Isaiah 40, “prepare the way of the Lord.”
week, we had a couple of texts that dealt more with end-times, as it was more
about the beginning with the end in mind.
Our reading from Isaiah almost reads more like what you would see in a
Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade painting, an idealized, sustaining image of
what a peaceable world would look like, as the prophet is pointing at new life
that is possible. I think about pruning,
which many of us need to do as winter approaches, in order to make space and
prepare the bushes, shrubs, and trees for new growth to take place in the
Spring. But also seeing how animals that
would ordinarily be part of another’s food chain, such as the lion and the
lamb, or wolf and ox laying down together also strikes up a beautiful image, as
“these verses articulate the deep and persistent human hope for justice and
peace, and within the Christian church, this text expresses the promise of a Messiah
who will establish peace on earth.”[i]
When we ask what we are preparing for, we are preparing for the day when we can
see justice and peace here on earth. But, we have a lot of work to do and
that’s going to mean rolling up the sleeves to show how a peaceable kingdom
that we hope to prepare for is possible.
another way we work towards preparing our hearts to establishing a peaceable
kingdom is to repent from our wrongdoings and our shortcomings before each
other and before God. We hear John the
Baptist saying this in verses 2 and 3 of our Gospel lesson, as John says
“repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near” and to “prepare the way of
the Lord, make his paths straight,” in which John is quoting from Isaiah 40: 3
(NRSV). Like preparing our yard for
Spring by pruning our bushes, trees, and plants, we also prepare to take part
in the sacrament of Holy Communion in a little while by having the opportunity
to confess altogether our sins and shortcomings. When we are willing to repent and make room
in our hearts for God’s presence through the sacrament, we prepare our hearts
for the amazing, wonderful gift of grace that is available for us to receive
through taking part in the sacrament.
There are many instances where sin is sometimes swept under the rug for
convenience, but sin also brings us down.
That’s why it’s necessary to repent and prepare our hearts for Christmas
by unloading some of the baggage we may carrying with us that bring us down so
that like receiving the grace available through Communion, we too can receive
the hope, joy, peace, and love that Christmas can bring to us.
I was preparing this morning’s message, I got a little laugh from my colleague,
Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville. In her preaching notes for today, Dawn
describes John the Baptist as “a scary dude in a scary place.”[ii]
Quite honestly, if I saw someone come screaming “repent for the Kingdom of
heaven has come near,” and wearing an outfit of camel hair, I would probably be
a little unsettled (Matt. 3: 2, NRSV).
Okay, I’d probably have some not so nice things to say, but during this
time period and during the time that Isaiah is writing in, there was already
enough happening in the world. John lives in the wilderness, but even amidst
the scary appearance, people still listen and for them, “John first brought the
Good News: A much more powerful one was coming” which foreshadows the new way
and new kingdom that Jesus will ultimately teach about in his earthly ministry.[iii]
But as we wait, watch, and
prepare for Christmas, we have this good news that we can take and share with
others, and I think even more so today, we need to repent, but also prepare the
way of the Lord once again. Repent gets
such a bad rap and it oftentimes gets associated with that message of hellfire
and damnation, but as Professor Ron Allen points out, repent literally means to
“turn around, or to have a dramatic change of mind and direction.”[iv]
That’s one of the wonderful things about Advent, that we have this opportunity
to turn things around. This past week,
several of us began our Advent Study, The
Redemption of Scrooge by Rev. Matt Rawle based on Charles Dickens’ timeless
classic, A Christmas Carol. As I talked about in a sermon in September on
Lazarus and the Rich Man from Luke’s Gospel, I talked about the story of
Ebenezer Scrooge and how he was selfish, miserly, sad, lonely, and downright
miserable with only his money as his companion.
Without giving too much away of the plot, Ebenezer Scrooge has the
opportunity to repent, to turn himself around, and become a new person at
And perhaps that’s what we
need to do as we prepare our hearts for Christmas and the arrival of Jesus once
again, by turning around our lives where we need them to turn around in as we
prepare the way of the Lord and prepare our hearts and minds for the hope, joy,
peace, and love that Christmas can bring.
