Advent 1C

This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Kaniva and Serviceton for Advent Sunday, 2nd December 2018.

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36

Today is Advent Sunday, therefore the wreath.  Today we enter a new Christian year as far as the three-year cycle of the Lectionary goes, so, Happy New Year, it is now “The Year of Luke” in case you’re interested.  With the change of season I am wearing purple rather than my usual green, (have you noticed), and today we focus our thinking on the coming of Jesus.  Advent is not only four weeks for preparation for Christmas and our remembrance of the Word becoming Flesh, of God coming to Earth and dwelling amongst us, (the literal phrase is “tabernacled” which basically means that God comes and pitches God’s own tent in our camp); Advent is also when we think about the return of Christ and the fulfilment of all promises made by God.

In our reading from the Hebrew tradition this morning God says that the days are coming when righteousness shall come to the earth as a fulfilment of God’s promise to David.  This righteousness shall bring national and domestic security we read in Jeremiah 33:14-16.  To the original hearers of this message, so Jeremiah himself and the people we spoke to, this meant that God was promising to restore the Davidic monarchy with a king so just and righteous that his personal name would be surpassed by his reputation.  For people who were living in exile this was an amazing promise, because not only would they return from Babylon and Persia to Judea and Jerusalem, but the kingship would be restored through the previous royal family, and the king in the fulfilment would be beyond magnificent in his reign.  This is like the king we heard about last week, a new David for whom the whole nation will shout abundant thanks and praise to God in gratitude.  For Christians reading this passage we get echoes of Christ, of Jesus who will be king beyond all other kings in righteousness and justice.  This is an Advent promise.

And like the king of last week, what we read in Psalm 25 might be the personal prayer of a (new) leader asking God for guidance and wisdom in his reign; and as all great prayers for wisdom in leadership begin this prayer begins in worship.  In my experience as a leader in this community, alongside experience gained in other communities where I have watched leaders and been a leader, I know that I cannot lead anyone unless I am willing to lead myself and to be lead by God.  I cannot lead you as a congregation if I am not under God’s authority and listening for God’s wise counsel.  How can I lead you where I have never been?  I cannot.  And how can I lead you where I am unwilling to go?  Of course I don’t mean the future, I have never been to the future so I can’t lead you there from personal experience; I mean discipleship.  I am no great disciple; I do not think of myself like the scribes of three weeks ago, I am no saint in any but the most grace-filled definition of the word.  But I am a devoted, prayerful, Bible-literate, Christ-centred disciple of God and that is what I want to lead you in.  Where God takes this congregation as a body of devoted disciples is God’s business, and that of the leaders listening to and responding to God’s word.  My job as your pastor, (and specifically in this role right now as the preaching-elder), is to build you into that body of devoted believers and listeners to God’s word.  I cannot do that unless I am first a disciple and a listener.  So it is with the great and future king of Jeremiah 33, if I am to lead these people says the candidate for leadership in Psalm 25:1, then I must start with my own character.  This is a good man, I like this man, he has his priorities straight.  Of course nothing in this Psalm says that it’s a king who is praying only that it is a person seeking guidance and deliverance.  We are told David wrote it, so he’s a man rather than a woman, and he is king at some point in his life; but this is an anybody prayer in that anybody can pray it with confidence that God will answer it.  Listen to me LORD, whoever I am, and keep me close to you.  Teach me about you, teach me your path, teach me your truth, and lead me in those two things.  Forgive me and be gracious when I fall, and remembering your mercy lift me up when I need it.  How great you are God, how wonderful you are in generosity to wait for us and slow down to teach us along the way.  How worthy of praise you are God, you are loving and faithful and good.  There are some more Advent promises, perhaps a little bit hidden, but still there.  This is how one man three thousand years ago found God to be like; if David is to be believed and God is everlastingly loving and faithful then these things are true of God today.  This is what God is like, and you are welcomed into God’s family if you want to take hold of this friend and saviour as Lord.

