The First Sunday of Advent

The Readings for the First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44.

You may watch Seminarian Lindsey’s sermon here: https://youtu.be/q-dDdHIVqHY

Or you may read it here:

Welcome to the first Sunday in Advent.  As I was preparing for this week, I found myself thinking a lot about what exactly the season of Advent is for us.  And it’s a two-fold thing.  One, as Christians we are awaiting the second coming of the Christ, anticipating that day when we meet our savior face to face.

And secondly, we are remembering the first coming of the Christ, a baby named Jesus, who was born in a barn, sent to deliver the Jewish people from the hands of their oppressors.  At least, that was the idea.

As our spiritual ancestors waited for the Messiah, they waited for another David.  They waited for a warrior.  One who would take up the sword, raise an army, and defeat all the human enemies of Israel, delivering God’s chosen people into eternal victory.

But that’s not what happened.  God’s plans always seem to be bigger than we can imagine, and now we know that Christ came not only to deliver the Jews, but also the Gentiles, and that the enemy that Christ defeated was not the Romans, but death itself.

Because Christ didn’t come to defeat human enemies.  He came to turn the status quo on its head.  He came as a warrior, but not another David. Instead, He subverted evil that creeps into the hearts of humans, and he did it not with a sword, but by being a servant to all.  He fought fear with love and after descending to death he rose up again and said “see?  What did I tell you?  Don’t be afraid.  Love each other.”

The thing with this old testament reading is that it shows us that the Kingdom of God is different from where we are right now.  Isaiah 2 is a reflection of the Kingdom, and in that reflection we see the difference between the place of peace Isaiah tells us about and the world we see when we look out our front door, or turn on the news, or scroll our facebook feed.

But Jesus also tells us that the kingdom of God is now.  So how do we reconcile the reflection we are told about in Isaiah 2 and the fallen world in which we find ourselves?

I think we do it by realizing that when Christ brought the Kingdom of God to earth, he didn’t erase what was here.  Instead he gave us the ability to rise up with love despite the harshness of the world and to bring hope to the hopeless.  He gave us armor against the darkness and told us to go out, and be God’s Kingdom in the fallen world.

And we do that by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  By standing with the oppressed and telling the devil “you don’t get to tell me who to be afraid of.”  When the refugees come we love them, and we love without reservation, and we say no when Muslims are told to register and we say no when the LGBTQ community is told it is second class and we say no when people in Ivory towers tell us to be afraid.

3 weeks ago we were warm and cozy, snuggled under the covers and smiling.  But the alarm clock has gone off.  It’s time to get up, it’s time to get dressed, rub the sleep out of our eyes and go out into the world wearing Christ on our sleeves and in our hearts.  It’s time to remind the devil that the book has been written and he doesn’t win.  Because we’re going to love when we’re expected to hate and we’re going to face into the very heart of darkness and tell it we aren’t afraid because we don’t just see the light, we bring it.

The earth right now is a forge fire.  It’s heating up, and the swords are in it waiting to be shaped into something new.  The church is being called upon to decide what shape it’s going to take in this newest incarnation of a fallen world.  In the face of this manifestation of evil that shows itself in the city of Aleppo where there are no hospitals left, and in our own country where we have seen an unprecedented spike in hate crimes in the last 3 weeks, and in the gunning down of 4 police officers less than a week ago, who were shot for no other reason than the uniform they put on that morning, we are called to fight evil with service.

We fight by standing with the oppressed.  We fight by reaching out to those who are afraid.  We fight by sharing the hope of our messiah and by working to serve our neighbors with love.  We look the devil in the face and we say: “You don’t get to tell us what we’re afraid of.  You don’t get to dictate where the light reaches.  Because we put it on, and we’re gonna walk with it wherever it’s needed because that’s what God is calling us to do.

When we were baptized we put on Christ.  We let Him soak into our bones and we were filled with the Holy Spirit and every single day we carry that with us and on us.  So when hate and fear is pounding on the door and telling us it’s coming for us we aren’t going to hide under the covers.  We’re gonna open that door wide and we’re gonna say “You know what?  I’m coming for you.”  And we’re gonna walk out that door together and be God’s Kingdom in this fallen world.

Brothers and sisters, we are being called.  That alarm clock is going off and the sun is coming in through the windows and it’s poking us in the eyes and it’s saying get up!  The world is out there.  There are places of darkness that we didn’t know about 3 weeks ago.  So we’re gonna put on that armor and we’re gonna go out into the world and we’re gonna find the dark places where hopelessness lives.  Where hate directs action.  Where fear leaves people despairing, and we are going to light them up.  We’re going to remember that the Holy Spirit is in us, that Christ is in us, that God made us for this time, right here and right now, and we’re gonna fight the darkness, and we’re gonna win.

We’re gonna win because Christ already came.  2,000 years ago, Christ faced the same darkness and He lit it up.  So until He comes again it’s our job to put on the light.  To go bravely with Christ and with each other into the dark places and to tell the world that the Kingdom is here.

Do not be afraid.  Love each other.