While this is typically a happy time, or supposed to be, some are still
in the wilderness of grief and loss, but the good news is that despite all that
happens around us, the discord, the conflict, the violence, we have a voice
that still cries out from the wilderness to remind us that something more
powerful is on its way and that a new day is still ahead. That’s good news we can share as people of
faith, that we have this opportunity to repent and receive God’s abundant grace,
which we can also share with others. We
also have our work cut out for us if we are to ever see a peaceable world where
the lion will lie down next to the lamb and not have the lamb for dinner, but
it is possible, naïve and foolish as that may sound given the darkness of the
world around us. So as we continue along
our journey in Advent, what are you preparing for as we continue moving towards
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
[i]The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol.
VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 139.
Discipleship. ‘Second Sunday of Advent — Preaching Notes’. 2016. Accessed
December 1, 2016.
many of you have started your Christmas decorating yet? How about listening to Christmas music? Even though we’re only a few days after
Thanksgiving, it sure feels like we’ve already been seeing Christmas since
Labor Day…maybe even since the Fourth of July.
Now, I know some people will lament that all things Christmas seems to
appear earlier and earlier each year, as it sure feels like it comes up earlier. Right after Labor Day or Fourth of July is a
little too early, but the thought of Christmas stuff going up early brings me
back to a series of books I loved reading as a child. I particularly remember reading The Berenstein
Bears series about the Bear Family written by the late Stan and Jan
Berenstein, which was more or less based on their own family (kind of the same
way the comic strip “For Better or For Worse” was loosely based on Lynn
Johnston’s own family). In The
Berenstein Bears series which was actually an educational series, we had
Mama Bear, Papa Q. Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear who often encountered
different situations in life and showed the reader how to navigate these
In The Berenstein Bears
Visit Santa Bear, the Bear Family is pulling into the parking lot of the Bear
Country Mall and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, although Papa
Bear quips in almost a lament how it seems that the Christmas stuff appears
earlier and earlier each year. However,
it’s only two days after Thanksgiving in the book. Now like in my house growing up and even today,
you don’t even think of pulling out the Christmas stuff or listening to
Christmas music until the day after
Thanksgiving at the earliest, one of those embedded values that I still have, even
though there are times where I admit that I’m also waffling on that with the
music. However, when I feel like I need a
little Christmas and succumb to my temptation in listening to Christmas music
on Pandora or one of my Winter Solstice CD’s, I actually do feel a little bit
of guilt, or even feel like God’s going to smite me for doing so. But for the most part, I still to hold on to
these embedded values of learning to wait and learning to prepare, not just jump
in head first. It’s like the notion of
learning to crawl before learning to fly.
think for many of us, we are conditioned that when we see something rocking the
boat of our embedded values or traditions, our reactions can be a combination
of annoyance, horror, lament, maybe even surprise. I think about what happens when embedded
values are challenged in writer-director Barry Levenson’s 1990 movie “Avalon,” as
there is one scene in the movie at Thanksgiving Day in which the Thanksgiving
turkey is cut before a particular uncle and his wife arrive. Upon seeing the turkey cut after he arrived,
which Uncle Gabriel gets angry and leaves, lamenting the end of tradition as he
knew it. In some ways, seeing Christmas
things happening before Thanksgiving tends to rock that boat for many, as it’s
almost like the end of tradition as we knew it.
Now, I know there are times that
I have been highly critical and even cynical about the Christmas season,
particularly in how early it comes up.
And there is good reason for that, as sometimes we as a society and
culture tend to jump right into the hustle and bustle of the season and then
before we know it, Christmas Day is here and gone for another year, sometimes
leaving us feeling us let down or like we didn’t get to enjoy the season
because it’s so busy and that we weren’t really ready for it. Even with all the early preparation, will we
be ready for Christmas when it does arrive?
one of those questions worth asking as we begin a new season in the church year,
Advent. Will we be ready? The season of Advent is meant to be a time of
quieting our hearts, preparing, watching, and waiting in that period before
Christmas, an escape from the hustle and bustle that this time of year brings. We began Advent this morning by lighting the
candle of hope, as Advent is a season of anticipating new hope which goes hand
in hand with the waiting, the watching, and preparing. From our Advent study that starts this week, The
Redemption of Scrooge by Matt Rawle, Matt says that “Advent is to be a time
of waiting, not only to live into the tension of when the divine and creation
collide, but it is the spiritual discipline of slowing down to notice God’s
presence in the still small voice within a violent and hurried world.”[i]
There’s no doubt that we live in a hurried world, and it feels like it’s even
more hurried at this time of year; we put up the decorations, play the music,
go to or host the parties and gatherings, go shopping, try to find the right present,
meaning more shopping, and indulge in rich foods. But all while doing so, are we really ready
for Christmas Day when it arrives? Or in
the case of a number of retail workers (having lived that experience), are we
more ready for it to be over?