Our reading from the gospels this morning points us at Luke 21:25-36 where Jesus is teaching the disciples on the Wednesday of his last week.  This event takes place just after Jesus has commented upon the poor widow and her two pennies which we heard about a few weeks back, and some comments from the crowd about how awesome the temple complex is.  Jesus’ response is this passage which speaks about the coming of The Son of Man and the need to watch and be fruitful in the meantime.  And just listen to what he is saying in Luke 21:25-33, the event of the Coming of the Son does not sound pleasant, but you need to get ready because it’s about to happen.  As Christians reading the Bible in 2018 we know that these events did not take place around Nazareth and Beit Lehem when Jesus was born; yes there was a star but there were no great portents and we are not told that the sea went berserk, so we assume that it didn’t.  What seems to be happening is that Jesus is speaking of a time in Jerusalem’s future and Kaniva & Serviceton’s, when the Son of Man comes a second time, coming in all his Godly power and great glory as Luke 21:27 reads.  Perhaps of greater concern to us as Christians reading the Bible in 2018 is that these events did not take place around Jerusalem when Jesus died or in the forty years or so after; indeed they haven’t happened like that at all.  In Luke 21:32 Jesus indicates that these events were about to happen, and that a forty-year deadline was probably generous: so what happened such that what was supposed to happen did not happen?  Well, nothing happened, but that’s not the point.

So, what is the point?  Well the point is what comes next in Jesus’ words, be on your guard as we read in Luke 21:34, and be alert we read in Luke 21:36.  Don’t worry about when it didn’t happen, be ready for when it does.  And how do we be ready?  [Congregation interaction time, how do we be ready?]  Discipleship.  [Weren’t you listening before?]  Yes, discipleship; we get on with acting with righteousness and justice and love with the guidance, grace and equipping of the one who promises to be steadfast and faithful, and who more than three thousand years of Jewish history has proven to be true.  That Jesus may not have been speaking about “this generation” as the actual people alive on that day but referring to an attitude of complacency among religious people which has continued through to this day, is not the point.  That the fully-human Jesus speaking in 30AD may have got God’s timing wrong in his mind is not the point.  That the writers of the gospels working in the 60s-80s AD may have got the God’s timing wrong and wrote into Jesus’ mouth words that Jesus never said, words that would have rung true in Jeremiah’s day and connect better with the then five-centuries-old encouraging story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish exiles and the situation of Jerusalem in the 70s than the situation in the 30s, words that would be an encouragement for Christians in the present situation in Rome or Asia living with Nero and Diocletian and an amphitheatre full of gladiators and lions, is not the point.

Phew!  No, the point is that God is faithful, the promise is sure, the Son of Man shall return, and Christians and Jews need to get busy in the meantime proclaiming the Kingdom of God through lives of faith-filled compassion, love-filled justice, and hope-filled confidence.  That is the point because that is what Advent is all about.

Amen.

Adventure

This is the text of the message I prepared for Morwell Uniting Church for Sunday 3rd December 2017, the first Sunday in Advent.

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80 1-7, 17-19; Mark 13:24-37

Well, happy new year!  As I indicated last week, today is the first day of a new year in the rolling calendar of the church.  We have entered a new season of the lectionary: today is Advent Sunday, the first day in Advent and the season of purple which will take us up to the morning of Christmas Eve.  Today is also the first day in the second year of our three-year perpetual cycle, we are now in the indescribably beautifully named “Year B”, better called “The Year of Mark”.    This year the bulk of our gospel reading will come from the Gospel According to St Mark.  Since Advent Sunday a year ago and until last week we were primarily interested in Matthew, and from this day in twelve months’ time we will be reading Luke.  So, again, happy new year.

With the new liturgical year comes the opportunity to refresh ourselves in God, and to perhaps reconsider our patterns of engaging with God.  One of the things which I have taken up as of today, with some preparation work in the last few weeks, is a new pattern of Bible reading. For the next twelve months or so, every Monday at 9:30 am before I sit down to work on my sermon for the following Sunday I will take the time to read a chapter from my new book.  This book is designed to assist my spiritual formation for my development of faith as a Christian, and my development of depth as a minister.  And this week’s reading, written to be read in the first week in Advent, has already born fruit.

Each of today’s prayers were drawn directly from scripture, indeed from today’s set Old Testament readings and from the Psalm.  I read to you from Isaiah 64:1-5a, and then Isaiah 64:5-9, so, Isaiah 64:5a was read twice; it acts as a hinge between two thoughts.

