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Advent 2A December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the image of a stump. This symbolizes a low point in the story of God’s people. Scholars tell us that this terrible time could have been after the victory of the Assyrians over God’s people or the conquest of God’s people by the Babylonians. The stump is the last vestige of the line of King David. It looks dead.

We all have seen stumps which develop green shoots, and that is what is happening here. Out of the stump of Jesse, King David’s father, comes a new shoot, a branch. And the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of the Spirit as “God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power…, which can create an utter newness.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 11.)

Brueggemann writes that, “In the place of  …sword, spear, and javelin this king will be dressed in the saving regalia of loyal concern and love.” (Texts, p. 12.)

The spirit of God is coming to bring in the kingdom of God. Natural enemies will live together in harmony, and “a little child will lead them.” Brueggemann writes,  “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear.’) He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor.’”  (Texts, p. 11 and 12.)

Brueggemann continues, “‘The little child’ bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate. The world will be ordered so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.” (Texts, p. 12.)

To paraphrase, Brueggemann says that “Advent is our decision to trust the [power of the Spirit] against the hopeless stump of what has failed.” (Texts, p. 12.)

Our psalm for today, Psalm 72, adds to the description of the good and just king who rules wisely and is like fresh rain nurturing the growth of the earth. Good and faithful leaders always nurture the growth of everyone in society, especially those who are at the margins. These two readings offer the basic view of the kingdom, the reign, the shalom of God.

In our epistle, Paul begins with a prayer that we might have hope. He adds, “ May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. God encourages us to hang in there and continue to hope, and God makes it possible for us to glorify God with one voice.

God brings us together in love so that we may love each other and love God.

Paul calls us to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us. And he refers to the shoot of Jesse, the branch of David’s family, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As the days become shorter and shorter, we are called to be people of light and love and hope because our King is coming to us.

Our gospel for today brings us into the presence of one of the two great Advent figures, John the Baptist. To say the least, he is a striking figure. He certainly doesn’t wear a Brooks brothers suit, and he eats locusts and honey. Scholars tell us that locusts were among the few insects that were considered ritually clean. John is living off the land. His ministry takes place out in the wilderness, and hundreds of people flock to see him.

John preaches a baptism of repentance, He is calling us to give up our sins, examine our lives, and get ready to follow the One who is to come, the Savior. In the midst of the corruption of the Roman Empire, it’s no wonder that people are traveling to see him, They know they need to do something different with their lives. They need direction, and they sense the promise of hope and light in what John is telling them. John calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” A nest of snakes. They are depending on the fact that they have Abraham for their ancestor, but John is telling them, just as Isaiah had done centuries ago, that God is about to do a new thing.

“God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power, which can create an utter newness.” That is what Advent is about. We do self-examination. We make course corrections. We ask our Lord to give us the grace and guidance to grow closer to him. It is serious work, and it is also joyful work. “Life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending” work.

We are on the journey of making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and live with us. Live within us. We do this in a spirit of hope and love and light and joy.

Loving Lord, help us to make room for you in our lives and hearts. Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ January 8, 2017

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Our first reading is the inspiring description of God’s servant and of the ministry to which God calls all of us. God’s servant is gentle, He does not break a bruised reed, He does not put out a candle that is flickering. He is here to bring forth justice.

God tells us that God has taken us by the hand and guided and protected us. God has called us to be a light to the nations. God has called us to open the eyes of the blind, to free prisoners from their dungeons. God tells us that the former things have passed and that God is creating something new.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we hear from Peter. He has realized that the new faith in Christ is for all people. Peter gives a summary of the ministry of our Lord and tells his listeners that we have been called to spread the Good News to everyone.

In our gospel for today, we have the privilege of being present at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Up to this point, Jesus has led a quiet life. We think that he spent time studying the scriptures and that he was familiar with the passage from Isaiah which describes God’s servant. He probably worked with Joseph in the carpenter shop. He may have studied with the Essenes, a religious community of that time. We can assume that he knew how to work hard, that he was part of a large extended family and he lived a normal, quiet everyday life.

But now he goes south from Galilee to where his cousin John is baptizing people in the Jordan River. John feels that Jesus should be baptizing him, but Jesus insists that John baptize him.

This is baptism by immersion, a kind of drowning, That is what baptism means in Greek— a drowning to our old self. Jesus falls back into the water and is submerged. Then he comes up out of the water and he hears the voice of God telling Jesus who he is.