we encounter both of our texts this morning, neither text really give us a
sense of getting ready for Christmas Day or the birth of Jesus, per se. In fact, our texts this morning feel a little
bit unsettling and may even leave us asking why we are focusing on the end
instead of the birth. Yet, when it comes
to expectations where the divine and creation collide that Matt Rawle observed
in his take on Advent, it makes sense that we are encountering two texts that
are dealing with eschatology, or end
times. Or, as my friend and colleague,
Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards says, these texts talk about the “beginning with the
end in mind.”[ii]
Both texts deal with ending the world as we know it and for our other big,
fancy word, Matthew’s gospel lesson addresses the parousia, or second coming of Christ. Jesus discusses the parousia in verse 42 of Matthew 24, “so you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your
Lord is coming” (NLT). Jesus is actually
talking of the future here in Matthew 24, but more about the end of the current
world and the start of a new world, along pretty much the same lines that we
heard in Luke’s gospel a couple weeks ago, where Jesus uses apocalyptic
language to show that in order for a new world to be possible, the old world
must come to an end. Today’s lesson sure
doesn’t seem like talking about getting ready for Christmas here at all but
nevertheless, Jesus is reminding us today that we need to be ready and need to keep
watch regardless of what’s happening around us.
in Isaiah 2, there is a theme of eschatology here, as it says in verse 2 how
In the last days, the mountain of theLord’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the
other hills, and people from all over the world will stream
Here, the prophet is talking about a new
day on the horizon when one world needs to end in order for a new world to be
realized. However, this small section of
the prophecy is part of a greater commentary on what has happened to Jerusalem
and God’s people, as in first Isaiah, God is once again displeased with what
has become of creation, as this morning’s reading from Isaiah is just before
the Babylonian exile. Coincidentally
with God’s displeasure with humanity, in our text from Matthew, there is a
reference to the story of Noah, as the earth was destroyed by the great flood
while Noah and his family and all the animals were spared by staying in the ark
during the flood as a result of that displeasure. But even amidst the talk of God’s future
reign, further warnings are sent to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah. But then as we read in Matthew, nobody knew
then or knows now how or when things are going to pan out in Jesus’s second
coming. That’s why it is necessary to
wait, to watch, and prepare when Jesus tells us to keep watch and stay awake
just as Isaiah says that we need to “walk in the light.” Even then, will we be ready? Just like we are beginning the time of
preparation and getting ready for Christmas, if Jesus was to appear at any
moment today, will we be ready?
So why are we even engaging with a text that
deals with the second-coming on this first Sunday of Advent anyway? Professor Ron Allen explains that “the work
of the first Advent (coming) of Jesus is incomplete [as the] risen Jesus
instructs (and empowers) the church to continue its witness until the second coming
(Matt. 28: 16-20).”[iii] As a people of faith, we are presently living in
the in-between times and we have a task to do in sharing our witness, I think
more than ever. We live between the time
where Jesus first came to earth, and now we await when he will return and
complete the work of the first Advent, we just don’t know when. But at the same time, it’s how we continue to
live in these between times as we continue waiting and watching, how we live out
our faith through our actions, and how we share our faith with others, as I’m
not sure that we really want to be caught off guard just in case Jesus was to
appear today or tomorrow. New Testament
professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, Ben Witherington explains that
God reveals enough about the future to give
us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live and walk by faith day
after day. We have assurance about the things hoped for, and conviction about
the things not yet seen, but what we do not have is a timetable in the
Scriptures, nor would that have been very helpful to the faithful anyway. The person who knows for sure he will die in
two days may well do all sorts of things out of character because he has a firm
deadline before him and throws caution to the wind. Likewise, even a Christian
person who knows Christ will certainlynotreturn in his lifetime may well be tempted
to throw caution and morals to the wind.[iv]
It is in these
in-between times where we need to keep walking by faith, and joyfully living
out our faith in this world today so that we will be ready when Jesus does
appear again. Like Ben Witherington
said, we don’t want to “throw caution and morals into the wind and the second
coming might not happen in our lifetime, but as Jesus reminds us in verses 42
and 44, we need to “keep watch” and “be ready,” even when we don’t know the
time or the hour (Matthew 24: 42, 44, NLT).[v] While
we live in the in-between times and as we begin this journey of Advent, we are
the ones who can keep bringing a sense of hope and healing to a hurting world,
especially more so at this time of year when emotions can run a little higher
than usual. And like Isaiah reminds us,
we need to walk in the light, which will be literal on Friday at Sparkle. It also means continuing to show kindness to
everyone, not just during the holidays, but all year round. More important, we need to make sure our
actions speak louder than our words so that we can fully be ready for Jesus’s
While we may be
putting up our nativity sets, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and listening
to Christmas music this coming week, we still need to wait, we still need to watch,
and still need to prepare our hearts and minds so that we will be ready for
everything that the hope, peace, love, and joy that Christmas brings to us, and
for what we can give the world at Christmas.
