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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 3: Rejoice always?


12/11
The cold now just makes me angry. After having come this far, it feels almost insulting. But there it is.  I’m getting the place set up as Rachel arrives first, followed by two visitors.There will eventually be three, inclusing two young women and one very tall young man with a shaved head. And Amy is with us today so there will be music. 
As last week, I invite  people to come up close.  When we get to Psalm 126, I tell them it always makes me think of my colleague Pastor K Karpen at SPSA. His way of doing this Psalm, almost people’s mike style. (He did this most recently at our community Thanksgiving service.)... The LORD has done great things for them...The LORD has done great things for us.....with shouts of joy...with shouts of joy...with shouts of JOY
Before my sermon, I tell the  the story of the people from New Jersey who had come to worship then returned for the gala. We were ten percent of your congregation that day, they said, we had to come back. I’m glad that they could see us at our best. And they had brought homemade pimento cheese dip, a bottle of tabasco, triscuits and chocolate chip muffins. The homemade cheese dip, delicious. 
Santas on subway, santacon2011
I focus my sermon Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11. But I start with another example of ritual space.  How yesterday was Santacon day. A day being added to the New York City holiday season liturgy. For several years now on the second Saturday of December, if you wear a Santa Claus (or elf or reindeer or...) suit and bring two items of non-perishable food, you get a card to visit bars all over the city that show a santacon sign. (The con is short for convention...)  Two Asian Santas getting on my subway express stop had caught my eye and  as we approached Penn  Station, there were increasing numbers of Santas everywhere. And outside Madison Square Garden, well, a veritable convention, So I asked one what was up. Coincidence he said. And then he laughed and told me about Santacon. 
Time to take a closer look at Isaiah. What I heard a professor at Union call the fifth gospel, as in Handel’s Messiah. The average person doesn’t usually think of the fact that most of Handel’s text comes from Isaiah. Once you’ve heard Messiah, you never hear Isaiah quite the same again, even though its original audience would never have had that understanding. Certainly  the gospels borrow much of their understanding of the Messiah from Isaiah.  The one who brings a universal Messianic age.
I ask who are  the oppressed, and people mention first the unemployed, then those without housing, the hungry in our midst. We learned from Doreen Wohl from the Westside Campaign Against Hunger that those who rely only on foodstamps to eat get about $4.50 a day to eat. For a family.  And I think of the story of the man in Chelsea who has an elevator to get his Range Rover up to an 11th floor garage outside his apartment. Oppressed....
to bind up the brokenhearted:    and who are they? And a voice from the pews s says, those who are gettign divorced...and we speak of broken relationships and the pain of this season....how my friend Bebb in Skocharie, New York has a Blue Christmas servicee where peope can share their sadness, because for many, this is not a season of joy, but one of a deeper awareness of hurt, of loneliness...
 to proclaim liberty to the captives: and we think of children trapped in school systems that don’t allow them to compete fairly, we think of famiies with children or parents in the military, peope who made choices based on economics, and find themselves fighting wars they didn’t want to be part of...and I remember  the family in my friend John’s church with 4 children in the service...
and release to the prisoners;  and we wonder how it is that there are more African-America males between 18 and 21 in prison than in college and how it is that our country can incarcerate a higher percentage of its population than any other industrialized nation..a rate six times higher than the rest of the planet, with less than 5% of the world’s pipilation we have 25% of the world’s prisoners...a number quadruled since 1980...(see http://www.isreview.org/issues/52/gasper_prisons.shtml)
 to comfort all who mourn; for whatever reason they mourn, for those who have lost a love, a job, a friend, or dream...
for this we wait..this is the work of the messiah to come, the age to come...
They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  And as I read that, the congregation laughs. That is what we are seeking to do day by day, our church building a symbol of what we seek to do in people’s lives...
 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing: when  I heard Michael Moore at Zucotti Park he said All we are asking for is what is already ours. We want our money back. Justice is in the end restorative...
I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. Like we talked about at our celebration Monday, this is about all who have come before, all who are here, and as I look at little Ashley, all who are to come...
 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
It was important that so many of these responses came from the congregation, not from me. Less preaching, more discerning, more discovering what is already known. 
I did say that for Walter Brueggeman, the Isaiah prophecy is about the primary agency of humanity. And that another translation for the phrase applied to Jesus, the Son of Man, is simply the Human One.  The age we wait for we must begin to live in even now as we say here, to see the image of God in the face of every person, in every person assembled here.  
As we sing Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, we seek to find space in our own hearts that the Messiah can be born, can live there.....
We finish with Soon and very soon and then I read 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24 as a benediction:
Rejoice always: (Really?How do we do that?)                     pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; All? Again, really? In the African- American church there is a call and response: God is good....All the time. All the time...God is good. Which means in all circumstances, seen or unseen, we affirm God’s presence with us, that God’s will will be done. That as Martin Luther  King, Jr.  said, the arc of history bends towards justice....
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.(Anyone’s spirit, not even your own, for the spirit of God is upon you...) Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
That’s the way it was, this third Sunday in Advent. It is cold, but I am walking home in the sun. 

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