Jesus was fully human. Like all of us, he had wondered who he was, what his gifts were, what he was called to do, what his ministry would be. As we watch his ministry unfold, we can see that he knew the scriptures about Gods suffering servant, the one who is so gentle and compassionate, the one who can see deep into each of us, the one who can reach the hurt places within us and offer healing and forgiveness, the one who can cure us of our blindness and free us from things that imprison us.

But when he emerged from the water and heard the voice of his heavenly father, he knew on a deeper level what he was called to do. From then on, he gave all his time and energy to the people who thronged around him, hungry for love and healing and forgiveness.

The prophet Isaiah gives us God’s description of the suffering. compassionate servant. That is a description of the ministry of our Lord, but it is also a description of the ministry to which each of us is called, and to which all of us are called together.

We are called to free people from blindness and to help them see the love and healing that comes from our Lord. We are called to help to free people from things which imprison them, things such as addiction, poverty, and abuse. We are called to help to bring justice to the earth.

As we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we remember that we are members of his risen Body called to do his ministry here on earth.

So this morning, let us renew our own baptismal vows by sharing in the Baptismal Covenant, page 304.

Advent 2 Year A RCL December 4, 2016

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading today is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible. It is a message of hope to God’s people. It is a clear and compelling description of God’s kingdom. For us as Christians, it is a description of the One who will bring in that kingdom.

“A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse.” This king is going to come from the house of David. The Spirit of God will shine forth from him, and he will be full of wisdom and understanding. He will not judge things on a superficial basis. He will look into the depths of people and situations. He will be fair and compassionate. He will have a deep understanding of the poor and the meek and will judge them fairly and with respect.

In the kingdom of God, natural enemies will lie down together. They will no longer need to attack each other. Peace will prevail on all levels. Children will be safe. “They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

The shalom of God brings peace and harmony over all the earth. Everyone has food, shelter, clothing, medical care, good work to do, and everything necessary, not only to survive, but to thrive.

Our psalm continues with the description of the King who brings in this shalom. He rules with justice, defends the needy, rescues the poor. He crushes the oppressor. The earth flourishes. Crops grow. The creation is made whole.

This is God’s vision of profound peace and harmony among all creatures and throughout the whole creation. The description of the King is the description of the ideal earthly leader and the description of our Lord.

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Romans that Jesus is Lord of all, Gentiles as well as Jews. Christ is the Lord of all. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells us, God has a big family, and it includes everyone.

Our reading concludes with the wonderful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In today’s gospel, we meet one of the two major figures of Advent, John the Baptist. John does not stay in the earthly center of power Jerusalem. He goes out into the desert, away from the crowded city.

He has spent time in the wilderness, away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. He has prayed and studied the scriptures. He has spent time alone with himself and alone with God. He knows exactly who he is and he also knows who God is. He is called to prepare the way of the Lord. He is called to be the one who will point the way to the Savior.

Great crowds of people flock from the city to see him. He becomes famous. He is preaching repentance, calling people to think carefully about their lives and measure their lives against God’s standards of love and compassion and justice. He is calling them and us to open ourselves to metanoia, spiritual transformation.

Hundreds of people flock to John the Baptist, He baptizes them. He immerses them in the waters of the Jordan River in a baptism of repentance. and he tells them that one is coming who is greater that John, and he will baptize with the Spirit.

The Pharisees and Sadducees come out from Jerusalem. They have heard about John and they want to see for themselves who he is. The Pharisees and Sadducees are leaders in the faith, but they have broken down the Ten Commandments into over six hundred rules and regulations which are so challenging that you really have great deal of wealth and leisure to be able to obey all of these rules.

Working people cannot possibly observe all these rules. For example, on the Sabbath, they are going to have to feed and water their animals, and do all kinds of other things which are considered as work, and this means that they are breaking the law.

John knows all of this, and that is why he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “Brood of vipers,” a nest of snakes. All their rules weigh down the average working people and make them feel as though they will never be able to worship God in an acceptable manner.

Someone is coming who is going to turn things around and let people know that God is more concerned about how we treat each other than about how we may or may not follow six hundred rules and regulations. As we can see, John is really angry about how this whole legalistic system has burdened God’s people. He talks about how this system has put obstacles in the way of people who are trying to follow God’s will. As someone once said, “God is a lover, not a lawyer.”

John is preparing the Way for our King, and all of our readings today are holding up for us a vision of our Savior and of his shalom. This is the  kingdom we are called to help him build, and we are all working on it right now.

As we move farther into Advent, our Lord is calling us to make room for him in or hearts and our lives. Take a little time each day, if we can, to be quiet, as John was quiet out there in the wilderness, and to listen for the voice of Jesus telling us how much he loves us and wants to be a part of every moment of our lives and give us his grace and strength so that we can follow him.

