Be a Blessed and Merry Christmas Keeping

On the 5th day of Christmastide

A sermon for Christmas; Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14(15-20), Psalm 96

One of my early Christmas memories was when I was about 12. At my mother’s suggestion, I took a set of bells, that hung on the back door during Christmas, walked down back porch roof to my little brothers’ room and rang them. As soon as I heard them move, I sprinted back down the roof and, to my mother complete surprise, dove through my bedroom window, fortunately, I landed in my bed.

Some years later my brothers and sisters and I raced downstairs at the appointed time. We were not allowed downstairs before 7, a rule established after our 5:30 am appearance. To our surprise, nothing was there. The tree and all the presents that had been there were gone. What we expected to be delivered magically in the night, was not there. We were stunned. It was one of the few moments, when the house was not asleep, that it was silent. It turns out mom and dad had moved everything from the family room to the living room during the night. The next year is proof that what parents do is more formative than anything they can say or teach. In the dark of night, the five of us sneaked downstairs, moved Christmas into the upstairs hall, including the fully decorated tree. Our gales of laughter replaced the time of stunned silence.

When we mostly grew up, well we were living on our own, some of us were married, and some of us had kids, the extended family would meet at our parent’s home, enjoy a meal of captain’s soup, exchange gifts, share in joyful Christmas banter, before we headed off to our individual families’ emerging Christmas traditions.

If in the future any such events are a part of your Christmas experience, this preacher disavows any knowledge of past events. Beware the flaming thurible (a crucible for incense).

I hope your families’ traditions of observing Christmas bring such joy into your lives. During my reading this past week, it struck me when someone made note of the difference between observing Christmas and keeping Christmas that there is a lot of observing Christmas in the traditions I shared and that I see. The curious thing is, that except for the significant change in happy vs mean attitude, how similar just observing Christmas can be like Scrooge. But here is good news, observing Christmas can be transformed into keeping Christmas, without the visit from three Christmas Ghosts.

Dana Kelley wrote about a scene in A Christmas Carol that is not in any of the movies. Charles Dickens’ story includes an argument between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, where Scrooge accuses the Ghost of cramping “the people’s opportunity of innocent enjoyment. The language is difficult, but the background is clearer.

In Dicken’s day ovens were not common in the homes of working class and poor people. Six-day a week, ten-hour workday meant Sunday was the only day they could prepare a hot meal. Blue laws prevent bakers from baking on Sunday, but not from making their ovens available to these families to cook their meals in. Sir Andrew Agnew, a member of Parliament, introduced a bill that proposed to close the blue-law loophole and disallow even the firing up of ovens on Sundays.

The scene is a dig at a local politician, through the Ghost. I suspect it is left out of the movies to avoid insulting anyone, including us because we can’t conceive of the problem any more than Sir Agnew could. Confession; though I have no knowledge of the lineage; I do know that Agnew is a common name in my father’s family. And yes, it makes me at least ponder, if not squirm.

The Ghost answers Scrooge

 There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they never lived. … Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.

Scrooge promises he will, and this is the transformational moment in the book. I’m sure you remember the story ends by sharing that it is said of Scrooge He knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. Dickens goes on the write May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

It is easy to get caught up in observing Christmas, sometimes in the joyful ways, but for some folks in a negative way, because of the brokenness in their family (Kosa). It is easy to forget that you are a blessing to God just as you are. It is hard to see how God longs for you to be a blessing to others, through your brokenness. (Almquist). We forget that the bible is full of broken or different families. This includes Jesus’ family. Mary’s pregnancy is unexpected, Joseph becomes as foster father, and they will have to flee to a foreign county because of death threats (Kosa). 2,018 or so years ago, that brokenness becomes a blessing. It is a blessing that has never stopped, the Messiah’s birth is always happening, even in the bottomless abyss of each soul’s dark night (Stringer). Every Christmas, every night is the opportunity for every heart to become just a bit more of a humble manger, a place for the birth of Jesus (Bartoli).

