Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas, Year B, December 28, 2008

First Sunday of Christmas
Year B
December 28, 2008
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Isaiah 61:10—62:3 Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7 St. Luke 2:22-40

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

Today our focus is on children. To me they represent a sign of innocence, beauty, and the presence of God among us. Today is the first Sunday after Christmas and so we remember particularly the Incarnation. And we celebrate again new life with the Baptism of another beautiful child of God. Today we welcome another child into the family of our faith in a formal way. It is always an exciting time for me.

But before we talk about new life with all of its potential before it, I want to talk about death. The other end of the spectrum of our lives. In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we have what is for me a very profound prayer in the service for the Burial of the Dead.

It goes like this: “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light. Amen.”

It is a prayer so powerful in its truth that is brings my emotions right to the surface. I can barely say the prayer at a funeral without tearing up. A sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock. It is an acknowledgement of our belonging to God.

A number of hears ago Joan Armstrong wrote a song entitled “What If God Was One Of Us”. Part of the lyrics went like this:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets (*)
Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
'cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

The song really appealed to me. If God had a face what would it look like? It is a great reminder as we celebrate the birth of a savior in a barn and the baptism of a child. God calls us to see God in each and every one of us. But that can sometimes be very hard. To see God, particularly in people in whom we can’t see ourselves.

A few years ago there was a show on TV called “Joan of Arcada”. Every week God would appear to Joan in the form of a person and give her some task which needed to be done. The person who was God changed regularly and it was a very cute show. One episode though God appeared as a young teen in Goth. You know a teen that wears all black clothing, often with pale makeup on the skin and dark features. Most definitely not what I see when I look in a mirror. I found myself very shocked at this. I was rather upset that God would be portrayed in this manner.

It took me quite some time to deal with all my thoughts after my initial reaction. I knew my reaction was wrong, but it was there. I had to do a lot of soul searching. In the end, that young Goth became my favorite character to portray God. I had learned the importance of seeing God in everyone I meet. I still fail at times to do so, but I think that in my life I’m now a lot more sensitive to it.

It seems to me that for most of us Christians it is very easy to see God in infants and children and it is usually easy to see God in people at their death. We seem to have the beginning and ending of life figured out pretty good. Where we so often fail is in that large stretch in the middle when people live life, make choices, make mistakes and generally try to make it though.

It is as this point that we are most unsuccessful at seeing God in others. We seem to love people when they are born and when they die but often it is easy to hate them or perhaps ignore them in the middle.

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
That is the questions we all must ask ourselves. You see God does have a face. God has many faces.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent

Year B

December 14, 2008

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126

I Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.

One of my favorite Advent hymns is "On Jordan's Bank." It is found on page 63 of your LBW. The words go like this:

1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come, then, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings.

2. Then cleansed by every Christian breast
And furnished for so great a Guest.
Yea, let us each our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.

3. For Thou art our Salvation, Lord,
Our Refuge, and our great Reward.
Without Thy grace our souls must fade
And wither like a flower decayed.

4. Lay on the sick Thy healing hand
And make the fallen strong to stand;
Show us the glory of Thy face
Till beauty springs in every place.

5. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Who advent sets Thy people free,
Whom, with the Father, we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.

Today we hear the story of John the Baptist, a particularly appropriate lesson for Advent. The lesson starts out with the words "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." Being sent from God is not always a great thing by our standards. While John had some followers, those in power were really threatened by him. In fact, his words became so threatening that they eventually lead to his imprisonment and finally his death. He never gained worldly good or significant recognition in his life time. The life of a prophet is usually lonely.

Today I want you to pull out your insert and follow those two lines with me again. But I’m going to change a few words this time. "There was a person sent from God, whose name was Lucy. She came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through her." I figured I would use Lucy as an example since she is such a new addition to the church family and can’t really speak for herself yet.

This time I want you to read it with your name. Try it out. Go ahead.

How did it feel? I want to take a short moment now and let you just think about what it would mean if that verse was speaking about you. Did you believe it in your heart when you read it? I hope so because it is absolutely true. There is a person sent by God and guess what? That person is you. And you. And you. And little Lucy. And me.

To me it can be pretty overwhelming. You are that person sent by God. I am that person sent by God. You are that person called as a witness to testify to the light. It can be pretty overwhelming. We think of our personal failures and wonder how in the world we can be a witness to the light of God.

I have to wonder if John felt exactly that same way I suspect he might have been a reluctant witness for God. How much better to live your comfortable life without these annoying interruptions from God.

How are you and I going to respond? Some of us may be tempted to argue with God. Something along the lines of “Lord can’t I just go to church and support the church? Isn’t that enough God?” Perhaps our response will be that of Moses or Jonah. Basically a "not me Lord! Are you crazy God?" No one will listen to me Lord. Moses thought he didn’t speak well enough. Any excuse. How many excuses do we have for God?

Our initial desire to say no to the call of God in our life needs to be changed to a yes. We need to decide to respond like Samuel, saying "speak lord, for your servant is listening", then what?

How do we fulfill our commission to be a witness to testifying about Jesus? I think many peoples greatest fear is that we will have to go door to door to strangers like the Mormon's or the Jehovah Witnesses. Or do we have to pay an annual Temple assessment as in the Jewish tradition? Or do we try and keep it a secret like the Episcopal tradition?

Well we don't have to do it any particular way. One approach will not fit every circumstance and every need. Fortunately we don't even have to dress up in uncomfortable clothing and eat grass hoppers like John. But we do need to overcome our fears and anxiety to say yes to God. Sometimes not even really knowing what that yes to God will mean. We need to realize that God chooses us and that God will be with us. In our weakness God’s power is made even more manifest. Paul believed that he could do all things through the power of the strength of God in his life. Do we really believe that?

But one thing we absolutely do have to do is be a witness for God. There is no getting around that call of God in our lives. Each in our own unique way. Each of us as God has called is. It will not be the same. But that way God reaches out to so many other people.

It is our job to announce to others that the Lord is near. Advent can be a challenging and risky time for us. It calls us to evangelism like no other season in the Church year. So let each of us commit to the work of evangelist in our own lives as we respond to the call of God.