So, once again this Advent, our lord is calling us to allow him to come to birth within us. He is calling us to open ourselves and our lives to his transformation so that we can become more and more like him.

May we prepare the way for our beloved King and Savior, Amen.

Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Our Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Our first reading today is the First Servant Song from the prophet Isaiah. This passage dates back to a special and joyful time. The exiles are going home from Babylon.

Some scholars suggest that the servant described is the entire people of Israel, the people of God. Others state that this and other similar passages describe the messiah who will bring in a reign of justice for all people.  For us, this passage describes the qualities of a ministering community.

As Christians, we see the figure and ministry of Jesus in this description. He is quiet. He does not make a lot of noise. He is gentle. He does not break a bruised reed or quench a flickering flame. He is persistent and courageous. He will not stop until justice prevails over the whole earth.

We are called by God in love to open the eyes that are blind, to free people from all that imprisons them, to bring light to those in darkness. The revered scholar Herbert O’Driscoll  points out that nowadays, in our secular age, we do not think of a whole nation as reflecting this kind of spiritual character. (The Word Today, Year A, pp. 63-64), but he suggests that we as Christians can imagine and work toward creating this vision for our nation. What would it mean if a whole country were dedicating to healing and freeing people?

Our second reading is from the Book of Acts, Peter has just had his vision of the sheet of all kinds of meat and has heard the voice of God saying, “Kill and eat.” God is telling Peter that the dietary laws no longer apply. Christ has fulfilled the law. The gospel is for everyone. This is one of the great themes of the Epiphany season, that the good news is for all people and that God loves all people.

Peter is now called to the home of Cornelius, the Centurion. Cornelius is a faithful person, a seeker, but he is not a Jew. Cornelius has been guided by an angel to call on Peter to come to his home and has gathered his friends and family to hear Peter speak. When Peter finishes his sermon on God’s inclusiveness, the Holy Spirit falls on all the people gathered. This simply emphasizes the fact that God wants everyone to be a part of God’s family. So Peter and his helpers baptize all these people, and then they stay with them for several days. This is how the early Church grew and grew.

Our gospel for today is the baptism of Jesus. We know very little about Jesus’ life up to this point. We read in the gospels that the family made a trip at the time of the Passover to the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, and that they started home only to discover that he was no longer with them. They went back to the Temple and found him there, and he said, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Together with the journey into Egypt to escape King Herod’s murder of the innocents, this is the only event we find in the gospels between Jesus birth and his baptism.

We can picture Jesus growing up in Nazareth. His earthly father, Joseph, was a carpenter. We can imagine Jesus working in the shop and learning the carpenter’s trade from Joseph.

Many scholars think that Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist studied with the Essenes, a religious sect of that time. From the way Jesus conducted himself, I believe he studied the scriptures and knew and understood the law.

But now he is called to go to the banks of the Jordan River and allow John to baptize him. This will fulfill what has been written by the prophets. It will also be the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. He is about twenty-nine or thirty years old at this point.

Probably Joseph was dead by this time. He had been quite a bit older than Mary when they were married. But what did Mary think when Jesus said, “Well, I’m going off to the River Jordan to be baptized?” Among the many things she had to ponder in her heart was the moment when he would leave to go out into the world and begin his ministry.  Knowing him as she did, I think she had some idea of how it would all turn out.  Some of us are reading Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly. The brutality and violence of the world under the Roman Empire are hard to exaggerate. They were diametrically opposed to Jesus’ shalom. There was going to be a clash.

Jesus walks into the river and is immersed in the waters of the Jordan. Baptism comes from the Greek word for drowning. Our old identity is drowned. A new person is born. We receive a new identity. We are children of God and inheritors of the kingdom, the shalom, of God.

Each of us is called to live out the meaning of our baptism in our own lives, using the gifts and grace God gives to us. But all of us together are called to be that servant people, the People of God—gentle, caring, courageous. We are called to heal people, to free people. We are called to bring justice for everyone.

Just as the voice of God spoke to Jesus and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” so God speaks to each of us: “You are my own beloved child.” And God calls us to share in the servant ministry of Jesus.                  Amen.

Advent 2A RCL December 8, 2013

Isaiah  11:1-10

Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

Our beautiful and powerful reading from the prophet Isaiah describes a king who will come from the family of King David. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding. He will be faithful. He will not judge by the usual human standards or by superficial means.  He will have compassion for the poor and the meek.