I see such opportunities kept. In Blytheville there are many such mangers, whether they call themselves ministries or not, from support for Charitable Clinic, or Ringing for the Mission, or being a part of giving away some 800 sets for food boxes through the Ignite program, or participating in one of the Christmas Tree giving efforts, to sending cards to isolated neighbors, to simply wishing your cashier a blessing and Merry Christmas.

My Christmas wish for you is that our God, who is always doing something new, reveals how your hearts are becoming a birthing manger, a blessing of God’s light and life and love to all who surround you (Almquist). May you be a blessed and Merry Christmas keeping.


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Blessing- Brother, Give Us A Word.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 12 12 2018. <ssje.org/word/>.

Bartoli, Br. Nicholas. Manger – Brother, Give Us A Word. 15 12 2018.

Kosa, Lauren. I just divorced and was dreading Christmas. Then I remembered. 11 12 2018. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/12/11/i-just-divorced-was-dreading-christmas-then-i-remembered-all-broken-families-bible/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1dd65d529039&gt;.

Stringer, Clifton. THE SIGN OF THE NEWBORN BABY. 19 12 2018. <https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/9418/the-sign-of-the-newborn-baby&gt;.

 

 

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It Just May Be Your Song

A sermon for Advent 4; Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Canticle 15 (or 3) or Psalm 80:1-7

A quick history of Israel from Samuel through 2nd Kings and the time between the Old and New Testament. In

 1043 BCE Saul becomes King (1 Samuel 8 – 10)
1010 BCE David is made King over Judah (2 Samuel 2)
931 BCE the Kingdom is divided (1 Kings 12, 13) by the wisest man in the world
722 BCE Israel is taken into captivity (2 Kings 17:6) never to return.
586 BCE is the Fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25) and her people are taken into exile
537 BCE the exiles return (Ezra 2)
444 BCE the city wall rebuilt and not long after the Temple is sort of rebuilt
33 BCE  Judah is conquered by Alexander the Great along with all of Persia,                                 and in
63 BCE she conquered by Rome

Today’s story begins around 4 BCE. It was another bad year. Herod the Great died, and all the Jews rebelled. The Roman Syrian legions crushed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery. Those who could not hide were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived lost everything. Jesus grew up in Nazareth about 4 miles from Sepphoris. As have all the others who occupied Judea, the Romans economically exploited the Jews (Johnson).

Mary’s family likely arranged for her to travel to her aunt and uncle’s home with others journeying in that direction because it was not safe for anyone to travel alone, never mind a young girl (Keener and Walton). The road she is traveling with God safe isn’t safe either.

When she sees Elizabeth, Mary greets her “shalom”, or peace, meaning may God cause all to be well with you (Keener and Walton). Elizabeth answers with a thanksgiving that she is blessed to be in presence of her Lord’s mother and offers Mary a blessing.

Mary responds with what we know as The Magnificat, we said it together this morning. It is built on (Samuel’s mother) Hannah’s prayer and sings about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and God’s commitment to reversing unjust power and status (Gaventa and Petersen; Culpepper). It echoes the social upheaval and economic exploitation, speaks of how the people are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unfair law, and their belief that God is at work (Harrelson). The use of the word ‘Savior’ is evidence that the people need strength that is greater than theirs; it expresses the people’s desperation; and confesses that the need for deliverance will be met by someone else (Harrelson). The Magnificat praises God’s activity and faithfulness as (1) the warrior, who engages in battle on behalf of God’s people and brings them deliverance, and (2) God the merciful, who remembers the lowly and cares for the needy (Harrelson). It proclaims that the overthrow of the powerful will not come through strong rebellion but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child (Culpepper). It speaks of how this dramatic reversal by which the proud are scattered and the powerful deposed is the signature of God’s mighty acts. It sings of how the lowly are exalted, and the hungry are fed, while the rich are sent away empty. Mary sings of God’s redeeming work not as some future expectation, but as already being fulfilled (Culpepper). The Magnificat’s jubilant hope for the future is dangerous political language, as it speaks of upending the current power structures. Mary is not just a pregnant teen, she is God’s messenger proclaiming the arrival of a new age; an age of justice in which unjust social and economic values are turned upside down (Epperly).