It’s the new hope, peace, love, and joy that can be born in us, as we
keep living out these in-between times between the first Advent and Jesus’s
second coming. I close with a quote from
Mike Slaughter’s book, Down to Earth that “Advent is the expectation
that Jesus will come in the present to birth in us God’s new work. It is a season of active preparation as we
welcome Jesus down to earth.”[vi]
Even while we may be standing in the in-between
times, what are you expecting as we begin this Advent season? What are you hoping for that can be born in
each of us this Christmas? And more
importantly, will we be ready?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Matt Rawle, The Redemption of Scrooge (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 2016), 36.
Discipleship. ‘First Sunday of Advent — Preaching Notes’. 2016. Accessed
November 24, 2016.
Karoline. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ron Allen’. November 27, 2016.
Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3089.
David. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ben Witherington’. November 28,
2010. Accessed November 22, 2016.
I’m thinking that God has been trying to
tell me that our services have been too busy these last couple weeks, so this
week we get a little bit of a breather from so much going on before Advent
starts. This is also the time of year
when I tend to get hit with a cold and unfortunately, this past week is when I
happened to get hit. ‘Tis the season,
nevertheless. So, if you enjoy the
shorter sermons, this is your week!!
Plus, we have Thanksgiving on Thursday, meaning we are getting closer to
jumping head-first into the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping and
preparation season. However, today also
marks the end of the year for us in the church.
Not the actual end of the year when we watch the giant crystal ball drop
in Times Square, NYC, but the end of the church liturgical year. The church/liturgical year is divided up into
the Christmas cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, then the Easter Cycle
which is Lent, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost which also has different colors
to it. So if you’ve ever wondered why
the colors change on our altar and on the pulpit at different times of the year,
that’s the main reason. Of course, this
is also something we can talk about at coffee and conversation on Mondays, I
tend to geek out to worship and liturgics.
In between cycles is Ordinary Time, which is marked by the color green,
a color we do see a lot of during the year.
But today, we come to Christ the King Sunday, in which we stand at the
bridge to Advent once again, as this Church year ends and a new cycle
begins. Throughout this liturgical year,
our gospel readings have primarily come from the book of Luke and in this
season after Pentecost, we have learned from Jesus about the Kingdom of God
through many of his teachings, in which Jesus points us towards a new
It seems quite ironic that we are
encountering a Gospel text that we ordinarily expect to hear just before
Easter, as we are now standing at Golgotha with Jesus and two others as they
are being crucified upon the cross.
Jesus is being mocked, adding further insult to injury, while the
soldiers question whether he really is the king of the Jewish people. See, in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem
in Luke 19: 28-40, he was seen as the new king, and a threat to the people who
were in power in the Roman Empire. Jesus
was also seen as a threat to the religious authorities in his time too, but
that’s because this whole new kingdom that Jesus taught about would not be like
any other, especially for the powerful. It
comes as no surprise that the use of the word “king” in this context by the
soldiers crucifying Jesus is more sarcastic and more of an insult to Jesus and
his followers, who can only stand by helplessly. But the words that really stand out, at least
for me is in verses 42-43 when one of the two bandits being crucified with
Jesus says “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” while Jesus
tells him “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise” (CEB). Jesus is pointing us towards a new kingdom, a
new kingdom that awaits us when we follow him and heed his teachings. That new kingdom that Jesus is showing us is
one where salvation and mercy reign.