Then Isaiah gives us a description of God’s kingdom, God’s shalom. The entire creation is at peace—humans, animals, the earth itself. Children are safe. Everyone is safe. Not only is there no war, there is complete safety and protection for all creatures.

The shalom of God, the peace of Christ, is what we are called to help God to build here on earth. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, describes shalom this way: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day. Where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Isaiah writes, “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This is the world God is calling us to build. This is God’s vision.

Psalm 72 further describes this king. He is on the side of the little guys, the poor and those at the margins. He is compassionate and fair. Under his rule, the earth greens and blossoms and is restored.

In our reading from his Letter to the Romans, Paul is calling us to realize that Jesus is the king described by Isaiah, and that Jesus calls all people to follow him. The reading concludes with that beautiful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We all know that there are many problems in this world, but we are called to be people of hope.

In our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. He is dressed like the prophet Elijah, and he eats locusts dipped in honey. Back in those days, if you wanted to be a mover and a shaker, you went to the big city, Jerusalem. That is where all the powerful people and where all the important things happened. But John the Baptist goes out into the wilderness, and the powerful people come to him. John the Baptist wants to be as far from the centers of earthly power as he can be.

He calls the people to repent. He calls us to undergo a process of transformation,  from the Greek, metanoia. He calls us to realign ourselves with God’s vision of a world of love, peace, harmony, wholeness, and compassion. He calls us to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That would be the fruits of the Spirit as later described by St. Paul—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of the time, are feeling threatened by John the Baptist. They come out to investigate him for themselves. They have a great deal of power and they are interested in protecting their turf. Their religious requirements often place burdens on the poor, and they do not respect the poor and the weak,  Their actions are often not in harmony with the values of God’s shalom. John calls them a “brood of vipers.” He speaks the truth with no trace of fear.

John the Baptist is calling us to open ourselves to God’s love and healing and align ourselves with God’s vision and values. But them he says that one is coming after him who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. That one is, of course, Jesus.

What are these readings saying to us this morning?  Back on Trinity Sunday, we talked about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit– God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier. John Macquarrie writes that God has the vision, Jesus is the logos, the plan, the blueprint for human life, and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about the realization of the plan,=. Te Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Jesus is our model for how to live. If we are going to follow him, we need to become more and more like him. That is where those fruits of the Spirit come in. We become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more generous, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled.

We know that’s where we want to be, and we know that there have been times when we have fallen short. We acknowledge to God those times when we have “done those things we ought not to have done and have not done those things which we ought to have done.” We ask God’s help, we count on God’s grace, we get back on track. That’s repentance and metanoia.

This internal spiritual work is going to help us to be better partners with God in building God’s kingdom, God’s shalom of peace and harmony. If we are at peace within ourselves and we have a strong partnership with our loving God, we can help to make a better world, like the world described by Isaiah.

Mary Hinkle Shore of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota writes,  “For Christians, the One who actually comes as the clearest fulfillment of Isaiah’s word decides that the only way to get to the peaceable kingdom is to live out its meekness here and now, no matter what. He does not breathe fire on anyone. He seeks out sinners. He is himself a lamb lying down in the midst of wolves. With his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave us a window on the peaceable kingdom.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace. Help us to align ourselves with your vision and be partners with you as you build your shalom. Help us to make room for your in our hearts and our lives.     Amen.

Advent 1 Year A RCL December 1, 2013

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! The first Sunday of Advent is New Year’s Day in the Church calendar. We change from Eucharistic lectionary C to lectionary A. For the Daily Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, we go from lectionary year 1 to year 2. Our liturgical color changes from green, for the time after Pentecost, to purple, a symbol of royalty as we get ready to welcome our King, and a symbol of penitence, as we engage in self-examination and metanoia, conversion, getting back on track, bringing our lives into harmony with God’s vision of shalom, peace, compassion, healing, and wholeness. Finally, we light one candle on the Advent wreath as we count the days until Christmas.

Advent means “coming.” We prepare for the coming of Christ to complete the creation, to set all things right, to bring in his kingdom his shalom as described in our reading from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Advent is a time to get things in shape, to tie up loose ends. It is a good time to clean house and get rid of things we no longer need. It is a good time to make or revise wills and to talk to family members about our   funeral plans. It is a time for spiritual transformation.. As Paul says, “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of  light.”

As our Lord makes clear, we do not need to try to figure out when he is going to come again. Our job is to be ready, to be prepared. If he were to come today, would we be ready?

Part of readiness is stewardship of the earth and of all that God has given us. Today, Beth will be sharing with us her experience of the blessings of stewardship.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.