After the end of WWII, we lived and worked in a world believing we faced only one real enemy, the Russian Empire, formally known as the USSR. In 1991, or there about, that Empire fell along with the Berlin Wall. Then we believed the ideology of western democracy and capitalism would dominate.

For lots of entangled and complex reasons that vision has not born fruit. The economic strength of the American middle class has given way to technology changes, overseas manufacturing, and the commoditization of most all segments of social support systems, schools, healthcare, prisons, and so on. China has emerged as an economic competitor and a growing military threat. Middle East countries rich in oil have erupted into violent interregional religious and social conflict. Despots, whose rule we thought was limited to South America and Africa, have emerged in Europe. Italy is threating to pull out of the EU. England has announced it will but doesn’t seem to know how. The Arab spring was short lived. Syria has been engulfed in a brutal civil war for 7 years. Yemen’s 3-year-old civil war is even worse. We don’t hear much about Iraq, only because everything else is such a mess, at the same time some talk of security forces behavior that likely will lead to the reemergence of ISIS. Decades of negotiations have made little if any real progress to settle the Israel – Palestinian conflict. Nuclear Arms treaties are giving way to the emergence of threats from countries who are not participants. We thought we were making progress in reducing the health effect of smoking, when vaping appears on the scene; last year teen vaping rate doubled, and just last week a major tobacco company bought Juul, the company selling the favorite e-cigarette among teens. And our own political scene is a mess with politicians acting from loyalty to their party and or campaign funders, not the country or “we the people.” Congress hasn’t been able to pass a budget without some sort of shut down or kick it down the road maneuver for years. Large corporations are buying each other and everything else up at rates concerning some economist. We cannot even agree what science is, never mind decide if it is revealing rising global temperatures and the consequences that may come or are coming or are here.

It is a different set of causes, nonetheless it is how, in our age, justice, social and economic values are corrupt (Epperly).

We proclaim that we know how God works, but we might pretend we do not, so we avoid drawing attention to ourselves, because we know such knowledge is as dangerous for us as it is for Mary (TLC). Religion is inseparable from politics, just as it was in in Mary’s time. When we celebrate God’s concern in the past, we acknowledge God’s concern and we pray for God’s concern for the present, as we pronounce our confidence that God is at work now (Johnson). We don’t use the language any more, but we pray for the return of the King, the return of our Messiah.

But, ~  we forget that the overthrow of Rome did not come about through the strength of rebellion lead by a mighty king, but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child. We forget God’s messenger was a pregnant teenage girl, from a backwater town, of the smallest tribe, in a relatively insignificant province of the Roman Empire.

As we look to the celebration of our Savior’s birth, we are also looking at how we are called to be God’s messenger, in this age, when everything is turn upside down, in its own way. And though it is not safe, it may just be your song magnifying the Lord, rejoicing in the Savior who awakens in our hearts the presence of divine strength brings shalom
peace from war,
peace of mind,
completeness,
soundness in welfare, safety, and health,
prosperity
peace and quiet,
contentment,
friendship,
covenant relationship with God (Olivetree),
right here, and everywhere, right now.


 

References

Biasdell, Machrina. Song Hope – Advent 4. 23 12 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 12 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 4 – Luke 1:39-45 (46-56). 17 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55). 23 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Olivetree. Olive Tree Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary. Olive Tree Bible Software, 2014.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. “Work and Joy.” 23 12 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

 

 

 

From a Crowd Into God’s people

A Sermon for Advent 3; Luke 3:7, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Canticle 9, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

[pace agitatedly]

“You brood of vipers!”

