Monday, December 19, 2016

"What Do You See? What Do You Hear? - Sermon from December 11, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“What Do You See? What Do You Hear?”
Pastor Andrew Davis
December 11, 2016
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

        Each 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?”
        In 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. 
        Last 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 (coincidentally):
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
        If 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? 
        But 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 by fire.[ii] 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? 
        I 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?
That’s not their job.
It’s ours, isn’t it?
Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for putting “Christ” in Christmas rather than demanding that others do?[v]

        Like 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 Spirit.  Amen. 

[i] Bible, 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. 
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Name. ‘Faith, Doubt and Inspiration - Brené Brown’. February 9, 2011. Accessed December 8, 2016.
[v] Yoo, Joseph. ‘Is the War on Christmas over Yet?’. Accessed December 8, 2016.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December Adventures

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light:
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness –
On them light has shined (Isaiah 9: 2, NRSV).

In the 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). 

As 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.

It 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. 

Amidst 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. 

I 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. 

Advent 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? 

Peace & Blessings,

Pastor Andrew

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sermon, December 4, 2016: "What Are You Preparing For?"

Community UMC, Quincy
“An Advent Question: What Are You Preparing For?”
Pastor Andrew Davis
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Matthew 3: 1-12
December 4, 2016

        How’s 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!
        But 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.”
        Last 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. 
        But 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. 
        As 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 Christmas. 
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 Christmas? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

[i] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 139. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Second Sunday of Advent — Preaching Notes’. 2016. Accessed December 1, 2016.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Lewis, Karoline. ‘Commentary on Matthew 3: 1-12 by Ron Allen’. December 4, 2016. Accessed December 1, 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"An Advent Question: Will We Be Ready?" - Sermon, November 27, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“An Advent Question: Will We be Ready?”
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Matthew 24: 36-44
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 27, 2016

        How 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 situations. 
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. 
        I 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? 
        It’s 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?   
        As 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.   
        Even in Isaiah 2, there is a theme of eschatology here, as it says in verse 2 how
In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’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 there to
worship. (NLT)
        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 certainly not return 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 return. 
        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. 

[i] Matt Rawle, The Redemption of Scrooge (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 36. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘First Sunday of Advent — Preaching Notes’. 2016. Accessed November 24, 2016.
[iii] Lewis, Karoline. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ron Allen’. November 27, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016.
[iv] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ben Witherington’. November 28, 2010. Accessed November 22, 2016.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups, Down to Earth (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 11.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Towards a New Kingdom," Sermon for November 20, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Towards a New Kingdom”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 20, 2016
Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Luke 23: 33-43

        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 kingdom. 
        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,
like 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 God’s mercy.[i]

And 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 the Lord, 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. During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness
        Even 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). 
        Jesus’s 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. 
[ii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Luke 23: 33-43 by David Tiede’. November 21, 2010. Accessed November 17, 2016.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Keep on Trusting Jesus" - Sermon, November 13, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Keep on Trusting Jesus”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 13, 2016
Isaiah 65: 17-25
Luke 21: 5-19

        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. 
        There 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. 
Yet amidst 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,
Apocalyptic literature 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
If 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]

        Such 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 to.[vi]

        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,
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 15. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed November 10, 2016.
[vi] “Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016, accessed November 10, 2016,

"God's Sheep Are We" - Sermon, May 12, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy “God’s Sheep Are We” Rev. Andrew Davis May 12, 2019 Psalm 23 John 10: 22-30 Jesus as the Good Shepherd ...