If Christ is King…

Pastor Jay’s Sermon for The Reign of Christ. The readings for Sunday were: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43.

You can listen here:

Pastor Jay’s manuscript:

Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ. A new name for an older festival of Christ the King. This is the final Sunday of the Church Year and we celebrate the sovereignty of Christ over everything that is. That seems fitting seeing as how he is the creator of all that is. But you know, this is a relatively new addition to our liturgical celebrations. We have been celebrating the Reign of Christ for less than one hundred years.

Pope Pius XI introduce this celebration in 1925. And it was largely to draw more attention to the Church. It was a much more secular age than anyone had ever seen. Folks were coming to church less and being influenced by the church’s teachings even less. The world had just come through a world war which made people reconsider a lot. And Pius introduced this celebration of Christ’s sovereignty over everything that is. It was a reassertion of the need for Christianity in the world.

And it took us non-Catholics a little while to catch on, but catch on we did and now less than one hundred years later we still celebrate the sovereignty of Christ on the final Sunday of the Church Year. But, no matter what you call today, it just doesn’t quite jive with the world in which we live. Certainly in America, Christ the King doesn’t pack the wallop it might have in Europe. And even in the UK where there is a monarch, Christ the King doesn’t quite mean what it seems to mean. The Reign of Christ as another option for today takes out the masculine language and reframes the celebration into the action of Christ’s rule. But we don’t have people who reign in America. Arguably, even our elected officials don’t rule, they lead.

So what do we celebrate today? Well, I would argue that in celebrating the Reign of Christ, we are celebrating what it means to know that Christ is the ultimate authority over everything that exists, and that we are called to live into that reality.

And that’s a little bit more what our texts have in mind. Jeremiah has a warning to those who would seek to divide and confuse the people of God. These shepherds—and I know how in our current political climate we would like to think of this in terms of specific people who seek division and destruction and chaos. But Jeremiah speaks to those who have knowledge, forethought, and understanding of God’s loving relationship with God’s people and yet who seek to withhold that knowledge, confuse the understanding of God’s beloved people just how much God loves them. Our beloved Psalm 46 calls us to live into trust of God’s protection of us. And even Paul calls us to live trusting in God’s “glorious power.” And in the act of being killed, Jesus still shows us what it means to live as God’s beloved people. Even in his weakest moment, he extends forgiveness to those who would seek his death.

Again, I know we would like to point to those people who so need God’s forgiveness, but remember that Christ speaks about all of us. That is the power of the cross. The power of the cross is that it throws everything out the window and shows ultimate eternal and unconditional love for all of us. It shows power when we think it is most lacking. It shows life even when all we can see is death. And it is for all people.

What we are called to celebrate today is what it means to live into God’s kingdom. What does it mean to live in full trust of God’s power and full belief in the abundant life that is ours? Because let me tell you, it’s a difficult thing to see. We don’t see God’s sovereignty in much of our society today. And Paul would have us looking for something that will come to fruition at the end of time and into which we will be invited when the dead are raised.

Certainly that eschatological, that final reign of Christ, is something to be celebrated and definitely evident in Pius’ original decree. But that is not what we are called to celebrate today. Because we have already been invited into life in the kingdom of God, we have already been welcomed into the abundant life of Christ’s reign, we have already been given all peace and harmony and joy that we expect to be in this gentle rule of our sovereign.

Our welcome was in God’s loving promises to us. Our entrance was through the waters of baptism. And our signs of peace and harmony and joy are on our lips and tongues every time we gather around this Table and feast on our very sovereign Christ. When we gather to feast, Christ is not only our host but also our meal, Christ is our priest and our king. And with his very self strengthens us for what life means in this reign.

The reign of Christ is not some end times something else that we are waiting and longing for. The Reign of Christ is within us and for us every day, right now. How can I be so sure? Well, if we look to Christ ourselves, reigning from his cross, we see his promise to Dismas, to us: today you will be with me in paradise. Christ doesn’t tell Dismas to hand out and he’ll be back for him. No, Christ promises TODAY you will be with me in paradise.

And for each of us, that is the promise we received sealed on us with the sign of that very same cross: TODAY you are with me in paradise. And blessed are well who are called to life with our sovereign, life in abundance, and full of the peace and joy that can only come from him who created it all long before we were ever aware how much we needed it. And blessed are we to be called to live into the trust in our God’s sovereignty over even this temporary and wounded world.

Now, this does not mean taking ourselves out of the world and caring only about ourselves. Rather, it frees us to extend this reign of peace and hope to the world that so desperately needs to hear it. Just as much today as it did two thousand years ago. We have been promised our place in the reign of Christ, and when we live in trust of those promises, we are freed to share it with those who need to be told, need to be reminded, of the love of God that is theirs. It shapes our very lives to turn outward to our neighbor and remind them of God’s loving care for everything in creation.

And yes, sometimes we need to be reminded ourselves. But that is why we gather here around visible signs of God’s promise and Christ’s reign: water and wine and wheat and each other. And we are strengthened for life in Christ’s kingdom, in the reign of our sovereign Lord who assures us time again of our belonging and love within his loving embrace.