In the second prayer, of adoration we heard the prophet’s heart-sung desire that God would split the heavens and descend in personal display of holy majesty.  Let the name of God, the authority and reputation of God, be so well promoted in the Earth that it would be like fire under a kettle.  Come down God and remind us of how awesome you are, remind us how awestruck we should be at the very thought of you.

In the third prayer, of confession, we heard the prophet’s heart-wrung sorrow that if God were to descend God would find a people broken by sin.  God’s people no longer call on God’s name or celebrate God’s glory, not even one person.  God’s chosen people are defiled, and to use Isaiah’s own image which is not made clear in English translation but which my commentator noted in Isaiah 64:6, they are “filthy cloth”, literally, a used tampon.  Yuck eh?  Certainly, this is less than what God deserves from us, far, far less.  Yet God is the creator, the potter for whom we are clay, and we are assured that God has not forgotten us, and God will deliver us from the mess we have made of ourselves.

The writer of my new spiritual formation book said of the Israelite prophets that they were the custodians of Israel’s greatest hopes, desires and dreams.  When the actions of the nation lead them away from these great thoughts the prophets spoke out to remind them of the picture of the future to call them back.  God promises all that we adore God for, but if we ignore God or refuse God then all we are good for in the future is to put in the bin next to the toilet.  I know which future I’d prefer.  (And yeah, continuing thanks for that mental picture Isaiah: Yuck!)

You can perhaps see why Asaph, the writer of today’s psalm (and of our first prayer and call to worship today), felt the need to pray restore us God…God of hosts…LORD God of hosts, let your face shine that we may be saved in Psalm 80:3, 7, 19.  This prayer for Israel’s restoration may well have been composed after the Kingdom of Israel, the one situated on Samaria, had been conquered and the people carried away.  God’s patience had run out and the people had been overcome by their enemies.  Like Isaiah, Asaph is calling upon God to come in might and power, specifically as Lord of Hosts which is to say supreme marshal of the armies of Heaven, and deliver the people with divine and military intervention.  The nation has not heeded the word of the prophets, and now they’re in that bin and wrapped in tissues.  What is to be done for them?

In Mark 13:24-37 which was read to us we find Jesus speaking about the day when the Son of Man will come in glory.  Hear how the images presented by Jesus echo those presented by Isaiah, when the LORD comes the earth will be shaken and there will be a display of great power and glory.  The signs of the times are there; God is always ready to come because the glory of God is not diminished in the time between epiphanies, there is no need for God to be girded up ready because God is never not God. Humankind, however, is not always ready and God’s action occurs more often than it should as a surprise to the Israelites.  Be on your guard, says Jesus.  As Jesus has taught us through Matthew 25 in these past three weeks the Master will return, and he will be displeased to find us sleeping like the five girls, or lazy like the man with the one talent, or ambivalent to the world like the goatish people.

The prophets have told you, God is close by and God is powerful and mighty.

Your own history has taught you that God is incredibly faithful to those who heed God, obey God, and serve God in loving worship and acts of justice.

And now the Son of Man, the messiah, is telling you in your hearing that the time of God’s appearing in fullness is very, very close.  Wake up!  Watch out!  Repent because the Kingdom is at hand and the King Godself is just over the horizon!  Can you not see the dawning glory already?

If you are awake and all of that then the work Jesus has for you is simple: tell others.  What I say to you I say to you all says Jesus in Mark 13:37. In other words everyone needs to know this message, everyone needs to be awake when God comes in glory, even if it happens in the graveyard shift.  If you are alert and alive to the possibilities tell others who are not, so that they will be.  If you are a friend to someone don’t let your friend sleep through the coming of God, or let God find him or her sleeping, or lazy, or indifferent.  When God comes for you to draw you into a loving relationship with the Father, don’t allow that your friends will instead go into that bin with all the other biohazardous things of the world.

Today is our New Year’s Day: let it be a fresh start in your relationship with God.  Let it also be a fresh start in your relationship with the world within your reach.  Perhaps today and on to this week is your chance to be a prophet to your own people; speaking to them as the custodian of your tribe’s greatest hopes, desires and dreams.  Call your friends and their attention away from the actions and attitudes which inhibit this future.  The child has come, the king is coming, the time is now.

Amen.