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7 [pause] Yes, a brood is a family of young animals, born in one hatching. And yes, vipers are venomous snakes with long, hinged fangs that enables them to bite deep to inject their venom. But John isn’t calling the crowd a bunch of really poisonous snakes. About 4 decades ago I lived in an apartment complex. One of my neighbors was about 6’6, weighted like 250 pounds, and was a city police officer. One Friday night I was at a party, with lots of people crammed into someone’s apartment. All of a sudden, the door burst open; it’s full of police blue, and a loud booming voice proclaiming “Hi ya’ll!” He had our attention.

The crowd – brood is every one Jew & Gentile, the powerful and their functionaries, and every-day folks. John’s chides the crowd for relying on their family relationship to Abraham for salvation. Yes, he was faithful, but that doesn’t matter, God can raise up another Abraham any time God chooses; besides, as we heard in Isaiah’s Canticle it is the faithfulness of their relationship with God that matters. Abraham can help, he can point the way, but their relationship with Abraham is not the saving relationship. I wonder if some folks don’t think of their church, the way the crowd thinks of Abraham, a sort of I belong so I’m okay membership card to God’s presence.

So yes, John has a prophetic warning to share, but more importantly John wants to get the people’s attention, he got it (Culpeper).

The change in wording from ‘crowd’ to ‘people’ is one sign he has their attention (Culpeper). Another sign is that they ask him what to do. There are three broad groups of people. Those who have plenty, who are symbolized by the two coats. It almost makes me ashamed of the number of coats in my closet. Tax collectors specifically, or more generally government or officials of any kind. Finally, soldiers, who actually function more like the police, their job is to keep the peace. John tells those with plenty to share. He tells the officials not to use their office for personal gain. He tells the soldiers, the police, to be satisfied with their wages. The summary is to quit doing things the way you want to, or the way society tells you is okay, and do it better, do it honestly, do it as an act of service for others; be truthful and above board in your work, be faithful to whatever task is yours to perform (Nagata; Hoezee).

In listening to the what is going on in the world I wonder who would be in the crowd today John directs his abrupt prophecy too? Who is John calling to be faithful,

  • a county clerk treating people differently, because they are different than the clerk
  • a doctor stealing million in Medicaid dollars, perhaps contributing to the desire of some government leaders to cut cost by cutting benefits,
  • a college president kicking back state grant dollars to legislators who coordinated it,
  • police and jail officers covering up the misdeeds of their partners,
  • teachers, coaches, priests, and others who abuse the children in their charge,
  • a secretary embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church whose books she keeps,
  • builders taking advantage of disasters, offering work at inflated prices and lesser materials;

there were others Luke did not include in this Gospel story; there are others today.

