Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Are You Waiting For?

Matthew 11:2-11   (NRSV)
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Advent --- is a season for waiting, but there is one important question --- What are we waiting for?
          Seriously, what are we really waiting for?

If you look around and asked somebody who knows nothing about this season and asked them what it all about --- what would they tell you we are waiting for?

While we like to say Jesus is the reason for the season, the sad truth is: Santa is what dominates our society and appears to be what the season is really all about.

This question of what we are waiting for in Advent is nothing new.

Our scripture this morning is an interesting one.

John the Baptist is in prison, and he hears about this itinerant preacher and so he sends some of his disciples to ask the all important question.

John the Baptist is afraid that he might not have the right guy, so he sends his team to the source to find out.
“Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?” (The Message)

When you hear this question --- is should stop you in your tracks.

John is asking, WHAT?
          He doesn't KNOW who Jesus is?

How can that even be?

It is almost as if John wants to make sure Jesus is the One, because he doesn't want to end up on the wrong side of history.
He doesn't want to end up following the wrong guy

And then Jesus answer is even more astounding.

First he says to John's disciples:  Watch what is going on and go back and tell him, and he will know the answer.

But, it is when John's disciples leave that the conversation really gets interesting.

The people that had gone down to the river to see John probably went expecting to see a madman putting on a religious show.

Instead what they got was a man announcing the advent of God’s Messiah.

Many weren’t ready for what they received.
Perhaps we’re still not ready.

Jesus calls them on the carpet and says to those who had gone out to see John baptizing in the wilderness:
“What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That’s right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’ (The Message)

We struggle with the same questions that John and the Pharisees had. 
          Is Jesus the one? 
          And if he is, what does that mean for our lives!

As we read this episode in Matthew’s Gospel, we too are challenged to reconsider what we expect to find when we leave the safe and acceptable confines of our sanctuary this morning.

What do we expect to find in our neighborhood once we leave church?
          What did you come to church to learn about?

That is the question of Advent --- and we all ask it

"Are you the one I've been waiting for, or shall I wait for another?"

·         Is this the present I've been waiting for?
·         Is this the job I've been waiting for?
·         Is this the date I've been waiting for?
·         Is this really the house we wanted so desperately?
·         Is this really the person I loved years ago? Is this really the person I love now?

Jesus tells us, that the true gift of Advent --- if we have eyes so we can see beyond our expectations --- if we are willing to look around us and see all the places where Jesus is working and inviting us --- the true gift of Advent --- is reconciliation and peace.

“Go and tell John what you have heard and seen. The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news.”

Jesus came to the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, the dead.
He came to the downtrodden.
He came in humility for the humble.
He came for those who did not have it all worked out for themselves.
He came for those who knew they needed Him.

Some of us think we have finally got it all.
We have the house we always wanted.
We have the job we always wanted.
We have that spouse, that husband or wife, who is the answer to all our dreams.
We even have the car we always wanted.
We got our children into good schools.

But is that all there is?
Is this what we were waiting for?

Listen to what Jesus told John's disciples when they asked that question.
Jesus said, "When you get me, the lame walk, the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, the poor get good news."

What does all that mean?

It means that John's disciples, who had already repented and turned around once, were going to have to repent and turn around again.

It means that Jesus comes to reverse things.
What was dead is now raised.
What was blind now sees.
What was lame now walks.
When we get the gift of Jesus, our lives are changed.

The sign that Jesus has come --- is that people are changed.

Do we really want the gift of Christ this year?

·         We will recognize the gift of love and peace when we recognize that people have changed.

·         We will recognize the gift of love and peace when we recognize that we must change, too.

The spiritual word for that change is repentance, to turn around.

No matter how young or old we are, whether we are waiting to receive that perfect bicycle, waiting to receive that special answer from our loved one, waiting for that special moment of reconciliation with our children or with our parents, we are also waiting ultimately for Jesus.

Jesus will change us.
Jesus will turn us around.

Even if we've changed before, --- even if we have repented before, --- Jesus will raise the dead again.

Jesus is what we are waiting for
Jesus is what we have come to see --- and Jesus will come!

Monday, December 05, 2016

Doing Justice

Isaiah 11:1-10   (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
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.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious

Matthew 3:1-12   (NRSV)
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matt invited you to slow down last week --- to: “let go of all the busyness, let go of all the gifts, let go of all the worry, and simply be present to the season and receive the gift of God that is found throughout this season.” 

I tried --- and it is definitely a work in progress.

But until I slow down,
until I find that peace that passes all understanding,
it is hard for me to understand,
let along move toward become a person of justice.

As I wrote to you this week --- justice is a difficult word for me.

As I was getting ready to sit down and work on my sermon, I was watching the morning news.  And a commercial came on that illustrates the confusion many of us have with the word justice.

It is a commercial I have seen thousands of times, because this lawyer is from "The Region" but has expanded his practice throughout the state.

I am sure you have seen it.
It begins by showing pictures of tragedies ---
          Car Accident
          The stage collapse a few years ago at the Indiana State Fair
And the voice talking over the commercial says: "The simple truth is life isn't just . . . and it concludes by saying "Even when life isn't just, there still can be justice."

And it leaves me with the question --- is that the same kind of justice that Jesus and the Bible talks about?

