Sunday, December 07, 2014

What The World Needs Now!

I had an interesting conversation with one of Munster's police officers this week.  He stopped and asked me a rather interesting question.

He wanted to know if I was planning, or knew of any protests that might be planned in response to the recent grand-jury decisions.

I told him, NO --- and before I could say even another word --- he launched into a diatribe against Father Pfleger and St Sabina's Church in Chicago that has been at the heart of many of the protests in Chicago this week.

He went on to tell me how religion shouldn't be engaged in that kind of activity --- and he hoped that there would not be any protests in Munster.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.

And our scripture this morning is all about John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus

Mark 1:1-8   (NRSV)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John, in our Gospel tradition, has only one purpose and that is to announce the coming of Jesus.

That seemed to be the extent of his ministry --- at least as far as the author of the Gospel of Mark is concerned.

John wants to let us know --- that something was coming
          Something radical
                   something that would change the world
something that would change you and me

The real question that John was asking each of us is --- are you ready?

Are you ready for Jesus to come with this radical message?
          Are you preparing the way?

On this second Sunday of Advent our focus this morning is on love.

Certainly something that the world desperately needs!

Let me ask you:
What is the craziest thing you have ever done for love?

What lengths would you go for the one that you love?

We hear stories all the time of people who go to great lengths for people that they do not even know

·         Someone donates a kidney
·         Bone Marrow Transplant

And think of the stories of what parents will do for their children

·         drive all night to be home for a school play
·         jump out of an airplane

          I want you to think for a minute and try to answer that question . . .

Maybe that isn't the right question ---- maybe the real question should be: WHAT WOULDN'T YOU DO FOR LOVE?

The truth is --- we say we will do lots of things --- but words can become empty phrases if they are not backed up by action.

Love songs are filled with images of the tangible ways people have acted on love --- ways that they want the whole world to see.

·         Love is the yellow ribbons tied on oak trees all over a community
·         Love is Marvin Gaye proclaiming that there "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough" to keep him from his lover
·         Love is Todd Rundgren going from shore to shore to remind us all that Love is the Answer

Do you remember that beautiful song from A Chorus Line: What I Did For Love?

The actors are reflecting on the often painful sacrifices that they have made in their quest to be successful on Broadway.

They remember all that they have had to endure

Did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love

They were willing to do whatever it took
          endless rehearsals
                   late hours
                             hard work
                                      travel away from home
Whatever it took was an acceptable offering for the love of the stage.

Did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love

Advent is about God's love for us
God is willing to do WHATEVER it takes to show us love

This kind of love that God wants to show us requires courage

I think we all know where God's love is leading us.
This love started in a manger
Angels singing
Animals lowing
Stars shining
But it ends on a cross

God's love for us does not run away from the pain and realities of life.

If anything --- God's love follows us into those painful valleys reminding us over and over:

That there ain't no mountain high enough
No valley low enough
No river wide enough
          To keep God's love from washing over us

And John today is reminding us --- ARE YOU READY --- BECAUSE JESUS IS COMING!

And as I re-read the story of John crying out in the wilderness

'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' . . . “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

or in even more simple language, I love Peterson's translation from THE MESSAGE

'Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!' . . . “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”

I am struck by the assumption that the police officer was making about Christianity in our discussion.

He saw Christians as people who kept the status quo. 
          Who protect what is. 
Who turn their backs on injustices (if those injustices were not affecting the majority group)

But that is not the One whom John was clearing the way for.

Jesus didn't come to protect those who were in authority.

Jesus didn't come to keep the status quo.

Jesus came to turn the world upside down and offer a new way.

A way of love.  PERIOD

Not a way of love for some.
          Nor a way of love that blessed some and damned others.

Jesus came turning the world on its head because he sought to turn over the tables on anything that prevented love.

I don't know how well you follow the news --- but last Monday was World AIDS Day

If you are not familiar with World AIDS day let me quote from their website explaining the purpose of the day.
World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.

Last Sunday, a Baptist Pastor in Tempe Arizona preached a sermon that has gone viral on the internet.

The sermon isn’t going viral because Pastor Steve Anderson preached the good news of Jesus Christ. The sermon is going viral because the pastor called for the murder of every LGBT person as a solution to end HIV and AIDS.

His sermon was titled:" AIDS, The Judgment of God" and he quoted from Leviticus and argued that "gays should be killed."

Pastor Anderson said:
“Turn to Leviticus 20:13 because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS,” he said as his congregation laughed. “This is the cure for AIDS. Everyone is talking about ‘let’s have an AIDS free world by 2020.’ Look, we can have an AIDS free world by Christmas,” which evoked more laughter.

Leviticus says:
Leviticus 20:13   (NRSV)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death

I don't know about you --- but to preach that bothers me greatly.

And we can disagree over the use of Scripture and passages like that --- but I found his sermon reprehensible

To watch on TV --- the police officer put a choke hold on Eric Garner in New York, an unarmed black man who was selling cigarettes illegally.
Watching the video --- and watching Mr. Garner die in front of us all --- to me is appalling.

I don't know what to do . . .

But John says we are supposed to prepare the way for Jesus, and in light of Pastor Anderson's sermon, and Eric Garner's death and Tamir Rice's death --- I wonder what John would want us to do --- to make ready for Jesus.

I wonder what Jesus would want me to do if I really loved unconditionally like he loves me.

How far would I be willing to go?

What would I do if I really believed that:
That there ain't no mountain high enough
No valley low enough
No river wide enough
To stop me from loving ALL of God's children

I have to do something . . .

This sitting around on my hands is driving me crazy --- it is ripping a hole in my soul.
I can no longer just sit around and ignore the injustices that are going on around us.

I am in contact with some of the other United Methodist Pastor's in our area --- and am looking at having a gathering sometime this week --- hopefully in Gary.

What do I hope to accomplish?

I hope to prepare my heart for the advent of Jesus!

Not by getting my shopping done
Not by getting my stockings hung

But by living the LOVE of Jesus

I asked you earlier --- what you would do for love . . . What will you do with the love that Jesus has given you?

Come and receive his love and prepare for his return

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