Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for Peace

Psalm 80:1-7   (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Thanksgiving at the Conger household was very different this year.

To the best of my recollection, this was the first time that all of the girls have not been home --- and the first time in a long time, that we did not gather together with my parents, brother and his children.

My parents are wintering in Arizona, and Lindsey (our middle daughter) who lives in Los Angeles drove and spent a few days with them for thanksgiving.

Since my parents were gone, we were invited to Jessica's apt in Chicago and had a wonderful dinner put on by her and Sam.

It was a great day!
          Wonderful (but too much) food
          Great hosts
          Little traffic!

I imagine that many of you took the opportunity Friday to get up bright and early and to head out and fight the crowds for all the black Friday sales.

I stayed home so that the dog would not be lonely and read a wonderful novel.

Nancy and Haley seemed to survive the shopping ordeal, and then later that afternoon we went back downtown to the Lyric Opera to see Porgy and Bess.
          I am not sure I am cut out for operas but the singing was fantastic!

One of the things that struck me, as we were waiting in the lobby to get into the opera was how few people were actually talking (with each other)

But virtually everyone was busy communicating with somebody --- but just not in person.

Studies suggest that as a people we are communicating with one another more frequently than any other time in human history.

Just not the ways that we used to before . . .

DO any of you actually remember talking on a telephone?
          I am not talking about a cell phone
          Or even the cordless phones we have today
          How about one of those old rotary phones we rented from Bell Telephone

And when was the last time you actually hand wrote a letter?

One of my favorite memories as a kid was sitting down as a family with a tape recorder and recording a Christmas message to my grandmother and grandfather in Tennessee --- because it was too expensive to call

While we could still do any of those things --- most of us choose not too

Instead we either talk on our cell phone --- or more than likely we text
          Or use whatsapp
          Or snapchat

I didn't even know what those were until fairly recently

If you go to the mall this week you will find that most people (especially those under 30) have a phone in their hands --- texting, sharing photos, reading emails or listening to music

It is amazing to me how adept our young people are at carrying on multiple conversations at once.

When I was growing up, Face Time was talking to somebody in person --- but on Thanksgiving Day --- Lindsey and Alex joined us in Jessica's living room as we Skyped with them.

When I was on my sabbatical --- almost 10 years ago now --- Nancy and I "talked" twice every day via messenger because it was free and easy. 
We hadn't figured out how to Skype yet.

But every week now, Nancy Skype's with her 88 year old mom in North Carolina. 
It is amazing!!

But what has gotten lost is the sit down and actually talk with one another conversations.

When we do actually sit down and talk it usually is about solving a problem or some other logistical issue --- but we rarely sit down and have those "heart-to-heart" conversations anymore.

And think about the new texting lingo that has developed.

One of the things that has always amazed me are people who can understand what certain texts really mean. 
Because our vocal expressions can reflect our emotions in a way that a Smartphone never can.

The inflection that is used in the words can be powerful.

Let me demonstrate
          U R here

What does that mean?

It could be the factual statement: YOU ARE HERE -- such as: in a certain place

But say it out loud
          You're here

Or      You're Here!!! (excitement)

or       You're here? (amazement)

or       you are here (disgust)

Which is it? 
That is the problem and challenge with modern communication.

Knowing what is meant is not always easy.

Advent is all about our relationship with God and each other.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the advent season we are overwhelmed with the parties, the meals, the shopping

It isn't Santa who needs a list --- it is us to keep our schedules straight with all that is going on.

I am not trying to suggest that we shouldn't attend the parties or dinners, or events that are meaningful to us.

Nor am I bashing Santa or the whole idea of gift-giving.

What I am trying to remind you is what we tend to leave off our Advent/Christmas list: 
Baby Jesus

Advent is the celebration of the incarnation --- the God in the flesh event of Jesus

Advent is God's announcement that God does not want a distant --- text only --- relationship with us.

Advent is about God's willingness to be vulnerable, reachable and attainable.

Advent is about God's desire to sit down with us and have a face-to-face ---- heart-to-heart conversation.

Psalm 80 is all about God's desire to have that kind of relationship and our need for it!

Over and over again, the writer of the Psalm wrote:
"Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved"

The Psalmist isn't asking God for a text message response.

The community who sang this Psalm was a community without hope.

They feel like there is nothing they can do to prevent or stop the injustices that are going on around them.

They feel alienated and alone

They feel lost and consumed!

They are crying out to God --- seeking a word of hope and assurance.
Seeking that peace that passes all understanding, that only comes from Jesus.

Without hope and peace we are not delivered, but we also are not saved --- we are doomed to utter despair.

This Psalm is a cry for a personal relationship with God

The prayer of the psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of God's people today.

"Let your face shine that we may be saved," is the call of people who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication.

It's the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day but who still feel unheard.

It is the yearning of the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to be transformed by love and hope for nothing less.

"Let your face shine" pleads the psalmist.

Isn't that our prayer today?

On the streets of Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago and Munster --- aren't we seeking to see God's face shine?

Despite the tragedies of our time
          Despite Ferguson
          Despite Cleveland
          Despite the ongoing violence in Chicago and so many other places
          Despite the injustice in our own back yard
God seeks to restore us with God's grace

The darkness cannot overcome the light and love of God

God's face continues to shine and is reflected in God's mercy and forgiveness.

Like the Psalmist, we look at the world around us and wonder ---
Can there ever be justice?
Will the races ever treat each other as brothers and sisters?
Will the violence ever stop?
Will the distrust simply because somebody is different ever end?

The answer is found in Psalm 80 and in Advent and the answer is: YES

God says:
·         Yes, I will give ear to your cry.
·         Yes, I will come and save you.
·         Yes, I will restore our relationship fractured by your faithlessness and sin.
·         Yes, I will save you from neighbors who wish to destroy you.
·         Yes, my hand will be upon you.
·         Yes, you will know the strength of the living God.

The promise of Advent is that God's strength will meet us in the midst of our weakness.

There is no place too dismal,
no sin too egregious,
no transgression too dire
to separate us from the love of God who comes to us in Jesus.

God is begging us not to settle for less than the peace that comes through Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Don't let advent simply be about the shopping and the parties and the gifts.

Advent is really about Ferguson.
          Into that darkness
          Into that deep despair
          Into that sense of hopelessness
          and lack of peace
Our God who comes offers to us a better way.

"Come to save us!" we cry out to God.
          And God does.
Defenseless as a baby, God reflects love and invites compassion.

And that is a message of hope and peace.

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