What is justice?

If you listen to the news, or Kenneth Allen's commercials: justice seems to be about retribution.

When somebody does you wrong --- somebody else needs to pay.

Retribution is not the goal of Biblical Justice --- BUT WHAT IS?

Our scripture passages this morning help us to understand.

The first passage is from the prophet Isaiah.

This passage gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is to look like.

Isaiah wrote during a very violent and turbulent time in the life of ancient Israel.

Isaiah 11 is often illustrated in art and referred to as the Peaceable Kingdom. 
An ideal state that God is calling all people to.

From God's point of view --- the least, the last, and the lost are not to be the prey of the powerful.

Big companies should not take advantage of smaller companies by devouring them and running them out of business.

The rich and powerful are to become the advocates for those who are oppressed by economics.

Local business owners are to cooperate by reaching out to the indigent poor who reside in streets and alleys.

When we see this happening, says the prophet: it will be evidence that God’s kingdom is emerging in our very neighborhoods.

When we as a church --- as Christians --- work together to reach out to the dispossessed and disenfranchised and take steps to help them help themselves and become part of the valued community, then we make our communities safer places for children to live and thrive.

The images that Isaiah uses are powerful

The lamb and the lion --- the powerful predator and the weak prey --- seemingly friends

The image of the child playing over a rattlesnake’s hole is a picture of a community that values rehabilitation and recovery in order that its children may not become the victims or prey of those who desperately need our compassion and help.

Tuesday a number of us went to the World Trade Center to the 911 memorial.
          It was a powerful experience.

But just imagine if you can what the world might look like had our nation on September 12th 2001 begun the arduous and difficult task of calling Arabs and Muslims from around the world to discuss why the twin towers disaster in New York City happened rather than designing a war room and battle plans?

I know --- you are all saying --- what Isaiah saw --- the peaceable kingdom is pie in the sky idealism.

But Isaiah wasn't calling us to stare at Edward Hick's iconic picture called the "Peaceable Kingdom" and stop there.

Isaiah was calling us to do specific things to help transform this world and help it reflect God's kingdom.

And it is our Matthew passage that holds the key to how we get there.

Yes, it is a strange passage to be listening to during advent, when we all really want is tinsel and parties and Christmas carols.

Matthew is reminding us that the key to justice (God's justice) is found in repentance.

I don't know about you --- but repentance generally isn't high on my list during the Christmas season.

But Matthew is telling us about ADVENT --- the coming of Jesus not just 2,000 years ago, but today.

John tells us that if we want to experience this ADVENT of Jesus we must prepare ourselves by doing three things.

First, in order to prepare for Jesus we must confess.

Have you ever known someone who had a lingering illness but who refused to seek a doctor's attention?
You have to recognize that there's a problem before you will seek assistance from outside yourself.

This new thing that God wants to do in our lives requires that we recognize that there is a problem and by ourselves we cannot fix it --- we need the ADVENT of Jesus.

Second, to prepare for the ADVENT of Jesus we must become obedient.

In my opinion, the hardest word in the English language is OBEY!
          We don't like anyone telling us what to do.

But God does --- being a follower of Jesus --- literally a disciple of his --- requires that we obey our teacher, our master.

I imagine you have heard the story about the little boy who was disrupting the dinner table.  He was standing on his chair --- and despite his mothers demands, he refused to sit down.  Eventually, she came around behind his chair and forced him to sit.

After squirming for a time, he finally sat still, but he said defiantly, "I may be sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside!"

That's us!

How like that child are so many of us --- we continually insist on our own way.

But the truth is, God wants us to experience so much more --- but we can only experience it when we give God our trust and are willing to obey.

And if those two aren't hard enough the final challenge that John gives us is that we must recognize that we need Jesus --- that we are actually dependent upon Jesus.

We can't "do" justice without Jesus.

But it still begs the question --- what is meant by God's justice?

We know it is not retribution --- but what is it?

God's justice is uncomfortable for many of us.

It doesn't fit into our world view very well.
          Our economy is based on different principles

Biblical justice involves making individuals, communities, and the cosmos whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality.

It is perfectly illustrated in Isaiah 11

It is a world where all of creation lives in harmony

Maybe one way to illustrate it is again using two words that we often see as meaning the same thing, but words that God sees very differently.

And those two words are Equality and Equity

Equality is certainly a very good thing
          Everyone should have an equal chance

But God calls us to Equity

What's the difference?

Again let me try to illustrate rather simply

3 boys are standing at a six foot fence
Unfortunately, none of the boys can see over the fence

So someone finds them a box that they can all stand on

The box is one foot high --- so it is equal for all three boys

The problem is:
One boy is 5 feet tall, so with the help of the box he can now see
The second boy is only 4 1/2 feet tall --- and while standing on the box --- even on his tippy toes he can only get glimpses of the field
The third boy is only 4 feet tall and cannot see a thing

The box was EQUAL for all three boys --- but it did not provide EQUITY

EQUITY would require three boxes of different heights so all three could see

The world focuses on EQUALITY

God's justice demand EQUITY

How can you promote God's justice this Advent Season?

First, you need to slow down --- and let God's peace wash over you --- then we can begin to work for justice.