So let us celebrate today. Let us celebrate not only our Christ’s sovereignty over creation, but the blessedness of living in that reign in love and care and mercy for each other and for God’s beloved world.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Summer Hiatus

Recordings of Sermons takes a hiatus for the summer. Pastor Jay preaches more often without manuscripts and recording is difficult for quality outside of the pulpit. Look back every so often as guest preachers and guest sermons may show up here!

…but not yet.

Pastor Jay’s Sermon from Holy Trinity Sunday.

Readings: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15.

You can listen here:

Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

I don’t know why this particular statement from Jesus stands out to me the most. Perhaps it is because it is Trinity Sunday. The Sunday when we contemplate and celebrate the divine mystery that is our God. The day when no matter how hard we try we just will not be able to get close to describing out God. I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

Thanks a lot Jesus. Wanna tell us when we will be able to bear them? Because that is a heavy cliff-hanger. I have many things to say to you…just not now. It’s kind of a disappointing statement. It leaves us wanting more and somehow Jesus doesn’t usually do that. I mean from baskets of loaves and fishes left-over to healings to life Jesus usually gives us more than we can ever desire and here he is stating the obvious: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

Of course, this is probably the truest statement of Jesus’ entire ministry. You have to put this statement in perspective. It comes in the sixteenth chapter of John. Now, John is not like the other gospels. There is a lot of teaching in John, a lot of sayings, a lot of self-descriptions by Jesus. This is the gospel of the I Ams…the good shepherd, the vine, the gate, the door, the way, the truth, the life, the… And after all that, Jesus still has more to say…but the disciples cannot bear it yet. Well why not?          Again, let us put this passage in perspective, this is part of Jesus’ last sermon. He has not yet been betrayed, tried, killed, or raised from the dead. This is still just Jesus the teacher. Well…not just…but you know what I mean.

Before all the deeds of Good Friday and Easter, the disciples have no way to comprehending all that Jesus is about. They need those pivotal moments of God’s action in the world to put everything into perspective. And, if we’re honest, it takes them a little while even after everything this put into perspective. Let’s say…oh I don’t know…about 50 days. But with the fulfillment of the Resurrection in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, everything starts to click. And the disciples not only get it, but finally they begin to preach it. They begin to live into the awesome truth of a God who loves creation so much as to get involved as part of creation to save it from itself. There is no way the disciples could have gotten that before the dreaded cross and empty tomb. And only in the fullness of the power of the Spirit does it all make sense.

But that still doesn’t mean they—or we—can bear all the truth that there is about God’s work in the world. To say that we are ever ready for the fullness of God is to say that everything that God needs to do in the world has been done. And that with that final act of God in the world, we can put everything into perspective. But my sisters and brothers, you and I all know that it definitely not the case. God cannot be done acting the world because we are still surrounded by so much that needs God’s loving touch. There are still so many dark and cold tombs that need Resurrection Light. There are still so many silent and downtrodden persons that need to be filled with the power of the Spirit. There is still a church that is silent when it should be speaking, waiting and watching when it should be acting, excluding and closing off when it should be opening itself up and reach out with the amazing hands and feet of Christ. There is still so much for you to know, but you cannot bear it now.

In Jesus’ profound statement we find our life. The already but not yet, the now and the coming, the everlasting and the instant. We have been given so much, we have witnessed the mighty deeds of God, but it’s still not over. Jesus’ statement is both a statement and a promise. It dangles before us.   Jesus doesn’t say anything about this being his final statement. It isn’t I still have so much to say to you but you can’t bear it so oh well. No, Jesus statement is a yet statement. I still have so much to tell you but you cannot bear it yet.

The disciples needed the fullness of the Spirit for it all to be put into perspective. The fulfillment of all Jesus’ promises was what enabled them to step out into the world and proclaim with word and deed all that God had done in their lives. And we have that same fullness, but there is still one promise of Jesus we wait to be fulfilled and it is the yet of his statement. I have so much more to tell you, so much more for you to know, but you cannot bear it yet.

And that is the life we live today. We live in the yet. Proclaiming what we know in Christ, but waiting still for so much more from God. Because the God we center ourselves around, the God of creation, the God of redemption, the God of sustenance is the same God who is fully inside the person of Jesus Christ, the same God who fully was poured out upon the disciples in the upper room, and is fully at work still in the world today. And we are called to be a part of that.

Our sisters and brothers in the United Church of Christ have a great saying: never put a period where God have put a comma. God is still speaking. And that is the life we are called to live into. The life that is ours precisely because of God’s mighty deeds in the world and yet still to be even more fully ours in the constant and eternal outpouring of the Spirit, intercession and mercy of Christ, work of God in the world. All around us. Still today.

There are many things that we still have yet to witness, still to learn, ways still to grow and to follow. We aren’t there yet. But in Christ’s promise we know that they are ours.

For our God who is still at work in the world and calls us to be a part of it. Thanks be to God. Amen.