John’s prophetic call is an Advent call, a call to reorient your life (Lewis); it is an invitation into a joyous companionship with God (Epperly). It is an invitation made to all of us.

~~~

All of us, not everybody, but all of us know the gifts under the tree represent God’s gift of Jesus to all of us. John reminds all of us that what matters is how we live our lives, not as points earned, but an outward and visible sign of the inner, spiritual relationship with our creator God (Lewis).

The Christmas story is the beginning of God changing the world, all of it, all the universe, everything, every living creature in it. John gives us peak ahead, by letting us know the change is happening one life at a time. The people were not called to try and change the world on their own, or start the newest spiritual practice, or begin an ambitious project; they were called do what they had been doing all along; just do it better, in righteousness and justice (Hoezee). Neither are we and so are we.

All this is hard work. It is hard to look at our own behaviors, to strip away all the social, religious stamps of approval, and see with divine eyes. It is hard to give up the benefits our culture gives us. It is hard to give up the advantages we’ve been lucky enough to have, or clever enough to claim. It is hard to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God. It is hard to be transformed from a crowd, into a community of God’s people. The authors of today’s collect know this, which is presumably why they begin with the phrase Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. God listens, God hears, and God is ~ stirring things up; right here, right now.


References

Culpeper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Mark 16. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. OliveTree.

Dinkler, Michal Beth. Commentary on Luke 3:7-18. 12 12 2018.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 12 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 3:7-18. 16 12 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. The Time Is Now. 16 12 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nagata, Ada Wong. “What Should We Do? Advent 3.” 16 12 2018. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

Rites of Trauma

A Sermon for Advent 2; Malachi 3:1-4, Canticle 4 or 16, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

This past week we watched a couple of versions of Dickens “A Christmas Carol” This got me to thinking; 3 Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present, and Future; sounds like an interesting way to practice Advent. However, no matter how I tried, I could not make 3 equal 4; no math tricks I learned in school worked, no new math things, I’ve seen, worked, not even the crazy math of quantum mechanics worked. The divine muse was silent. And then I read David Brook’s column Fighting the Spiritual Void.

Brooks explores the impact of trauma, and how poorly we help people recover. It doesn’t matter if its PTSD, or sexual assault, a grave injury, witnessing a horrific event, or surviving a disaster when many close to you did not, we’ve moved to a place where we treat trauma simply with medication. Our culture’s “not religious, but spiritual” posture leaves a spiritual void … [of] privatize morality [that] denudes the public square of spiritual content, … [robs] people of the community resources they need to process moral pain together (Brooks). Brooks wishes we had the spaces, wisdom of community elders, and rituals that symbolize the transformation.

When I finished his column, I realized we know how to do this. Churches, especially like the Episcopal Church, which are liturgy centered, know about rites, we know their power. Or at least we did. We seem to have lost the connection between ritual and the needs of the secular community. A similar loss is at the heart of today’s reading from Malachi.

The first thing you will have noticed is, inspired by multiple commentaries, I expanded the reading by a few verses, to include verses where God replies to Judah’s complaint that since they have returned from Exile they have rebuilt the Temple under Zerubbabel, experienced a religious revival under Ezra and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah yet they had not returned to their former glory. The result is that worship has become a mere form, tithes are ignored, Sabbath is broken, marriage and adoption of pagan customs are common, and priests are corrupt (Mast). Malachi answers for God

You have wearied the Lord I will send you my messenger, suddenly. He will come to the Temple. He will cleanse priests like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap until they are righteous then your offerings will be pleasing to God (Malachi 2:17-3:5).

 Notice I have tinkered with the wording and emphasized Malachi’s focus on worship. Judah has once again violated the covenant. The collapse of divine justice prevails. Gods will refine and purify the places, the leaders, the hearts of worshippers, erasing corruption and restoring grace (Han). Advent is a season of such reorientation. It is about hearing Malachi giving voice to God’s warning and reorienting our worship so we may reorient our lives. The shift to blue vestments and liturgical accouterments indicates such thinking has fallen from favor in the church. I still hold to the idea that Advent is a time of penitence, different than Lent, but still, a time to change the direction of our lives, and according to Malachi, the direction of our worship.