More importantly, it is how we are living our lives today that will also
show us towards a new kingdom.
Despite all that Jesus is going through,
the gruesomeness of his crucifixion, the mocking and taunts by the Roman
soldiers, we see a glimmer of hope in Jesus’s words, “Today you will be with me
in Paradise…” (Lk. 23: 43, CEB). As the New Interpreter’s Commentary says,
the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame in Jesus’s parable of the great
banquet (Lk. 14: 21), the criminal would feast with Jesus that day in
paradise. Like the wretched Lazarus who
died at the rich man’s gate (16: 19-31), he would experience the blessing of
that’s the main crux of this new kingdom that Jesus is pointing us towards, as
it’s a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope. If we are to back up even further to our
reading in Jeremiah, the prophet is pointing to a new kingdom and a new day
when he says in chapter 23, verses
The time is coming, declares theLord, when I will raise up a righteous descendant[a]from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will
do what is just and right in the land.6 During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and
Israel will live in safety. And his name will be TheLordIs Our Righteousness
the prophet saw that a new day was on the horizon, although Jeremiah was also
talking of a new future, as the present world of that time was corrupt. Yep, if we think our world is corrupt today,
it was corrupt then too! When we put two
and two together, we see that Jesus was believed to be the one to bring that
new day to the people, and even on the cross, talks of being with him in
paradise in the new kingdom. Even today,
we can still utter, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk.
23: 42, NRSV).
message of a new kingdom is a great message of salvation, of being saved when
we come to Jesus and ask Jesus to remember us too. That is the good news, knowing that despite
all the calamities of the world and things that go on around us, we can still
come to Jesus, we can still confess our sins and wrongdoings to him, as this is
the amazing, perfect, abiding love that Jesus gives us from the cross and from what
he has taught us throughout his earthly ministry, even amidst the persecution
and the violent way he was executed. This
is how we are redeemed when we follow Jesus, as we too can be in paradise with
him when we complete this journey on earth.
This is God’s great story to us on the earth of now, a story that should
give us hope as Jesus’s followers and disciples. Jesus’s death is not the ultimate end of the
story because he will show us towards a new kingdom, even in his death.
What God will do next
is, of course, the heart of the Gospel. In raising Jesus from the dead, God
will vindicate him as Messiah and Lord, not to condemn, but to reign in
mercy. This is the gift of a new opportunity to return to God and the
gift of the Holy Spirit, renewing the promise "for you and for your
children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to
him" (Acts 2:37-39).[ii]
It is a great time of renewal,
especially as we spend this week giving thanks to God for the things of this
past year which we are most thankful for, but also to begin preparing our
hearts and minds for the new hope that can be born in each of us at
Christmas. Next week, we start a new
year in the church once again, Advent in which we . We start the story over again, this time
according to the Gospel of Matthew. But
it is this new kingdom that we can keep hoping for and working towards, even
today. And based on what we see in the
news often, perhaps we need this new kingdom here on earth more than ever,
where all of God’s children will be in paradise with Jesus, especially all who
are considered marginalized by the rest of society. And so as we gather with our families and
friends this Thursday for Thanksgiving, let us continue to remember Christ, our
king and the amazing, unending love he showed for us as we keep working towards
and hoping towards a new kingdom.
In the name of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i]The New Interpreter’s Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1995), 458.
David. ‘Commentary on Luke 23: 33-43 by David Tiede’. November 21, 2010.
Accessed November 17, 2016.
Even though it has been a
couple weeks since preaching a sermon up here, this morning is one where I feel
like I really need to hear a good sermon after this week instead of preaching. I feel like I need to hear some good news, in
spite of everything we have dealt with in the aftermath of the election this
past Tuesday. Everything we have read in
the editorials, or comments on various social media platforms have shown some strong
reactions on both sides. People who
voted for Donald Trump are suddenly attacked as if they are now supporting
hate, while there is real, almost paralyzing fear among those who did not vote
for Donald Trump. There have been words
said on both sides showing the deep hurt that people are feeling right now and
how deeply divided our society has become.
