Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Second Sunday in Advent: ...what is best....


It is Second Sunday in Advent.  And some visitors present, like Eric from Noche, and Wayne with his beautiful voice. (He was back at Open Mic last Friday night…)…and a young woman.  And Jed Distler is our special guest musician. ( )…So lots of music.
·        We do my mash-up of Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming and the Rose, as made famous by Bette Mitler. And my version of  Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, to the tune Nettleton…and finish with Soon and Very Soon by Andrae Crouch as I miss our Andre, who’s in Florida.  And we read all four scriptures, First Malachi 3:1-4, the Canticle Luke 1:68-79 , the Epistle Philippians 1:3-11  and finally the Gospel Luke 3:1-6.  And then our reflection:

So it’s happened again.. This time it’s San Bernadino, California. And because the couple is Muslim, we’re talking  about terrorism.  The local imam had police come  to his door at night with guns drawn. (Kind of shows that terrorism works, no?) Is it strange that when a gunman opens fire on a Planned Parenthood office in Denver, killing two and wounding another r9, the New York Post does not says, Radical Christian guns down innocent…
And last Thursday was  the day people marched in recognition of the first anniversary of Eric Garner death at the hands of police.  

Well, there are other anniversaries , too. Last Thursday, we had the 50th anniversary of the first public concert of the Grateful Dead. Next Tuesday is 35th anniversary of the death of  John Lennon (12/8) . But also the 50th anniversary of the end of Vatican II and the day Pope Francis will throw open the gates of the Vatican to begin the Papal Year of Mercy.

So…3 questions.
1.    What is our situation?
2.   What are our resources, or gifts?
3.   And what are we to do…

And what do our scriptures have to say about any of this?  First, if we had a big grand choir, today would be a great day for Messiah singing… We’ve got Malachi talking about a refiner’s fire… and John, quoting Isaiah, preaching about every valley…and rough places being  made smooth and the crooked straight and all flesh seeing it together..  Several years ago, we had a Bible Study on the Gospel according to Handel.. maybe we ought to do that again sometime..

The situation…
We’ve  got John the Baptist arriving front and center this week, but I’m going to end with Paul. We’ve got Malachi like a set up text our man John. ( written around the 5th century BCE) The people have returned  from exile but Malachi  is protesting against corruption in the Temple. And speaking of a messenger, this is precisely the role John is to play.

Then we’ve got John’s father, Zechariah, part of the temple establishment,  in the Temple, speaking of who his son John  will be.  He is peaking to a people who are occupied by a mighty empire. And he is announcing a victory already accomplished…even before the birth of Jesus! Like Tutu declaring we have already won years before apartheid fell… a victory where we are
saved from our enemies and from the hand of
all who hate us. That we have received
 mercy ….
That we have  been  rescued from the hands of our
enemies, and can serve God without fear, …

We are not occupied…but we do want to be saved  from  our enemies…internal and external…. Can we believe that’s already been done?...and can we serve God without fear…can we live without fear?..imagine what that feels like?. and that his son  John will be the messenger… to preach repentance of sins..

So John rejects where he grew up and heads for the hills living like  a wild man…or religious ascetic hermit…or prophet…and preaching repentance…here’s what to want you to see…it’s a call to leave behind  the ways of the empire…and the biggest challenge is to call out the temple…the religious establishment for its collaboration with the temple…

What are our gifts?  Like last week, Paul in prison gives thanks for his people. Keep doing that….and try praying with joy…

And now the Papal year of mercy…Mercy…In a recent article, Donna Schaper…of Judson Memorial Church has given us some very practical advice for living the year of mercy in our own lives……here is her list (as I have adapted it for us this morning..)
1.    Read pope Francis’ declaration
2.    Be a “walking field hospital” (Francis’ words) do one act of mercy daily..
3.    If you’re old, speak well of the young. And if you are young, speak well of  the old. Refuse gossip. Question “everybody knows” and “that’s the way things are…”
4.   Forgive just one person you don’t want to
5.    And don’t worry about whether they deserve it or not. Mercy is beyond deserving.
6.   Read the Bible. Especially Advent scriptures. Ask questions.
7.   When you are judged, evaluate on a scale of 1-5 how accurate the judgment is.
8.   Reverse the “time famine”…there is more time than you think…
9.   Open the doors of language. EG, stop using lame, a condition of many people from birth or due to accident or illness, a condition, as a metaphor for something in poor taste or ill considered… and please don’t ever say, We are all crippled (or handicapped) in some way. Respect the particularity of  experience and conditionn,
10. Pray for someone not you or yours
11.Promise not to offer illusory hope, EG, don’t worry, everything is going to be OK. Sometimes it isn’t.

And to what end do we do this? To overflow with love, wise love…for what purpose? …to discern what is best…and what is best?  We have big decisions ahead…. For me, what is best is that which creates a community that which is immediately recognizable…

Those are my thoughts for this morning…

At the conclusion of our service, Wayne shares his witness in song for us, his voice sweet…and rich….

Prepare ye the way if the Lord…..

1See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
68"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of
all who hate us.
72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our
might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

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