This morning I am hearing two prophetic voices. One, Brooks, is in the role of the nuisance prophet who points out our shorting comings, where we have lost the truth and reveals our secrets (Johnson). He also has some creative ideas of what restoration might include. The other, Malachi, is meddlesome (Johnson). He tells us God is actively purifying thing, refining things, which means changing things. Those changes might just look like additional rites for a traumatized people and communities. Books suggest such rites include the language of Myth … that moves people from Separation through Initiation and then back to Return. It sounds a lot like Brueggemann’s categorization of the Psalms into Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. These rites could revive ancient rites for soldiers returning from war who are given a chance to cleanse, purify (think refiners fire) themselves and then rejoin the community, which takes possession of the guilt they have for actions made on our behalf. Then they are welcomed as warriors, and positive leaders in the community (Brooks). There are foundational traditions within our existing sacramental traditions for such rites.

Brooks sees a place for a community-wide rite of passage for people coming out of prison, for the forgiveness of a personal wrong, Such a rite can draw on elements of baptism including renouncing Satan and all forces of wickedness… (BCP 302) a promise to seek and serve Christ in all people respecting the dignity of every human being (BCP 304) and elements of confession, counseling, and absolution found in the Reconciliation of Penitent (BCP 447).

He suggests a rite for people as they emerge from the darkness trauma and abuse. They might draw from the laying of hands and anointing found in the Ministry to Sick (BCP 453), and prayers which pronounce releasing them from suffering and restoring them to shalom, wholeness and strength, deliverance, and perseverance.

Brooks also suggests a rite to mark the moment when a young person finds their life’s vocation. It might be based on The Commitment to Christian Service (BCP 420) and include a prayer for guidance, a commending to their work, a Litany for Vocation mirroring a Litany for Ordination (BCP 548), all generally following the Celebration of New Ministry (BCP 556).

The crafting of such rites will not be easy. They will need be openly available to all people recovering from traumatic events, Episcopal or not, Christian or not. There will need to be prophets to help us see the need, to see that no one sinned; this man was just born blind; and call us to work the work God is calling us to work (John 9:3-5). Who knows, such rites may even be a new way to proclaim the Gospel to a nation whose actions are less and less grounded in the foundational values we pretend to proclaim. I know it will be a challenge to follow Brooks’ and Malachi’s prophetic voices. I know It will be harder to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1) as a prophetic voice that prepares the way for those recovering from life’s trauma (CEP M). I know such grace is present right here, right now.


References

Bratt, Doug. Advent 2 C Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. Fighting the Spiritual Void. 19 11 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/opinion/mental-health-ptsd-community.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 12 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Han, Jin H. Commentary on Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Johnson, Deon. “Advent 2 C (18).” 9 12 2018. Sermons that Work.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Mast, Stan. Malachi 3:1-4. 9 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schuller, Eileen M. New Interpreters Bible The Book of Malachi. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

Who Will You Listen To?

A Sermon for Advent 1: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is not the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is not the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, which now begins before Thanksgiving. It is a season peculiar to some Christians a pivotal time, a time of reflection, to prepare for the celebration of the divine incarnation, and/or to prepare for the return of the King, Jesus the Christ, the Lord of lords. I find it helpful to place ourselves in the time before Jesus birth, to reconnect with the state of the world, in particular, the state of Israel. Knowing those struggles helps us to see more clearly the struggles we face. Our lectionary provides us with a reading from Jeremiah so we will begin with the state of the state in Jeremiah’s day.

The Assyrian empire is in decline and the ensuing conflict between Egypt and Babylon for domination appears to present Judah a chance for independence. The Northern Kingdom, Israel is doomed, she is about to go into exile, her monarchy is over, the last of her kings is captive. There is an impulse of nationalistic stirrings which pushes Zedekiah, Judah’s King into rebellion against the new power Babylon. Their wrath will be terrible, their retribution swift. The two Kingdoms have failed in all imaginable ways; the land is full of burned out cities littered with dead bodies; a devastated countryside where the deer and the antelope no longer play. Jerusalem is in a state of chaos, without form, a void covered in darkness It appears that God’s promise has come to nothing. Jeremiah is under house arrest and the Chaldeans (Babylon) are coming (Chan; Mast; Harrelson).