As I said in my pastoral
letter on Wednesday, the result of Tuesday’s election may be seen by many as a
new direction and new day for the United States, while for many it has also
brought a great degree of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. The same can certainly be said of this past
campaign season too, with people going against people, many times with friends
arguing against friends, family members arguing against family members; and in
more public forums, friends of friends arguing with one another and with
complete strangers. We know it has been
particularly contentious when the NBC affiliate, KCRA-3 in Sacramento had a
story last week about how to survive the holidays in-light of this election
season, as I think like in my parents’ house and other households, a no-politics
policy during mealtime is a pretty safe policy to have during such gatherings. Yet no matter where we stand, what we
believe, or how we voted, this election season has been VERY hard on all of
us. But after having a few days to
process things, we need to keep on keeping on, especially in our faith journey. We need to keep on obeying Jesus’s teaching
of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, trying our BEST to love our neighbor
and even our enemies which we heard in Luke 6: 27-36 last Sunday. We need to keep on healing everyone who we
come in contact with, even people we may have wounded through our own words or
actions. We need to keep on trusting in
God’s mercies and accepting God’s grace.
We need to keep on praying by being faithful and patient. And today as we conclude our series “Keep
On,” we need to keep on trusting Jesus, especially more than ever before.
is no getting around it that this morning’s Gospel lesson is quite dark and
reads much like one of those doomsday movies from Hollywood. This morning’s lesson also reminds me a lot
of the story of Chicken Little who kept telling the other chickens that the sky
was falling. Or, it reminds me about The
Boy Who Cried Wolf. In both those
stories, when a catastrophe did happen, nobody believed Chicken Little or The
Boy Who Cried Wolf. As we encounter this
text from Luke, Jesus has made it to Jerusalem and has made it to the Temple
where he is now teaching, and still not exactly making friends with the
religious authorities. However, Jesus is
also painting a very bleak picture which in a way might conjure up the R.E.M.
song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Jesus is not mincing words as
he tells the people and us to
“Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many
leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’
or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and
uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign
of the end.” (Lk. 21: 9-11, MSG)
Like Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, these
doomsday deceivers will claim something will happen, but when it doesn’t
happen, it’ll be too late. In thinking
of what to say this week, I admit that I have had to confront many of my own
fears and anxieties this past week, as well think about my words just as many
of us here in this room may also have had to do. At the same time, while my words may be
well-meaning, they may also not be the most appropriate either. We have heard many different words expressed
these last few months during this campaign season, all adding to the noise
around us and certainly have heard many different words, ranging from a hopeful
tone to tones of deep fear and anxiety.
And as we think of the words to say, we need to take into consideration
that there are many who are now fearing for their life and their livelihood as
we speak. And like we encounter in our
text, there is still the fear of future wars and even saw the words Armageddon
and Apocalypse brought up in a few articles I’ve read. It really feels like doomsday at times. Similar was the case in 1999 and the whole
Y2K hype, as people legitimately thought the end of the world was upon us. Yet what a relief it was to wake up on
January 1, 2000 that things were the same as they were, even though I felt like
it was the end of the world with a bad case of the flu.
the fear and anxiety that many of us may be feeling right now after hearing all
this, Jesus tells us not to pay attention to these “doomsday deceivers,” but
instead “keep your head and don’t panic,” even amidst things that can possibly
happen or the reality we currently live in (Lk. 21: 8-9, MSG). It sounds very reminiscent of President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous quote during WWII, “the only thing we have
to fear is fear itself.” It might feel like hope is a fleeting fantasy or that
the sky is falling, or there’s a wolf in sight.
But this is where more than ever, we need to keep on trusting Jesus,
even when it feels like fear is so prevalent right now.
Even though we are yearning for Good News, Jesus isn’t quite
finished with the dark imagery yet, as he also mentions “nation will rise
against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes,
and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents
and great signs from heaven” (Lk. 21: 9-11, NRSV). If anything, I think I’d want to just run
away and hide upon hearing such talk, although we have been living in extreme
drought in CA these last several years, or are seeing an increase in wildfires,
and the occasional earthquake. Yet this is
some of the reality that we are living in right now, with constant fear and
fear-mongering, an increase in violence, and natural disasters. It’s easy to be afraid upon hearing these
words from our Gospel text, although there are some who are quick to claim to
have an answer to why such happens.
Assistant Professor of theology at St. Anselm College Gilberto Ruiz
explains that “whenever a disaster strikes, it doesn’t take long for some
prominent Christians to blame it on the secularization or moral pervasiveness
of society”[i]. Amidst disasters,
threats of war, conflict, times of deep division, and times of fear, when we
keep on trusting Jesus, we can still have hope and manage to find some Good
News, even with such a heavy text.