It does, and does not, sound familiar. Today we continue to read of

  • devastating hurricanes
  • wildfires
  • earthquakes
  • never-ending war(s) in the middle east
  • leaders continuing to put national economics above morality
  • police being fired for shooting a black man
  • police being fired for not shooting a black man
  • threats from increased economic tariffs
  • new missile systems possibly being deployed in Europe
  • accidental or deliberate military encounters in o the Western Pacific Ocean or Eastern Europe.

At the same time, we read that we are in the 2nd longest recovery in history, GDP is growing 3.5% a year, faster than anyone expected. Earnings for high school dropouts is up 6.5%. Because of government social support programs incomes for the bottom 20% have increased by about 80 percent over the past forty years. But; 60% of us are dissatisfied. The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index is at its worse in its ten-year history. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively. This may be because well-educated young people are facing large school debt, the gig economy, that is mostly temporary insecure work, with no benefits. The normal professions are drying up. We are in a crisis of connection that is caused by and leads to people being

  • less likely to volunteer,
  • less likely to go to church,
  • less likely to know their neighbors,
  • less likely to marry, and
  • less likely to have social resources.

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the last three years, for the first time since WWI and the 1915-1918 flu pandemic (Brooks). Many people are deeply concerned that the partisan divide is a sign that our country is coming apart. We fear that it has never been this bad, that we are doomed (Mast). Some are concerned that fear is becoming to be the denominate force in our lives. In desperation we • seek more stuff, • are more hostile, • have more contempt for those who are different, and • seek more protection. There is no wonder we see more and more gun ownership advocacy.

However, there is more to Jeremiah’s story, than the background I shared. And, there is also more to our story. This morning’s short 2 verses from Jeremiah are known as the “little book of consolation,” and it assures Israel a new Davidic king will rule in justice and righteousness (Harrelson). We hear God saying something different. The day will come when the King will

  • do what is right in the land
  • do justice and
  • save the people.

God says the day will come when I will heal, when I will bring shalom, the day will come when I will restore the people’s fortunes (Chan). It is notable that restoration of fortunes is not just a matter of restoring abundance, productivity, and partying. Restoration includes: recreating justice in systems of governance and religion and raising up leaders who will rightly decide the affairs of the people and will lead them in their worship of the Lord (Kennedy). What might this look like for us?

You have heard me say that we’ve just about commoditized everything and that is having huge negative impacts. For instance, the commoditization of education is leading to large student debt, that is leading to young adults buying newer cars slower, buying homes slower, going back homes, and so on. So, I was surprised when I read David Brooks write There’s an interesting debate going on in conservative circles over whether we have overvalued capitalism … and undervalued programs that foster dignity-enhancing work He continues

  • Conservatives were wrong to think that economic growth would lead to healthy families and communities all by itself.
  • Moderate (Democrats) were wrong to think it was sufficient to maximize growth and then address inequalities with transfer payments
  • progressives are wrong to think life would be better if we just made our political economy look more like Denmark’s

It seems this is no longer Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy stupid.” world. Now it is a relationships, relationships, relationships world (Brooks).

Given that Brooks is correct, and relationships are the key to wellbeing who are we, who are you going to listen to for guidance?

ABC?
NBC?
CBS?
CNN?
Fox News?
NPR?
Apple News?
Google News?
Facebook?
Redditt?
Twitter?
our local or state paper?

Can they, will they, set the tone of your life? Who will you believe as you face dark times?

 the secular prophets of old,
the new prophets of today?
or
our immortal, invisible only wise God (Smith 423)
born to set his people free, (Wesley 66)
our living God, (Mast)?
whose still small voice reminds you that

He has told you, … what is good;
…[that]… you [are]
… to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)


References

Bates, J. Barrington. “We Need A Little Hopefulness, Advent 1 (C) – December 2,.” 2 12 2018. Sermons that Work.

Brooks, David. “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid.” 29 11 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/11/29/opinion/american-economy-working-class.html>.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kennedy, James. M. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Jeremiah. Vol. 4. Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Mast, Stan. Jeremiah 33:14-16. 2 12 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Walter Chalmers. “Immortal Invisible.” The Episcopal Church. Hymnal 1982. 1982. .

Wesley, Charles. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Church, The Episcopal. Hymnal 1982. 1982.