At the same time, if you are wondering why this text sounds like
it might be a good plotline for a Hollywood Doomsday blockbuster, it comes from
the genre of apocalyptic literature.
According to Gilberto Ruiz,
uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that
they should keep their trust in God even when facing the most challenging of
circumstances. Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells
his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9). There is nothing particularly
original or specific about Jesus’ “predictions” here. Every age has its own
false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on. We will misread 21:7-11
if we think Jesus is describing a specific set of calamities. The point is that
when bad things happen -- and they will -- we should “not be terrified” (21:9)
or follow anyone proclaiming these are signs of God’s judgment and the end
(21:8). Instead, we should trust that God remains present in our lives.[ii]
And bad things do happen and continue to
happen. But this is also more reason we
need to keep on trusting Jesus, just as we also talked about remaining faithful
under ALL conditions a few months ago, or when Susie reminded us to be patient
and faithful through prayer a few weeks ago.
Now that doesn’t mean that trusting Jesus is going to make the hurt,
pain, fear, and anxiety magically go away, but trusting in Jesus can give us
hope. As Gilberto Ruiz says ”every age
has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on,” and we will
continue to have these until the new heaven and new earth is realized as we
heard in the prophecy of in Isaiah 65: 17-25.[iii]
Knowing that this was going to be a
difficult week to preach, one of the books I recently bought and read is Scott
Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear. Despite all the calamities that may go on
around us, Bader-Saye writes that “although we may be experiencing a heightened
level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous
now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and 1,000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed” and that’s
very similar to what Jesus is telling us in this text from Luke this morning.[iv]
Some of the dangers that Jesus talks about in the text is persecution for
following him, but also family member going against family member, or even being
hated for following him, which are definitely some realities in today’s
world. But we also have things that are
out there to distract us from fully trusting Jesus as well. One of my colleagues at Discipleship
Ministries in Nashville explains that
U.S. and Western cultures are generally not out to threaten your safety or
destroy your body, they are nonetheless out to capture your allegiance from
following the way of Jesus and declaring and embodying the good news of God’s
kingdom. There are many forces out to use you as a marketer for their products,
services, or political, social, or economic agendas for the sake of their gain,
not necessarily for the common good or in witness to God’s kingdom. There are
many forces out to redirect your desire from desiring the kingdom of God above
all else to desiring what they want you to desire.[v]
distractions may be one of the newer dangers of today that Bader-Saye mentioned
earlier, along with the false prophets, or doomsday deceivers that Jesus talks
about in the text who will attempt to draw us away from God. Nevertheless, we need to keep on trusting
Jesus, digging in our heels if we need to.
The Good News is that amidst all the negative things, unrest, and
disasters that happen in the world around us, we still have Jesus’s word, as
Jesus “will give [us] the words and wisdom that none of [our] opponents will be
able to withstand or contradict” when we keep on trusting in him (Lk. 21: 15,
NRSV). I think Professor Karoline Lewis
at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN sums it up best by saying that
Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years.
Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of
circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with
endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer. We will keep
witnessing to the marvelous things that the Lord has done and will continue to
do (Psalm 98) regardless of the ways in which it looks otherwise. We just have
We have a new week that is ahead of us,
a fresh canvas full of many possibilities.
And in a couple weeks, we move into a new season in the church year as
we make our way to Advent and the waiting and watching for the new hope that
can be born at Christmas. But each new
day, let’s keep on putting our trust in Jesus and inviting and encouraging
everyone we come in contact with to do the same. Even amidst the events that may shake our
faith and try to distract us from God or following Jesus, let’s keep on
obeying, keep on healing all, keep on praying, keep on trusting in God’s
mercies, and keep on trusting Jesus. As
we continue our work towards healing and reconciliation of our nation, we are
STILL the body of Christ here in Quincy and STILL the hands and feet of Christ
in the world. Even amidst the outcome of
the election on Tuesday, it is up to each of us to work towards bringing
healing and reconciliation to those who are hurting, loving God and neighbor,
working together to bring about a new heaven and earth today, both here in
Quincy or wherever we are. But no matter
what is going on around us, let’s keep on keeping on and trusting Jesus each
step of the way!!
In the name of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
[i]“Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016,
accessed November 10, 2016,